When I was younger (which doesn’t narrow things down much: until now I’ve always been younger) I used to draw — or rather colour — Superman’s boots with a yellow stripe around the top, the same yellow as his belt and the blobs on his chest’s S-symbol.
The angle of the top of the boots combined with the notch at the front looked like an “M,” so to me that’s always been the “M-strip.” And I knew it was an “M” because — let’s follow young Rusty’s chain of logic here — Superman has an “S” on his forehead (the kiss-curl) and another on his chest, and “S” stands for “Super” so if he has two “S”s it makes sense that he’d also have two “M”s elsewhere on his costume because “M” stands for “Man.” QED (quod erat demonstrandum, which is Latin for “I know it’s dumb, but I was seven.”)
I used to colour the strip yellow because yellow was the colour I knew that part should be.
Time moves on, and I encounter Superman in more comics, colouring books, toys, and the old Max Fleischer animated show, and more — including the episode of the Brady Kids cartoon in which Superman appears — and somewhere along the way I’ve become aware that the M-strips on Superman’s boots seem to be always red, not yellow after all. But they definitely used to be yellow.
A couple of times I mentioned this to friends, but none of them remembered the M-strip ever being yellow. And none of them had ever thought of it as an M-strip, either. Most of them had, in fact, devoted remarkably scant consideration to any aspect of Superman’s boots.
Even in the legendary Superman vs. Spider-Man crossover, one of the most important comics of my youth, the M-strip is red, as we can see in the close-up on the right.
I was sure I hadn’t mis-remembered the yellow, though, or just imagined it.
Then word reached us that there was a big-budget Superman movie in the works — I was very hopeful that the yellow strip would return. I eagerly awaited the first photo of Christopher Reeve in costume…
Eventually colour photos from the movie appeared, and they showed that, yes, Christopher Reeves’ Superman’s boots’ M-strip was the same red as the rest of his boots. (Extra points to me for getting all the apostrophes right in that sentence.)
But then a couple of years beyond that, DC launched a new Supergirl title, and in issue #13 she was given a new costume…
Yes! Yellow stripe on the boots! OK, so the strip wasn’t the same shape as her previous boots — which had been the same style as her cousin’s — but yellow is yellow. Later versions of the character have also occasionally used yellow on the boots, including the 1984 Supergirl movie:
Also, a search on the web shows up several images of Superwoman with a yellow M-strip on her boots, particularly the Lois Lane version of the character, but it seems to me that many of the images of Superwoman with the yellow M-strip are fan-created and based on the panel on the right (which accompanies the Wikipedia article on the character). That one only appears to have a yellow M-strip because of a printing error: the red ink is out of alignment.
I wasn’t quite vindicated, though: none of this could actually prove in any way that Superman had once had a yellow stripe around the top of his boots.
I feel moved to point out that I wasn’t obsessing over this, just occasionally vaguely curious as to whether I’d been wrong, or Superman’s costume had actually been altered a little. That was certainly a possibility: after all, the first version of Superman’s costume was quite different to what later became the norm.
Another possibility, one that I’m happy to say didn’t occur to me at all, was the Mandela Effect. That’s the newly popular notion that inconsistencies between our memories and current perceived reality — such as C3PO’s right lower leg, which has always been a tarnished silver colour, even though some people insist that it used to be the same gold as the rest of his body — are the result of someone or something tampering with the timeline, altering the past in order to change the present, with the side-effect that certain memories of the old version of reality remain unchanged. The effect is named after Nelson Mandela: apparently a lot of people “remember” reports of him dying in the 1980s, when in fact he lived until 2013.
The Mandela Effect is a fascinating example of human stubbornness: someone would need a pretty big ego to choose to believe that a universe-altering conspiracy is more likely than them just being wrong about something.
Anyway… A few days ago, as I was going through my collection of old annuals looking for the one that had the March 4th riddle, I spotted this, my copy of Superman & Batman Annual published in 1974:
Look at Superman’s boots! Look!
I know we’re only seeing the back of his boots, but the cover artist (the much-missed Brian Lewis) has very clearly painted them with a yellow stripe!
I hadn’t been imagining things, or mis-remembering them, or hallucinating, or lying to myself. At last, here is genuine, tangible proof that Superman has at least once been depicted with a yellow M-strip on his boots.
Now, this couldn’t be the only example, could it? Surely there had to be more out there. A quick search for “superman boots yellow” didn’t turn up any relevant images, nor did anyone seem to have written about it, but I wouldn’t let that stop me, oh no.
A search for the British Superman & Batman Annuals revealed four other issues: 1973, 1975, 1976 and 1977. The covers of the latter two feature standard line-art with the “proper” colouring on Supes’ boots, but the ’73 and ’75 covers feature painted artwork…
… more yellow M-strips!
OK, so the 1975 annual does also have a couple of other anomalies, as we can see in this montage of close-ups:
In the 1974 annual (the only one I own), Superman features in two of the strips within — “Tame a Wild Volcano” (from Superman #234, Feb 1971) and “The Girl Who Didn’t Believe in Superman” (from Superman #96, Mar 1955) — and in both cases the M-strip is red.
However, The Man of Steel also appears in a quiz page and a text story, both with commissioned illustrations and spot-colouring…
… it’s clear that the illustrators here considered the M-strip to be of a different colour to the rest of the boots.
Now, given that the annuals were published in the UK, the thought occurred to me that perhaps the artists had used other British-published Superman material for reference.
After the second world war British import restrictions meant that few American comics made it as far as the UK, but Superman fans weren’t totally bereft: the import restrictions didn’t apply to every country. Throughout much of the 1950s the long-running Australian-published titles Superman, Superboy and Super Adventure Comic were imported to the UK, frequently with Superman on the cover — in colour… and with wholly-red boots.
And here’s the cover of Radio Fun dated November 7th, 1959…
Only spot-colouring, and the artist / colourist obviously wasn’t familiar with the costume’s proper colours — but they’ve given the M-strip its own colour. (And, man, that’s a really short cape. That’s not going to keep his bare legs warm.)
World Distributors published four issues of Superman World Adventure Library in 1967, again with Supes on the cover, and in colour, but with all-red boots.
The next British Superman reprint titles of which I’m aware came from Thorpe & Porter in the form their Super DC comic, a monthly title published from June 1969 to July 1970 (check out Uncle Rusty’s review of the Super DC Bumper Book).
Most of the Super DC covers show Superman with red M-strips, so no luck there… except for this anomaly on issue #3:
And then I remembered that the same publisher had, a few years earlier, published a number of DC titles, most of them only lasting for a few issues.
But these were not reprints: these were the Double Double comics, with each issue containing four randomly-selected DC comics with their original covers removed, and all bound into a new cover. And I do mean randomly-selected: your friend’s copy of a Double Double issue would probably not contain the same issues as your copy — it might even have a non-DC comic or two in there (several years later a similar thing was done with “leftover” Marvel UK comics). The cover artwork for the repackaged comics was adapted from original DC covers, so let’s have a look at some of those, shall we?
Action Comics #329, October 1965 / Superman Double-Double Comics #1, 1968:
Action Comics #333, February 1966 / Action Double-Double Comics #1, 1967:
Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #60, October 1965 /
Lois Lane Double-Double Comics #1, 1968:
Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #87, September 1965 /
Jimmy Olsen Double-Double Comics #1, 1967:
(For more info on the Double Double comics, see the excellent article on Lew Stringer’s indispensable blog.)
Of the two dozen Double Double comics published by Thorpe and Porter, only these four clearly show Superman with yellow M-strips on his boots, but that’s good enough for me: at some stage in my formative years I must have encountered one of these issues.
Or maybe the yellow strip appeared on other publications in the late 1960s or early 1970s: if so, perhaps a knowledgeable and helpful reader might point me in the right direction!
I do still really like the look of the yellow strip. It’s only a tiny difference but I think it adds a lot more vibrancy to Superman’s costume.
Bonus: The all-yellow boots error we saw on the cover of Super DC #3 has a precedent:
Superboy #124, October 1965 / Superboy Double-Double Comics #1, 1968:
(Me understand that comics are allowed to be silly, but even so, me think Superbaby stories am just too bloody stupid.)
Bonus #2: For fun, here’s a couple of recent covers on which I’ve recoloured Superman’s M-strips yellow…