December 7, 2012

Why was Superman wearing underpants over his tights in the first place?

Rob Bricken pushes back against those who are outraged at Superman's redesigned outfit. The original outfit (from 1933) was based on what circus strongmen of the time wore. But no one gets that reference anymore. So:
No one is looking at Superman's redesigned outfit in DC's New 52 and saying, "Boy, now that Superman doesn't have underpants, he no longer looks like a circus strongman, which was a visual that had no value to me!" Maybe a few people are saying, "Boy, Superman's skin-tight unitard sure looks adult and manly now that he isn't wearing underwear!" …maybe. But most people are saying, "He looks weird without it."
Think about why old-time circus strongmen dressed like they did: They wanted to show off their muscles in a leotard and tights, but they needed to avoid all that precise definition around their genitalia. If it's just a drawing though, the artists can render the crotch any way they want. They don't need pants, but the lack of pants makes you think about it:
I have no idea why this is - maybe our brains instinctively know when a guy is effectively wearing a unitard, his junk should be visible. You don't have to want to see it, you don't even have to think about it for more than a second, but the lack of underpants forces us to acknowledge the super-crotch, while underpants allow us to ignore the region entirely.
And then there's movie Superman. (Photo of underpantsless Superman at the link.)
By taking away Superman's briefs in both the comics and the movies, DC is working against 80 years of tradition, a tradition that superheroes have completely claimed from their original inspiration. They aren't making Superman look any less "silly" - he's still wearing tights and a cape, for fuck's sake. They're simply making people think about Superman's penis now, and not everybody wants to. 
 (Via Metafilter.)

58 comments:

Salamandyr said...

Exactly.

Coketown said...

Anyone else need something cold to drink?

chickelit said...

Who says Superman needs to be sexualized?

How about insisting on genitals for Ken and Barbie too?

Balfegor said...

He's not pushing back against those who are outraged, he's explaining why we are right to be outraged by Superman's new panty-free outfit. Or at least mildly irritated.

Emil Blatz said...

Are the underpants bothersome because they are shorts? If they were long underpants, is this still a problem?

Ignorance is Bliss said...

The original outfit (from 1933) was based on what circus strongmen of the time wore. But no one gets that reference anymore.

So underwear over tights is a dead metaphor?

edutcher said...

Green Lantern coming out was a dud, so now it's going to be Supe.

Bad idea.

Coketown said...

I don't like the direction of today's comic book writers. It's just another example of progressive incursions into the realm of tradition. And to see where progressivism gets you in realms of tradition, consider which is doing better since the split: the liberal Church of England or the conservative International Anglican Church.

So we have Superman, who tradition dictates wears red underwear over blue tights. But tradition be damned. Today's writers are narcissists. Rather than adopting Superman and carrying his 80-year-old torch farther, they're extinguishing it and starting over. "If I had created Superman, here's how I would do it!" They then proceed to make egregious, silly changes. This one's gay now. And this one's Hispanic. This one renounced his American citizenship. And who says James Bond has to be male? Or even human? Let's make him a giraffe.

I know it takes a lot of humility to look at a character whose very nature and values run contrary to your own and appreciate why those values made him a character of such enduring appeal, but these writers need to do just that. Purloined undies are just the beginning.

Chef Mojo said...

They did it with Batman, and nobody bitched about it.

Methadras said...

I'm actually liking the new suit. Man of Steel looks very stylized and really slick. I hope it won't be short on story, but the visuals should be awesome.

PCS Blogger said...

It wasn't to show off his muscles or junk. It was to break up the color scheme of his outfit. Straight blue is visually boring. The breakup of blue, red, blue, and red is visually a little more appealing. Other characters follow the same pattern: the Hulk is green, purple, green. Batman is blue, grey, blue, grey, blue.

Chef Mojo said...

Seriously. This is the epitome of a First World problem.

PCS Blogger said...

Reference this blog article, which breaks down superheroes as color swatches: http://stormingtheivorytower.blogspot.com/2011/08/ladies-and-gentlemen-im-now-down-to.html

PCS Blogger said...

I'm also going to flag the Earth-2 Superman redesign which came after the "New 52" Superman. Long story short: "Earth 2" is an alternate universe at DC Comics that has a different set of superheroes than the Justice League. This world had a Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, but they were all killed in the first issue.

The redesign in THIS story maintains the simplicity of the red-blue-red-blue-red Superman style, but streamlines out the shorts. I still prefer the classic "strongman" costume, but I also prefer this outfit BY FAR to the one that appeared in August 2011.

http://media.comicbookmovie.com/images/users/uploads/25936/Earth2-1.jpg

edutcher said...

Chef Mojo said...

They did it with Batman, and nobody bitched about it.

You never saw "Batman And Robin".

Chef Mojo said...

Comic book writers have gone the way of sportscasters. They're desperate to appear politically relevant to society in mediums of pure entertainment.

In the end, they succeed at being neither relevant nor entertaining.

chickelit said...

Coketown said: Rather than adopting Superman and carrying his 80-year-old torch farther, they're extinguishing it and starting over.

I think it's just a failure of imagination and possession of malice. Instead of creating a gay or hispanic superhero, it's symbolically more important to first kill off the straight white American male one first.

Toad Trend said...

I think PCS is right, the so-called underpants are really a color transition to provide some contrast. And, provide some 'cover'.

Any speculation regarding said junk is a certain manifestation unique to the author, methinks.

EDH said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael K said...

Thongs would be the new normal. It seems to be for females under 50.

Carl said...

What are they made of, those panties? Adamantium? Because otherwise, every time Lana Lang bends over and Kent gets superwood, he's going to explode out of them in a really embarassing kind of pop! sproing!

ricpic said...

"Superman's junk" is a bad faith comment.

sbk said...

The really sad part is we're going to stop seeing 6 year old little boys running around the house with their favorite pair of red undies pulled on top of their blue footie pajamas and a red jacket tied around their necks.

THAT is a sight to behold and loosing that image is really tragic.

mojavehicular said...

This reminds me of Eldredge Cleaver's brief career in fashion design.

Chip Ahoy said...

sbk.

In Egyptian hieroglyphics sbk means crocodile.

Sobek, the crocodile god.

I made a card and thought, now if I were a scribe how would I write this, then did. Mailed it. Then later when I had the internet available right there I checked to see if my arrogance might have overstepped tru fax, and sure enough it is written sbk.

Oh. Tights. Ha ha ha ha ha My favorite part of that whole thing was were the person goes, 'for fuck's sake" because fuck doesn't have a sake that goes with superman underwear pants.

ambienisevil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Crunchy Frog said...

Do we want Superman sporting?

http://www.rawbw.com/~svw/superman.html

"Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex", Larry Niven, 1971.

Chip Ahoy said...

It's not the bodysuit, Persey, it's the double cotton panel and the dancer's cup, it's all too distracting to superhero feats.

Alex said...

Ah yes it's "end of quarter" on Althouse.

Icepick said...

They did it with Batman, and nobody bitched about it.

There was bitching about some things, but the thing with Batman is the cowl and cape. The particulars on his outfit aren't as important.

...

I don't mind the new comic book outfit. I prefer the classic look but that's because at heart I'm a much older fart than I am in real life. But the new one isn't bad.

Now the one for the new movie just plain sucks.

Chip S. said...

How about an update that involves wearing NBA-length shorts over his bodysuit?

Icepick said...

Well thank God Crunchy Frog was on the case. Just to make it easy here it is all linked up:

Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex

Really, whatever it takes to keep Sups from busting out the Super Sperm is something we should all support!

Chip S. said...

He could also lose the boots and put on some Air Jordans.

William said...

It's difficult to merge tradition with progress. Several years ago they wanted to rid the Coldstream Guards of the polished metal breastplates that they wore at the changing of the guard. There was a hue and cry about it. The final compromise was that they wore the breastplates but with fake nipples attached to make the style seem more current. Edgy and forward looking, but not divorced from the past. Sometimes it' difficult finding just the right balance.

McTriumph said...

So the new Superman looks like an Olympic speed skater with a cape?

bagoh20 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bagoh20 said...

On a related note:
The real Spiderman died last Sunday. He was a friend and a fellow hang glider in our club here in L.A. He stop flying last year after battling cancer for a decade. His name was Fred Waugh, and he was a stuntman with an incredible history of work in TV and movies including being the stuntman for the "Spiderman" TV series and movie in the 70's. He was a great HG pilot, an all around nice man, not to mention highly competent, talented and apparently fearless.

Here is his IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0915285/

And here is a Hang Gliding video he made of some of his last flights with us. In it, he flies the glider in the "suprone" position, which is the old school sitting up method pretty much unseen today.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpZr6NFJofg

Sam L. said...

Yeah. Gays could be severely depressed if they saw a hint of Superman's.

And that guy wrote "market penetration"! Be still, my heart!

And clearly, they're over-pants.

Why didn't Robin at least have leggings?

I could say more, but Ai gotta keep it clean(ish).

Methadras said...

Unless you are a regular reader of comics (like I am) it's sometimes hard to appreciate the waxing and waning of trends to characters, power sets, and dare I say costumes. Wonder Woman recently went through a costume change. The she hulk has also gone through one. Just recently Marvel's Ms. Marvel who is now Captain Marvel underwent a costume change. So it comes and goes. Otherwise, hypercriticality of such vaporous things in life only makes you look like a philistine. :D

PCS Blogger said...

Robin did get leggings. They finally came in the 90s.

Here's the best image I could find of the various Robins and their outfits over time. This image is very non-inclusive.
http://images4.fanpop.com/image/photos/17100000/Robin-costumes-from-Batman-dc-comics-17152392-596-400.jpg

PCS Blogger said...

Here's a better one of all the Robin costume changes. Yeah, there's a robot.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_jhZ8mt9p9S4/TN2bahgdMDI/AAAAAAAABzg/iWSPMtJnCd4/s1600/army%2Bof%2Brobins.jpg

Astro said...

w o w. this is s u c h an important issue.

let's complain about Murphy Brown too.

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

William said...

It's difficult to merge tradition with progress. Several years ago they wanted to rid the Coldstream Guards of the polished metal breastplates that they wore at the changing of the guard. There was a hue and cry about it. The final compromise was that they wore the breastplates but with fake nipples attached to make the style seem more current. Edgy and forward looking, but not divorced from the past. Sometimes it' difficult finding just the right balance.

I would expect there would be quite a hue and cry since the Coldstreams are infantry. No self respecting infantryman would wear a cuirass.

Kevin Walsh said...

What was weird was showing Supes in an apron when he was in the kitchen, making dinner. He has flown through the sun in that uniform and he needs an apron?

Kevin Walsh said...

And the new S on Cavill's outfit is no good either. Don't f@ck with that S.

elkh1 said...

Boxers or briefs?

Dante said...

He was a great HG pilot, an all around nice man, not to mention highly competent, talented and apparently fearless.

"All these memories, lost, like tears, in rain."

Does the hang gliding help, Bagoh?

Zach said...

Look at the live action photo. All of the lines and folds in the suit point directly at his junk. Of course your eye is drawn there. Coloring it red breaks up the flow and accentuates the limbs.

Comic book Blue Superman, to my eye, has too much definition in general. He's not strong because he's a bodybuilder (who use crazy diets and diuretics to get rid of body fat), he's strong because he was born that way. He can pass for a newspaper reporter, after all.

Doing a little research, I see that the comics listed him as 6'3", 225. (The movie changed it to 6'4" to match Christopher Reeve). So in civilian clothes, he could stand next to me and you couldn't tell who was who.

Second topic: the latter-day movie Supermen are too slender for the role. Brandon Routh looks like a teenager, and Henry Cavill looks scrawny. Christopher Reeve had some bulk.

Joe Schmoe said...

I would imagine changes to the comic book appearance are made with an eye towards the inevitable movie deal. Comic book character movies seem to be almost-guaranteed box office hits these days.

I'm not into comic books, but I don't mind updating costumes to reflect contemporary trends. The original red and blue of Superman's costume were very primary on the visible spectrum, and they worked well for color printing methods of the early 20th century. Now we can graphically design and print complex fabric that has multiple colors and depth and metallic hues and plastic ribs that act like bra supports pointing to a man's junk.

Joe Schmoe said...

In 30 or 40 years you'll be able to look at what is now the new Superman costume and tell that it was done in the early part of the 21st century.

Joe Schmoe said...

As to Ann's question, why the underpants over the tights, maybe the tights are so tight that there's no way he'd get them on over his underpants. Or if he did, he'd have unsightly bunching in the rear. Remember, these were the days before thongs.

Joe Schmoe said...

Also, he's gotta have some sort of layered garments, at least in the front. If he just has a one-layered unitard, then he's gonna have a wet stain in the front after every time he takes a leak. Superman does pee, doesn't he?

Joe Schmoe said...

Haaallllloooooo?. Anybody home? Oh well, it's fun to poke around a dead thread, like combing through the junk left behind by the circus. Oops, almost stepped in some elephant dung. Speaking of dung, what do circuses do with all their doo? The animals must make a lot of doody while they are in town. Does the circus take it with them? Do they compost it? Or do they hide it in used fast food bags and sneak it into the regular trash?

Joe said...

Superman was always dumb anyway. Make someone invincible, and then you have to come up with really silly shit to make the story dramatic.

Baron Zemo said...

Not everyone can look good in a spandex costume.

Baron Zemo said...

All the superheroes make fun of Superman because nobody wants to date him. The rumor is that he is a lousy lay.

You know. Faster than a speeding bullit. Just sayn'

Baron Zemo said...

The only reason Lois Lane used to hang around with him was to use him as beard. She liked the ladies.

Every since she had to fluff Perry White to get her job she has hated men.

Henry said...

I'm totally late to the party, but, based on the actor photos at the link, when Superman has no underpants he looks like a ballet dancer.

Why the tights, man of steel?