With a character whose history is as extensive as Superman’s, things are more than expected to have changed quite regularly over time. During the course of the hero’s nearly 80-year existence, his power-set has evolved, been extended and altered in ways that, to some, remain perplexing. The same can be said of Clark Kent’s origin story, as well as that of other characters whose creation is intrinsically tied to his. Without question, Superman’s suit has undergone similar adjustments over the numerous decades in which the caped hero’s donned it.
The Man of Steel’s design is, unsurprisingly, always receiving updates, either in comics, on film/television, or in the character’s animated adventures. For the most part, redesigns are relatively standard. Superman typically keeps his blue and red color scheme, but small changes, such as the look of the “S” or the placement of his trunks, can often completely alter his appearance. Some designs of the Kryptonian, however, are far more substantial. Thus, the following list will take a look at several Superman suits, from those representing his traditional and well known appearance to suits that may make the Man of Steel seem somewhat unidentifiable. Here are 15 Superman designs ranked from worst to best.
An alternate timeline in which the Justice League ceases to exist and the world is in turmoil provides the basis for the seminal and appropriately titled "Flashpoint" event. This arc in DC lore ushered in the New 52, but was able introduce a slew of fascinating character changes and “what-if” scenarios, a few of which remain highly regarded. One occurrence in the Flashpoint continuity is Kal-El’s crashing in Metropolis instead of Kansas.
Taken into custody by the government, Kal becomes subjected to experimentation codenamed Project Superman. As a result, the character is depicted as rail-thin and relatively weak. The suit he dons is uninspired, dull whites and greys clash heavily with the garb he’d wear in other realities. Such a design works brilliantly in the context of the story, but it’s tough seeing the Man of Steel void of color and hope.
14 FIRST APPEARANCE
Superman’s first appearance in 1938 is special for a myriad of reasons; chiefly, he acts as what most would consider the first example of what we think of as a superhero today. The hero’s introductory design was remarkably simple. Upon closer inspection, though, little has changed in the intervening years separating then and now.
Ever the strong man in blue, Superman of the late '30s wears familiar red trunks with the same color boots and cape to match. The most notable difference from that look to the modern era is the construction of the “S” insignia -- the yellow is more pronounced, while the “S” itself is proportionately smaller than what we are used to seeing. This design’s low placement on the list doesn’t dismiss artistic limitations of the time; the fact that modern-day Superman still bears a strong resemblance to his 80-year-old counterpart is worthy of celebration.
13 RED SON
Red Son Superman is another iteration of the hero that takes some getting used to, especially upon first glance. Instead of the bright red and blue with the familiar touch of yellow, this Man of Steel is dressed head-to-toe in darker reds, black and a nearly gray colored blue. Of course, the most glaring difference is the hammer and sickle situated in place of the “S” inside the crest emblazoned on the Kryptonian’s chest.
Red Son as an Elseworlds story works functionally on a variety of levels, one in particular is the ease with which Superman is integrated into a storyline centered on the Soviet Union. There are instances wherein he fully believes in Communism and all it stands for, thinking it’s what is best for the world. Within the text, though, both Superman and his appearance are often little more than a tool of propaganda.
12 CRIME SYNDICATE
The Crime Syndicate’s Superman, Ultraman, may bear stark differences to typical Man of Steel iterations, but very little is altered in terms of appearance and overall design. In fact, it could be argued that the only change is seen in the “S” being replaced by a “U” and his crest’s minimal alteration to accommodate such a redesign -- his belt undergoes similar updates.
Introduced as Superman’s Earth-3 counterpart in the "Forever Evil" arc, this maniacal version of the hero is fairly disappointing appearance-wise. Kal-Il murders the Kents after coercing them to adopt him and subjugates the Earth to his rule, yet still gets to don the color and attire of the world’s greatest hero? When considering the drastic measures taken to differentiate between Aquaman and his Earth-3 doppelgänger, Sea King, Ultraman’s design seems lacking by comparison.
11 AMERICAN ALIEN (FIRST SUIT)
Before donning the attire people would come to associate with the superhero, Max Landis’ Superman, “The Flying Man,” wears a makeshift outfit that can only be described as airman gone vigilante. Black combat boots, dark pants and gloves match perfectly with the rest of the hero’s starter suit. Filling out more of the look is a T-shirt and what appears to be a flak jacket of sorts with an “S” crudely drawn with white marker.
The dark cape he wears also warrants acknowledgement, especially since it’s evidently appropriated from one of his first run-ins with Batman. This time in the hero’s fledgeling career additionally features the expert use of aviator goggles. What makes this work, and why it's higher on the list than others, is that it correlates perfectly with Superman’s weaknesses at this juncture and his exploration of who he wants to be as a hero.
10 SUPERMAN (1978)
Honestly, considering the technology in use during 1978 when Richard Donner’s first Superman film released, the suit Christopher Reeve wore is in and of itself a piece of art. If nothing else, the costume looks as though it was ripped straight from the Bronze Age of comics. In addition, Reeve’s portrayal of Superman effortlessly embodied the superhero many had spent about half of a century growing to love and admire.
The suit on display in Donner’s Superman film remains significant and not just to DC canon. It’s also a piece of film history, a seeming shot in the dark whose lasting influence is unequivocally still felt throughout cinema and popular culture. For the time, the costume was a benchmark. By today’s standards, it’s a remnant of what used to be. Nevertheless, Reeve’s Superman suit will likely remain easy on the eyes in perpetuity.
The first images of Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman didn’t sit well with many; fortunately, a photoshop job gone wrong appears to have been the culprit. On screen and in action, he certainly looks the part. While not as muscle-bound as his concurrent live-action counterpart, Henry Cavill, Hoechlin fills out the suit nicely. Similar to the construction of Supergirl’s suit, the blue fabric looks almost mesh and the “S” insignia seems worn to an extent. The design of the cape is interesting, too, particularly because of the golden straps that attach it to his shoulders.
Issues with this appearance reside primarily in the bulkiness of Superman’s red belt and nearly knee-high boots. In truth, these two minor, yet major, fashion faux pas disrupt the otherwise sleek design of Hoechlin’s look.
8 BLACK SUIT
Few of Superman’s suit designs are as recognizable as the traditional look; an example of an alternate that does meet the criteria is the black one the Man of Steel wears upon his return after being killed by Doomsday. However, his return did not just beget a new outfit for the hero. Superman came back with longer hair. Any other time, a long mane probably wouldn’t sit right on the hero; yet, it definitely works here and it’s inarguably thanks to the black suit.
Interestingly, simplicity doesn’t begin to describe this specific appearance. The key difference, barring Superman being absent a cape, is that this suit is black with a silver insignia. But it harbors another purpose, as well. The suit’s ability to absorb energy from the sun at a faster rate aids the Kryptonian in the healing process, as his body recovers from the Doomsday fight.
7 CYBORG SUPERMAN
Following the death of Superman, another alteration to the classic Man of Steel appearance entered DC canon -- Cyborg Superman. This alternate version isn’t a Superman surrogate, however, since the person donning the title, Hank Henshaw, is villainy personified. Half-man and half-cyborg, the mechanical parts of the Cyborg are constructed from technology that is Kryptonian in origin. And the divide doesn’t stop there either, as the suit is most commonly depicted as having been split down the middle in terms of design.
While much of Cyborg Superman’s face is metal, one half of Henshaw’s body is decorated by the Man of Steel’s classic appearance. In contrast, the other half sees the suit torn in places or completely absent in favor of showing off the Cyborg’s true form. In the comics, this version of the character never fails to look menacing.
6 INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US
NetherRealm, it seems, was given the opportunity to take innumerable liberties upon returning to the world of DC lore. The most noteworthy of such liberties was in their crafting a story in which Superman ruled the world as a tyrant, following his inadvertently murdering Lois Lane, who was at the time pregnant with the couple’s first child. Tyranny looks… strange on the Man of Steel, but the narrative sells it well. Superman, like never before, is suddenly a terrifying character. To induce said terror, of course, he must bear a look befitting a vicious ruler.
This suit is armored; Superman even has shoulder pads, providing an attachment for his cape. The emblem on his chest is bulkier than normal, with the outer layer of the crest flowing to a stop at midriff. In addition, the color scheme of red and blue appears darker, effortlessly adding to his menacing demeanor.
5 BLACKEST NIGHT
The Blackest Night version of Superman is so horrifying that it's actually appealing. Who knew a zombie Man of Steel could be aesthetically pleasing? To be fair, the look shares an uncanny resemblance with the one the hero donned after returning from the dead in Death and Return of Superman. Nonetheless, there are still enough differences to warrant the Blackest Night appearance being held to somewhat of a higher regard in design alone.
Chief among the aforementioned dissimilarities is the character’s zombified visage; to reiterate, it’s surprisingly well done. In addition, the use of white throughout the suit, appearing primarily on his cape, the insignia and his boots, also makes for an awesome artistic choice. The stripped and tattered construction of Superman’s cape deserves commendation as well; it, too, helps in selling the character’s zombified appearance.
4 KINGDOM COME
The beauty of Kingdom Come’s Superman is not solely in the suit’s design. Alex Ross’s depiction of the character as aged and graying is deserving of appreciation, as well. When Superman first appears in the beloved Elseworlds mini-series, he’s retired and enjoying his days on the farm, relatively happy and alone. When he does finally choose to don the suit, again, it bears a design that veers from the hero’s traditional appearance.
Blue and red are still very much in use, but gone is the yellow that usually serves as a background for the “S” inside of the suit’s crest; in Kingdom Come, yellow’s been replaced with black. Also altered is the shape of the “S” itself. No longer does it appear with bubble-like curvatures, the lines are straighter, more narrow even. This is another look for Superman that’s almost as iconic as his familiar garb.
Never mind that Superman: Godfall is a story that receives so little love, of which it deserves copious amounts, this alternate look for the Man of Steel cannot go without mention. Set in a version of reality that finds Superman waking up as an adult on Krypton, Godfall follows the hero as he experiences life in the city of Kandor, while slowly coming to the realization that all isn’t what it seems.
If anything about this arc has withstood the test of time, it’s the design of the suit. Superman’s appearance is royal and elegant, truly capturing the feel of Krypton’s having been so scientifically and culturally advanced. A red, silver and dark gray color scheme ties it all together, helping the suit to appear as though it has a Renaissance influence.
Henry Cavill’s Superman suit in the DC films is so meticulously detailed that one can imagine the camera does it a disservice, especially compared to the real thing up close and in person. The suit’s chain metal-esque design seems incredibly form fitting, and the history of the suit is no less fascinating than the thing itself.
From a purely superficial standpoint, this Man of Steel look is rather traditional in appearance. Again, the smallest of details are what set it apart from the long line of those that have preceded it. One such attribute rests literally on the House of El insignia, which is embossed with Kryptonian hieroglyphics. Honestly, the text is hardly noticeable unless the suit’s shown in a close-up, but this fact makes it all the more impressive.
1 NEW 52
In the New 52 continuity, Superman first introduces himself to the populace of Metropolis while donning a homemade outfit, equipped with a blue shirt bearing the “S” insignia, regular pants and a cape. Eventually, the character adopts his familiar garb, which is traditional in appearance despite a few minor changes.
Is there anything overtly special about this particular suit? It’s debatable. But what cannot be denied is how good it looks on the page. The New 52 iteration is striking, the blue and red seem bolder in color, and the lines of the suit bring Superman to life in a manner that’s hardly comparable to anything else. Topping it off is the collar and red belt, the latter of which has a buckle in the shape of Superman’s crest. Again, there’s nothing remarkably special here, but, as stated elsewhere, little details reign supreme, as does this Man of Steel appearance.
What other Superman designs impress you the most? Sound off in the comments!