The Many Looks Of Superman

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With yesterday’s unveiling of the new Superman costume that Henry Cavill will be wearing in Man Of Steel, we thought it was time to take a look back at the different outfits that Superman has sported over the years. Because while he’s always had the same basic elements, the outfits have undergone some significant tweaks since his first screen appearance in 1948 (we’re not counting animated offerings). Here’s a quick summary of the well-dressed Kryptonian superhero’s favourite looks…

*Superman / Atom Man Vs Superman

  • The first man to play Superman on screen, in two film serials, Alyn looked almost eerily like the comic-book incarnation of Superman, spit-curl and square jaw and everything. While he looks under-muscled and over-fed to modern eyes, he was a paragon of brawniness by 1940s standards. His costume, however, leaves something to be desired. Those pants recall Bridget Jones’ most tummy-controlling efforts, and there’s something odd about attaching the (very short) cape forward of the shoulders like that. And lace-up boots? This isn't bloomin' Robin Hood! The “S” on his chest is also a little wonky looking to us, so all in all this left a bit of room for improvement. Still, sartorial woes were probably the least of Alyn’s concerns, as he contended with the fact that contemporary effects didn’t permit him to fly, the challenge of making Supes and Clark Kent as distinctive as possible (something he managed well) and, incidentally, arch-criminal the Spider Lady.

*Adventures Of Superman

Television’s first Superman, himself portrayed onscreen by Ben Affleck in 2006’s Hollywoodland, George Reeves was one of the famous victims of the “Curse of Superman”, dying of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1959. While Reeves was sometimes depressed after being typecast as Superman and finding it hard to land other roles, there’s no question that he took his work at Superman seriously, and did his best to provide a role-model for kids. But what about the duds? Well, the suit is once again seriously primary-coloured, and still boasts the granny pants of doom. But the shield looks more familiar, if still a little squished, and the cape is now properly attached along the back of his neckline. It’s clear that this provided a few pointers when it came time to transfer Superman back to the big screen in 1978…

Superman / Superman II / Superman III / Superman IV: The Quest For Peace

For anyone sensible, but certainly anyone born in the 1970s and 1980s, Christopher Reeve is Superman. Tall, properly spit-curled, and with a genius for physicality that clearly distinguishes the Big Blue Boy Scout from his mild-mannered alter-ego, Reeve is the model for all Supermen since and, indeed, for any do-gooder hero. It’s hard to judge his costume, then, given that for many it’s the standard by which all others are measured. Still, we have notes. The shield has gotten bigger and migrated down the chest fractionally, the waistline of the pants has mercifully dropped somewhat, and – as with George Reeves – the cape is a sensible boot-length. Edna Mode might not approve of that, but it’s not really negotiable in Superman’s case, and anyway, he’s invulnerable to jet-engines and revolving doors so what's the downside?

The New Adventures Of Superman / Lois & Clark

This one is sometimes written off as the “yuppie” Superman, and certainly Dean Cain’s Clark Kent threads and Teri Hatcher’s Lois Lane would seem to bear that out. But there’s little wrong with the actual Superman suit. The blue base is a slightly darker colour than we’ve seen before, and thankfully the pants are still shrinking – not in a pervy way, but we’re now down from “granny” to “high-leg”, which is frankly more suitable for action anyway. No one wants to worry about high waistbands in the middle of a fight to the death, and this show’s relatively high budget means that there was a fair bit of running about. We’re not sure that we approve of the slicked-back hair, but we can probably forgive Cain the slightly cocky grin he habitually sported in the role. After all, if you were Superman, you’d probably be a tiny bit cocky too.


Okay, so it’s a little hard to judge Superman’s look in this one, since this is really the story of a pre-Superman Clark Kent and since the makers had a specific rule mandating “no tights, no flights”. Any viewers who are more than mildly observant will have noticed that Tom Welling’s wardrobe choices almost all revolved around red and blue, whether plaid shirts or red jackets with jeans. Even in later seasons where he moved more towards suits and ties, the two colours can generally be spotted somewhere in the mix. But it wasn’t until the finale that we got a glimpse of the iconic suit – and even then, it was really only a glimpse. So what was there was... good? But pretty thoroughly inconclusive. We know it’s blue, red and yellow; the chest shield is very much present, but really it’s left to viewers to make up their own mind about what he’s wearing.

Superman Lives

This film never got made, but it’s worth mentioning in this context because the suit is, hands down, the most controversial and talked about of the lot. Keen fans of unmade films will remember that this was Tim Burton’s mooted Superman project, with Nicolas Cage slated to play the Man Of Steel. We’d recommend reading more about the disastrous pre-production anywhere you can, as there are some fascinating stories out there (many from one-time screenwriter Kevin Smith), but let’s stay focused on the costume here. Producer Jon Peters disliked that the traditional brightly coloured costume and wanted an all-black suit, so the script conceived of Superman using parts from mechanical foe The Eradicator to build a sort of armoured silver and black suit. The result was something that looked a hell of a lot more like Batman than Superman. The red cape was still present (and longer than ever), and the chest shield, but that’s about it. Superman fans still have nightmares about this one, we’re told.

Superman Returns

A surprising divisive suit, here, despite the clear adherence to classical Superman comics (and cartoons). Brandon Routh and Bryan Singer were huge fans of Christopher Reeve, the former delivering a performance that brilliantly incorporated Reeve’s ticks and tricks in differentiating Clark and Superman, but they have tried to update the costume for a post-Batman Begins, post-X-Men era. So the colours are decidedly duller, the yellow turned a mustard-gold, and the red cloak now longer and more burgundy. The belt buckle was also made a smaller replica of the chest shield (as Batman does in many incarnation) and the whole thing has a cellular, almost Kevlar texture that recalls Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man. And the pants are still shrinking - here down to "boy-short" dimensions. For our money, he looks great, but this one is not universally loved. Which may be bad news for...

Man Of Steel

Zack Snyder’s directing, Christopher Nolan is producing and David S.Goyer is writing, so the team behind this about-to-shoot epic are an experienced comic-book lot. Henry Cavill, the first non-American to play Superman, is shown in this first shot looking a bit dusty, so it’s hard to tell if his cloak is really as faded a red as it appears here (the colours in the image also appear to have been “crushed” a little, as with 300, which also affects things) - but the overwhelming impression is definitely gritty. The yellow is desaturated, and the whole suit (including chest shield) has a texture even more marked than Superman Returns. It looks like super-fine chainmail (or micro-mail, eh Pratchett fans? No chafing!) which is surely gilding the invulnerable lily. The cape’s still long, but the belt shield has given way to a sensible buckle again, which might reassure purists, and the pants are...there? We guess? Overall, we think it looks rather natty – but what do you think?