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"Yeah, like Batman and Robin. Only... I ain't wearing no tights. You can wear tights, but I'm not wearing tights."—D.L., Heroes
These superheroes just aren't called superheroes. They often don't wear costumes or use code names, but they have abilities far beyond those of normal men, and are superheroes in all but name.
Occasionally, such stories will lampshade the trope by having characters in off hand discussions about whether they'd look good in a cape, or using Something Person-style nicknames, but discarding the ideas as being "silly." A "This Is Reality" remark can be thrown in, as well.
Like many tropes this one has underlying practical considerations. Most classic comic book-style superhero costumes tend to look very silly in live action. Also Science Fiction and Fantasy are two sides of the same coin and most superhero stories fall somewhere along the scale. Possibly right next to something you wouldn't think of as a superhero story. The creator was probably aiming for a different genre such as Urban Fantasy and it never crossed her mind that her work fits the super hero genre. She may or may not act kindly to people pointing out the similarities.
Named because Superheroes Wear Tights.
It should be noted that the term "Super heroes" is actually a trademarked term co-owned by both Marvel and DC, so any new properties not owned by those two companies are actually forbidden from using the term to describe their characters, which may help explain the prevalence of this trope.
Compare with Sci Fi Ghetto, Not Using the Z Word, Animation Age Ghetto. See also Civvie Spandex and Spandex, Latex, or Leather. Series in which people are Not Wearing Tights typically use a Differently-Powered Individual label.
Anime and Manga
- Darker Than Black is a Seinen series, but its "Contractors" are superheroes in all but name -- and with a decidedly darker twist. Overall, the whole Contractor idea and the prejudice against them has rather a similarity to mutants in X-Men (although this is one of the few cases where the Fantastic Racists actually might have a good point). Also, the protagonist Hei wears a mask and uses a Grappling Hook Pistol but no one uses the "s-word" to describe him.
- ...though another "s-word" was used even before he became Contractor.
- This is actually more averted after the first series, as the Interquel manga, set after the Masquerade is exposed, the news does explicitly compare Contractors to comic book characters. Also, as of the second season, Hei's not the only character who wears a costume. A female Contractor with Implausible Fencing Powers dresses in a black "ninja-like" outfit and a guy not only has a magic-themed power and Renumeration, but he also dresses like one as well.
- In a flashback to the Heaven's Gate war, Bai is shown to dress similar to a superhero.
- Lelouch in Code Geass dresses as Zero in costume, cape, and mask and turns his Large Ham quotient up to 11. Not to mention, he is a definite fit for the Rich Idiot With No Day Job idea. It's mentioned offhandedly by Suzaku in one of the sound episodes that there was a comic book superhero Lelouch used to idolize as a child, so there's a definite implication that he was... inspired.
- He promoted himself to Batman as a PR move. He called his terrorist organization 'The Black Knights' and had them publicly running around defeating drug dealers and terrorists with less PR-savvy. (He also actually employs a professional news-spinner to work on his PR in this period.) Though the suit itself is agreed to look more like Space Dracula.
- Li'l Slugger from Paranoia Agent: While hitting people in the head with a baseball bat isn't much of a superpower he definitely invokes a secretive vigilante image.
- Over time, he becomes a lot worse than that...
- NEEDLESS, similar to Darker Than Black, features many X-Men-like characters, but dives a great deal more consciously into other Superhero tropes.
- Speed Grapher has a super-powered hero who fights against similarly super-powered villains in a Monster of the Week format. His similarity to a super-hero is lampshaded at one point by Ginza, who seeing his powers for the first time, comments sarcastically, "Silly me thinking comic books were fake." The Big Bad, Suitengu is a classic Diabolical Mastermind supervillain, and like V of V for Vendetta is the product of Playing with Syringes.
- D.N.Angel has a boy who turns into a master thief with big black wings and special powers, and steals cursed items to purify them.
- In Trigun, Vash the Stampede is a Human Alien who wears a futuristic red coat, carries a customized revolver and has superpowers. And has a cyborg left arm with a minigun in it. Wolfwood is a Badass Preacher who carries a giant cross of massive destruction. They Fight Crime! Or at least, they fight Vash's Evil Twin Omnicidal Maniac Arch Enemy (who has similar or greater powers) and his minions.
- Said minions being, essentially, a team of supervillains.
- Many shonen series are based around constant combat between good and evil people with unique or nearly unique superpowers (but often a common Meta Origin, such as being a ninja or Shinigami)
For comic books where a specific character or characters don't wear tights, but tights are still a big part of the setting, see Civvie Spandex.
- The Byronic Hero "V" in V for Vendetta wears a costume, mask, and cape (in the movie, it is explained that he is disfigured but has no such excuse in the comic). While he is a Well-Intentioned Extremist rather than a traditional superhero, it is kind of odd that no other characters think "superhero" when they see him.
- Superheroes tend to invoke silly images instead of creepy. Superheroes, when they have masks, either obscure only part of the face or are form fitting. V is neither. His outfit would be much more suitable to a conventional villain in most comic universes. Not to mention that the world he lives in has heavy censorship laws os it makes sense that many characters would have no idea what a superhero was.
- V explains the importance of his face-obscuring mask to Evie just before the end of the story. He wears it because if people knew his face, he would be just a man, but as "V" he is an idea, an icon, a symbol for people to believe in. Also, so that Evie can succeed him without anyone knowing the first V has been killed
- Unbreakable keeps wavering around, both employing and subverting superhero mythology.
- The Punisher: The Punisher's outfit has always been function over form (the big skull baits Mooks to shoot at his armored chest, he wears holsters and ammo pouches all over), but the first movie didn't even give him his iconic logo. The second and third film versions slap the skull front and center on his chest, however.
- The Terminator sequels (including The Sarah Connor Chronicles) fall into this, though admittedly the non-powered, human protagonists tend to get at least as much screentime as the butt-kicking cyborgs sent back in time to protect them.
- The first half of Hancock features the titular character dressed as an ordinary person, usually the same clothes a homeless bum would wear. The second half had him in a black leather flight suit.
- The Blade series. In large part because the first film was released at the tail-end of a period characterized by some of the worst superhero movies ever made, meaning that the film had to avoid too many direct connections to superhero movies. Then again, Blade's comic counterpart never wore spandex anyway which might have led to the film studio's being more willing to bring him to the big screen.
- The Rocketeer
- King of the Rocket Men, a movie protagonist from the late 1940s the Rocketeer was based on. His attire is even more mundane than the Rocketeer's as it consists of regular black flyer jacket and pants (the helmet is pure Narm though).
- The Green Hornet: Kato explicitly states "no tights" in the 2011 movie.
- One should note that the Green Hornet debuted, on radio in 1936, 17 days prior to the Phantom and long prior to Superman, so he never wore spandex anyway. As with the Shadow and Zorro, he predated the spandex trend.
- Lampshaded and semi-straight in the first X-Men 1 movie, which has the characters wearing dark-color body armor-suits. Wolverine (newly recruited) comments on the outlandishness of the outfits, to which Cyclops jokingly asks, "Would you prefer yellow spandex?" In reference to the early uniforms of the X-men comic book.
- The Marvel Cinematic Universe averts this in most of its films:
- The characters in Iron Man technically don't wear spandex. They wear Power Armor that have practicle usages but no one wears tights. The closest anyone gets is Black Widow who wears a black catsuit. Additionally, Tony Stark has no Secret Identity and the term Iron Man is essentially just the name of the armor. Everyone else goes by their real names.
- The Incredible Hulk likewise avoids people wearing tights in keeping with its comic counterpart. Again, there are no code names or secret identities.
- Hulk wears nothing but his boxer, not only The Incredible Hulk but in both movies.
- Thor plays with this trope. People in Asgard wear battle armor, capes, and other clothes which look close enough to tights. When Thor travels to Earth, however, he is stripped of his armor and wears normal clothes until it's time to go back to Asgard. As such, the costumes don't stand out in more "realistic" looking scenes. When they are shown, it is in the realm of Asgard which fits the fantastic setting and seems perfectly natural. Thor technically does not have a codename, either. Thor is his real name.
- While Captain America: The First Avenger seems to be the first MCU movie that displays a proper superhero costume, it is mostly battle fatigues with a patriotic color scheme and a mask. No form-fitting tights. Many posters for the movie often showed Cap without the mask, however, hinting at the usage of this trope. As it stands, Steve Rogers does not wear it often.
- He does however wear tights in the movie, but that's mostly for show and propaganda purposes and well-before he wears his more combat-ready outfit. Cap never goes into battle in the red-white-blue tights used in the USO performances (Though he's wearing them under his military fatigues when attempting a rescue mission of Allied prisoners of war, so that might count.)
- The Jedi in the Star Wars films utilize several Superhero tropes but don't wear tights. They also don't use secret identities; in the prequel trilogy it's established that they don't have families or civilian lives.
- The Driver's satin jacket with its scorpion motif is akin to this. In interviews, Ryan Gosling and director Nicholas Winding Refn have both likened the character to a superhero.
- According to Kevin Smith, when writing Superman Returns one of the requests from producer Jon Peters was that Superman should not wear his iconic costume, stating that it was "too faggy".
- The Seekers of Truth follow this convention, partly to avoid ghettoizing the story, and partly . . . well, because it's not easy to find a spandex tailor that won't talk.
- The Stationery Voyagers only look like they're wearing something along the lines of "tights" to Mantithians. To everyone else, their suits appear to be just spy-geared forms of regular civilian clothing. Then again, how else do you dress six-foot-tall talking Up-Pens, but...like...large pens?
- The Animorphs do wear tights, but for practical reasons (see the entry on Magic Pants). Genre Savvy Marco often compares the Animorphs to superheroes, and talks about the idea of making their spandex outfits into actual costumes rather than a random collection of bike shorts and leotards. But it's obvious to all that the Animorphs are outside the category of superheroes in a strict sense, and they fall much more squarely within the tradition of Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World heroes.
- The freaks of Those Who Walk in Darkness and What Fire Cannot Burn by John Ridley are just folks -- who happen to have one superpower or the other.
- For the most part, Aces don't wear spandex, and while many of them have nicknames, these aren't really used to hide their identities.
- Remo Williams, the Destroyer:Williams does not use firearms, has various paranormal abilities, has recurring foes, said foes often having special powers, encounters the paranormal regularly. This placing Williams closer to the genre.
Live Action TV
- Smallville: "No tights, no flights." Of course, Clark ends up flying a few times anyway, and then Green Arrow shows up in full four-color superhero getup...
- When Aquaman shows up wearing bright green board shorts and a bright orange tank top, Lois says that he looks like Flipper threw up on him.
- The show explains it, correctly if not perfectly truthfully, as being the University of Miami school colors.
- This resolution has become increasingly silly as time goes on, because now everyone except Clark runs around wearing a costume. The Justice League and the Justice Society both exist, Doomsday has shown up, and they have Hawkman! Hawkman, with the helmet, and the wings. Apart from Batman it's the full DC universe, yet somehow the show insists on keeping him out of his standard outfit.
- Until the series finale, and even then it was more hinted at than obviously shown. Since it was supposed to be the payoff of a 10 freakin' year journey, it certainly could have been done more effectively.
- When Aquaman shows up wearing bright green board shorts and a bright orange tank top, Lois says that he looks like Flipper threw up on him.
- In Lois and Clark, though Supes wears a shiny suit, he's the only one who does. Almost all the villains wear plain clothes and operate in a Heroes-ish 'real-world' manner. For example, instead of wearing a giant light bulb on his head and making dramatic crimes, Dr. Light was an optometrist and blinded Superman by using a ray of concentrated UV radiation to basically give Superman super-cataracts. (You laugh, but he managed to inconvenience Supes way more than most villains.) The Prankster, instead of being the poor man's Joker, is a Magnificent Bastard who went to the 'Die Hard school of villainy, his 'pranks' being the crimes that are a misdirection, his real purpose different.
- The live-action version of The Flash put the protagonist in costume, though they went to great lengths to rationalize it by having his powers shred normal clothing. Only one of his Rogues' Gallery wore anything resembling the gaudy apparel of his comic-book counterpart, though -- and that one was a Cloudcuckoolander.
- The Incredible Hulk
- Painkiller Jane
- Birds of Prey (code names yes, tights no, except in flashbacks)
- Sable (if you don't count face paint as tights)
- Lampshaded in Season 1 in two separate episodes, by characters who say words to the effect of "maybe I'll use my powers to become a hero, but there's no way I'm wearing tights".
- Ironically, of the two characters who are best known by their nicknames (Sylar & HRG), only one of them is superpowered, and he is evil.
- In the beginning of the volume four premiere, Hiro tries to make the now-superpowered Ando wear a costume, but the latter refuses. He keeps the "Ando-cycle" though.
- Hiro tries to invoke this, as he desperately wants to be in a Golden Age comic book, but fails to realise that his life isn't really like that.
- Future!Hiro is kind of wearing tights, but it's more of a ninja thing than a superhero thing.
- The only real superhero to appear, St Joan aka Monica was put on a bus before the arc could be completed and shown only in the more outlandish graphic novels.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- she's referred to as a "superhero" a few times, usually not too seriously. Unsurprising, however, as Buffy takes most of its inspiration, according to Joss Whedon, from X-Men.
- Angel -- Referenced a few times, most notably by Cordelia when she tries to drum up business for Angel Investigations:
Cordelia: He's already a genuine hero. Would it kill him to put on some tights and a cape and garner us a little free publicity?
Doyle: I don't see Angel puttin' on tights... Oh, now I do and it's really disturbin'.
- Misfits of Science
- Kyle XY (debatable, but referred to as a superhero on the DVD)
- The Six Million Dollar Man
- The Bionic Woman
- The 4400 -- the heroes aren't super, but they deal with those who are, not all of whom are bad.
- Highlander: The Series, and the original movie as well.
- Charmed. There's even an episode where magic turns them into the tights-wearing, Stock Super Powers kind of superhero, called "Witches in Tights".
- In many ways, The Doctor: You mean his possessing two hearts, superhuman intelligence, the ability to regenerate his entire physical being and numerous other far-out abilities demonstrated throughout the series aren't superpowers? The main character even has a code name that he goes by in lieu of a 'proper' name.
- And the Third Doctor often wore a cape. Granted, he wore it with a velvet suit, a ruffled shirt and a bow tie instead of tights, but the point remains. And in any case, when it comes to the Doctor and the correlation between unusual clothing choices and being a superhero, are we really going to be pedantic, here?
- The Middleman comes as close to being a superhero as possible without being openly labeled as one. He even has a super hero name, but no tights. The first episode has him explain his job to Wendy in terms of it being "exactly like your comic books."
- Averted by the Power Rangers (and their Japanese Super Sentai equivalents), who are one of the rare few successful live action series where the characters do fight crime using tights and code names.
- Mutant X
- Dark Angel
- The Man From Atlantis
- Gemini Man
- Sanctuary doesn't do much fighting, but the characters do a lot of using powers beyond things normal people can do. Occasionally played with in that sometimes the abnormals 'save the world' by using their powers and/or putting on actual tights.
- No Ordinary Family joins the list. Despite all their talk about super heroes Jim, George, Stephanie, and Katie never even consider Jim or Stephanie wearing masks.
- Averted with glorious pride on the The Cape. The show is a Reconstruction of Superhero Tropes, and everyone has a code name and at least something gimicky about their appearance. While not tights in the traditional sense, they are more traditional than predecessor series Heroes by sheer fact that they dress up their villains and hero in some way.
- Alex Mack.
- Mage: The Ascension, from the Old World of Darkness was periodically sneered at as "supers without the tights". (Of course, mages being mages, they might as well.) A common derogatory term for how some players played sister-series Vampire: The Masquerade was "capes with fangs" (Your Mileage May Vary on which style of play is best). In fact all of White Wolf's games essentially feature superheroes without tights -- individuals with powers far beyond the ken of mortal men who fight a greater evil. Frequently they even have code names. White Wolf however always tries to paint themselves as far away from superheroes as they think they can get away with; even their most blatantly superheroic game Aberrant features articles about how super powered humans who wear capes and masks and go by code names are not in any way related to superheroes. Werewolf: The Apocalypse was a notable exception, in that one of the suggested Second Edition play styles was actually called "Superheroes," and explains in some details how ridiculously easy it is to fit the Garou into a (dark) superhero-style setting. This was before the Dark Knight, Watchmen, et. al.
- The fangame Genius: The Transgression doesn't bother with distancing itself from superheroics; in fact it talks about superhero games under the storyteller advice section and has an entire Fellowship just for superheroes. Still no tights though, just lots of Powered Armour.
- This was a result of some players' playstyles, but was not what the writers intended. The word superhero implies a certain constellation of tropes, tone, and ideas which the default tone of each game really didn't fit well, with the possible exception of Hunter: The Reckoning as a deconstruction. Vampire was intended to be gothic horror, Werewolf cosmic horror, Changeling post-modern chivalric romance and Urban Fantasy, and so on. "Individuals with powers far beyond the ken of mortal men who fight a greater evil" would be an apt description of everything from Dungeons and Dragons to Call of Cthulhu (as players learn spells) to Shadowrun, and few would consider any of these games to fit the superhero genre.
- Cole, from In Famous, just runs around in perfectly ordinary clothes. He doesn't even bother to hide his face, though considering he's the only guy who can kill people by standing in the same puddle as them, I don't think he'd be able to hide his identity that well.
- Not to mention that pretty much everyone in the city knows his face...
- Prototype being Dueling Games with In Famous.
- A lot of the characters of Metal Gear Solid, and almost all of the vilains could be seen as superheroes. Some have mastered the arts of manipulation and use a huge array of gadgets like Batman, while others have psychic powers that would make them fit in perfectly with the X-Men.
- MMO example: City of Heroes's costume generator, despite being based primarily on comic-book superhero stories, allows players to use this trope. Possible costumes can range from the most eye-watering spandex imaginable to normal civilian clothes, and in between.
- A few in-game characters have costumes like this, in particular the Dark Watcher.
- Deus Ex, where you play as a crimefighter enhanced with nanomachines, which are basically magic powers and stat boosts.
- Tights don't go well with longcoats that play the same role in spy genre as tights play in the superhero genre.
- Arguably any video game where you end the game as a One-Man Army falls under this. Unless you are wearing tights of course.
- Many of the heroes and villains from Union of Heroes wear civilian clothes. Probably for budget reasons, because this is a Photo Comic.
- The Ciem Webcomic Series and its novel counterparts may contain some characters in what could be considered tights, but the great majority of its heroes and villains don't really bother. To give some examples:
- Wears tights and/or Powered Armor: Ciem (Candi Levens), Ciem II (Dana McArthur), Emeraldon (Donte McArthur), Emeraldon II (Frank McArthur), Verdecent (John McArthur), Earwig (Dolly Malestrom), Musaran (Jeraime Malestrom), Milp (Kimiyato Hiriyama), Fantisk Hebbleskin.
- Not really tights, but still odd: Gray Champion (anachronistic outfit that's half-Puritan and half-Confederate soldier), Mapacha (fur bikini and raccoon hat), Chillingworth (blue outfit similar to Gray Champion's).
- Professional gear: Captain Aardwulf, Lloyd Kolumn, Centipede Charlie, and Darius Philippine (quasi-military); Tin Dragon, Black Rat, Stung Hornet, Teal Hog, Betty Harmin (sleuth/spy); Denny Levens and Emily Cormier (doctor/scientist white coat); Duke Arfaas Hebbleksin, Gunner Soorfelt, other Meethites (classic Mafia); Navyrope (SWAT-like outfit)
- Special cases: Botan wears a civilian outfit; but he has green skin and leaves/grass for hair. Pilltar and Strawberry are not Powered Armor, they're remote-controlled robotic avatars for their "pilots" Seth Lambrelli and Stephanie Barrin. Extirpon turns into a monster with a purple head and blue eyes of doom if angered enough. Lobe is a werewolf who dresses in street basketball attire.
- Are or may as well be civilians: Extirpon (most of the time,) Jackrabbit, Meerkat, Aaron Stefflin, Cassie Manning, Charlie McArthur, Hea Pang, Devin Spanz, Miriam "Sniperbadger" Flippo, Vienna Dockler, Andy "Pitohui" Baret, Lex Philippine.
- Martini, a psychic superhero whose costume is a pristine tuxedo, complete with tails, from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe.
- Stone, from the same setting, is a Flying Brick whose costume wouldn't look out of place in a biker bar.
- The Reliquary campaign featured street-level mystic-oriented superheroes who didn't wear costumes, didn't use code names, and didn't generally get into big, street-smashing brawls. But they were superheroes nonetheless.
- Ben 10 (trades in tights for bizarre alien forms instead). He even calls himself a superhero, and each of his forms has a codename. Ben 10: Alien Force put it further by making "Ben 10" an actual nickname.
- Kim Possible, a Badass Normal who doesn't even bother with a Secret Identity.
- The entire Action League.
- Super-Stretch and Micro-Woman.
- Turbo Teen.