When you first hear ‘superhero,’ what’s the first thing you think of? The powers? The name? One of the things I think of is their bright, flashy costumes, the color, the design, and capes (if applicable). The costume has to give you a visual guide to the hero. It is essential to the character. In some cases the character is even defined by the costume.
Let’s take the most classic example: Superman. He paved the way for vibrant superhero costumes. And for good reason. His costume has changed through the years, but has remained mostly consistent. Red, yellow, and blue. His design was simple, but effective. His character was clearly based on the design alone. Bright colors and his red undies give off the impression of a hopeful, friendly, strong man. DC in the past few years decided that Superman wasn’t “cool enough” and stripped him down from his hopeful presence to a dark, brooding Superman, complete with darker shades of blue, red, and yellow. They changed his image by taking away the curl in his hair, and by taking away the classic Superman red undies. This design change makes it clear that this is a completely different Superman. Although change is fine and is needed to keep things interesting, this was not the way to go about it. They even changed his costume even further for a short while where he had jeans and a tee shirt.
The Superman costume is the quintessential superhero costume. It is the first one anyone thinks of whenever superhero costumes are mentioned. This is because it is simple, effective, and overall pretty much perfect. So why did DC feel the need to fix something that isn’t broken? Speaking about the recent movie, director Zack Snyder said this about his red underwear: “I probably looked at hundreds of versions with underwear. I couldn’t make it consistent with the world that we were creating.” Since DC is going through it’s gritty rebellious phase, they took away the red undies because of feedback about how the campy character has a campy costume. So they re-did the costume and while doing that at the same time re-did the character. Superman was significantly less super because of his lack of underwear.
The costume is important to understanding the character as a whole. When you change it, you have to make it similar enough to get the message across. The new Superman suit in the movies and comics gives a totally different message than the old costume from the movies and comics. Sometimes you should not change something that works.
* photo via Google Images under the Creative Commons license