All comic book superhero films pose a number of problems during their journey from the printed page to the big screen, but none looms as large as the one that started it all: Superman. The last son of Krypton debuted way back in 1938 in “Action Comics” #1, where he set the standard for all the heroes that followed. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created a character with a mild-mannered secret identity, a larger-than-life origin and over-the-top powers.
They also created a character with an iconic look, one that proved to be pretty much untouchable. Superman has stuck to his classic blue tights, red cape, boots and underwear for his entire publication period (we’ll forget Electric Superman if you will), sporting faithful adaptations of them in all of his many television and film appearances. Unlike other heroes who have at least one other iconic look, like the Avengers and Spider-Man, Superman always looks like Superman.
So when it came time for costume designer Michael Wilkinson to take on the challenge of updating Superman’s look for “Man of Steel,” he knew his job was an important one.
“It was a thrilling sensation to contribute to the legacy of Superman,” Wilkinson told MTV News. “The process of designing his suit was continually fueled by the respect and awe we felt for the character. It was fascinating to explore the history and social context of the various incarnations of Superman over the last 75 years. Our goal was to design a Superman that acknowledges the past, but is relevant to today and resonates with contemporary audiences.”
Wilkinson updated the suit by tying it into Kal-El’s otherworldly origins. In the film, the suit is presented as typical Kryptonian garb, a move inspired by director Zack Snyder.
“Zack wanted to ground the Superman suit in the story of the film, so that there was a logic and a context for the look of the suit,” Wilkinson said. “I explored that idea with the look of the clothes on Krypton, giving them a family ’glyph’ or crest, and using the details of Superman’s cuff, side trim, boots and belt… The Kryptonian skin suit is an alien form of chain mail, a protective layer that is worn under heavier robes or armor.” That explains why other Kryptonians — like Jor-El, Zod and Faora — all rock the skin-tight uniform at one point in the film.
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