|Looking Good, Feeling Super||
Over The Top In His Underwear, by Andrew Wheeler.
Some time back in the desolate and depressed 1930s, some vagabond wag approached two young men named Siegel and Shuster and assured them that a garish combination of red, blue and yellow was now the new black. All the kids will be wearing it, he said. Darling, it'll be fabulous. And so the Superman costume was born.
Not true, of course. The reason for Superman's bold colours and clean lines has more to do with printing limitations than haute couture. Yet more than sixty years later, the design still holds. Superman has barely changed his underwear since the outbreak of World War Two. Sure, there was the electric shock version, but it was never going to last. Superman's costume is a standard. An ugly, disastrous, nostalgia-fuelled standard. People don't notice how ugly it is, simply because it's been there so long, and worse, it has served as a model for other superheroes ever since. We're so used to capes and logos, we've become blinded to bad taste.
Take another look at that costume. Let's start with the underwear. Sure, it's a cheap shot, an easy joke, but only because it's so obviously a bad idea. Underwear on the outside does not look good. And why does it have a big thick yellow belt around it? Because his underpants aren't tight enough already, he thinks they might come off when he's flying? Or is it supposed to look good? A big yellow belt? On red underpants?
Then he has that huge logo on his chest. I admit it's quite a neatly designed logo, but honestly, people who ostentatiously cover themselves in Calvin and Tommy labels are bad enough. Wearing your monogram on your chest? What does that say about a fella? Professor Xavier made all his students wear his own initial on their clothes, and we all know what an unconscionable egotist he is, but at least we've never seen him slap a big old X on his forehead. Look at me, Ma! I got a target on my costume! It's not big and it's not clever, even if you are the invulnerable last son of Krypton.
Then, of course, there are the colours. They say red and green should never be seen. It never occured to anyone that the same precaution should be addressed for red, blue and yellow. No-one would be that tastless to think of it, would they? We're used to seeing it flat on a comic book, or shiny and rippling across Dean Cain, but really, if you owned a yellow t-shirt, blue jeans and red shoes, would you wear them all together? Not unless you liked being laughed at. Three primaries in one costume? Time to hire a personal shopper, Clark.
And yet the Superman costume really is a standard for others who follow in his path. Superheroes and opera-singers are the only people in the world who wear capes, and at least opera-singers have the decency to blush. We've reached the point where Jose Ladronn's Cable wears his boxer shorts over his tights. Other heroes are wearing french thongs and tanga briefs over theirs. Even the very latest costume designs, as sported by the New Warriors on the cover of their relaunched series, includes two sets of gaudy extra underwear.
Will someone stop the insanity?
No. It will never stop. Superman's underpants have achieved iconic status. He never needs to change them, unless it can help boost sales. And like fools, we pretend that this is a good thing. Like changing his clothes is a heresy of the highest order. There aren't many superheroes out there who know how to dress, and the blame lies squarely with Superman. Or rather, it all goes back to Siegel, Shuster, and the printing presses of the Thirties. Welcome to the 21st century, boys and girls; where the Man of Tomorrow is still wearing the same clothes as yesterday.