While fewer and fewer comic book characters are wearing capes these days, they are still associated with many popular heroes like Superman, Batman, Thor, Vision, Magneto and more.
Some of them wear capes simply because they serve a practical purpose. Like Batman or Moon Knight, who use their capes to glide across cities, shield them from harm and disorient their enemies.
Artistically they can serve the purpose of making characters look bigger and more menacing. In addition, they have also been brought up as an easy way for artists to show motion in a panel. They can show the physics of a scene as well as which direction and how fast a character is moving: (the article continues after the ad)
But how did this tradition of putting capes on superheroes start in the first place?
Well, this is something that’s been debated a lot with many possible explanations and theories. But, let me give you a few main ideas.
It’s no secret that superman’s creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel were inspired by circus performers when they designed the man of steel. We’ve already discussed this when we talked about Why Most Superheroes Wear Their Underwear On The Outside. But according to one theory, there’s a theme here as this is yet another design element inspired by circus: Superman’s cape was designed after the capes wore by strongmen, acrobats and ring leaders:
However, they wouldn’t normally keep their capes on when performing their feats of strength or acrobatics. It was typically something they took off beforehand but Superman, being Superman, keeps his on at all times.
Capes also expressed in Superman a sense of majesty and a touch of mystery which helped to showcase the idea that he was otherworldly. The bright red flowing cape was something that was very new to comic heroes and it helped Superman stand out amongst characters like Flash Gordon and the Phantom and they also symbolize outsider status.
Other characters, like Batman, were said to be inspired by swashbuckling films like The Mark of Zorro (which was published in 1920) – a masked outlaw who sported a long black traditional Spanish cape:
To be clear, all of this is not to say that Batman and Superman were the first heroes ever to have capes and everyone else is just copying them. There were pulp heroes before them like The Shadow who wore capes, but Superman and Batman were massive successes when they debuted.
So it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that the two of them helped to standardize the choice for superheroes. At least in the golden age of comics.
If you like what you read, then you will definitely love this one: This Is Why Most Superheroes Wear Their Underwear On The Outside
Photo: DC Comics, DC Comics, Marvel Comics
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Sources: Superheroes Wear Capes | Why Do Superheroes Wear CAPES? | Laboratory Mice and Rats | Why Superheroes Wear Capes