An ever-widening number of comic book fans have continued to show their appreciation for this literature genre at cinema houses all over America.  Thanks to their support films such as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight become the second highest grossing film of all time.  Batman hasn’t been the only success; movies featuring Iron man and Spiderman have also broken sales records for multi-million dollar earnings as well. Yet as interesting as this trend is, audiences recognize that excellent and imaginative design has been a part of the success of this genre also.  What design, of all of the potential categories that we could discuss, am I talking about? I am specifically talking about the costumes designed for the actors portraying these heroes and heroines.

The goal of this 15-part essay is to address a number of design questions.  How should the character the Flash’s costume be designed for his upcoming feature length movie? What topics should be taken into account when formulating this costume?   And what is the costume design history and trends in the garment design of super heroes.

Screen Style

Originally created in 1948, the Flash has been one of the most popular characters in super hero history.  As it has been promoted lately, the Flash movie is on the verge of being green lit for film development by Warner Bros. pictures.  The expected writer/director Greg Berlanti, who co-wrote the currently filming Green Lantern script, will be at the helm.  But all of those details will be worked out long before any one actually commits this character to film.

So what issues should be considered when designing this character’s costume.  When presenting a character with a sixty year plus long history how much of the character should be familiar to us?  Different from other characters what aspects of his costume should receive the most emphasis?  And what will fans permit or not regarding the final design?

To elicit these answers we will examine the history of this character and similar characters to assure we can best describe the best treatment for the character.  Also if references to science, literature or other design fields will prove useful they will be addressed as well.

Technically I am not a costume designer, so my description of costume production will not be exhaustive.  You may not hear me pinpoint the exact nature of fabric, the exact method of construction, nor specify the full range of influences for every costume that will be discussed.  I can’t even say I have had a direct relationship with every example discussed.  My only strategic asset is I have a wife who is a startlingly impressive costume designer (who now calls herself a character designer) and she has largely influenced this undertaking.  When I have been able to rely on her for her advice I have taken it.

My only expertise is that I have has been a comic’s reader and fan for most of my life and have seen most of the comic’s movies (good and bad) that have ever been made.  This vantage has gained me some perspective on the field and where it is going.   My frequent speculations, due to being an aspiring human computer interface designer also assist my musing on costume functionality.

Others who have made attempts to be informative on this subject have also influenced me.  This undertaking would not be possible without the comic book companies DC and Marvel comics and all of the others who will be mentioned.  I have been indebted to organizations like,, and for their exhaustive and consistent reviews and commentary regarding this field as well.

One thing I may frequently do is talk about some of the functional aspects of the costume to point the relative utility of one aspect of a costume or another.  One problematic aspect of the presentation that can’t be denied is the translation from comic book drawings and paintings to photography.  Far more detailed film frequently casts a critical evaluation on costumes that doesn’t always occur in a purely graphic environment.  Suddenly requirements for tailoring, better material selection, and functional utility become evident where they were frequently unimportant before.

That said I appreciate any assistance my audience gives me in helping me to review each one of these essays that make up this evaluative set.

Information pertaining to the Flash character and costumes were found at:

Image Source:

Flash character likeness TM and copyright 2010 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Image Source: Illustrator Alex Ross

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Influence of the Original

Since he was the first super hero, it is only fitting that he be featured in some of the earliest movies and TV series.  But more importantly for this essay what were the choices made in producing of costumes used to cloth him.  If we were to look at early images of the Superman TV show starring George Reeve of the 1951 to 1957 TV show the “Adventures of Superman” would we see a suit not uncommon to the design that we see on the character today?

Early to Recent Presentations of Superman

Though smaller than what we might expect today, the contemporary chest emblem or shield present.  The shorts are higher than I remember yet they seem accceptably similar to we see today and far more modest sexually. Though the whole costume isn’t visible in the available photograph, I suspect everything else is appropriately similar.  Material wise, essentially Reeve is wearing a full body leotard or tights.  Why not, since this clothing option is what the comics’ seem to present about the character.  Why would this comics literature based costume attribution seem to be a poor costume choice?

George Reeve presentation of the costume is favorable.   Yet tailoring wise the proportions of the costume differ especially by today’s body conscious standards.  Izzy Berne was the name of the costume designer for that TV show;  she worked for the first 26 episodes of the show and I suppose her work continued to be throughout the rum of the show.

More recently in history, if we look at the work of director Richard Donner and costume designer Yvonne Blake, actor Christopher Reeve’s presentation of the costume from the 1970’s will resemble costume ratios we remember.  The relationship between the belt an and actor’s probable actual belly button seems to be consistent with the shorts and belt combination presented in the ’80 and ‘90s by John Byrne, Jose Luis Garcia, or George Perez.  Even they don’t seem to make the shorts a site of sexual speculation and all of these artists are relatively contemporary.

Referring to the Donner and Blake’ character design, we can assume that Simon and Shuster hoped to create a costume that was dynamic and theatrical as that of the circus or wrestling performer. This may be the reason for the tight fitting, physique exhibiting, collection of theatrical clothing accessories.  This is not an attempt to create the policeman’s uniform and even if it were, this example would be the most (Kryptonian) ceremonial costume possible not the most functionally appropriate.  Speaking of the potentially Kryptonian nature of the suit some artists have sought to make sure we saw of the Kryptonian style of the uniform by clothing Jor-El (Superman’s father) similarly; many did not.

Speaking of the costumes functionality we have to consider the fighting benefits of the law enforcement aspect of the suit.  A lesser hero than Superman would quickly see how fast a long flowing cape could be made into a weapon against it’s wearer if an intimate physical struggle against an imposing enemy occurred.  In a fighting situation, I’m not sure visible genitalia is ever a good offensive or defensive strategy outside of an exhibition match that takes place in front of a group of onlookers and witnesses.  Those kinds of stand offs usually have rules making them safe and entirely different from the impromptu street fight; where hair pulling, eye gauging, and crotch attacking may occur to be great attacks beyond picking up weapons.

Superman’s diamond-shaped shield seems to be of the correct size and placement on his chest. I believe the actual cape is the best-placed example in super hero history as well.  In drawings the cape seems to be tucked into the Clark/Kal-El’s shirt at the bottom of the clavicle then drapes backwards over that muscle until it hangs behind Clark/Kal-El’s back. The cape in width doesn’t cross the shoulder muscles nor should it fall forward.  In fact Reeve’s example proves the chest emblem can never be completely covered.  This is a unique feature of the character’s cape for traditional capes typically close and shield like coats; in fact they like the poncho are exactly what they were coats.

Appearing to be non-adjustable, the non-functional belt does not appear to be useful and instead appears to be entirely ornamental.  Appearing to be plastic in appearance the belt doesn’t actually hold up his shorts nor does it keep the shorts on.  Possibly moving at hyper sonic speeds the belt may solely keep the shorts in place, but then that begs the question why wear the shorts at all. If the tights assist the hero in being aerodynamic wouldn’t Clark do better to dispense with the accessory all together?

Now for the first time I wondered why no villain hasn’t successfully tried to hinder Clark’s assent by grabbing him by the belt/shorts combination. If Mongul, Darkseid, Doomsday, or Solomon Grundy did this what is the worst that could happen?  Would his shorts come off or down?  Fortunately, he still would not be naked, embarrassing, as that might be this may be one of the risks of wearing your underwear on the outside (Kryptonian custom or not).  Actually there’s reason to ask why he even wears them.  Though I believe I have seen the belt buckle used as a communicator in the past, I believe the belt/shorts combination is an appendage of the first super hero suit that has succeeded in never being modified.  Speaking of the sexual emphasis of the shorts they, historically the Reeves example do not make this statement yet.  After the turn of the century these shrinking shorts becomes a much more familiar expression of the man of steel’s virility, (possibly influenced by a newly welcomed expression of the gay sensibility).

One must wonder why Superman’s boots appear plastic when they appear to be cloth in the comic.  This may solely be a result of the limits of comic’s graphic representation.  The boot is traditionally not only a shelter against the weather it is also a protection from the ground that the foot comes in contact with.  Photography highlights the material difference between the boots and the suit; and in effect specifies why the materials should differ as well.

On top of Donner/Blake’s costume success in regard to replication, there is a topic in which we can thank specifically Reeves as being an innovator in the superhero presentation effort.  That topic is the super hero physique; that Reeves did train to make sure he had within the movie.  Wearing highly revealing clothing this aspect of super hero appearance is relevant beyond the costume alone.  Being that he is the first actor to emphasize this aspect of super hero resemblance, he deserves credit for the innovation.  This tendency to undergo this form of physical transformation is commonplace for actors today largely because of Reeve’s effort.

I can’t be sure whether Christopher Reeve drew his inspiration from body builders Steve Reeves or Reg Park of the nineteen sixties. If you’re wondering this discussion will eventually move outside of the Reeve(s) family; (though I’m somewhat sure none of these individuals are actually related).  Reeves and Park appeared in a number of “sword and sandals” movies in the 50’s and 60’s era; playing Hercules, Goliath, a number of other fantasy super men.  No doubt they received the roles because of their formidable physiques, which no doubt Reeve noted and emulated.

In this segment of this discussion we see how the first superhero portrayals impressed many of us. By demonstrating how the comic presentation of actor in tights or leotard helped engage us in the mythology of the comic book super hero. Donner/Blake’s design contribution also highlights some of the functional and ornamental aspects of the suit.  Giving us a window into the thinking of the heroes’ original creators.  We can especially thank Christopher Reeve for demonstrating that the superhero physique was another component of this heroic character presentation.

Information pertaining to the Superman movie and TV series costumes were found at:

Image of Superman TV show cast members from:

Image of George Reeve from the of Superman TV show color image from:

Images by illustrators in this order: John Byrne, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, and George Perez

Image of Christopher Reeve as Superman from movie at:

Superman character likenesses TM and copyright 2010 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Superman character likenesses TM and copyright 2010 Warner Bros. All rights reserved.

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