As I sit here, pondering life’s many mysteries, I find myself wondering, “Why do superheroes wear their underwear on the outside of their clothes?” Are they in that much of a hurry? Is it because they’re always getting dressed in the dark? Does it have something to do with changing clothes in a phone booth? Then it hits me that it’s probably the same reason that computer-generated characters often have something covering their heads (animating hair is very difficult) and why modern cartoon heroes have done away with the traditional capes (they’re also hard to animate with computers): cartoonists are lazy.
If you go back to the earliest newspaper comic strip heroes – e.g., Hugo Hercules (1902), Dick Tracy (1931), and Mandrake the Magician (1934) – they all wore fairly standard street clothes. Meanwhile, Tarzan (who first appeared in print in 1912, then made his comic strip debut in 1929) romped around in nothing but a loin cloth, which you could argue qualifies as jungle street clothes. But if you were going from mere hero to superhero, with the super physique to match, you don’t want to spend all your time covering up all those awe-inspiring muscles with clothes just so you can rip the clothes back off to show the muscles again. Imagine, if you will, a full-body drawing of an over-muscled Ken doll. Then, instead of painting it all flesh tone, paint it all one color with briefs in a contrasting color. Color the face and hands flesh tone, add an optional mask, and you now have a superhero showing off all his (or her) super muscles without any extra effort. Lazy, but effective.
The first superhero to sport this look was The Phantom (1936). He appears in a head-to-foot purple body suit with a contrasting color belt and briefs. But you’re saying, what about the cape? Comic strips and books convey action is a series of still images. Adding a cape to your superhero gives the illustrator a way to add dynamic motion to the static scene. Several of the early comic strip heroes wore capes, including Flash Gordon (1934) and Doctor Occult (1935), but they didn’t wear tights – just briefs. The first to put together the full superhero ensemble of tights, briefs, and a cape was Superman (1938), strange visitor from the planet Krypton, developed by Jerry Siegel (writer) Joe Shuster (artist).
It did not take long for Superman to make his screen debut, first appearing in a series of theatrical cartoons from Fleischer Studios released from 1941-1942, then in live-action theatrical serials in 1948 and 1950 from Columbia Pictures. Superman moved to television with Adventures of Superman, staring George Reeves as the titular Superman and his alter-ego Clark Kent. After Adventures of Superman and George Reeves ended their runs, Superman went on a bit of a live-action hiatus until he returned to theaters in 1978’s Superman, directed by Richard Donner and written by Mario Puzo. The very negative reception of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) led to another theatrical break until 2006’s aptly titled Superman Returns. During his on-again/off-again live action career (now on-again as part of the DC Extended Universe), Superman remained a staple of television and direct-to-video animation starting with The New Adventures of Superman in 1966.
You can trace the history of Superman across his theatrical, radio, television, video game, and home entertainment careers in the EIDR Content ID registry, where each of his key works is identified with its own globally-unique, curated EIDR identifier.
 Well, maybe not lazy exactly. With all the drawings they have to turn out under such tight deadlines, they have to work very efficiently, so every corner must be cut that can be without compromising their visual style. That’s why so many cartoon characters have three fingers and a thumb, instead of the usual four. That makes their hands easier to draw and much easier to animate.
 Admittedly, Mandrake wore a top hat and tails, but at the time that was standard street wear for a magician.
 A traditional loin cloth would have tended to flap around a bit, running the risk of exposing Tarzan’s fiddly bits, so he actually sported flap-less, red BVDs (tighty-redies?).
 Most adults are 7 to 7½ heads tall (i.e., their total height is 7 times the distance from the top of the head to the bottom of the jaw), while superheroes tend to be 8 to 9 heads tall. This gives them small heads in relation to their bodies, which tend to feature massive chests (for both men and women, though the definition of “massive chest” tens to vary). An interesting comparison of superhero to human anatomy is offered by “Reverse Photoshopping Comic Covers: Visualizing Superheroes with Average American Body Shapes” I’m particularly fond of the re-imagining of Iron Man, while Batman and Poison Ivy look more like what you’ll actually find at ComiCon than you’re likely to see on the screen.
 Doc Savage (1933) was always pictured in cover art with his shirt – and often his pants – mostly torn off.
 Completely smooth “down there.”
 The definition of “flesh tone” varying by character, potentially including peach, brown, yellow, green, grey, purple, red, etc. (Fun Fact: The Hulk’s skin was originally grey, but the comic book printers had trouble making him appear a consistent shade of gray, so he was switched to green instead.)
 In Tarzan’s flap-less BVD underwear style.
 Doctor Occult started off wearing a trench coat over street clothes. That later evolved into a cape and briefs.
 Originally, Superman only fought for “truth and justice”. That did not become “truth, justice, and the American way” until the 1940s. This started with the radio series The Adventures of Superman (1940) to help raise American morale during World War II, then was revived for the TV series Adventures of Superman (1952) during the Cold War. Now, Superman’s official mission statement is to fight for “Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow.”
 Reeves first played Superman in the theatrical motion picture Superman and the Mole Men (1951) from Lippert Pictures.
 Unlike most superheroes with secret identities who don a mask when they’re out and about fighting crime, Superman takes his mask off. Or, rather, he removes his glasses and takes off his hat (back when he wore one). That seems to be enough to confuse everyone who meets him in either guise. Even my smartphone will recognize me when I take off my glasses, but Lois Lane, who works all day long with Clark Kent at the Daily Planet and then spends the most time of any non-supervillain with Superman, can’t seem to make the connection.
 In competition with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, continuing the DC/Marvel superhero comic book war that began in the early 1960s during the Silver Age of comic books and the dawning of the Marvel Age led by Stan Lee.
Superman’s Audiovisual Resume
|The Adventures of Superman||1940||Radio||10.5240/BBDA-41B5-841F-9A65-4A34-7|
|The Mechanical Monsters||1941||Short||10.5240/EF5A-4547-332A-3CB7-4951-F|
|Billion Dollar Limited||1942||Short||10.5240/1EBB-BBF4-6BA8-991E-7149-S|
|Terror on the Midway||1942||Short||10.5240/5D62-5A7E-D5BC-993D-1C35-P|
|The Arctic Giant||1942||Short||10.5240/B3B0-E445-A1C9-5D2A-9488-7|
|The Magnetic Telescope||1942||Short||10.5240/21E6-5FB3-200E-0501-C563-G|
|The Mummy Strikes||1943||Short||10.5240/FFE9-2BF0-9767-93F8-FC76-1|
|The Underground World||1943||Short||10.5240/7CAB-5874-A026-A437-95E5-J|
|Atom Man vs. Superman||1950||Series||10.5240/C35B-C468-52AA-3323-A5CB-U|
|Superman and the Mole Men||1951||Movie||10.5240/6A06-D9CB-953A-3AB9-212E-T|
|Adventures of Superman||1952||Series||10.5240/EB65-5054-8ABF-8D19-52A1-2|
|The Adventures of Superman: Drums of Death||1953||Movie||10.5240/D9D5-1E8B-4AAF-CE19-6D3D-L|
|Stamp Day for Superman||1954||Movie||10.5240/701D-3C6C-8551-14C4-C88F-2|
|The Adventures of Superboy||1966||Series||10.5240/9973-EB2E-F7E2-2173-361A-O|
|The New Adventures of Superman||1966||Series||10.5240/5167-EA8C-D697-E58E-6D23-G|
|The Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure||1967||Series||10.5240/3974-5AFE-DF2A-DFF3-B478-7|
|The Batman-Superman Hour||1968||Series||10.5240/99EE-C17C-A5BD-E0BA-6811-B|
|The All-New Super Friends Hour||1977||Series||10.5240/058B-4349-278C-0C68-F39C-P|
|Challenge of the Super Friends||1978||Series||10.5240/AAD5-54EA-7241-62E5-A1C4-N|
|The World’s Greatest Super Friends||1979||Series||10.5240/8821-7E0D-D427-9243-8908-A|
|Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show||1984||Series||10.5240/EB9B-7496-FBA2-51A7-1710-U|
|Superman: The Game||1985||Game||10.5240/3118-2ACD-E6FB-F6FA-CE05-C|
|The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians||1985||Series||10.5240/0FB2-4FAE-9CAD-59B2-4AB6-P|
|Superman IV: The Quest for Peace||1987||Movie||10.5240/F1F3-7FED-EC4A-B289-A1EB-0|
|Superman: Man of Steel||1988||Game||10.5240/DE6C-40B0-49CF-6E40-6EB1-E|
|Superman: The Man of Steel||1992||Game||10.5240/7828-7D88-07CC-2C68-4F62-8|
|Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation||1992||Movie||10.5240/023A-6B05-E3D2-36A6-B111-Z|
|Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman||1993||Series||10.5240/AECB-FD89-DC7B-9731-3476-H|
|Superman: Doomsday & Beyond||1993||Radio||10.5240/8D6A-7C75-05D7-2C99-C9F9-0|
|The Death and Return of Superman||1994||Game||10.5240/DC3A-53A9-5D88-7F16-B0F4-D|
|Justice League Task Force||1995||Game||10.5240/FB47-01D5-8FBE-CAD1-3DFD-H|
|Superman: The Animated Series||1996||Series||10.5240/CEC6-1076-A758-16A2-18B5-R|
|The Multipath Adventures of Superman: Menace of Metallo||1999||Game||10.5240/23BA-6047-2A48-7F9A-4C89-P|
|Justice League: Injustice for All||2002||Game||10.5240/F1BA-F9FC-431D-32A5-789F-3|
|Superman: Shadow of Apokolips||2002||Game||10.5240/2B79-3B5D-AC4A-4AA9-2A86-E|
|Superman: The Man of Steel||2002||Game||10.5240/98B1-EBCF-8F45-0716-1F02-Q|
|Justice League: Chronicles||2003||Game||10.5240/63AD-619E-2AD6-484B-5F0F-5|
|Superman: Countdown to Apokolips||2003||Game||10.5240/3BA8-0971-0676-6767-E65D-M|
|Justice League: Starcrossed||2004||Movie||10.5240/31FA-CEC2-5CE3-25AF-80B3-3|
|Justice League TV Games unit||2005||Game||10.5240/9A67-D0D4-9F87-765F-8DE5-Y|
|Krypto the Superdog||2005||Series||10.5240/D840-17DC-7C3D-2D8D-1839-2|
|Justice League Heroes||2006||Game||10.5240/3D85-0656-0F6F-F9AC-C729-5|
|Legion of Super Heroes||2006||Series||10.5240/F43C-A7AB-63C7-990A-7188-A|
|Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut||2006||Movie||10.5240/7107-B52B-E8D3-98DB-2BC8-K|
|Superman Returns: Fortress of Solitude||2006||Game||10.5240/D100-25D7-DF65-300C-E4F1-S|
|Superman The Greatest Hero||2006||Game||10.5240/9C9F-BED1-2EAB-F12A-ADDC-K|
|Superman: Brainiac Attacks||2006||Movie||10.5240/A1AB-9726-13A9-413E-C70B-Y|
|Justice League: The New Frontier||2008||Movie||10.5240/2F4B-F224-DDA2-6493-5C8E-8|
|Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe||2008||Game||10.5240/5889-F068-4FBF-006B-E072-Z|
|Superman/Batman: Public Enemies||2009||Movie||10.5240/4C57-2D1D-E4B9-4C08-95D7-9|
|Superman: Red Son Motion Comics||2009||Series||10.5240/EA2B-E187-1BF5-22FC-568B-L|
|Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths||2010||Movie||10.5240/C98F-619A-ACEF-9CD7-1C5F-J|
|Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam||2010||Movie||10.5240/45F3-1C64-44BF-DCBD-E5D0-5|
|DC Universe Online||2011||Game||10.5240/0701-013E-A6A4-A8A8-8018-J|
|The Death and Return of Superman||2011||Short||10.5240/2946-002C-E8FD-805E-9B78-O|
|Justice League: Doom||2012||Movie||10.5240/D902-A663-38BB-D5BB-B3F7-1|
|Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes||2012||Game||10.5240/023C-9894-397B-95AC-857C-R|
|Superman vs. The Elite||2012||Movie||10.5240/444F-8580-7ED1-B093-CB76-J|
|Injustice: Gods Among Us||2013||Game||10.5240/418B-2EE1-81E0-8EBA-14F8-X|
|Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox||2013||Movie||10.5240/840B-9D1B-4D97-E372-0E4D-4|
|Man of Steel||2013||Movie||10.5240/B0AF-BE16-D83F-0033-14B9-U|
|Superman 75th Anniversary||2013||Short||10.5240/AC79-06B7-6FB5-7567-0867-P|
|The Return of Superman||2013||Series||10.5240/3F64-C112-31FE-75DA-F10A-H|
|JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time||2014||Movie||10.5240/D2DD-C9E7-6F8B-F5C6-5975-X|
|Justice League: War||2014||Movie||10.5240/ADA8-B466-1E63-77CD-9928-G|
|Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham||2014||Game||10.5240/75D8-288C-0D3A-2D05-2162-O|
|The Lego Movie Videogame||2014||Game||10.5240/9354-7C43-384B-0DA5-AFC3-J|
|Justice League: Gods and Monsters||2015||Movie||10.5240/8959-A47A-A728-5460-1F09-2|
|Justice League: Throne of Atlantis||2015||Movie||10.5240/75AC-32B6-DCA9-61B2-030B-6|
|Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League vs. Bizarro League||2015||Movie||10.5240/7B00-8006-EC59-AD20-85C0-8|
|Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League: Attack of the Legion of Doom||2015||Movie||10.5240/5142-F580-5694-4259-424E-M|
|Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice||2016||Movie||10.5240/8C8C-6773-9DD1-0200-782D-O|
|Justice League Action||2016||Series||10.5240/F86F-2447-582B-4791-8D86-N|
|Justice League vs. Teen Titans||2016||Movie||10.5240/A1E7-0EC7-F27C-03B4-3EDD-B|
|Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League: Cosmic Clash||2016||Movie||10.5240/4441-A81B-49C4-D9EF-85CD-7|
|DC Super Heroes vs. Eagle Talon||2017||Movie||10.5240/C0E1-3558-1B9D-87E1-9F74-T|
|Justice League Dark||2017||Movie||10.5240/74BD-218E-FDDE-5DC8-89AC-Z|
|Lego DC Super-Villains||2018||Game||10.5240/AD66-278F-5F3B-557D-D90E-2|
|Teen Titans Go! To the Movies||2018||Movie||10.5240/2DB6-5461-65E0-889B-BC19-P|
|The Death of Superman||2018||Movie||10.5240/F036-4213-D5DF-5934-563B-Y|
|Justice League vs. the Fatal Five||2019||Movie||10.5240/D95A-ECB1-AE60-A42B-D41F-8|
|Reign of the Supermen||2019||Movie||10.5240/0A6A-EAEB-FFED-85F2-006F-C|
|Justice League Dark: Apokolips War||2020||Movie||10.5240/EF78-BFAE-4E30-9318-9BEA-D|
|Return of Superman||2020||Series||10.5240/8026-CD92-A67A-E16D-2CDC-Q|
|Superman: Man of Tomorrow||2020||Movie||10.5240/740E-63B3-FEE5-6900-C0B1-3|
|Superman: Red Son||2020||Movie||10.5240/7FF3-A4E0-603F-51E5-5BF6-8|
|Justice Society: World War II||2021||Movie||10.5240/F1AF-B4A4-F0E9-012A-7074-G|
|Superman & Lois||2021||Series||10.5240/FC00-AD1A-9121-4579-1B87-I|
|Zack Snyder’s Justice League||2021||Movie||10.5240/A282-AF72-9B5A-88E0-A6FD-P|
|DC League of Super-Pets||2022||Movie||10.5240/A344-68FF-C5FE-D353-536C-8|