Friday, July 18, 2014

Men in Tights - a history

When Superman first hit the scene with his blue and red tights it created a shockwave around the country that it hit off the whole superhero craze that is going on stronger than ever today with blockbuster movies like Batman and the Avengers. Before that no one had ever seen a hero in tights and cape. Where did they get the idea from?

Siegel and Shuster created a character called Superman in 1933 though it bore very little resemblance to the Superman we know. He had mental powers but had normal strength. A year later they would re-envision him into a super crime fighter.

From Wikipedia on the creation of Superman - “The pair re-envisioned the character, who became more of a hero in the mythic tradition, inspired by such characters as Samson and Hercules, who would right the wrongs of Siegel and Shuster's times, fighting for social justice and against tyranny. It was at this stage the costume was introduced, Siegel later recalling that they created a "kind of costume and let's give him a big S on his chest, and a cape, make him as colorful as we can and as distinctive as we can."

After being rejected by numerous newspaper syndicates, Shuster became discouraged and burned all pages of the story; Only the cover surviving because Siegel rescued it from the fire.
"The design was based in part on the costumes worn by characters in outer space settings published in pulp magazines, as well as comic strips such as Flash Gordon, and also partly suggested by the traditional circus strong-man outfit, which comprised a pair of shorts worn over a contrasting bodysuit."

Around this same time Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon hit the funny papers. He would often wear tights and cape so it's not very far fetched to imagine that this very popular strip was a big inspiration for the creation of Superman.
Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon was probably a big inspiration for Superman. Though he didn't have any super powers, Flash Gordon was, like Superman, action packed and as you can see in this picture from March 1935 strip, Flash and Dale often both wear capes while, in this picture, Dale sports a star on her chest.
Like Flash Gordon, this new version of Superman was a comic strip. They tried shopping it around but didn't have any luck. Newspaper syndicates didn't think a guy running around in tights, fighting crime had much hope as a popular comic strip.
In the meantime National Allied Publications (DC Comics) bought Siegel and Shuster's Doctor Occult, The Ghost Detective, and some other comics that they had created. Doctor Occult debuted in DC's More Fun Comics #6, October, 1935.
More Fun Comics #6, October, 1935
While they were busy with Doctor Occult, Lee Falk was asked to come up with another popular comic strip to mirror the success of his Mandrake the Magician. He came up with a long underwear wearing crime fighting character called the Phantom which debuted in the newspapers in Feb. 1936. The Phantom is considered to be the first long john wearing action hero. though Flash came first, his duds changed every day while the Phantom's long johns were his standard union suit. Lee Falk has attributed Douglas Fairbanks' Robin Hood with giving him the inspiration for the skin tight purple skivvies.

A little later Siegel and Shuster were inspired to redesign Doctor Occult's trench coat and fedora into long johns and a cape.
Doctor Occult #14, Oct 1936

 He went on to fly and do other 'super' things.
More Fun Comics #16, Dec. 1936
Many people consider this a significant development in the creation of Siegel and Shuster's Superman. Jerry Siegel apparently was still stuck on the idea and encouraged Shuster to work on the idea again.

Joe Shuster drew this picture for a cosine of his in 1937. If you look closely you can see that Superman's 'S' is replaced with 'BSR', initials for his fraternity.
So in 1938, when Max Gaines need original material for a new comic, Action Comics, he went back to a comic that he had previously rejected, Superman! And in June 1938 and American pop culture would forever be changed.

Action Comics #1, June 1938

After Superman hit it big in 1938 every publisher and his brother wanted in on the whole long underwear craze. DC was trying to reproduce their success with dozens of superheroes in numerous titles.

in order from left top to right bottom, Detective Comics #27, May 1939, Adventure Comics #40, July 1939, More Fun Comics #54, April 1940, All American Comics #16, July 1940, Sensation Comics #1, Jan 1942, Flash Comics #1, Jan 1940, Adventure Comics #61, Apr 1941, All Star Comics #3, Dec 1941, The Big All American Comic Book, Dec 1944
At the same time they were doing their best to keep others from getting in on the action. They would take to court companies like Fox Feature Syndicate for their Wonder Man and Fawcett Comics for Captain Marvel.

Wonder Comics #1, May, 1939, Whiz Comics #2, Feb. 1940
But that is a story for another time.



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