Out with specs, in with skinny jeans – Clark Kent has a super new look

After years of chasing Lois Lane and changing in a phone box, Superman is being hipsterised. In the latest iteration of how Clark Kent, originally from the planet Krypton, swoops to the rescue of a crime-afflicted metropolis, he wears a hoodie and skinny jeans.

Fiddling with Superman may be a risky business. He is the founding member of America's pantheon of superheroes, predating Batman, and his appeal is all about nostalgia. He is of the conservative Midwest just as much as he is from a doomed faraway planet. But pretending that all of a sudden he has gone all Williamsburg – or Hoxton – is fine for now because the media attention is instant.

Is there a comic-strip icon out there who hasn't been subjected to a 21st-century makeover? A year ago, we had the new "cantankerous and cunning" Mickey Mouse from Disney. Archie, the US comic strip character, went very modern this summer with two girlfriends at once. And this month we learned that Wonder Woman is losing her satin panties in favour of something more Zara?

DC Comics is following the trend with the release of Superman: Earth One, a graphic novel with a different Clark Kent who is more brooding than squeaky clean – "Superman for the Twilight Age", as the DC Comics press blurb has it. The New York Post used the same phrase in a headline.

DC Comics goes to great lengths to gain publicity – and does it with a seriousness befitting the parallel religion of superhero worship – because there is big money at stake. The company thinks that by making Superman more contemporary it can push its new title beyond the comic book stores of LA and New York and into mainstream bookshops. It may be on Kindle soon.

Shane Davis, the artist, says of his new creation: "Clark's hood is there as a bit of foreshadowing to the cape. It's bunched down around his neck like the cape will eventually hug his neck. I did want him to hide his body type a bit, so I gave him some layers of clothing." Brooding young men need a starved, lanky look.

"We always knew that we wanted to do a real, contemporary interpretation of Superman," Dan DiDio, executive editor of DC Comics, explained. Davis adds: "I wanted to focus on the 'man' in Superman rather than the 'super'."

That sums up the message DC Comics wants to get out. But let's not give the new Superman any other attributes of mortals of his age – acne for instance. Without the "super", what's the point?

Heroes with a new look

Wonderwoman In her best-known incarnation, she was – scantily – clad in a red, white and blue swimsuit; today, after a rethink earlier this year, she wears black tights and boots, red top and dark blue jacket. Less flesh, more functionality.

Storm Once drawn with flowing white locks, the 'X-Men' character made famous by Halle Berry adopted a mohawk and leather trousers in the 1980s. That look did not make it to the cinema.

Robin Hood Errol Flynn's cheery feathered hat, tunic and tights costume have long gone. The Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner versions are shabby, dark green, and covered in mud.