Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. - SUPERMAN's 21st Century Redesigns
Superman’s suit has become iconic. Originally, it was simply a costume based loosely on that of a circus strongman of the same era, a suit to emphasize the character’s strength and resiliency, with a cape that added dramatic motion when he leapt and flew. The S-shield was just that, a symbol with his monogram. Later on, the suit was said to be made of indestructible Kryptonian fabrics, constructed from fabrics placed in the rocket that brought baby Kal-El from Krypton to Earth. It was also shown that the Superman costume design was inspired by similar fashion on Krypton, so Superman was basically paying tribute to his heritage. The live-action film, Superman: The Movie, introduced the idea that the S-shield was an alien glyph, a seal of the House of El and Clark’s family legacy. In the wonderful story Superman: Birthright, writer Mark Waid added another layer by saying that the S-shield was also an ancient Kryptonian symbol that meant “hope.”
Despite his longevity, Superman (like any longtime character) has had to evolve to appeal to new audiences and times. Many times in the past decade, people have also applied this to his uniform, seeking to update it for the 21st century. So without further ado, let’s examine the past few years of modern takes on Superman’s classic suit and where they came from.
EARTH ONE: A DARKER WORLD
Superman: Earth One was written by J. Michael Straczynski and drawn by Shane Davis. JMS wanted to bring in a more somber, introverted take on Clark Kent, displaying a 21-year-old who felt aimless as an outsider. This story showed Clark using his abilities to get job offers from major sports teams and scientific research firms, but feeling no real drive to apply himself, convinced he would always be an outsider. Shane Davis’s artwork reflected that, placing Clark in multiple layers of clothing. The idea was for him to look like someone who simply blended in with others in a city such as Metropolis, but he appeared to be hiding as much as blending, which fit the character.
Looking at the suit, it is basically the classic design but with a gold border around the S-shield. Not a major change, but not a bad one at all either. I can go either way with having a thin gold border around the symbol or not. Along with this, we have differently-shaped boots, a more realistic design perhaps, and they definitely look heavier than Superman’s boots traditionally appear.
Superman: Earth One – Book Two will be out soon, so be on the lookout at your local comic shops.
To imply his future status as the primary-colored superhero, the creators often put Clark Kent in red and blue outfits. A red shirt with a blue jacket, or a blue shirt with a red jacket were often used. When Clark was in situations where he had to wear a shirt and tie, the combination again was blue and red.
After ten seasons, Smallville ended, with Clark finally adopting what appeared to be the classic Superman suit, which was apparently a Kryptonian uniform completely made and ready for him (as had been implied by the film), rather than Kryptonian fabric altered by Martha Kent. Now, a new comic series has begun that acts as the show’s “season 11,” continuing the continuity of this version of the Man of Steel. Written by Brian Q. Miller and illustrated by Pere Perez, Smallville Season 11 reveals that Clark is now sporting a new take on the Superman outfit. At first glance it is similar to the Earth One design, but has simply removed the shorts-outside-the-trousers element.
In the pages of the rebooted Action Comics series, writer Grant Morrison and artist Rags Morales showed us Clark in his early twenties. He was not quite as powerful as the classic idea of Superman yet. Furthermore, he didn’t begin his career in a serious costume. Since the mid-1980s, the official DC continuity said that Superman was not the first superhero of Earth. We saw the same idea used in the cartons of the 1990s and in the TV series Smallville. So when he did become a hero, it made some sense that he would copy the basic model used by costumed adventurers before him.
I love this look as Superman’s proto-costume. We still know exactly who he is but it also tells us he’s just starting out. What’s more, it gives a nice nod to Superman’s original status as a working-class hero. As opposed to costumed vigilantes created before him (Zorro, the Green Hornet, the Spider, the Shadow, and the Phantom), he is not a wealthy guy with a fortune and a personal staff. He’s on his own, he has a boss as Clark Kent, and he’s as concerned about fighting corrupt businessmen and gangsters as he is about evil space aliens and shape-shifting mutations.
Some might criticize the outfit seeming too “off-the-rack,” but I think that fits with this era of Superman’s life. He’s young, he’s still figuring things out, still acting impulsively at times. The design displays his youth and rough edges.
This is a fun new take on Superman’s suit being made of Kryptonian materials. If Krypton was so advanced in science, as it is usually shown to be across media, I like the idea that their clothing could be a scientific wonder itself rather than simply fabric that Martha Kent would later be able to stitch and alter with Earthly technology.
In general, I’m good with this design. I think the collar is a little high on the neck and I would like a gold belt buckle, but I can live with that. The main misgivings I have are the seams. There are so many seams that it’s distracting and it gives a cluttered look depending on the artist and the angle. I also don’t think we need the suit to look like armor to understand that, like the classic suit, it’s supposed to be indestructible. Superman is tough and he engages in combat pretty frequently, but he’s not a militaristic character and armor implies that.
This outfit may be more realistic for a movie, but this isn’t a movie. It’s a comic book where reality is exaggerated and fabric will do what we tell it to do.
Just my thoughts.
NEW 52 – Earth 2
So Superman’s first serious reboot was in the late 1950s, as the “Silver Age of Comics” began. Later on, readers discovered that most of the Superman stories that were published beforehand were now said to have taken place on a parallel Earth called Earth-2, where Superman (and other heroes) had been born much earlier and had led similar, but not identical, lives.
Really nice design. I’d still prefer a yellow belt buckle, but otherwise this looks really good. It also shows, I think, that you can have a streamlined “costume” instead of “armor” on Superman and still make him seem modern and strong. Some of these elements should definitely work their way into the mainstream.
Also, Nicola Scott’s Earth 2 Wonder Woman looks AMAZING. But that’s a discussion for another time. Hope you enjoyed this look at the past decade’s reimaginings of the Superman suit. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off.
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