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After a brief separation, Superman and his iconic red undies are reuniting

It’s been a long seven years.

Action Comics No. 1000.
Jim Lee/DC comics
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

It’s a reunion seven years in the making: Superman and his red trunks will be together again in 2018.

For the first time since 2011, the Man of Steel will don the crimson, thigh-hugging briefs in Action Comics No. 1000, a special issue that commemorates the superhero’s legacy and his first appearance in 1938’s Action Comics No. 1. On the cover of that issue, Superman, wearing a bold undies-over-tights look — a visual allusion to circus strongmen of the era — is seen lifting up a car:

Action Comics No. 1.
DC Comics

Superman’s entire ensemble — cape, tights, “S” insignia, boots — is as recognizable and timeless as the character himself. But in 2011, during DC Comics’ New 52 reboot, his signature trunks were swapped out for something more monochromatic:

Superman’s trunk-free uniform for the New 52.
DC Comics

The removal of Superman’s undies seemed like an extension of the comics trend toward making superheroes more serious, more monochromatic, and thereby “cooler.” It brings to mind the 2000 X-Men film’s jab at the bright costumes of the comic books, or Man of Steel’s pronounced gloominess (both aesthetically and thematically). In that context, sure, the red trunks could be seen as a little cheesy.

In ignoring (or embracing) that perception of cheesiness, Action Comics No. 1000 and its red-trunked Superman is a callback to — and perhaps a restoration of — that earnest, enduring vision of Superman. Whether that vision will persist in Superman’s comics portrayal after Action Comics No. 1000, or if this restoration is a one-off event, remains to be seen.

Action Comics No. 1000 represents a watershed moment in the history of not just comic books, but entertainment, literature, and pop culture,” Jim Lee, co-publisher of DC Comics and cover artist of the Action Comics No. 1000 issue, said in a statement. “There’s no better way to celebrate Superman’s enduring popularity than to give him a look that combines some new accents with the most iconic feature of his classic design.”

Action Comics No. 1000 will be available online and in stores on April 18.