Jul 5, 2016

The Quest for the Shirtless Superman

When I was a kid, I read Harvey Comics, the Disney ducks, the Gold Key jungle comics, and occasionally an Archie -- but not DC: Superman, Batman, and their ilk.

Who could follow the never-ending story arcs, spread across multiple issues and multiple titles, with references to event that happened ages ago that everyone was supposed to know about?

Besides, the big-city settings were dull -- give me a jungle any day -- and who cared about battling bad guys?  Find a lost civilization or seek out buried treasure, something mildly entertaining instead of the constant zap! pow!

But the biggest problem -- the musclemen were never naked!  Tarzan, Korak, Brothers of the Spear wore skimpy loincloths, so there were massive chests, 6-pack abs, and bulging biceps to ogle in nearly every panel.  The DC superheroes were never shown out of their stupid costumes.

Logically, I can understand why -- strip Superman out of his suit, and no one will know who he is   You'd never know that this is a picture of Superman (actually Kal, from an alternate reality where Krypton explodes in the Middle Ages rather than 1930s, so the super-baby refugee grows up to be a blacksmith rather than mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent.  Got all that?)

But still, there's no reason why there couldn't be at least a few shirtless scenes.

Nope.  I just spent 2 hours on the Grand Comics Database, looking at the covers of  866 issues of Action Comics (1938-2016), 423 issues of Superman (1939-1986), 333 issues of the second incarnation of Superman (1987-2006) and the third 92011-2016), plus all 230 issues of The Adventures of Superman (1987-2006) ), The Justice League of America, Batman/Superman, Superman/Batman, and Supermen from Britain, France, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Sweden, and Finland, over 2500 covers in all.

7 of them show a shirtless Superman.  

That's 0.26%

Nothing at all for the first 25 years.  Then, in 1963, Superman agrees to fight his arch-nemesis Lex Luthor on a planet with a red sun, where his superpowers don't work.  He takes his shirt off to get pummeled.

In 1964, on another red-sun planet, a caveman steals Superman's clothes (he has a beard so we know it isn't really Supe).

Why the lack of beefcake?  I suspect it has something to do with the writers, who were typically girl-chasing heteros who had no interest in drawing the male form.  Or else they thought that the audience consisted entirely of 15 year old hetero boys who had no interest in seeing the male form.

No shirtless covers for 36 years, until, in 2000, Superman appears in a wilderness setting, his shirt half torn off, fighting monsters, with Wonder Woman behind him wielding an axe.  The title "Immortal Beloved" seems to be reflecting the Edgar Rice Burroughs story "The Eternal Lover," about a warrior from 100,000 years ago who falls in love with a 20th century woman who is a reincarnation of his ex-girlfriend.

Then 13 years passed with nothing.

In 2013, "the “Psi-War” epic begins! Psi-War erupts as Hector Hammond tries to take control of H.I.V.E. from its queen, but there are other forces in play as well, as a new Psycho Pirate emerges, and Superman is caught in the middle, unable to protect those closest to him."

The 3-D cover shows a brutal, scary Bizarro or Borg Superman, but at least he has his shirt off.  Note the "real" superman captured in the background.

Justice League 40 (2015) is about the Darkseid War!  The Justice League comes face to face with "the two most powerful and dangerous entities in existence!"  More dangerous than the Sun-Eater that ravages entire galaxies, from a 1967 Superman continuity?

But the cover shows Superman, Batman and company as strippers in a homage to the movie Magic Mike.

Earth One is a series of graphic novels set on an Earth that didn't participate in the mega-retconning "Crisis on Infinite Earths" of the 1980s, and thus is not limited by the continuity restraints of the new DC.  Volume 3 (2015) depicts Superman's battle with General Zod and romance with someone named Lisa.

Superman 42 (2015) has Superman fighting an information-skimming mega-crime syndicate called HORDR.  Also, Lois finds out his true identity, and he loses his powers yet again.

But a variant cover shows Supe drawn like a character from the Nickelodeon cartoon Teen Titans Go!, in his underwear, trying to pick out a costume to wear.

H's a cartoon, but he's still shirtless, so it counts.

3 covers from 1938 to 2012, and then 4 from 2013 to 2015.  Maybe things are looking up for DC Comics beefcake fans.

Check out the Shirtless Superheroes blog for lots more shirtless pictures of Supe and company.

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