They say that clothes make the man, which means that a hero known as Superman must have some pretty impressive threads. While the Man of Steel is best known for his iconic red and blue uniform, Zack Snyder’s Justice League will feature Superman in a new, much different looking black costume. As millions of longtime Superman fans will tell you, this is more than a cinematic fashion statement, as the black suit has roots from one of Kal-El’s most seminal stories.
You’ve heard of birthday suits, but we prefer to think of Superman’s black outfit as a “rebirthday suit,” since it’s tied to the Man of Steel’s resurrection. After being killed by Doomsday in the classic Death of Superman storyline (see 1992’s Superman #75), the Man of Steel was revived months later in Action Comics #689. Bursting out of a Kryptonian birthing matrix, Superman was wearing a black jumpsuit with silver highlights.
This visually stunning outfit was based on a sketch from Jon Bogdanove, the artist who co-created the character Steel. While the comics didn’t say much about Superman’s dark costume, supporting material like Roger Stern’s The Death and Life of Superman novel gave more details about the outfit’s hidden accessories. Readers learned that the suit was designed to help the weakened Superman absorb more solar energy. As a result, the costume has become known to many as the Recovery Suit.
Unfortunately, the outfit wasn’t as indestructible as Clark was, and the suit was torn to shreds while battling Hank Henshaw in 1993’s Superman #82. By then the Man of Steel’s powers had fully returned, and he went back to wearing his traditional red and blue outfit. The status quo was restored, with the exception of Clark’s hair, which had grown out and he’d started wearing in a mullet. He would stick with that look for the next few years. (Don’t judge him, it was the 1990’s and he was going through a phase.)
Not one to let a good outfit go to waste, Superman brought back his black suit in Action Comics #729 during a period where he temporarily lost his ability to draw on the sun’s energy. Sadly, the encore didn’t last long, and Superman soon switched to an electric blue outfit (we can only imagine what Bruce had to say about that one). Still, the Recovery Suit has never really been forgotten. The outfit was used as a variant in the 2006 Justice League: Heroes video game, and has inspired some cool statues and figurines. It was also seen in adaptations of the Death of Superman story, like 2007’s Superman: Doomsday and 2019’s Reign of the Supermen.
Superman has tried his hand at black costumes in other media appearances, as well. A future version of Superman wore a modified black costume when he appeared in Batman Beyond. Tom Welling’s Clark Kent donned a black costume with a dark trench coat in the ninth season of Smallville. At the time, Clark was trying to cut himself off from humanity and embrace his Kryptonian heritage. Tyler Hoechlin wore a black Superman costume during the Arrowverse’s Elseworlds crossover, but there was some multiverse manipulation involved.
The point is, each version of Superman had their own reason for donning black and we’re curious to see what drives Henry Cavill to switch his color scheme. Is it a symbol of rebirth, or a sign of darker days to come? Either way, it’s pretty exciting. Dan Jurgens, one of the architects behind the Death of Superman saga, was blown away by seeing Cavill in the suit, which brings things full circle.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League will premiere on HBO Max on March 18th and Superman’s black suit will feature prominently in the film. While the outfit might not serve the same purpose as its comic counterpart, there is no denying the parallels. Don’t forget, the story picks up after Henry Cavill’s Superman was killed battling Doomsday. Returning to life in a black costume is more than a fashion statement for Superman—it’s a homage to the comic books that inspired Snyder’s cinematic universe.
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Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.