Of late, be it due to the nature of how superheroes are portrayed in the comics and how it affects their fans or how the superheroes would be in real life based on their characters’ natures, suits have become an intrinsic part of superhero lore and a topic of discussion among fans. And why not? The suits are how we recognize superheroes. They are as much a symbol as the superheroes. With the advent of the MCU and DCEU, there has been a re-emergence of suits and our outlook toward them. Since the first superhero movies were made, suits have come a long way, and so have our views on them. Today, comic-accurate suits receive the respect that lies at one end of the dynamic, i.e., the MCU. On the other end of the dynamic, we have a more realistic approach to the suits, i.e., DCEU. This doesn’t mean that the dynamic is constant. There are times when they interchange positions, and there are also times when the dynamics collide. So let us talk about them in detail.
The amount of attention to detail and R&D that went into the suits in the superheroes movies from the early 90s, which saw the re-emergence of superhero films post the success of Richard Donner’s Superman (1978), until the big bang of the MCU, was not that palpable but noteworthy. The pioneers of this trend were Tim Burton (Batman, 1989) and Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, 2002). These two people went into great depths to create suits that didn’t just pay homage to the comics but also carried a realistic touch. But it was Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise and Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man franchise that really sparked the discussion and debate on superhero suits and their connection to reality within their stories’ contexts and, in some cases, in real life too.
It is one thing to make a suit comic accurate and a whole different thing to give it a look that adds to the character’s arc. Now, both of these can occur simultaneously as well, MCU’s Sam Wilson’s Captain America suit or DCEU’s Batman suit, but when they don’t, the reality factor does seem more effective, given the fact that what’s attractive in the comics might not be that attractive on screen or become rather cliché. MCU Captain America is different from the comics, and so is DCEU’s Superman. So it is not possible to differentiate between MCU suits and DCEU suits based on how “good or bad” they are. That is why, in this article, we will talk about the suits based on their appeal. So let’s begin.
The most visually appealing superhero suit across all live-action superhero films has to be the Superman suit. While Zach Snyder’s version of the suit did appear unusual when it was first revealed, especially due to the missing underwear, the fans did come to terms with it and started liking it more and more with time. The suit Henry Cavill donned in “Man of Steel” doesn’t derive its past from the comics, where the suit was made from the cloth he was wrapped in when Martha and Jonathan found him as a baby. In the film, the suit is a garment that all Kryptonians wear. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson opted for a chainmail motif to give the suit a medieval look that has continued in “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and the Snyder Cut. The “S” at the center also contains the motif. The cape was also given attention and provided with a velvet-like quality and appearance that made it look medieval as well as royal. An extra layer of chromed underwear was added in “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which gave the red-and-blue suit a metallic sheen and made it look more visually appealing. Finally, in the Snyder Cut, we got the black Superman suit, which itself was one of a kind. Needless to say, the Superman suit is a great modernization of the traditional costume, one for which we can easily accept the absence of red underwear. Can’t we? The Superman suits have a tangible quality to them and are successfully able to give out the energy that is recognizable as belonging to the son of Krypton.
Captain America’s suit, too, has undergone a lot of changes over the years. The traditional red, white, and blue suit in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” the “old-fashioned” suit in “The Avengers,” the stealth suit in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the upgraded stealth suit in “Captain America: Civil War,” and finally the chainmail-pattern suit in “Avengers: Endgame.” While all the suits have made Cap remain distinct on screen, none of the suits add to the character in the way a suit is expected to. We recognize him due to his personality and the way he carries himself, not the suit he wears. This is not because he didn’t have a particular suit in the comics. Perhaps it is because, as far as the films are concerned, the suit itself doesn’t matter as much as the character. All in all, Captain America is complete with his suit, but he wouldn’t be incomplete without it. Although his helmet does give him an edge, right? In terms of being noteworthy, Captain America’s suit is at the top of the list, alongside the Black Panther suit.
Batman’s suit caught everyone’s eye even before it arrived at the DCEU, thanks to the great Christopher Nolan. His version of the suits and the transformation, from the caped crusader suit of “Batman Begins” to the military-grade, more flexible tech suit in “The Dark Knight,” cannot be appreciated enough. It can easily be said that whenever there is a debate among superhero fans relating to the suits, Nolan’s Batman plays a vital role in it and will always do so. He got the suit made from real Kevlar (five times stronger than steel), ceramic (almost as strong as diamond), and Nomex (a fireproof material used in firefighter uniforms). However, Nolan’s Batman isn’t DCEU canon, although it can be said to have inspired Snyder’s Batman. How? Well, thanks to the Dark Knight Trilogy suits, Snyder decided to replace the full black suit design with the traditional black and gray from the comics. And voila! We have the bruised Batman suit, which is a lot more intimidating than all the suits that have come before it. Snyder also decided to make Batman a hulking figure, for which actor Ben Affleck had to put on a lot of muscle. This is not just because he is a superhero; it’s something that all the actors do just for the sake of it. Snyder specifically wanted Affleck to be a brutish figure, and the suit would just be an extension of that. Snyder’s Batman’s power wasn’t through his armor but the brute strength of the man under the armor. All the muscles are visible through the suit that covers the body. This gives Batman a look akin to the one in the graphic novels, almost like a gargoyle. All this does makes him visually at par with Superman. Altogether, the DCEU Batman suit is another great superhero suit that plays a significant role in uplifting its character.
While the Iron-Man suit has been CG for most of the films, the reason we mention him here is due to the first Iron-Man film that came out in 2008. John Favreau wanted to build a real Iron-Man suit, and he did. CGI was used too, but the fact that they had a real suit as a reference made the CG suit look more tangible. For example, in the scene where Tony runs a check on the control surfaces of Mark 2 (Iron Man, 2008), everything is computer-generated but looks so real. The second suit-up scene, too, looks equally appealing due to how real it seems. The Iron-Man suit, across the films, is a clear testimony of how CGI has evolved and also how the objective of being photoreal has lost its prior edge. Presently, it’s about taking things up a notch rather than basing them on reality, which does make sense as it is, after all, for a superhero who isn’t real. This is why the suspension of disbelief also takes a hit more nowadays than it used to do earlier (the late 2000s). The big bang of the MCU has led directors and producers to opt for VFX rather than practical effects that would cost them more. In the process, realism gets compromised. Coming back to Iron Man, the Marks I, II, and III from “Iron Man” (2008), IV, V (to an extent), VI from “Iron Man 2” (2010), and VII from The Avengers (2012) were the most realistic suits. With the arrival of “Iron Man 3” in 2013, the suits lost their touch with reality, despite the production using a real suit from the waist up for RDJ to wear. I cannot really blame anyone. It’s just how Stark tech has evolved. This is why the suits were a topic of discussion until “Iron Man 3.” After that, it was all RDJ in pajamas until “Avengers: Endgame.”
Although he isn’t a superhero but a super anti-hero, Black Adam deserves an honorable mention in this list due to DCEU’s dedication to its costume design. The Black Adam suit is completely real from top to bottom. The golden lightning bolt, the patterns, and symbols all across the suit, the metallic finish, the metallic semi-gauntlet on the left arm, and the belt all validate Black Adam’s medieval past and power as old as time itself. If Black Adam comes face to face with Superman in the future, it will be a battle of the suits as well because both are equally appealing. Imagine if Superman donned his black suit during the fight!
Marvel’s most iconic superhero suit took a heavy hit after coming to the MCU. Before the MCU, Sam Raimi and Marc Webb gave us great Spider-Man suits that we all loved, especially because all of them were real, and the movies showed Peter making them at his home. Here it is important to mention that since we have it embedded in our minds that Peter made his own suit, seeing him wear a suit that was made by someone else or has unusual abilities does take its toll. Hence, although the suit was real for the most part in all the MCU films except for “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” where it was totally CG, the design is what kept it from being true to its nature. All the MCU Spider-Man suits are mechanical and allow Peter to face stronger foes. An artificial intelligence, a drone, a wing-suit component, multiple web-shooting combinations, and more—none of these are present in the suit in the comics that Peter made with his own hands. Keeping in mind that he is our friendly neighborhood teenager, all of these abilities are a bit too much to wrap our heads around, despite knowing that he needs them all to survive in the MCU. It is at the end of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” that he makes his own hand-made, iconic red-and-blue Spider-Man from the comics. We do not get a clear look at it, but it is a pleasure to see him in it. It makes sense in a way for Tom Holland’s Peter Parker to make that suit at that particular point in his life, as well as in the Marvel Universe, because he is about to take control of his life. It’s a new beginning for him, and he will have to learn everything on his own from now on, including surviving and protecting his neighborhood or, as he told Tony Stark in “Captain America: Civil War” “looking out for the little guy.” So, we are yet to get a clear shot at the true-to-form Spider-Man suit in the MCU, and we do not know when it will happen.
So, we can see that compared to the MCU’s top-tier superheroes, the DCEU’s top-tier superheroes have more real suits, be it due to the canon’s demands or the story’s. The fact is, it is always great to see a real suit rather than a CGI one because, somewhere deep within, we tell ourselves that we, too, could wear it if we got our hands on it. It takes us closer to the superheroes and allows us to connect with them better.