Superman's Red Trunks Are Back - But Why Did They Go Away?

After over seven years, Superman is back in his red trunks!

It was announced earlier today that in Action Comics #1000, Superman will be debuting a new Jim Lee-designed costume. The new-yet-classic look incorporates multiple elements of different costumes from throughout the years, including the iconic red trunks.

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Superman has been through many costumes over his eighty years of existence, but nothing quite has the gravitas of that original design. With it back in the spotlight, we take a look at DC’s past efforts to remove the trunks from continuity, and explore why they always come back.

Red, White and Blue

The red trunks have been part of Superman’s costume since Action Comics #1 in 1938, predating even the iconic diamond-shaped S-shield in terms of longevity. The first real change didn’t come until decades later, in 1991, when the resurrected Superman came back from the dead with a black and silver Kryptonian costume. After his resurrection, DC could have got rid of the trunks if it wanted to, but the classic costume quickly returned. It would stick around until 1997, when DC introduced a completely revamped look for Superman in what came to be known as the Electric Blue era.

Though his new look and melded seamlessly into the grand DC Universe's storytelling of the era, Electric Blue Superman was introduced at a time when DC was going through a court case regarding the ownership of Superman as a concept. The revamped look and abilities were part of an effort to prove that the character was just as popular without all of the visual signifiers that made him easily recognizable as Superman. The case was eventually settled and resulted in the “By Special Arrangement with the Jerry Siegel Family” credit found in all Superman media, and Superman returned to his classic red and blues, trunks and all.

The New 52

Superman kept the trunks throughout the next decade, until The New 52 gave DC an opportunity to revamp the look of its entire universe. Jim Lee designed new costumes for the Justice League, and Superman’s design removed his iconic trunks, replacing them with a bulky red belt to break up the blue of the costume. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel — which went into production one month before the launch of The New 52 — also did away with the red trunks, giving Henry Cavill’s big screen Superman an embossed design around his waist instead.

It was eventually revealed that the Superman of the New 52 was not the same Superman who had existed prior to Flashpoint, and that character and his family had survived the continuity changes and set up a life in secret. This Superman at first wore a stealth suit similar to his '90s resurrection outfit, but after the death of the New 52 Superman, made his public debut in a new costume designed by Jim Lee and Tom Derenick. This made the red belt even thinner and removed the red boots, giving the costume the appearance of a onesie. The most recent costume post-Superman Reborn was a pretty good compromise between an iconic look for Superman, even if it didn't have the red trunks. The boots returned, the belt got a lot thicker without being bulky, and the buckle was recolored to yellow.

The return of Superman’s red trunks may not seem like an important change to some people, but it signifies a lot of what has made DC so welcoming and engaging since the dawn of Rebirth. It casts an eye back to what made DC's characters work while pushing them forward, toward new stories. There may always be jokes about Superman “wearing his underwear outside out costume,” but DC always came across as defensive when changing it up. Superman exists in a realm outside of what’s cool or trendy in the moment, and the red trunks are a big part of that. It’s good to see them back.

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