After all, why do superheroes wear capes?

Far beyond Marvel or DC, capes are synonymous with superheroes. For over 80 years since the world was introduced to Superman in Action Comics #1, these accessories are part of the image of heroes for the entire population. The popularity is such that, in all this time, no character that was introduced using the accessory has managed to achieve a redesign without the costume.

However, while it is impossible to imagine a Superman or a Batman without the cover, heroes introduced from the 60s onwards, especially from the so-called “Marvel era” of comics, where the publisher created a new pantheon composed of icons such as Man- Spider and Fantastic Four, the accessory was no longer present in the character designs. But what is the reason for this?

A circus strongman from the 1920s and Superman’s second uniform from the 1940s. (Image: Reproduction/PrivateIslandParty)

The explanation is actually quite simple. All heroes are products of their time. Superman, created in 1938, was visually inspired by the strongmen of circus shows of the 1920s and 1930s, who often wore capes to highlight the width of their shoulders and increase their visibility in a crowded arena.

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But it wasn’t just circus artists the reason behind the use of these accessories. Another reason was a limitation in magazine printing techniques at the time, which prevented artists from using more complex strokes to represent movements. The Last Son of Krypton cover, then, was a perfect visual indicator to show that the hero was flying, for example.


Batman illustration by Neal Adams. (Image: Reproduction/Heritage Auctions)

Over time, comic book artists would start using superhero capes in addition to character movement indication.

As an example, let’s use the Batman cover. Nowadays synonymous with the darkest part of the hero’s design, it actually only started to be used that way on the Neal Adams line, when the artist together with screenwriter Denny O’Neil renewed the Dark Knight, pushing him away of the happiest vision seen in the TV series starring Adam West.

Adams used the Batman cape as a resource to justify the vigilante’s fear of bad guys, and over the years it has become one of the character’s iconic traits.

At the same time, villains like Magneto and Dr. Doom of Marvel, created by Jack Kirby, had the cover in their visuals as an indicator of their ambitions, and used them in their confrontations against their opponents as a mark of theatricality.

If we look at the history of mankind, most of the people portrayed with capes belonged to aristocratic sectors of society, having money, power and fame. The use of the accessory in the design of a character like Magneto, therefore, indicates that he seeks these characteristics, in addition to leaving, during clashes with his opponents, a clear highlight in the figure of the villain against Professor Xavier’s simple suit, for example.

This same theatricality is also present in mystical heroes, such as Doctor Strange, who, from his cloak, in addition to gaining the ability to fly, gains in his silhouette a tone of mystery that matches the myths normally associated with wizards.

Out of fashion?

As the years passed, publishers and comic book authors began to want stories with a stronger footing in reality, and many concepts that had been part of the media since its inception, such as covers, would not fit well with this new approach.

who watched the movie The Incredibles, from Disney-Pixar, is familiar with the scene where the superhero stylist explains the reason for not putting more covers on her creations — the imminent danger that a loose piece of knitwear can present to crime fighters. Although, in animation, it’s a funny moment, it still reflects the changes that comic book fiction has faced during its more than eight decades of existence.

But while it’s hard to find a character created in recent years with a cape, at the same time, bastions like Batman, Superman, Thor continue to sport the accessory, still keeping it synonymous with comic book heroism in the imagination of adults and children.

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