DC Comics recently released a preview of a new re-designed costume for Superman by Patrick Gleason that will debut in “Superman” #20. For a character that had a relatively steady history of costumes in his comic book series over the years, this marks the sixth new costume he’s had in the past six years.
With the amount of costumes he has now worn, we are primed for a ranking of Superman’s comic book costumes. As a note on structure, we’re only talking costumes he’s worn in the “main” continuity, so no alternate reality costumes (like Red Son Superman or President Superman) or possible future costumes (like Superman One Million or Kingdom Come Superman).
In this storyline from 2004, Superman awoke in a Kryptonian city with no memories of his past as Superman and believing himself to be a Kryptonian man named Kal, with a wife and child. It’s basically a riff on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic “For the Man Who Has Everything.” Kal keeps running afoul of a Kryptonian gang who ride around in bikes similar to those in the famous manga, “Akira.”
Co-writer Michael Turner designed the whole storyline visually, including Kal’s garish, overly ornate costume. Slowly but surely, Kal discovers that he has superpowers. He eventually remembers who he is and discovers that he is actually in the Bottled City of Kandor. His “wife” was the one who tried to steal his powers. This was all actually part of a much larger series of plots from the “Superman” titles of the time. A new villain introduced in this story became a big part of Chuck Austen’s following “Action Comics” run.
After “The Death of Superman,” Superman eventually be returned to life. However, so too did the monster known as Doomsday that Superman had died trying to stop. As it turned out, Doomsday was designed so that he would constantly evolve after every time he “died,” so that when he came back, you couldn’t kill him the same way again. Doomsday had been quite a busy creature over the years, tormenting a number of planets before being trapped on Earth for a time (before it escaped).
In the prestige-format miniseries, “Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey,” Superman traveled to Apokolips to fight Doomsday, who was destroying that planet after being sent there by the Cyborg Superman. Superman had been lent a Mother Box, and in the final issue, it re-designed a somewhat bedraggled Superman’s costume to prepare him for battle with Doomsday. For some reason, Mother Box believed that Superman should look like the 1990s threw up all over him, as Superman’s costume had battle armor and, of course, lots of little pouches.
13. ELECTRIC BLUE
During the crossover event, “The Final Night,” the Sun went out for some time before Hal Jordan sacrificed himself to re-ignite it. Superman was so drained from the lack of solar energy that he completely lost his powers (with his hair cuttable again, he smartly cut off his mullet). When the sun returned, Superman’s powers eventually came back as well, but they came back off-kilter. Soon, the solar energy was metabolizing in a different way inside of Superman’s body, resulting in him suddenly transforming into a being of total energy.
He no longer had super-strength, he just had crazy powerful energy powers — powers so strong, in fact, that he had to have a containment suit built for him, which led to the infamous “Blue Superman” period. Adding insult to injury, a later attack on electric Superman by the Cyborg Superman led to electric Superman being split into two version, an electric red Superman and an electric blue Superman! Luckily, they were both re-combined and his powers went back to normal, and he didn’t keep the costume.
12. NEW 52
In 2011, DC rebooted their entire comic book universe with an event referred to as “The New 52.” Along with the reboot came new costumes for everybody, most of which were designed by DC’s co-Editor-in-Chief Jim Lee, one of the most popular artists in all of comics. While an undoubtedly talented artist in general, costume design has never been the greatest aspect of Lee’s artistic career (although he certainly has designed some great costumes over the years, like many of the early 1990s X-Men costumes).
Perhaps with a nod to the then-upcoming “Man of Steel” film, Superman’s new costume had an armored look with a high v-neck collar and, for the first time ever for an ongoing Superman costume, no red trunks! The costume seemed to be a bit too busy overall, and the heavily metallic-looking armor did not seem to mesh well with a guy whose whole deal is that he is invulnerable, making it an odd fit (pun intended).
11. JOHN ROMITA JR. RE-DESIGN
In 2014, after working steadily at Marvel for roughly 835 years (okay, “just” 35 years), star artist John Romita Jr. finally took on a regular gig at DC Comics, working on “Superman” with star writer, Geoff Johns. After being on the book for a few months, Johns and Romita decided to expand Superman’s power set for the first time in forever (well, not counting the aforementioned temporary change to his powers during the Electric Blue Superman era). Basically, he gained a “Super Flare,” which is similar to Human Torch’s “Super Nova,” in that Superman can radiate a blast of solar energy (sort of like a heat vision explosion), but when he does so, he leaves himself devoid of solar energy, so he’s vulnerable until he recharges his proverbial batteries.
Romita Jr. also re-designed the costume, adding a little more color to Superman’s belt, plus fingerless gloves. The biggest change was that he reduced the visual impact of the armored costume, so that it felt less metallic. There are also not as many lines involved in the costume, as Romita Jr. streamlined it all. It’s still pretty darn similar, but it was a slight improvement.
10. WORLD OF KRYPTON
In the lead-up to 2009’s “World of Krypton,” the bottled city of Kandor was rescued from Brainiac and then expanded to normal size. So now there were 10,000 Kryptonians on Earth. They gave living on Earth a chance before they ultimately decided to turn the city itself into a self-sustaining planet that would join the Milky Way Galaxy. During a very tense period where the Kryptonians decided to leave Earth, Superman had to renounce his Earth heritage and join up with his fellow Kryptonians on New Krypton.
In reality, Superman felt that he had to go along with the change because someone needed to keep an eye on the Kryptonians and keep them from turning on Earth. So, he pretended to renounce Earth, but he did not tell anyone, so as to make it seem real. Of course, he obviously made a specific point to let his wife, Lois Lane. Living on New Krypton, he gained a new outfit, designed by Gary Frank, which is basically a Kryptonian military uniform. It’s a strong look for a uniform, and we have to admit, though it’s a departure, he wore it well.
Following Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr.’s run on “Superman,” Clark’s powers (presumably due to his new Super Flare) had been altered to the point where he was greatly de-powered. As a result of the changes to his physiology, his Kryptonian armor that he wore as a costume no longer recognized Superman as Kryptonian! Coupled with the revelation that Lois Lane let the world know Superman’s secret identity, Supes was finding himself dealing with trouble from all angles.
Thus, he chose to go with a stripped-down costume, reminiscent of his first costume in the “New 52” era (which you will see further down on the list). This costume has a black background “S” on his chest and no cape, which he turned instead into wrappings for his fists. This led to a very different visual feel for Superman, especially when you add in the fact that he could now bleed and feel pain. This was an unusual period for Superman, but it was a nice visual throwback that, in the end, Clark Kent was still a farmer from Kansas, willing to throw on some old jeans and a t-shirt to get the job done.
Following the death of the New 52 Superman, Clark Kenthad to step up and take over as Superman. Confused? Well, apparently, this Superman existed before the “Flashpoint” event that preceded the “New 52” DC reboot. He was technically introduced in the “Convergence” event, where he was revealed as still being married to Lois Lane and a father to their young child, Jon. He shaved the beard that he had grown and got rid of the black costume that he had been wearing. We’re not counting that one, by the way, as it was technically an “alternate reality” Superman at that point. Besides, it’s pretty much just like another costume on this list.
He took over a new costume that managed to evoke the New 52 costume in a lot of ways (like the pointed sleeves), but without it being an armored outfit. It also dropped the high collar and added blue boots, which gave it a bit of an odd effect of it almost looking like just one big outfit rather than a shirt and pants. It kind of looks like a big baby onesie with the feet sewn in… but not in an altogether bad way.
7. NEW 52 “ORIGINAL”
In the first issue of the “New 52” “Action Comics,” written by Grant Morrison with a team of artists, Superman wa sshown still in the formative days of his superhero career. One of his first missions, after shaking down local thugs and crooked officials, is having to stop an out of control high-powered bullet train. He is able to stop it, but in the end, he is knocked out in the process. Thus, it cleverly showed that Superman was not yet “more powerful than a locomotive.”
Since this series’ goal was to show Superman in his early career, the costume had the look of a young man playing dress-up. There are jeans and a bright Superman T-shirt, but also a cape. It is similar to the “Truth” costume, but the big difference is that while “Truth” featured a black background for the “S,” this one has a yellow background for the “S.” And of course the cape. Both of these aspects of the costume are designed to show that this is a much lighter, less jaded Superman than the one who readers will later see in “Truth.”
6. RETURN OF SUPERMAN
Following his death in the previously mentioned “Death of Superman,” four beings showed up to claim that they were the “real” Superman: a Cyborg version of Superman, a Kryptonian weapon posing as Superman, a young clone, and an engineer whose life had been saved by Superman during the attack by Doomsday (the last guy — who would later become Steel — never actually claimed to be Superman). As it turned out, though, they were all full of it. In fact, the Cyborg Superman was a villain!
However, the Kryptonian copy of Superman — the Eradicator — had actually taken Superman’s body and, using some special Kryptonian machinery, was able to revive Superman in a special healing chamber and a healing suit. When he was suitably healed, he emerged from the chamber wearing that suit, which was a really cool looking silver and black Superman outfit; almost evoking a death shroud. Once Superman and his friends stopped the plans of Cyborg Superman, an alien friend of Superman used her telekinetic powers to transform the silver and black costume into his traditional outfit (although Superman kept the long hair he grew while in the healing chamber).
5. THE ORIGINAL
It is difficult to grasp just how powerful of a design the original Superman costume was, especially as it is still roughly the costume that is used today. That shows that after nearly 80 years, it is an arresting and iconic visual symbol. However, at the same time, as time goes by, people are beginning to lose the whole historical context of what the costume represented at the time.
Back in 1938, while there had not yet been any superheroes in comic books, people were familiar with costumes like the one that Superman wears on “Action Comics” #1. Artist Joe Shuster was drawing from the culture of the circus and of “strongmen” to design the outfit for Superman. That early outfit, then, is very much in keeping with what a traditional stronman would wear. This has led to a number of famous strongmen from the era trying to claim some sort of credit, which is silly, as again, the basics of the outfit were worn by many. This specific design, however, is still unique to Shuster.
4. GOLDEN AGE
One of the fascinating things about the early years of Superman is that, despite the character exploding in popularity right from the start, there were a few notable aspects outside of the control of the creators of the characters. You see, Joe Shuster could not nearly keep up with the sudden and striking demand for new Superman material; so very early on, both Shuster himself and then later National Comics (which later became DC) began hiring artists to draw the character with Shuster, and then later, by themselves.
As a result, readers got the remarkable occasion of seeing a character’s look workshopped in front of their eyes after he was already a cultural icon! Throughout the late 1930s and into the early 1940s, Superman’s costume was constantly being drawn slightly differently by both Shuster and the other artists that were brought on board. The character’s costume began to look less like a traditional strongman costume and more like what we typically think of as a spandex superhero costume. The logo, too, went through drastic changes until finally, artist Paul Cassidy came up with basically what we think of as the standard “S” chevron, all the way back in “Action Comics” #26.
3. CURRENT COSTUME
Despite debuting the Rebirth costume for Superman less than a year ago, DC is already revamping the outfit, and the new costume by Patrick Gleason is a great new take. It addresses nearly every criticism that people had of the Rebirth costume, which, as we showed above, was already an improvement over the “New 52” costume.
The sleeves of the costume are just normal ones, and the boots are back to being red. It’s about as close as we have come to seeing the classic Superman costume since the “New 52” began, and it really works well. Of course, the red “underpants” are still missing from the design, but it appears that is likely its own never-ending battle that will never be won. It seems it is difficult to go back once you make a dramatic change like that. It’s hard to imagine, for example, Hawkeye going without a cowl for nearly a decade (as he has done), and then suddenly going back to wearing one. That all notwithstanding, this forthcoming redesign is one of the best Superman costumes yet.
2. KINGDOM COME-INSPIRED
During the classic miniseries “Kingdom Come” by Alex Ross and Mark Waid, Superman had retired from superheroing due to the loss of his wife years earlier. When he is finally convinced to return to action, he symbolizes the change in his life (and attitude) by wearing a black background behind the “S” on his chest. It’s a striking change to his outfit, but not the only one. The “S” is also slightly bigger than normal, but it is unclear if that was a specific design change or just how Alex Ross likes to draw the “S.” Neal Adams, for instance, was famous for drawing a really large “S” on Superman’s chest at times.
Following the 2001 crossover, “Our Worlds at War,” where many people on Earth died from an alien invasion, Superman decided to memorialize their sacrifices by adding a black background to the “S” on his chest, which was a very clever way of the “Superman” titles working in a costume influence from an out-of-continuity comic like “Kingdom Come.”
1. THE CLASSIC
Even after Paul Cassidy came up with the now-classic “S” look for Superman, the logo still took a little fixing here and there. However, by the end of the 1940s, Superman’s look was locked-in. After years of slightly different costumes and tweaks, the classic look was here and no one saw any need to change it. It is a statement about how great this costume is that it went effectively unchanged for nearly 70 years — something that not many other heroes can say!
Of course, over the years, artists would alter Superman’s look himself — he would get less broad shoulders, then broader shoulders again — and the blue in the costume has been shaded darker or lighter over the years, but the same basic striking mixture of the three primary colors has stood the test of time. This includes the red “underwear,” which served well as an artistic defining point between the upper body and the legs of Superman. Again, this is close to a perfect costume in comics, by anyone’s measure.
What’s your favorite Superman costume? Let us know in the comments section!
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