Let’s get one thing straight: I am not your average New 52 nitpicker. Like anyone, I think it was incredibly wasteful to throw out so much established continuity for the sake of convenient jumping on points, but you won’t find me complaining about the Justice League’s high Victorian era collars, Wally West’s new racial makeup, or even the fact that Tim Drake has those stupid mechanical wings.
However, there’s one thing that really irks me: Superman’s missing red undies.
I’m sorry, but not only are those briefs the most iconic underpants in all of pop culture, but they are an inescapable part of who Superman is. Let me list the reasons:
5. Too Much Blue!
I know he’s fondly known by his fans and detractors (mainly Frank Miller worshippers) as the “Big Blue Boy Scout,” but there is such a thing as too much blue spandex. I mean, these days he looks like a big blue blob, which was a great look for the Tick, but not for our Man of Steel.
His red belt is insufficient for breaking up the blue, and seems tacked on as an afterthought, a placeholder for the red briefs that should be there.
4. Superman Isn’t Cool
I suspect the main motivation behind Superman’s brief-less makeover is to make him look cool. Well, Superman’s not supposed to be cool, that’s Batman’s job. Don’t get me wrong, Superman’s my personal favorite, but that’s because he’s unabashedly idealistic and compassionate, which are not very fashionable qualities. Arriving on earth, Kal-El became equal parts Superman and the dorky Clark Kent, and we love him for that.
It’s no coincidence that Man of Steel, the first live action movie to feature a brief-less Superman had a Clark Kent that looked like a J. Crew model.
The briefs are a metaphor. Superman wears everything on the outside because, secret identity aside, he has nothing to hide. This is also why, unlike so many of his colleagues, he refuses to wear a mask. Mark Waid drives this point home in his Superman: Birthright series. Clark eloquently explains to his parents why his superhero costume shouldn’t include a mask: “If I want people to trust me, they’ll have to be able to see my face.” Superman just lets it all hang out. His briefs and emotions are the same thing!
First thing I noticed about Superman’s new look, beautifully illustrated by the great John Romita Jr., is how smooth he is below the belt. Now I’m not a man who fears other men’s bulges: immersing myself in the world of cosplay has beaten that out of me. I understand that some artists would shy away from depicting Superman’s nether contours, but you can’t tell me that the same fabric that would cling so tightly to his lower ribs would completely obscure his package. If Superman were to have some briefs of a different color and perhaps different material, I would more easily accept a lack of any visible bulge.
1. It’s the Classic Superhero Look
When I was little and wanted to look like a superhero, I always did two things: first I tied a towel around my neck like a cape, and then I would pull some tighty whiteys over whatever pants I was wearing.
The argument some people make for Superman losing the red undies is that it’s an archaic look for circus strong men that performed around the time Action Comics #1 was first released. That’s all fine and good, but now wearing trunks over tights brings with it a new association: the costume of a superhero. And as pop culture’s original superhero, doesn’t it just make sense for Superman to sport this timeless look?