P:R Approved: Karl Heitmueller’s Superman Comic Strip For BACK ISSUE Magazine!

Note: Project: Rooftop is about super-hero costume design appreciation, both with redesigns and respecting what’s gone on before. Artist Karl Heitmueller recently did a comic strip for Back Issue Magazine about the evolution of Superman’s costume in the wake of DC’s New 52. Karl has graciously allowed us to reprint it here. – Chris A.

27 comments to “P:R Approved: Karl Heitmueller’s Superman Comic Strip For BACK ISSUE Magazine!”
  1. Once the Icon is built, it’s much easier to create variations that are still recognizable. So what i would like to see from Marvel and DC is the use of this iconic characters in short term compact work (ie graphic novels) where the artist of the book took the time to tweak the designs to better fit the style and story, leaving the Iconic template as is. Much better than trying to impose someone else’s design that doesn’t necessarily fit with the art style of others. Jim Lee’s designs aren’t any good but they work thousands of times better when he drew them.
    A great thing about this approach would be that from time to time, some artist variants will become the new Iconic template in an organic, democratic way, as other artists and fans will choose to follow his vision instead of the established one (EX:the more mechanical iron man of now) with others coming back to old templates again and again (supes,spidey).
    Everlasting ongoing series are not helping the quality of the medium in my opinion.

  2. So, a fan of the character understands something that the DC company does not? Wow. Who knew it was possible? (Snarky but heartfelt).

    But seriously folks, as a former fan of DC I can tell you their entire plan, from the new looks to the story approaches, has failed for me personally on an epic scale. After nearly 35 years of reading and loving DC Comics I am turning to Marvel and the independants for my comic book entertainment.

    If DC can’t see the what they have to be proud of, how can I? If they want to be like Marvel so much, maybe Marvel IS better.

    A disappointed former fan

  3. This explains my feelings about the New 52 costume perfectly.

    There’s NO NEED to “update” (or in my opinion, “90s Image-ise”) Superman’s costume!

    The only “problem” with Superman’s costume is that it’s actually too perfect, and thus any change or attempt to “improve” it is futile.

    Superman’s costume is a wonderful and delicate combination of colors and shapes, and any change to either of those elements brings the whole thing down.

  4. Yes, the suit is iconic and its status in pop culture is undeniable but, unfortunately, that isn’t enough to get people to buy Superman comics. I agree that the new design is not the best but I really can’t blame DC for trying to change things up.

  5. I’ve been saying for some time that this whole DC makeover was to help align the comics with the live action movies. Some focus group must have determined that comic book sales increase when the characters look just like the hot, new big budget movie … because Marvel is guilty of this as well. I’m pretty sure that to this day Cyclops still has a gray visor…

  6. @Sebastian: If you’re right and people no longer buy Superman comics (I have no idea one way or another) then a costume change isn’t going to cut it. The whole character concept belongs to another era, one that’s essentially alien to us today. I’m not sure what would make him current again while still keeping the spirit.

  7. @Felix: As a matter of fact, the recently relaunched Action Comics has a new and very modern take on the character. Superman is more proactive (going after corruption for example), the Kents both died early on, he’s still learning about his powers at this point in the story, etc, etc. There’s a lot of promise with that title overall and changes that go deeper than just a costume. But yeah, the comic market in general is shrinking. Stories of imminent doom have existed for many years now.

  8. Would Superman himself change his own costume? Since it has no actual practical purpose, the whole point of his costume is to be visibly recognizable. You’d think he would stick to the same pattern just so he wouldn’t confuse anyone.

  9. If I can be really honest I’m gonna be the fan who stands up and says it doesn’t matter. Or rather it does matter as it matters to some people but really if the stories are in tact then the suit doesn’t need to tell us who the man is. Its an icon which means the idea is so engrained you don’t loose Superman by changing the look as the idea of him as a hero if there. Which means when they rebooted and showed a slightly more aggressive Supes it was kinda okay as everyone knew this guy will ultimately be the hero we know he is. The suit being updated is a natural progression as was shown here. And its okay. Yes it might be forced but equally it is part of a new universe with a new world take.

    If it was just this one character for the sake of it it would indeed be forceful and superfluous. On top of which I really like the new costume. Admittedly Lee is the only one pulling it off at the moment but that’s cos he has had time to play with drawing it and other artists have yet to get into the swing of portraying it, unlike the old one where there have been decades to toy with it in. And if the costume does get tweaked again slightly to make it more accessible for a wider pool of artists that is again okay.

    The problem with ongoings is they have to go on. They have to progress. They cannot remain stagnant and replay the some stories, and tropes and shots month in, month out. People forget they have to do the same job as a graphic novel or stand alone book (graphic or others wise). They need to tell a story and that means it goes somewhere in the most basic sense. Yes, you have to pass on to new creative teams but that’s not a chance for a new team to rehash what’s gone before without their own flavour. Nor does it mean one writer just produces the same book this month because the exact same thing sold last month. Ongoings need direction and change and focus and this progression is a requirement not a nice add on. Progression in terms of visuals, if it ties in to a change in character, makes a hell of a lot of sense.

    While I get some people don’t like this costume to say it shouldn’t have changed and that in this new universe of redesigns he should be wearing the same thing despite him starting his journey afresh, well I’m not sure I agree. The costume doesn’t need to tell the story but it should reflect it and not be there merely for nostalgia’s sake. Now if you don’t like it because it reflects the reboot and you don’t like the reboot…we’ll that’s a different topic.

    @Felis: I’d say the reboot is doing a fairly good job of making him ‘current’

    @Jay: gotta say I disagree with that overall theory however yes Scott’s visor is grey, though to be fair when Grant Morrison relaunched the series (when it was most like the films) it was yellow. It has become the status quo since that when the costume went back to being much closer to it’s original roots with a cowl/hood and all. And artists have been sticking with that out of preference and continuity it seems.

  10. @ Bobby: well said.

    I like the costume fine. Admittedly, I’m only reading Action [where he’s not wearing it] and JLA [which is drawn by its designer and looks great]. Perez’s take, from what I’ve seen, plays up the intricacies much more than Lee does, not that that’s a bad thing, but it’s a different vibe. When Lee draws it, the lines/roboticness/metalics just create a type of texture, really. It’s fairly subtle outside of, perhaps, the boots.

    Essentially, it’s the same costume, just sans shorts. The red note the shorts provided have been replaced by a red belt to help with the balance needed. Minor adjustments, depending on who you are, are the collar, boots, and lining. Further minutia are the sleeves and cape style [the black S is quite nice, IMO, but it also is shorter and comes to a point, which is a nice response to Batman’s cape, imho].

    It DOES, of course, tie into the new movie, and is a logical next step from the Dark Knight movie franchise’s costume and the reflection of that, even pre-DCnU, in the comics.

    When I look at it, though, it still says Superman. The shield, smartly, has barely been changed. The essential elements and pattern are unchanged [minus shorts]. And on the shorts: they are a relic. They were influenced from strong-men of the 30s, which are something we don’t quite identify with in the same way anymore. The only reason they’ve stuck around so long is because it’s SUPERMAN. And that’s how he looks. There is nothing else in society right now [besides speedos- and even those are all but gone] that comes close to wearing shorts on the outside. correct me if I’m wrong.

    Regardless, as Bobby said, it will continue to grow and change. Comics will die if they don’t.

    @ Felix and @Sebastian: yes, the character and concept have been modernized in Action, but, actually, simply taken back to their original roots. Superman was originally a working class hero fighting corruption. His powers were originally limited. Morrison knows exactly what he’s doing. Don’t believe me? Read Supergods. The man KNOWS comics. The man LIVES comics.

  11. Oh, and this comic is great. I LOVE costume variations!!!! [boy was the singer costume bad, though, IMO- he (whoever designed it/pushed it in that direction) tried to hide superman! mute the colors. make him more human. make the shield smaller! no no no!!! Superman needs to bright, big, and shining!! He’s a symbol, first and foremost. Not some shmuck wallowing in self-conscious self-doubt! But then, I only saw the movie once. :P ]

  12. But it is this commercial imperative of change, of progress that keeps the art medium quality down. For it must propose something new every month regardless of necessity, it pushes onto comics the same evils that are destroying our world: ie designed obsolescence.

    This new 52 thing is just a mirror stigmata of our ipod 1-2-3-4. So much so, that already you (those who defend this design) expect a new design to come and replace this one, because let’s face it it was obsolete the moment it was designed.

  13. What? No love for Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come redesign? I’ve always thought that redesigned chest shield was very effective as an homage to tradition and as an indicator of the character’s mood in that story.

  14. Sebastian:
    Yes, the suit is iconic and its status in pop culture is undeniable but, unfortunately, that isn’t enough to get people to buy Superman comics. I agree that the new design is not the best but I really can’t blame DC for trying to change things up.

    maybe write better stories could help :)

  15. I think the fact that most artists seem confused about how to draw this new costume speaks volumes. Jim Lee’s obsession with detailed piping and overdone armored boots and gauntlets make for busy and (granted, this is subjective) unattractive design.

    To deride the red shorts as being silly or juvenile or “gay” is kind of funny in the context… it’s a SUPERHERO COSTUME, the entire thing is inherently ridiculous if you parse it in realistic terms! Comic book superheroes are symbols, with Superman being the most iconic of them all… explain the shorts as some kind of Kryptonian fashion statement if you feel they have to be defended (I don’t), but they didn’t need to go anywhere, and they ESPECIALLY didn’t need to be replaced with Lee’s hideous replacement.

  16. Wow… well first off i would like to ask; Is this the first time we’ve ever seen a piece featured on the page that is a blatant opinion and not necessarily a redesign of any sort… it may talk about redesigns but it isn’t one… that withstanding, I will say I enjoyed reading it, and it was a very cleverly displayed argument. Even though I completely disagree.

    Your reasoning behind the iconic nature of the suit is solid, but then you have to decide how important a characters suit is and how important the character is. Superman is Superman if he’s in the red n blues, or if he’s buck-ass naked. That’s what is important to me in the movies, or addition of the Superman comics, to remain true to the character and the rest will come.

  17. Mike Lake: but then you have to decide how important a characters suit is and how important the character is…

    Why decide? Aren’t comics a team work between artists of all sorts, isn’t the medium itself an homogeneous mix of design, illustration, storytelling, lettering, coloring etc.
    Why not give design work to concept artists (who find design important and will therefore make the most of it) and give the character to the writers who will make the most of it. It works wonders in video games and in highly visual movies (LOTR is a great example). Why can’t this companies understand the difference between a good penciler like jim lee and someone who revels in the conceptualization and iconography of the worlds the stories are placed in?

  18. The only reason to dislike the new costume is nostalgia.
    It’s not impossibly difference, it’s only a few small changes.
    Yes, it is iconic, but the changes aren’t drastic enough to make it less iconic.
    It’s like giving the McDonalds logo a drop shadow a red outline.

  19. I would just like to say that I think the Justice Lord version of Superman from the DCAU was the classiest, most cleanly-designed alternate uniform I’ve seen thus far. DC needs to get more character/costume designers to do redesigns. After all, they’re trained specifically to create visually appealing, easily-animated, and iconic outfits. As opposed to, you know, whatever it is that Jim Lee draws.

  20. This Superman character looks more iconic than the original versions. It gets strange in different ways. Its accurate to see how the Origins of SUPERMAN comes out in a full-legnth comic animation

  21. I still don’t know how some people can like the red shorts… They were silly, they’re silly and they’ll always be.

  22. Yes! Thank you! SOMEONE else points out that he his outfit has already undergone some drastic changes!

    And the shorts aren’t really necessary anymore. And do you know why?


    In the 1930s, when Superman was born, he was physically modeled after strongmen who did indeed wear tight clothing and large trunks. Nowadays, however, our strongmen wear this: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b1/Dexter_Jackson_IFBB_2008_Australia_4.jpg/190px-Dexter_Jackson_IFBB_2008_Australia_4.jpg or shorts. Seeing as the mainstream audience almost certainly doesn’t want to see Superman in a banana hammock, we can assume that the body-builder thing wouldn’t work out.

    Now Superman was raised on a farm in Kansas (in most modern versions), so we can assume his physical idols were all pretty much blue-collar workers. Unusually, DC nailed this with their new outfit for Superman in Action Comics, though the tiny cape was a little odd. But let’s assume he DOES get a proper outfit now. Why in the world would he have trunks?

    I HAVE in fact thought up a way in which you could lampshade the ridiculousness of the trunks and get them put in the story in a manner that depends solely on Pa Kent enjoying 80s workout videos, a custom-made suit FOR Pa Kent involving said 80s dancercising, in order for the trunks to be a fond reminder of his father. As that is stupid and slightly contrived, it would be a better idea to throw out the trunks altogether and hope people aren’t so dumb that they can’t recognize a guy wearing a red-and-blue outfit with a big “S” on his shirt just because he’s not wearing trunks anymore.

    For an elegant and masterful redesign of Superman’s outfit, I bring you this work by Rob Nix. http://www.tencentticker.com/projectrooftop/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/superman_redesign_by_robnix-d40dlwg.jpg

  23. I dislike the new suit. Not because of nostalgia, but because it’s busy. Superman deserves the right to have a costume that changes with the various changes in his life. I feel like he’s more than a hero for the common man at this point. He’s everyone’s Superman. He believes in the system. He’s there with the factory workers. He’s met heads of state and fought alien gods. In so many ways he’s the ambassador to the universe for Earth AND Krypton. How many different interpretations of Superman have had him as an essential element in the Justice League? He is an authority figure and someone to look to.

    That’s why I tend to agree with anyone who designs him along the lines of tunic, pants and cape. The cape is really the only aspect of him that MUST REMAIN. Not because it’s iconic, but because it gives him that air that makes him an ambassador and leader of men.

    Mind you, we also need to have more people draw Superman happy

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