Exploring The Cape Theory: Do Super Heroes Really Need Capes?


“There Is Always A Purpose For A Cape”

Should super heroes always wear capes? I think it depends on one thing: purpose. The cape definitely highlights a sort of dynamism. When you open up a comic book, the pages do not move, so the cape is drawn as cloth fluttering around a character to signify that the super hero is a vibrant, spinning dynamo of action and movement.

You have your vigilante types like Batman and Blade who have utility uses for their capes (well, Blade wears a trench coat, but the way he swings the coat around you would think otherwise).

For them, their capes are indispensable tools. The coat/cape has many hidden pockets to store all kinds of items, devices, and weapons that have various need.


Take The Shadow, for example…

His cape is a huge staple within the comic. He would swirl his cloak around him to distract and confuse his enemies. Additionally, The Shadow (and Batman to an extent) uses his cape to create a shroud of darkness around him, so he blends into his surroundings. Capes provide cover for these characters (and many others), whether they are bulletproof in some way or visual cover.  Capes can protect our heroes from flying objects such as shrapnel, or break their falls. They can also help our heroes fly or glide on air (again, refer to Batman).

There are plenty of instances where a costume/uniform works solely without a cape.  Look at Captain Marvel and Captain America for example. What they wear seems to be based on military-style uniforms and work as utilities in and of themselves. I believe if a costume/uniform does not have a cape, what is being worn should have a purpose.

No cape needed.

Cape as Fashion/Symbolism

Superman is a good example of this. In his case, the cape creates an ‘epic factor.’ Superman’s frequently depicted as a sort of guardian angel, but giving him wings would have been too much. Why not give him a cape instead? I’m sure there is a lot more Kryptonian history involved in the wearing of the cape, but that’s another can of worms for another day …..

Fashion has a lot to do with it as well. Depending on the costume design, a cape is necessary to enhance the look. Would this costume be convincing if it came without a cape? I think not.

Superman doesn’t use his cape to manipulate his enemy, or shield him from much of anything. It is just there. To me, his long, flowing (probably heavy) red cape always looks cumbersome to wear. If you need reference as to why capes don’t always work, look at this scene from The Incredibles:

Personally, I like some super hero looks without a cape. Take Batman Beyond. His costume looks sleeker, and he looks lighter on his feet.

Still blends into the dark, without the cape. 

I think in the end it boils down to costume design (not including characters like Iron Man, of course, because a cape on that suit would not be appropriate). Some costumes look fit for a cape, and for others, I’m not sure why they wear a cape at all. I guess the bottom line is what purpose it serves and whether it makes sense in terms of the character. Maybe someone, someday will educate me a little more on the cape theory.

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