With over eighty years of continuous publication behind him, it’s no surprise that, over the many years and through numerous alternate realities and reality-shattering Crises, Superman has gone through more than a few wardrobe changes.
Initially debuting in what amounted to a traditional strongman costume, Superman soon adopted the iconic “S” shield to uphold his values of “truth, justice, and the American way” but has, over time, mixed up his colour scheme about as often as he’s developed strange new powers.
Today, I’m going to go through ten of my favourite looks for Superman; a lot of these featured solely in out-of-continuity tales or were worn by Supermen from parallel Earths but some were, however briefly, an actual part of Superman’s canon.
Superman’s black suit first appeared right at the conclusion of the “Reign of the Superman” (Jurgens, et al, 1993) storyline, the conclusion to the infamous “Death of Superman” (ibid, 1992 to 1993) storyline. After the Man of Steel was beaten to death by Doomsday, his body was placed into a Kryptonian regeneration chamber, which restored his cells to life and, when he emerged, he was forced to wear this suit while his powers recovered.
Honestly, this was just an excuse to get Superman’s mullet on the list but I also dig the simplicity of this suit (and I always love a black variant); it’s just plain black with a silver symbol. It also lacks a cape, giving Superman a far more streamlined and serious look that, considering all of Superman’s replacements bore dramatically different suits of their own, cast more doubt on the identity of this new Superman.
The suit made a brief return in Countdown to Final Crisis (Dini, et al, 2007 to 2008), when it was worn by Superman-Prime, and was donned by the pre-Flashpoint (Johns, et al, 2011) when he showed up (rocking a beard!) to replace the crappy New 52-Superman (whose suit will, spoilers, not be making this list), and was also set to appear in Justice League (Snyder/Whedon, 2017) before Warner Bros. re-edited the film.
Bit of a cheat here as this suit was worn a violent and brutal version of Kal-El who was raised by Thomas and Martha Kent and, thus, is actually a composite of Superman and Batman who leans far more into Batman’s characterisation than Superman’s. Still, this is a great combination of the Bat- and Super-Suits, featuring a cowl that covers Kal’s entire head and a amalgamated version of both character’s iconic emblems.
If you’re a bit annoyed by me basically using a Batman suit on a Superman list, there was a more traditional Super-Suit featured in this story right at the end, when Kal is convinced to turn away from the darkness and be a symbol of hope. But, as this is a dreadful looking costume that looks way too much like the awful Injustice (NetherRealm Studios, 2013; 2017) suit.
Let’s face it: any time Superman gets a power ring, we are treated to an awesome variation of his suit. Whether it’s in an alternate reality where Superman operates as Green Lantern (and sports a lovely white cape and an amalgamated “G”/Green Lantern symbol), or the original, super-powerful, pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1985 to 1986) Superman, Kal-L being reanimated as a zombified Black Lantern in Blackest Night (Johns, et al, 2009 to 2010), or Superman-Prime joining the Sinestro Corps, there’s something about mixing Superman’s suit with the Lantern’s attire that always results in gold.
Superman’s also been decked out as a dazzling beacon of triumph as a White Lantern and we’ve even seen a glimpse of what his suit could look like spewing blood from his mouth during Supergirl’s brief stint as a Red Lantern. Hands down, my favourite is the Black Lantern Superman though; there’s just something about a zombified Superman in a black suit with a tattered cape that is really striking to me, like all of his values and morals have been cast aside in favour of ripping hearts from chests.
I’m lumping these two together as I honestly cannot pick between the two; both suits were worn by alternative versions of Superman who were raised and indoctrinated with anti-American principles, making for a complete reversal of Superman’s traditionally patriotic views.
Overman, a Nazi version of Superman, appeared during the God-awful Final Crisis (Morrison, et al, 2008 to 2009) event, while the communist version most famously appeared in Superman: Red Son (Millar, et al, 2003). Both wear a fascist symbol in place of the traditional “S” and favoured big buckles on their belts and a darker, subdued colour scheme, with Overman’s costume fittingly being reminiscent of the Schutzstaffel uniform.
Continuing the theme of alternative versions of Superman raised by tyrannical dictators, Superman: The Dark Side (Moore, et al, 1998) presented a version of Superman raised by Darkseid to be a ruthless soldier in the New Gods’ war against the peaceful New Genesis.
Once again sporting a corrupted version of the “S” symbol (which was almost exactly the same as the Schutzstaffel symbol, something that, ironically, even Overman was missing…), Dark Side’s Superman had a haircut you could set your watch to, and a fittingly grim and stoic personality that was more akin to Darkseid’s actual son, Orion. He was also decked out in sweet jet-black armour forged from the fire pits of Apokalips, carried a sword and had no compunction about slaughtering his enemies without mercy in the name of his dark overlord.
The Superman Prime (not to be confused with his genocidal counterpart of the same name) that appears in DC One Million (Morrison, et al, 1998) has lived for so long thanks to his Kryptonian physiology that he’s seen all his friends and family die.
Despondent, he left Earth in the care of his heir, travelled the universe for a few centauries, and eventually went into self-imposed exile in the centre of the sun. Unlike the previous Super-Suits, this Superman is a glowing, golden beacon of hope and serenity; his powers amplified to almost God-like levels, this Superman is decked out entirely in gold to match his new divine stature.
This version of Superman is a Bizarro-like clone engineered by Darkseid to mirror his Earth-2 counterpart, Val-Zod (another contender for this list) in very way…except for being absolutely ruthless and lacking in mercy.
Very much like by his Dark Side incarnation, Brutaal stands out by wearing a suit that closely resembles versions of the Eradicator or Cyborg-Superman, favouring a largely black-and-red colour scheme (that just works for alternative, evil takes on Superman) and some wicked chains to hold his cape in place.
Probably the most controversial choice for this list, in the late-nineties, DC Comics apparently decided that Superman needed a complete shake-up (despite the fact that he’d already returned from the dead!) and had him transform into a purely energy-based lifeform. He could now travel at the speed of light, emit energy blasts, and become incorporeal but also (for some inexplicable reason) would become completely human when he transformed back into Clark Kent!
As if this wasn’t mental enough, he was then split into two beings, a red variant and a blue one, each with different personalities! None of this changes the fact, though, that the suit he wore during this time was awesome! Lacking a cape and featuring a streamlined design comprised of blue (…or red) and white and a new, more radical logo.
Honestly, I feel like the suit’s design and Superman’s new powers were pretty great…just maybe not suitable for Superman. This suit actually cropped up again in the early-2000s when it was worn by Strange Visitor (Sharon Vance) but I would love to see it recycled for the likes of the Eradicator, who’s always been more energy-based in his powers anyway.
After subjecting us to a God-awful characterisation of Superman throughout the five years or so of the “New 52” reboot, DC Comics finally saw sense and killed off that jerk and ditched his dreadful quasi-armoured costume in favour of not only the definitive version of Superman (pre-Flashpoint, of course) but also a far more traditional version of the Super-Suit.
This suit, largely reminiscent of the equally-fantastic costume worn by Henry Cavill in the DC Extended Universe movies (Various, 2013 to present) took all the dramatic changes made by the New 52 suit and merged them with Superman’s more traditional styling. This meant that Kal again ditched the red trunks and yellow belt but also dropped the overly busy and unnecessarily detailed nature of the New 52 suit. Eventually, the trunks and the red boots would make a return but, either way, for a modern take on the classic Super-Suit, they don’t get much better than this.
For me, the definitive alternative version of the Super-Suit is the one designed by Alex Ross in the gorgeous and seminal Kingdom Come (Waid, et al, 1996). Taking place on Earth-22, where Superman has largely separated himself from humanity, which has begun to favour more aggressive superheroes, this Superman sports not only a streak of white hair but also a sleek, traditional Super-Suit with one noticeable different: a diagonal line against a black background in place of the traditional red-and-yellow “S” shield.
It’s a small change but one that speaks volumes of this Superman’s current mindset; he’s lost faith in humanity and is in mourning. This costume has endured over the years, inspiring numerous revisions of Superman’s costume (generally whenever depicting an elderly or despondent version of Kal) but, most notably, the Earth-22 Superman later paid a visit to the mainstream DC universe to team with the Justice Society, Superman adopted a very similar version of this shield after the “Our Worlds at War” (Loeb, et al, 2001) storyline, and even prominently featured in the Crisis on Infinite Earths (Various, 2019 to 2020) crossover event that saw Brandon Routh reprise his role from Superman Returns (Singer, 2006) wearing an incredibly faithful rendition of this iconic outfit for his portrayal of a similarly-beleaguered version of Superman.
Which Super-Suit is your favourite? Did it make the list or was there one I missed? What do you look for in a Super-Suit? Drop a comment below and share your thoughts on what makes the quintessential Super-Suit.