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The Evolution of Superman


Superman may have started as a comic character, but he has evolved greatly in the 75+ years since he first appeared in a graphic novel in 1938. There have been countless incarnations including the recent Man of Steel, but every time a new one is created, fans question the authenticity of the latest adaptation. But with a pop-culture history that spans over 75+ years, is there even an authentic version of Superman? DYR examines the evolution of the iconic comic-book hero.

The first Superman illustration appeared on the cover of Action Comics #1. In it, the superhero donned his trademark blue suit and red boots, cape and undergarments. The logo on his chest was distinctly different from the recognizable triangle synonymous with Superman today. This early version was shaped more like a police badge, which soon changed by the cover of Action Comics #7 in December 1938 into the classic triangle.


Of all the pieces of Superman’s costume, the logo has undergone the most transformations. It has always been some combination of red and yellow, with the exception of the first animated version of Superman in 1940, which featured a red S on a black triangle with a black background.


Aside from his logo, Superman’s ensemble remained basically the same throughout his first four live-action movie and television incarnations, though a discerning eye will notice several subtle differences. For starters, his drawers continually got lower, while the placement of the cape on his shoulders changed and his neckline shifted. In 1993’s Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, he sported a much darker suit than in previous films or television shows.

It wasn’t until 2001’s Smallville that the Superman costume was completely rethought. Because the show told the story of Clark Kent’s life before becoming Superman, creators chose to keep their star, Tom Welling, out of the iconic suit for the decade-long run. Instead, he wore a black vigilante outfit, complete with the usual Superman logo emblazoned in white on his chest. Viewers did not get a glimpse of Welling in traditional Superman regalia until the very last episode of the show.

In 2006, Superman Returns brought the superhero back to the big screen. The film was meant to be a sort of sequel to Christopher Reeve’s Superman series of the 1970s and 80s, but the costume wasn’t exactly the same. As with the 1990s costume, the colors were a little darker and, continuing the ongoing trend, the drawers sat lower on Superman’s hips. Interestingly, the logo was much smaller in this iteration, as well.

Finally, we come to the latest Superman film, Man of Steel, as conceived by Zack Snyder and played by Henry Cavill. Excepting Smallville’s black vigilante outfit, this is the first time that Superman’s look has been so radically altered. As opposed to the usual tight spandex suit, this one has some mystifying texture (enhanced armor, a la Christopher Nolan’s Batman, perhaps?). Most importantly, though, Cavill’s Superman does not wear drawers! This superhero, born into a different age, does not want to cover himself up, and rather proudly wears just the suit. Let’s hope the bad guys don’t aim below the belt.


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