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Hero History: A Look Back at Superman’s Shield Through the Years

Superman Logos
Warner Bros./DC Comics

When re-imagining the Man of Steel, there are very few changes you can make … unless you are prepared to alienate a passionate fan base. The suit has to be blue. The caps and boots must be red. Superman needs to punch someone every once in a while. (Are you listening, Bryan Singer?) And the logo shield … well, that allows for some wiggle room.

We recently posted the new ‘S’ design for Zack Snyder’s planned ‘Man of Steel,’ which casts Henry Cavill as the new Kal-El. The picture won’t be in theaters until June 2013, but instead of looking ahead to the blockbuster, we’re using the shield as an excuse to look back at the various Superman designs over the years.

You might be surprised at how similar – and yet, so different – the ‘S’ designs managed to be from one artist to the next. Mainly, they shifted in size over the years, because the character’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, imagined the logo to be quite small in the early days. This drawing, from Comic Book Marketplace No. 36, precedes Action Comics No. 1 and shows a puzzle-piece-sized logo that’s virtually lost on Superman’s broad chest:

Superman 1
DC Comics

 

That small design would show up again in Action Comics, which marked Superman’s celebrated debut:

Superman Action Comics
DC Comics

 

But as the logo evolved, it spread across Superman’s chest, acquired more curves, and played around with a color scheme that better used the recognizable crimson and gold. Superman No. 12, for example, published in September 1941 and started to implement the curves at the “head” and “feet” of the ‘S.’

Superman 12
DC Comics

 

In time, though, the trademarked ‘S’ was locked into place, and then it fell to each artist as to how they wanted to slightly alter the design. Let’s run through a visual history of the most recognizable Supermen, starting with TV star George Reeves:

George Reeves
Warner Home Video

 

Silver screen icon Christopher Reeve:

Christopher Reeve
Warner Bros.

 

Dean Cain’s ComicSans logo in ‘Lois & Clark’:

Lois and Clark
Warner Bros. Television

 

Tim Burton had some interesting designs for his failed Superman project including a Bowie-glam take on the shield (with Nic Cage as his Superman) and an alien-infused suit for later in the film:

Tim Burton Superman
Warner Bros.

 

And Singer’s modern take on ‘Superman Returns,’ with Brandon Routh in the legendary tights:

Superman Returns
Warner Bros.

But in my humble opinion, nothing beats Alex Ross’ brilliant design, which remains the high watermark for every other Superman designer:

Alex Ross Superman
Alex Ross

 

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