Are Superman’s Shorts Back? Why It Doesn’t Matter

An image released this week to promote March’s Action Comics 1000 features the surprise return of the red trunks on Superman’s costume, which were removed in 2011. Despite the fact that the trunks are likely just included as an homage to the character’s history – and not a permanent change – people are going crazy about the image drawn by DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee.

The image was released to Entertainment Weekly to promote the special release of Action Comics 1000, the first American comic book to hit the landmark 1,000th issue milestone. The special giant-sized issue will also feature the DC Comics debut of the newly-exclusive writer BRIAN BENDIS, who will provide a 10-page story with art from Lee, along with other stories from an amazing slate of writers and artists. The book celebrates Superman’s rich history and the creative teams that were announced earlier this week add to the must-read nature of the book. From Geoff Johns and director Richard Donner teaming up for another run at the Man of Steel to the return of former Superman writers Louise Simonson (with art from Jerry Ordway) and Scott Snyder (with art from Tim Sale), there’s a lot of great news to unpack from the announcement.

But everyone is focused on the underwear returning to the outside of Superman’s costume.

Superman’s costume was revamped in August 2011, when DC Comics rebooted its entire line for the New 52. Not long after, we got to see pictures of Henry Cavill in the Superman costume for 2013’s Man of Steel, which looked similar to the Jim Lee design. It’s been tweaked here and there over the last six-and-a-half years, but the biggest sticking point for many is the loss of the red trunks. Personally, I kind of like the current costume, but I’d be lying if I said I had the same connection to it as I do to the classic suit, the one Christopher Reeve donned in the movies, the one George Reeves wore on television and the costume that Superman took into battle in 70-plus years worth of adventures.

Given the historical nature of the issue, I would have been shocked if the book DIDN’T include renderings of Superman in the classic costume. With some minor tweaks and modifications, the suit with the red trucks was associated with the Man of Steel from his creation in 1938 all the way up to the beginning of the New 52 era of DC Comics in 2011 (minus that year from 1997-1998 when Superman went all Electro-Supes and had the all-new, all-different costume and powers). I can’t imagine a story from Simonson and Ordway – who were a part of Superman’s great run in the 1980s and 1990s – doing a story where Superman is in his current incarnation. It would even make sense for the story from Johns and Donner – who directed 1978’s Superman The Movie – to have Superman’s classic interpretation on their pages.

Hitting 1,000 issues is a big deal. And while he may no longer be the most popular comic book character currently being published, Superman is a big deal. He was the first. Without him, there would be no Batman or Wonder Woman. There would likely be no Captain America or Spider-Man, either. And the world would be a much different place without the inclusion of the red and yellow S that is recognized in more parts of the world than nearly every other symbol created over the last century. Action Comics 1,000 is an historically significant book for more than just comic book fans. Superman’s 80-year history can be told in the evolution of the country and the world over the last 8 decades. From his beginnings as a defender of the down-trodden in the 1930s and 1940s to his more fantastical adventures in the 1950s and 1960s when the world went space crazy to his battles against Lex Luthor in the 1980s, when his chief rival was reborn as a corrupt billionaire industrialist – the adventures of Superman have always reflected the mood of the world at the time. I would expect all of these eras to be represented in Action Comics 1,000.

Yes, even the time when he was a man made of electrical energy held together by a containment suit.

When all is said and done and Action Comics 1,001 is released, I don’t expect the red trunks to be there, though I wouldn’t mind being wrong.