The New Evolution of Superhero Costumes

With Man of Steel grossing a world-wide take of $235 million so far, comic book movies are still going strong, and they’re not going away any time soon. The success of modern day comic book movies shows that the genre has come a long way since the days of, say, the ‘60’s Batman TV show.


It wasn’t that long ago that the major studios didn’t take comic books that seriously, and the genre reached it nadir with 1997’s execrable Batman and Robin. But with the first X-Men movie, things finally turned around, paving the way for the Batman reboot, and more. Of course, along with the reinvention of many of our favorite superheroes, the costumes have come a long way as well too.

We saw the X-Men costumes in black because the way they looked in the comic books would be too silly on the big screen, prompting the remark, “What do you expect us to wear, yellow spandex?” And once the X-Men costumes got leaked, the major studios have been the first to let out pictures of the new superhero wear to beat the geeks to the punch. (Sony put out the first official photo of Tobey Maguire in the Spider-Man costume like this, and other studios have followed suit with their superhero suits.)

There’s also been an interesting trend where thanks to modern technology, a costume doesn’t even have to be a physical costume anymore. I was intrigued when I heard that Superman’s billowing cape in Man of Steel was mainly CGI, and Michael Shannon’s armored villain suit was also thanks to motion capture CG. The reason why? It would have been a real pain in the ass getting in and out of that thing. (God help you if you’ve gotta take a whizz…)

As Shannon told Collider, if his suit was really made of armor it would clearly be “very heavy – like in Iron Man,” although it should be noted there’s times in the Iron Man movies it’s clear his suit is CG as well. “I know the guy who was the Iron Man double who had to wear that freakin suit, and he said it was a freakin nightmare, it’s so freakin heavy.” Here a CG suit makes a lot of sense, because director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan wanted Shannon to be free to move around, and a heavy costume of course would have greatly restricted his movement.

Funny enough, we’re not the only ones writing about superheroes and their tights these days. Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon wrote a piece for The New Yorker on Superman’s suit that he calls “an essay in unitard theory.” There was also a story in The Daily Beast about the history of the superhero bulge, which became more pronounced in the Joel Schumacher directed Batman movies.

Thankfully, with Man of Steel taking a more realistic take on Superman, director Zack Snyder put his underwear inside the suit this time. As he told The Hollywood Reporter, “I probably looked at hundreds of versions with underwear. It fell by the boards because I couldn’t make it consistent with the world that we were creating.”