Anyone who has been born in the last fifty years can most likely recognize at least one superhero. Maybe they recognize a face or a sidekick, but chances are the thing that will stand out in their mind the most is the cape. A traditional superhero staple, the red flowing cape of Superman or the black, majestic cape of Batman is always a major identifying feature. This brings us to the question, why do superheroes wear capes? And the answer? A variety of reasons. Batman, for example, wears his signature cape because it’s useful. The black color helps him blend into the night. Superman found the inspiration for his cape with the strong men of the 1920’s and 1930’s, choosing the bold red color to stand out and appear as a formidable hero.
The idea of capes on superheroes is hardly a new one, with comics such as Superman dating back to the 1930’s. While the cape may add to the hero’s look or add to his abilities, a large part of the reason that comic artists starting penciling in the cape was to show motion. Due to the poor printing methods in the 30’s, many artists used the cape to make it appear that the hero was flying or running. The positioning of the cape could be used to show if the subject was jumping up, flying down or running away. In addition to the majestic look, capes were also created to be useful for each particular hero. Many believe that Superman’s cape helps him to heal, while Robin and Batman both use their capes to conceal them in the shadows of Gotham City. A long, flowing cape can also represent the power and majesty of each hero, helping them to stand out as the city savior.
While capes certainly make a hero stand out, artists and creators over the last 20 years have started to eliminate the cape. Perhaps being an out-dated fashion statement, the cape remains iconic and helps to make the older heroes stand out among superheroes of the more recent times. A shift of the cape has been made, with artists choosing to wrap their villains in capes. Despite the switch from good guys to bad guys, the cape still tends to symbolize a lot of the same things, a regal air, a piece of equipment to utilize or simply a showpiece to make then stand out among the crowd. A dark cape can create an air of mystery, making any villain seem sinister. Doctor Strange and Magneto are both villains who use their capes to aid in their sorcery and magic, hiding their tricks deep within the folds of a cape.
Whether they are worn by a bad guy trying to look mysterious or a good guy trying to look big and strong, capes are clearly a staple in the comic book world. So the next time you’re flipping through your favorite comic book, be sure to take a minute to flip through the pages quickly and give the pictures the illusion of a flowing, majestic cape and appreciate this fashion trademark.