Everyone has a favorite everything, and superheroes are no exception. We sure did. Growing up we had our favorite heroes. We idolized them. In a way, we wanted to be just like them. Everything about them was just so cool: their supernatural powers, their rockhard tenacity, their unwavering bravery, their capes, their hairstyles, their masks, everything! And then we got older and noticed something quite peculiar: almost all of the classic superheroes we grew up on wore their underwear on the outside. As kids, we didn’t really pay any mind to that sort of thing; everything else about them stole the show. But as adults, we owe it to our past selves to scrutinize our past idols and ask: what the hell is the deal with superheroes and underwear?
Well, it’s worth noting just how much of the design aesthetic of western superheroes was born out of circumstance and limitations. When graphic novels first appeared in the market they were considered by many to be strictly for children. This meant low prices, which meant low-quality black and white prints with colorful covers. Furthermore, graphic novel publishers could afford to print their covers in only 4 colors, from which came the practice of four-color-scheme superheroes.
And while these limitations brought forth some of the most inventive character designs of the century, they also caused quite a few problems. The characters’ body parts were almost indistinguishable. To counteract this, the graphic novel artists came up with an ingenious solution: they could highlight the superhero’s pelvic region, thus drawing a figurative and literal line between the waist, torso, and thighs, which were all jumbled up. The underwear often bore a different color than the rest of the superhero’s outfit, and even when it didn’t, it was drawn to seem accentuated so that it neatly could divide the hero’s upper and lower half.