When I was young, I failed this trick question: “What’s the difference between Man and Superman?”. The (now famous) right answer was: “Man wears his underwear inside his trousers, but Superman wears it outside!” Have you ever wondered why most Superheroes of our times wore their inner-wear out? Not merely that, they usually wore contrasting colours to draw attention to… ahem… their productive assets. Superman of course, wore a blue suit covered by red underwear. Flash Gordon (another inter-galactic hero) wore the reverse combination! Robin (Batman’s deputy-hero) wore a red suit with green underwear. The Phantom made the ultimate fashion statement — striped underwear!
While these superheroes were creating a fashion riot down-under, Batman came up with a seminal creation — Black underwear. The sheer dignity of it all appealed to Boston Brahmins and Mylapore Mamas alike.
But the question still bugged me in my growing years: why is it de rigueur for a superhero to wear his underwear on the outside? When I grew up, (and I never grew up enough to stop reading comics) I suspected that undergarment companies secretly paid the illustrators of Comics (like DC, Marvel etc) to create underwear heroes. Look at WonderWoman, she wears something that subliminally reminds you of the star-spangled banner. I was sure that she was sponsored by a manufacturer who had big inventories of naughty thingies in patriotic colours. Who better than WW to sell them for you?
Oh, Oh. I was wrong, terribly wrong! Recently, I came across an interview of Julius Schwartz, the iconic editor of DC Comics from the 1940s through the 1980s. He had a simple answer. In the early 20th century, the superheroes were really very physical men, modeled after the macho-men of those times: Acrobats and Wrestlers. These guys wore some underwear-like shorts over their tights and leggings. They wore the real underwear inside the pseudo-underwear!
Of course, Tarzan was an exception. He did not wear his underwear outside his pants. Why, he wore no pants at all! He was the ultimate superhero!
This is a family post, so I will refrain from below-the-belt humour. That leaves just one more question, to which I recently discovered the answer. Why is Superman wearing such tight clothes? Simple, that’s because he picked up clothes with the size tag ‘S’ !