Want to buy or sell something? Check the classifieds

skin-tight superheroes in the 40s?

scottyrocks

I'll Lock Up
Messages
9,065
Location
Isle of Langerhan, NY
This thread was inspired by a discussion in the 'braces without waistcoat' thread. Some posts mentioned shirts and braces (suspenders) as underwear.

Someone made mention of superheroes. And it got me to thinking. What was the general public's reaction to superhero costumes? In particular, to the skin-tight outfits that men wore, in an era of boxy suits where you really couldnt show much body definition, except maybe at the beach? Were people (adults) generally horrified?

It wasnt until years later that the youth movement openly thumbed their noses at traditional ways of doing things. In the 40s, when first Superman (1938) and then Batman, appeared, was their any adverse adult reaction? Was it like today, when there is adverse reaction, but tings just go on, anyway, and society evolves? Does anyone have any documentation, or even some personal experience going back that far?
 

Fletch

I'll Lock Up
Messages
8,869
Location
Iowa - The Land That Stuff Forgot
AIUI, their outfits were based on circus performers, who often wore shiny tights and sometimes capes or masks.

I think the first hero drawn this way was the Phantom, who began in newspapers in 1936 but was eventually eclipsed by the new magazine-based characters.
 

scottyrocks

I'll Lock Up
Messages
9,065
Location
Isle of Langerhan, NY
That makes sense, but the circus is often looked at as its own infrequently occurring little world that one had to to go to in order to see the 'sights.' Comics and magazines were right there at the corner store, I would presume, were cheaper than a circus admission, and pictured these costumed people out on the street in full view of you and 'the wife.' I was just curious if there was was an significant negative reaction to this by the general populace, iow - the 'iron-fisted' adults of the era.
 

LizzieMaine

Bartender
Messages
30,916
Location
Where The Tourists Meet The Sea
Most adults who disliked comic books disliked them because they were considered "trashy" in general, and a poor substitute for the series books they themselves had read as kids. These same adults, though, would pore enthusiastically over page four of The Comic Weekly in the Sunday paper, where Flash Gordon ran around in tights and sometimes less. So I imagine the sartorial choices of the characters weren't a particular concern.
 

Pompidou

One Too Many
Messages
1,242
Location
Plainfield, CT
Comic books in general were targeted by congress in the 50s to protect the children, accused of seemingly being the cause of all that was wrong in the universe, and I googled the wikipedia entry on the ordeal. There was nothing stated about controversy over the superhero outfits. Everything else about comic books apparently was controversial though. The writeup did have a passing reference to homosexuality - "Wertham's book Seduction of the Innocent (1954), concerned with what he perceived as sadistic and homosexual undertones in horror comics and in superhero comics respectively, raised public anxiety about comics". I don't know what would constitute homosexual undertones in 1950s culture because that changes over time. Would Batman and Robin working together in tights cause that reaction back then? I wouldn't think so, because it's really little different than wrestling. Thinking about it, superheroes really were essentially exaggerated wrestlers in a way.
 

Edward

Bartender
Messages
23,256
Location
London, UK
Over on this side of the Atlantic, there was a significant difference - in the eyes of middle class parents, at least - between the early English comic books, and the trashy US equivalent. THis was not in any way a xenophobic thing, it was down to the content. The English variant were written in proper English, in text form - really, they were more illustrated stories than the comic book as we know it today. The US imports were trashy, slangy, and had the 'speech bubble' - all quite vulgar things in some eyes at the time.
 

Atterton

New in Town
Messages
13
Location
Sweden
I think many sports performers would have been dressed in similar tight outfits. As mentioned, the look of outfits like Superman´s was based on circus strongmen, which is where the "underpants on the outside" thing came from.
 

Mr. Hallack

One of the Regulars
Messages
279
Location
Rockland Maine
I am thinking these superheroes outfits were the inspiration for stupid sexy Flanders

stupid_sexy_flanders_by_thefightingmongooses-d36omio.png
 

Tomasso

Incurably Addicted
Messages
13,719
Location
USA
[video=youtube;KNUbPRj9TGM]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNUbPRj9TGM&feature=related[/video]
 
Messages
11,580
Location
Covina, Califonia 91722
In an era of boxy suits where you really couldn't show much body definition.

I thought about that and wanted to remark that though that time into the 1940's many men's suits were not that boxy. They had sometimes a closer fit, action arm holes and the shoulder width was starting to be accentuated along with a taper in at the waist. It was to make the wide shoulder narrow waist the look for men.
 
Messages
11,580
Location
Covina, Califonia 91722
Most adults who disliked comic books disliked them because they were considered "trashy" in general, and a poor substitute for the series books they themselves had read as kids. These same adults, though, would pore enthusiastically over page four of The Comic Weekly in the Sunday paper, where Flash Gordon ran around in tights and sometimes less.

What was the era of the serials such as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers appearing in the movie theaters? If it was fairly early then there may have been a formula for the superhero costume being built in the minds of movie goers.
 

LizzieMaine

Bartender
Messages
30,916
Location
Where The Tourists Meet The Sea
Tights-wearing serial characters were common in the mid-thirties -- but I think the real breakthru so far as establishing the archetype in the public consciousness might have been The Phantom, who showed up in newspapers in 1936. He was the first "superhero" figure to wear tights -- as opposed to a spaceman figure like Flash and Buck, and it was his influence that led to the popularity of such outfits for the various comic book heroes.

Keep in mind, too, that unlike comic books and movie serials, newspaper comics were directed toward adults as much as to children -- and the appearance of a tights-wearing hero in the newspaper funnies would have done much to establish him in the public consciousness, even among people who never would have touched a comic book. Even though Superman was a creation of the comic books, he became a national figure thru his newspaper strip, and you'd be hard pressed to find someone in 1942 who didn't immediately recognize his uniform.
 

Forum statistics

Threads
101,540
Messages
2,881,352
Members
48,998
Latest member
Boootlicker
Top