Robot 6

Quote of the Day | The importance of Superman’s shorts

What does finally losing his shorts after seven decades tell us about our Superman? He’s self-conscious, insecure and worries so much about what others think about him that he’ll make radical changes just to try and look cooler…?

J. Caleb Mozzocco, putting Superman’s new design into historical context, and not liking what he sees

In a short post on his own blog, Robot 6 contributor Caleb Mozzocco uses Larry Tye’s Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero as a springboard for some more thought about Superman’s underpants. I’ve never understood the hand-wringing over the shorts-less costumes (both in the New 52 and the Man of Steel movie) outside of a nostalgic resistance to change, but Caleb gets to the heart of what’s actually troubling about the redesign. Wearing underwear on the outside of your clothes is garish and silly, but that was always sort of the point: that Superman was awesome — and more importantly, confident — enough to pull it off.

That observation also explains why Batman’s been able to lose his outside underpants without a lot of complaints. Batman’s always been about his image and it makes sense that he continually tweak his costume to make it more effective. Superman should be above that.



Sorry, that’s not serious, is it?

Have people NOT seen the screenshots of Henry Cavill on the set of Man of Steel? There are NO red shorts.

Obviously…this is part of the reason why comic book Superman doesn’t wear shorts now.

Costume changes are an easy way to make characters more realistic and approachable to a modern audience. I’m not sure my non-comic-reading, 18-year-old self would have given The Ultimates a chance back in 2002 were it not for Bryan Hitch’s fantastic redesigns.

That being said, Superman’s costume is still pretty ridiculous without the underwear.

A) They’re not underpants.
B) They were an integral part of an iconic design rivaled in pop culture only by Coca-Cola and Mickey Mouse.
C) Anyone who’s concerned about Superman not being cool enough doesn’t get Superman.

Matthew Halteman

August 7, 2012 at 11:26 am

It’s also a good way to break up the single color with the rest of the costume. The current costume manages to look both busy and incomplete. It’s called design sense. Jim Lee can draw (some things), but he has no design sense.

He’s also very fist-clenchy.

Matthew is right. Even Supergirl still has red below the belt to provide visual contrast. (Shorts, codpiece, I have no idea what you’d call the thing she has… still looks cool)

I understand losing the shorts from a marketing/branding standpoint. You need Superman to ‘look’ cool and exciting to get someone to pick up the book/movie/lunchbox. Personally, I would’ve gone with the new Earth-2 Superman suit for the regular universe. Obviously, it’s a change, but much closer to the original design.

Can’t wait for the 57 part DC crossover that brings back the shorts. Crisis in Infinite Underpants.

They’re not underpants, they’re trunks. The type a circus performer would wear back in the ’30s over his tights to make sure his private parts don’t become public knowledge (I suppose that doesn’t matter much to a comic book superhero with the way they’re drawn).

without the red shorts, it’s dangerously close to looking like a ones-y. the movie outfit looks like he’s wearing Superman pajamas.

It’s the armor thing that really bugs me about the new costume. Armor doesn’t make him look cooler, it’s just the opposite. Part of what made him cool is that he didn’t need that stuff. I see more and more of a dude dressed a kryptonian when it should be a kryptonian dress like a human.

One other thing, the reason the ‘no-shorts’ look doesn’t work on the modern New-52 Superman, is because he’s still drawn as if he’s wearing them. Look at the above pix, they even go as far as to put the ‘underwear’ lines in the shadows.

Superheroes do love clenched fists.

Matthew Halteman

August 7, 2012 at 11:52 am

Grant, I get your point. But if that’s indeed the case, why do all of the images of Superman outside of the comics and new movie still have the classic design? I think it’s because it is a bulletproof design and instantly recognizable around the world.

Matt, I’m not sure to be honest. At first I though it was a delay between the New-52 and the Warner Bros. behemoth. Now, a year later, I’m not sure. Maybe they wanted to wait and see how people reacted in general or if the New-52 even worked?


On the one hand I’m not that concerned about trunks or no-trunks.

On the other, I can see the defense of the trunks design (breaks up the color scheme, makes it look less like a onesie).

And while some characters DO have regular costume redesigns built right into their premise (like Iron Man), usually when someone makes Big Changes to an iconic costume there’s not much reason for it beyond some kind of temporary marketing boost. I mean, I knew a guy in high school who was psyched as hell that Superman was going to be blue and electric, but it didn’t exactly work out, did it?

I’d only consider supes self conscious and insecure if he bends to the demands of those resistant to change. This is just another iteration of a character that will no doubt outlive us all. I’d be much more preoccupied with the stories (or lack thereof) they’re telling with this superman, and whether they truly represent the best of which this character is capable.

Anything else is just dressing.

If you show a non-comic book reader a picture of the new 52 Superman, and ask them who it is, they will instantly tell you it is Superman because they recognize the S shield and the red and blue color scheme. Ask them what has changed about the costume, and after a few minutes they will either give up, or finally realize the undies are gone. The red undies are not nearly as iconic as comic readers think.

To people from the 30s it reminded them of circus strong men, but to people today, it really does just look like he is wearing his underpants on the outside. As an adult it is not a big deal to me, but I remember my 13 year old self, as typical hyper-sensitive teenage, would not buy it because it looked so silly.

Metal Woman

After seeing all the response to missing trunks, I can only imagine how nutty people were about the Electric Superman silliness.

Simon DelMonte

August 7, 2012 at 3:25 pm

I prefer the T shirt and jeans look.


August 7, 2012 at 3:26 pm

The point of the quote was to laugh these kinds of moronic changes into the ground. Yet everyone here immediately discuses the “shorts” topic seriously

Jake Earlewine

August 7, 2012 at 3:52 pm

It’s not the shorts or lack of shorts that bothers me — it’s how nu-Superman and most other nuDC designs look like they were ripped off from the worst Image designs of the nineties.

“Hey, it failed twenty years ago! Let’s try it again!”

Gosh, what will they think of next? Leather jackets?

People make underwear jokes and will still go out and see a Superman movie. The underwear on the outside jokes are as old as Superman himself but that didn’t stop people from loving the George Reeves series or the Donner films. People make those jokes because they are jokes and at least they think they are being funny. But it is not necessarily a declaration of their world view on superheroes. So why do comics industry and fans insist on having this massive shame complex that the characters must gratuitously compensate for?

When I look at the New 52 design it really just feels like it’s all about being ashamed of Superman. Why? Because this industry has a real nasty habit of blaming the characters for misfires and failures. Hey, why take responsibility for a bad comic when you can just blame it on all on Superman’s costume or his morals or the genre itself?

It’s really just the same junk as when a creator or DC honcho trots out “He’s too powerful.” or “He’s too nice for today’s world”. Blaming the trunks is just another in a long line of excuses.

I have never understood the love for his trunks/shorts/ briefs or whatever you call them.

They look stupid. They looked stupid to my 8 year old self and they looked goofy in the movies in the 70’s and they still look stupid compared to every other superhero out there.

I guess the folks that can’t let them go are the same folks that can’t bear for Wonder Woman to wear pants.

Jake Earlewine

August 8, 2012 at 9:51 am

“When I look at the New 52 design it really just feels like it’s all about being ashamed of Superman. Why? Because this industry has a real nasty habit of blaming the characters for misfires and failures. Hey, why take responsibility for a bad comic when you can just blame it on all on Superman’s costume or his morals or the genre itself?”

Right on, Matt! Well said!

I hate it when a title gets cancelled and the publisher’s peons state that “the market wasn’t right for the character.” In most cases, the truth is that the writer, artist, and editor FAILED — especially the editor, whose responsibility it is. Don’t blame the character. Grant Morrison has made a career out of proving that great writing can make even mediocre characters exciting.

And blaming poor sales on a character’s costume is absurd.

I read comic books because it is an unreal world, I don’t want my superheroes realistic. Keep the classic Superman look, I can promise no matter what the movies or the that stupid new 52 depicts, the classic Superman look will not go away, and I don’t want my Superman to be exclusive to basement geek handjobers, Superman is for everybody, always has and always should.

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