It seems that millennials are to blame for everything nowadays. When the dreaded “youths” aren’t ruining vacation time in the workplace or causing a massive decline in Olympics viewership, they’re also apparently responsible for the total destruction of superhero comics. Just this week, LitReactor published a piece entitled “Teenage Wasteland: Please, No More Teenage Superheroes” that argued that teenaged heroes had no place in superhero comics for a plethora of reasons.
Admittedly, it’s a bit silly and backwards to think that teen heroes should be barred from superhero books, but that got me thinking about what these horrible millennials were responsible for ruining in comics. They certainly didn’t cause the comic bubble to burst in the mid-1990s, nor did they cause Marvel to nearly to go bankrupt. They didn’t create the Comics Code Authority or the direct market or the slow “Hollywoodization” of the comics industry where comics are written with a future movie deal in mind.
But while these darn kids certainly didn’t cause any of those messes, they are most likely to blame for the disappearance of one longstanding institution: Superman’s red outerwear tights.
Superman has worn a pair of red underwear over his spandex tights since Action Comics #1, likely a callback to the circus strongman and his extraordinary feats of strength. Creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster probably didn’t intend for the tights to become a fashion statement, but those little red panties were inseparable with the aesthetics of superheroes for nearly 80 years, right up until DC did away with the tights with their New 52 reboot.
So why did DC get rid of Superman’s tights? Well, besides the fact that they’ve been the focus of thousands of bad stand-up comedy routines, they were also ridiculously old-fashioned. Circus strongmen went out of style decades ago, and those tights were a living relic of how obsolete superheroes were. Batman no longer wears a canvas costume, Iron Man’s armor doesn’t resemble an old-timey diver suit, and Superman certainly doesn’t need to look like a circus strongman anymore.
The aesthetic reasons behind Superman’s tights also didn’t hold up in the modern day. Many have often pointed out that Superman’s red tights were needed to prevent artists from either drawing Superman like he’s neutered or that he has…a male sex organ underneath that spandex! “Won’t anyone think of the children!” people proclaimed while deciding that a pair of contrasting red underwear was somehow more decent that drawing a couple of lines to signify that Superman possessed the same anatomy as 49% of the world’s population.
But in today’s world, we’re reminded that men have penises constantly, even in “family friendly” programming. If children see slight crotch bulges while watching football, baseball, the Olympics, or professional wrestling, why should Superman be any different? As long as Superman isn’t running around with an erection, why shouldn’t he be depicted like the modern day athletes and “supermen” he’s supposed to be superior to?
Of course, the most important reason that Superman’s red tights had to go was that the New 52 was all about attracting new and lapsed readers with a “modern” line of comics. DC wanted the New 52 to attract lapsed “Gen Xers” who left the industry during the dark years, but they also wanted to get millennials into their comics as well.
So, in addition to dark and brooding superhero stories and erasing 75 years of superhero history, the powers that be at DC realized that millennials would never respect a Superman who put his pants on first and his underwear second. DC decided that Superman’s tights had to go in order for the millennials to read their comics long after the rest of its readership was dead. And so, DC ditched the tights for a red belt and some armor…which coincidentally makes Superman look like he’s wearing a metal diaper instead of a pair of granny panties, as seen below.
For all the huffing and puffing that some Superman fans have made over erasure of the red tights, DC’s brave gambit seems to have worked. A much larger younger audience are reading DC comics now than they were in 1985, which coincidentally marks the beginning of the last time DC tried to reboot its line to appeal to a more modern audience. The move seems to have been so successful that DC even replaced its Superman with the “Post-Crisis” version, the one that actually did wear red tights, but kept the New 52 costume design.
So when you’re shaking your fists at millennials and yelling at them to keep off your lawns, remember that these kids with their smartphones and their Netflix are also responsible for getting rid of one of the most weirdly beloved institutions in all of superhero comics. Millennials, we really are the worst.
[Author’s Note: The writer is, as you probably guessed, a millennial.]