Modern Superheroes Need To Take Inspiration From Christopher Reeve’s Superman Costume

By Zack Zagranis | Published

superhero costumes

When I first saw the symbol for James Gunn’s new Superman, I sighed. Not because I don’t like the design–Kingdom Come is a great comic. No, I sighed because, once again, Hollywood is trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to superhero costumes despite having the perfect blueprint to work from.

Keep It Simple

superhero costumes

In this case, the wheel in question is the Superman suit that Christopher Reeve wore in 1978’s Superman, the first and coincidentally best superhero costume ever put on screen. It’s iconic, accurate, and bright as hell, and Hollywood seems to hate it for some reason. Why else would every other big-screen Superman feel the need to mess with it?

Superman Returns

james gunn superman

I remember when it was announced that Bryan Singer was making a sequel to the first two Superman films, Superman Returns (2006) that would ignore the slapstick hijinks of Superman III and whatever the heck tone Quest For Peace was trying for. According to all reports, Singer was recreating everything from the original films, with just a new cast. He even reused John Williams’ incomparable score.

So imagine my surprise when the first images from the movie showed Brandon Routh wearing a muted suit with a smaller “S.” As far as superhero costumes go, this one was pretty ugly and made some odd stylistic choices. The symbol wasn’t just smaller. Instead of being printed on the suit, it was now a weird raised plastic, and the cape was suddenly made of heavy leather.

And the colors! The blue isn’t that bad but the dark burgundy and mustard yellow just don’t do it for me. Apparently, a man flying and shooting heat beams from his eyes isn’t too farfetched, but come on, he can’t walk around in bright, primary colors! He’d look like a fool!

I’m actually one of the few Superman Returns defenders out there, but while I didn’t hate the movie as a whole, I absolutely despised the costume. I held out hope, though, that the next person to tackle Superman would decide to go back to basics and return to the bright colors of the superhero costumes worn by Christopher Reeve. Narrator: they didn’t.

Snyderverse Superman

henry cavill the flash

Not only did Zack Snyder make the costume even darker, he got rid of the trunks and gave the outfit contoured muscles. At that point, you might as well just put Superman in one of Batman’s superhero costumes… speaking of which.

Armored Batman


At least Superman got to wear his classic look in a handful of films, and even the ones he didn’t, the costumes were at least variations of the classic design. Batman has, from 1989 on, had to wear the most overdesigned, bulky costumes that are more suits of armor than anything else. I’ve yet to see anything even approaching Batman’s classic comic book design, at least on the big screen.

Batman ’66 And The Animated Series

superhero costumes

Both the ’60s Batman TV series and Batman: The Animated Series presented Batman in his classic blue and grey color scheme. Of course, those were both cartoons—albeit one a live-action cartoon—and thus allowed to embrace the inherent absurdity of comic books. The Batman movies have to be serious and realistic…for some reason.

While I’ll admit that Batman is more grounded than Superman, he’s still a grown man who puts on Bat-themed superhero costumes and throws bat-shaped shurikens at people. Christopher Nolan can dress him up in all the black motocross gear he wants, but it’s not going to change the fact that Batman as a concept is goofy—and that’s coming from someone with a Batman tattoo, so you know I love the weirdo.


It’s not just a DC problem, either. The upcoming Deadpool and Wolverine will mark Hugh Jackman’s 10th time playing Wolverine in over two decades, and fans are psyched because he’s finally going to wear his comic book costume. I repeat, Wolverine has been in live-action for over 23 years and still has yet to don the costume he’s known for. The reason, again, seems to be “believability.”


The same goes for Spider-Man. The wallcrawler has been cracking wise on the big screen since 2002, and in that time, his onscreen costumes have featured mirrored lenses, yellow lenses, raised plastic webbing, recessed webbing, and various spider logos. I was excited when Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) came out, not because the movie was any good but because Hollywood finally almost nailed the Spider-Man costume.

Then I saw the suit at the end of Spider-Man: No Way Home and wept tears of joy because they had finally, finally done my boy justice. Too bad it’s on screen for like two seconds. Womp, Womp, as the kids say.

The Leather X-Men

alan cumming obe

I recently watched the original X-Men from 2000, and the superhero costumes are all black leather motorcycle gear. Cyclops even has a line where he says to Wolverine, “Would you prefer yellow spandex?” Yes, yes, I would twenty years ago, James Marsden. I would very much prefer that.

Because superheroes as a concept are silly and only work when fans can buy into the absurdity of the whole universe–the Marvel comic book universe is full of people in dumb costumes running around shooting energy from their hands. It works because it’s played completely straight. This is just how that world operates.

Superheroes And Reality Don’t Mix

worst batman

When a filmmaker decides to adapt everything—the silly powers, the ridiculous names—from a comic book but draws an arbitrary line when it comes to the dumb costumes, it actually hinders my suspension of disbelief rather than helps it. When Christopher Nolan goes out of his way to make Gotham City feel like a city from the real world, Batman himself becomes infinitely more stupid. Why would people in that setting ever dress up in superhero costumes when they could just wear tactical SWAT gear?

Look, Hollywood, bottom line: fans are already willing to buy into a world where a man can fly, and a woman can conjure lightning storms on a whim. Please just give us the outlandish superhero costumes to match. I know as a comic book fan, I’d be much happier, and I assume most fans would be as well.

robert downey jr

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