Considering he’s the first superhero ever created, creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster only had history to draw from when they brought Superman to life in 1938. Every major styling choice we attribute to superheroes comes from Superman: capes, tights, iconic symbols, and — of course — underwear worn on the outside.
Superman proudly sported this iconic look for 75 years in numerous feature films and television series, defying trends in popular culture that saw other heroes change for more realistic and modern approaches. Superman’s omnipresent underpants became as indestructible as his unbreakable skin.
Until “Man of Steel” came along.
Director Zack Snyder opened up about both the history of the red trunks and his decision to ditch them during an exclusive interview, part of “MTV First: Man of Steel.” Snyder started by recounting the history of the hero’s costume.
“When the costume was first invented in 1938, [Siegel and Shuster were] looking to find a superhero icon,” explains Snyder. “The vision was turned toward Victorian strongmen, or circus strongmen. They wore their underwear on the outside of their pants because in the Victorian era, no skin could be shown. So when they first started doing circus strongmen, they would wear tights, and then they would put underwear over the top [of them] to give the illusion of nudity.”
The fad that Superman started in 1938 continued with Batman, followed by heroes like Green Lantern, the X-Men, Robin, Thor, Martian Manhunter, Wolverine and countless others. But even though DC Comics rebooted the underpants off of Superman back in late 2011 with their New 52 initiative, Snyder was still determined to include them.
“The truth is, I wanted the underwear. I was an advocate of the underwear! I would look at these designs that would come in and I’d say, ’Yeah… yeah, that’s tough.'” Snyder revealed that his desire to have the coolest-looking Superman of all time eventually trumped his desire to adhere to the Kryptonian’s traditional look.
Be sure to check out the rest of “MTV First: Man of Steel” for more with Zack Snyder, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams and Michael Shannon.