Men in Tights

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.[1]

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.[2] 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,[3] 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,[4] 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.[5] Imagine, if you will, a full-body drawing of an over-muscled Ken doll.[6] Then, instead of painting it all flesh tone,[7] paint it all one color with briefs[8] 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),[9] 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,[10] 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[11] as the titular Superman and his alter-ego Clark Kent.[12] 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[13] (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[14]), 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.

[1] 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.

[2] Admittedly, Mandrake wore a top hat and tails, but at the time that was standard street wear for a magician.

[3] 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?).

[4] 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.

[5] Doc Savage (1933) was always pictured in cover art with his shirt – and often his pants – mostly torn off.

[6] Completely smooth “down there.”

[7] 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.)

[8] In Tarzan’s flap-less BVD underwear style.

[9] Doctor Occult started off wearing a trench coat over street clothes. That later evolved into a cape and briefs.

[10] 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.”

[11] Reeves first played Superman in the theatrical motion picture Superman and the Mole Men (1951) from Lippert Pictures.

[12] 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.

[13] Earning a 3.7 rating on IMDb and a 10% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

[14] 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

Title Year Type EIDR ID
The Adventures of Superman 1940 Radio 10.5240/BBDA-41B5-841F-9A65-4A34-7
Superman 1941 Short 10.5240/3D3A-382E-B036-8059-DEED-R
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
Destruction Inc. 1942 Short 10.5240/7A06-65EF-F356-F1C1-AC40-L
Electric Earthquake 1942 Short 10.5240/D815-A9E7-C59B-2A71-4343-6
Eleventh Hour 1942 Short 10.5240/3307-EC1A-AC3D-29B3-F5EB-Q
Japoteurs 1942 Short 10.5240/7132-6AF5-5D16-E5A7-02B0-E
Showdown 1942 Short 10.5240/EAF0-5C5D-22E9-FFB3-B238-2
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 Bulleteers 1942 Short 10.5240/E8A6-15CC-074E-2428-FAB5-I
The Magnetic Telescope 1942 Short 10.5240/21E6-5FB3-200E-0501-C563-G
Volcano 1942 Short 10.5240/A189-7C8E-C371-AD07-D92E-G
Jungle Drums 1943 Short 10.5240/8435-BE0B-BA22-7966-4DA9-Y
Secret Agent 1943 Short 10.5240/ADB0-7AE6-BF2A-F888-9CEC-6
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
Superman 1948 Series 10.5240/29A9-09BB-2C71-FEC6-1D50-3
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
Super Friends 1973 Series 10.5240/172B-3C22-0298-DB48-A645-5
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
Superman 1978 Movie 10.5240/14B0-27DF-51DB-E36A-EB35-G
Superman 1978 Game 10.5240/C988-799F-771B-DE63-E264-H
Süpermen Dönüyor 1979 Movie 10.5240/DB34-9159-F1C0-D061-8E66-W
The World’s Greatest Super Friends 1979 Series 10.5240/8821-7E0D-D427-9243-8908-A
Super Friends 1980 Series 10.5240/A41F-C271-63C7-17C7-BC76-Q
Superman II 1980 Movie 10.5240/3C4F-2779-9FE7-9004-CE45-0
Superman III 1983 Movie 10.5240/625E-6307-EF55-7327-F6B1-A
Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show 1984 Series 10.5240/EB9B-7496-FBA2-51A7-1710-U
Supergirl 1984 Movie 10.5240/8D4C-466A-2DAB-07C6-9FD8-A
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 1987 Movie 10.5240/4EEE-3953-BCA6-1583-07E7-6
Superman 1987 Game 10.5240/D1D6-FB64-626A-BD87-3583-S
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace 1987 Movie 10.5240/F1F3-7FED-EC4A-B289-A1EB-0
Superboy 1988 Series 10.5240/DAB8-82CA-14EC-864F-2C11-P
Superman 1988 Series 10.5240/5FEF-40EC-A8A5-D8DC-8C39-S
Superman 1988 Game 10.5240/FFD1-C830-56DC-581D-5E9F-Z
Superman: Man of Steel 1988 Game 10.5240/DE6C-40B0-49CF-6E40-6EB1-E
Superman 1992 Game 10.5240/0454-8005-27BA-8833-9ABA-W
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
Superman 1998 Game 10.5240/EAED-9B9A-E31E-E6DF-A30B-Z
The Multipath Adventures of Superman: Menace of Metallo 1999 Game 10.5240/23BA-6047-2A48-7F9A-4C89-P
Smallville 2001 Series 10.5240/3FA6-2247-EB78-2F2E-5C7C-K
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 2006 Movie 10.5240/68DD-341E-03EE-4BB8-1761-Q
Superman Returns 2006 Game 10.5240/4360-76D2-82C9-04CB-E5D6-N
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
Superman: Doomsday 2007 Movie 10.5240/F93B-B182-626F-2C7C-E9DC-F
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/Batman: Apocalypse 2010 Movie 10.5240/9746-E352-9EAD-419B-D2A7-V
Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam 2010 Movie 10.5240/45F3-1C64-44BF-DCBD-E5D0-5
Young Justice 2010 Series 10.5240/8563-53BC-E2FA-6B43-B97B-Z
All-Star Superman 2011 Movie 10.5240/4314-C109-0FE4-759E-4191-V
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
Scribblenauts Unmasked 2013 Game 10.5240/C1F6-8FA1-DD94-7FC8-F49A-O
Superman 75th Anniversary 2013 Short 10.5240/AC79-06B7-6FB5-7567-0867-P
Superman: Unbound 2013 Movie 10.5240/14E4-91F7-4067-B3A4-4347-2
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
Lego Dimensions 2015 Game 10.5240/DF7B-B490-E0B5-490E-DD55-C
Supergirl 2015 Series 10.5240/409E-D4F8-6ADE-0B05-6EAC-5
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
Injustice 2 2017 Game 10.5240/DD8D-4D62-84E4-A9D6-E1EC-V
Justice League 2017 Movie 10.5240/15D3-51CF-511C-8A50-9CD7-R
Justice League Dark 2017 Movie 10.5240/74BD-218E-FDDE-5DC8-89AC-Z
DC Unchained 2018 Game 10.5240/712A-7AA3-F139-1F4A-0EE2-N
Krypton 2018 Series 10.5240/144D-1C6E-1683-3060-12A3-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
Injustice 2021 Movie 10.5240/4F02-C9F5-397A-E47D-B7F1-6
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
MultiVersus 2022 Game 10.5240/2DE2-2AE0-4C16-EEF9-92EB-I