Here’s a live-action Superman that you’ve never seen before, until now.
In 2008, legendary filmmaker George Miller was working on Justice League Mortal, a film which would bring Superman back to live action after the failed 2006 Bryan Singer reboot, Superman Returns. The project fell through, and the Last Son of Krypton didn’t make it back to the big screen until 2013, courtesy of Zack Snyder.
But today, DC Films Hub revealed the costume that George Miller’s Superman would have worn, featuring D. J. Cortana as Superman.
A look at this costume is sure to make you pretty glad that DC waited a couple more years to update Superman’s look on the big screen. It does away with the underpants that Brandon Routh’s 2006 costume still had, but brightens the suit’s colours to almost comical (ha) vibrancy.
But with Superman getting his red underpants back in the comics, it’s time to look back at the various iterations of the costume over Superman’s 80-year history.
The first ever live-action version of the character that we got was in 1940 New York World’s Fair, portrayed by Ray Middleton. It was based on the original comic design and featured the iconic red underpants. The original artists drew inspiration from Victorian circus strongmen, who wore underpants with a belt over their tights when performing feats of strength. The choice of outfit was familiar to audiences then, and would have created an association between heroes and the ‘real’ superhumans of the time.
The costume Middleton wore was knitted, as spandex hadn’t been invented yet. Besides just adapting the costume, the designers added the word ‘SUPERMAN’ above the logo, as the character was not well known, just 2 years into his initial comic run.
As Superman’s popularity grew, he got his first television serial in 1948, titled simply Superman, played by Kirk Alyn.
The costume was fairly simple, explained by Ma Kent telling Clark that she made the costume out of the blankets that she had found him in.
Moving on to the 1950s, Adventures of Superman brought Superman to full colour in live action for the first time in its third season. George Reeves was the actor who wore this iconic costume.
And let’s not forget Ben Affleck’s version of this costume when playing George Reeves in the 2006 period flick Hollywoodland. His version is a little darker, perhaps to tamp down some of the campiness.
If you know anything about classic Hollywood, is that if you want it to be successful, you make it a musical. Bob Holiday brought Superman to Broadway in 1966’s It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman! His costume was sleeker than previous versions, and was the first to feature the cape as tucked into the neckline, rather than stitched to the shoulders.
Bob Holiday went on to do commercials and television programmes (such as this one) as Superman, cementing his status as an American pop culture icon.
Despite this, Superman didn’t make it back onto our screens until 1978, when Christopher Reeves embodied the hero in a way that cinema has never forgotten.
With his sleek, polyester-shiny costume, his piercing blue eyes, and black hair styled into a curl, Reeves’ Superman was undeniably perfect to bring superheroes back into the popular American consciousness.
The costume was originally meant to feature a darker shade of blue, but due to issues with blue-screen filming, the suit was lightened to the almost turquoise colour that audiences today continue to associate with Superman. The suit stayed more or less the same for all four of Reeves’ Superman movies.
A lesser-known attempt to keep the spirit of Superman alive was the 1988-1992 television series Superboy (later retitled The Adventures of Superboy). It ran for 4 seasons and featured two actors as the titular hero, John Haymes Newton (season 1) and Gerard Christopher (seasons 2-4). The costumes were similar to previous iterations of the costume, but the actors didn’t really have the gravitas to pull it off.
After this, Superman returned to television in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, played by Dean Cain.
Here, the emphasis was less on Superman the hero, and more on Clark and Lois’ relationship. The costume didn’t undergo much of a change, other than ditching the hair curl for a modern haircut. Without the blue-screen issues that Reeves faced, the suit was back to bright primary colours.
Next comes a version of Superman that we are glad never made it onto actual screens.
Tim Burton launched a project in 1998 to reboot Superman in a movie titled Superman Lives, with Nicholas Cage playing the hero. Early pictures of the costume were released, and they look like a rehash of Burton’s Batman costumes – metallic, and uncomfortably overly sculpted. Thank god that this project got scrapped, or we might have had another version of the Bat-nipples to contend with.
In 2006 (the same year Hollywoodland came out), Superman Returns came out, touted as a tribute and continuation of Christopher Reeves iconic films. Despite the hype, the movie was received poorly; modern audiences wanted something more out of Superman than a rehash of what came before.
Routh’s costume did change a little from Reeves’ version, notably the much darker colours, the detailing on the belt, and the addition of textured materials for the suit and the S shield.
Around the same time, Smallville briefly premiered its Superman, after the young Clark Kent spent 10 seasons getting his act together. For much of the show, he wore a simple red-and-blue, later red-and-black, combo to go about helping people.
Unfortunately, we never got more than a brief glimpse of his costume, as the show ended with Clark finally accepting the role of Superman. The suit he wore was a reuse of Routh’s so there were no changes to report.
A few years later, DC Comics continued Smallville in a series of digital comics, which continued the adventures of this Superman. Since only the S symbol was revealed on the TV series, the artist managed to redesign the costume, by removing the red underoos.
Zack Snyder presented a drastically updated Superman in 2013’s Man of Steel, starring Henry Cavill. Dark, textured and missing the bright underpants and belt entirely, this brought a completely different tone from previous versions with this costume. Rather than being Ma Kent’s handiwork, like in previous films, the suit is shown to be Kryptonian in origin. The S is no longer just an S, but the Kryptonian symbol for hope.
Fans were divided on the lack of the iconic underpants for the character, but the change was generally welcomed. Given that modern audiences no longer have the mental image of strongmen to link to Superman’s costume, nothing much was lost by the exclusion, and if anything, made the character easier to take seriously.
The suit was further updated in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with the addition of Kryptonian glyphs onto the S shield with a quote from Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. It was also darkened to match the serious tone of the movie.
In the midst of all of this this, Tyler Hoechlin portrayed a more cheery, Reeves-esque version of the character on, CW’s Supergirl. His Superman costume was brighter and more clunky, harking back to the classic cinema days and serving as a nice contrast to its much darker, more sophisticated movie counterpart.
Meanwhile, Cavill’s suit visibly brightened for the team-oriented Justice League.
Cavill teased the concept of a black suit on his Instagram, but that never came to fruition in the actual movie. Zack Snyder confirmed the purpose of the black suit on Vero, and in a deleted scene, the black costume can be seen, though it was never worn. This costume first appeared in the comics after the resurrection of Superman.
With his now 80-year history as the world’s number one superhero, it’s safe to say that Superman has more than earned the right to wear whatever he wants. The red, blue and yellow costume, no matter the design, stands as a universally recognised symbol.
Superman has always updated himself with the times, and we definitely look forward to what’s next in store for this iconic character. There’s a new series, Krypton, that debuted on Sy-Fy today, which will involve the grandfather of Kal-El. So far, only Superman’s red cape can be seen on the show, but who knows – the red, yellow and blue might make an appearance down the road.