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In Man of Steel, the latest Superman reboot, the film’s creators ditched the superhero’s iconic red briefs – a move that has split fans.Clay Enos

It's a bird … It's a plane … It's Superman! But wait a second. Where did his skivvies go?

It's a question that many comic-book zealots and action-movie fans asked themselves after streaming the trailers for Man of Steel, the latest reboot of the Superman franchise, and likely what many other viewers were wondering after watching the film in its entirety yesterday, when it opened in theatres worldwide.

"I tried like crazy to keep the red briefs on him," the movie's director, Zack Snyder, told the New York Post last fall. But even after seeing 1,500 versions of the costume that included the iconic underpants, he decided to snip them out.

Fans' reactions to Kal-El going commando – as well as several other not-so-minor alterations to his uniform – are certainly divided.

Judging by the heated debates taking place in fan forums on comic-book sites such as The Outhouse and Bleeding Cool, the purists prefer their Superman looking as though he leapt off his first cover for Action Comics in 1938: muscles rippling under a blue leotard with high-waisted crimson underpants that match jaunty boots and a billowing cape (a costume inspired by those worn by circus strongmen at the time).

Others are satisfied with Snyder's revamped version of the infamous suit, which took its star, Henry Cavill, more than 15 minutes to don.

Though still blue, the new outfit is no longer made of spandex, the fabric of choice for every live-action incarnation of Superman since George Reeves first appeared in tights in the 1950s TV series Adventures of Superman. This time around, the uniform is more like a neoprene wetsuit with a good deal of built-in padding that gives added definition to Cavill's already hulking frame.

It's this buffed-up aspect of the suit, a similar version of which appeared in the 2011 DC Comics series The New 52, that is especially bothersome to some comic buffs.

"This is Superman. Why is he wearing armour?" asks Calum Johnston, owner of the Strange Adventures comic-book stores in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Like many fans, Johnston, who has been in the business of selling comics for almost 30 years, wonders why Superman would require any protection at all since his body is virtually indestructible (his Kryptonian cells, after all, get supercharged when they absorb energy from Earth's sun).

"There's also that weird piping on the costume," adds Glen Weldon, author of Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, a book released this year to coincide with the superhero's 75th anniversary.

"Around the midsection, it curves downward, drawing the eye right to where the red briefs used to be," says Weldon, who also writes and blogs about comics for National Public Radio in the U.S. "The net effect is pretty much 'look at my junk.' "

Piping aside, Weldon is happy that the creators of Superman's new look dispensed with the belt, which is no longer needed since there's nothing for it to hold up. He also much prefers Superman's cape in Man of Steel to the one that actor Brandon Routh wore in Superman Returns, the 2006 Bryan Singer film that underperformed at the box office.

"That one had the colour and consistency of a Fruit Roll-Up," Weldon jokes.

Perhaps it's Superman's sartorial consistency over the past 79 years that makes some fans sensitive to changes in his costume.

After all, Weldon notes, the hero's overall appearance has seldom deviated from Canadian-American artist Joe Shuster's original sketch from 1934. It wasn't until the 1990s, he says, that artists started taking liberties with the uniform, adding pouches, straps and even bandoliers.

"The size of the S insignia might change and the spit curl comes and goes, but [Superman] always ends up going back to default, to that powerful and primal design," Weldon says. "I firmly believe the red trunks will be back one day, too."