From comics to Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Man of Steel has replaced the yellow in his red symbol with black on numerous occasions.
The Superman “S” symbol is one of the most iconic images in all of pop culture. The red and yellow emblazoned on a background of blue can be seen all over the world on everything from t-shirts to posters. However, despite the iconic red and yellow color scheme of one of the world’s most recognizable symbols, there have been times when the character has ditched the yellow altogether, choosing instead to pair his bright red with a bleaker black.
The first appearance of this black and red color scheme dates back to some of Superman’s earliest appearances. The symbol changed frequently throughout the early issues of his comic, often appearing very different from the diamond shape seen now. The first appearance of the black and red among these variations came in Superman #4 by Jerry Siegel and Paul Cassidy, published in 1940. In this case, the symbol appeared surrounded by a yellow border, similar to the animated Max Fleischer version from 1941, and seen more recently in the series premiere of the new CW television show, Superman and Lois. The main difference between these two early versions of the black and red was their shape, the former being a flat three-sided shield shape and the latter a diamond shape.
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While the symbol would go through many changes throughout the Golden Age, it would soon settle into something more akin to the version seen today, with the biggest impact of the red and black coming from the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons. The next major appearance of a red and black symbol would be many decades later in 1996 and become one of the more popular variations of the symbol.
Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross saw an older Superman return with a new mission, leading to a more somber approach to his costume. When the villain Magog accidentally tore open Captain Atom’s protective suit mid-battle, it led to a nuclear explosion that wiped out most of the American Midwest. The retired Superman returned to unite the superpowered community and set things right. All yellow on the costume was gone, replaced with a different symbol meant to be a mark of respect for those who died as part of Magog’s attack.
The next appearance of the black on red color scheme came only five years later, with a similar reason for the change. After the “Our Worlds at War” crossover event, Superman struggled with how he could continue as if nothing had happened. In 2001’s Superman #174 by Jeph Loeb and Steve Lieber, after spending time rebuilding in Smallville, Ma Kent came up with the perfect way for Superman to return while respecting those lost in the conflict. The issue ended with a shot of Superman in a variation on his classic costume. The blue was darker and, most importantly, the symbol’s bright yellow had been replaced with a respectful black. Unlike Kingdom Come, the move to keep the classic symbol’s iconic shape was made to respect the past as well as pay respect to the fallen.
More recently, the black and red look has made its way from the printed page to TV screens. The Max Fleisher style black and red symbol with yellow border was not only seen on Superman and Lois, but also on the Arrowverse’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover event. While there were three versions of Superman in the crossover, the one of note here was Brandon Routh’s return to the role, which saw him wearing the Kingdom Come costume.
When Routh’s version of Superman is asked by Lois Lane why he chose the black over yellow, he replied, “Even in the darkest times, hope cuts through. Hope is the light that lifts us out of darkness.” This Superman endured terrible loss after an attack on the Daily Planet killed many of his friends and colleagues. However, his words show that despite the darkness in his costume, Superman’s hope remains steadfast and true.
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