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"Doth mother know thou weareth her drapes?"
—Iron Man to Thor, The Avengers
If you are a superhero (whether main hero, Sidekick, or even just part of a heroic army), odds are you wear a cape.
Okay, not really that likely anymore, especially since the Silver Age, but capes are a typical thing for superheroes.
The reason for the cape goes back to the first Comic Book Super Heroes. Most prominently, Superman's outfit specifically mimics that of early 20th-century circus strongmen, who often wore a similar cape/singlet design as a costume. Their simple bold colors were also conveniently easy to reproduce in early print comics.
Capes have long been a feature of comics and animation, as these media both work through visuals while allowing the creators to control the character's environment. Thus, any capes used can always be made to look cool. They were a particular feature of the golden age of superheroes.
More recently (as in, more recently than 60 years ago) there's been a bit of a trend against them, due to becoming something of a Dead Horse Trope and because of some awareness of the practical downsides. Most Marvel heroes are capeless, for example. The ones that do wear them tend to have some combination of otherworldliness, moral ambiguity and a less physical method of attack than others. The Vision, the Scarlet Witch and Doctor Strange all hit at least two of these.
By and large, if any character wears a cape, and it's not a historical or pseudo-historical setting, it should be taken as read that he is either very powerful/important (and probably a villain), or a vainglorious dolt with an inflated opinion of himself. Bonus points if you've got a huge collar and shoulder pads as well. Some rare ones would even be a Pimped-Out Cape.
Often paired with Superheroes Wear Tights.
Anime and Manga
- Code Geass gives us Anti-Hero Magnificent Bastard Lelouch Vi Britannia as Zero, who is invoking this trope. After all, Lelouch's goal is to set himself up as a comic book hero of justice, so it would make sense for him to draw on every trope that will make people associate him with fictional heroes.
- Jeremiah "Orange" Gottwald in his later appearances.
- Also Susaku Kururugi, along with the other Knight Rounds as part of their non-battle outfit.
- Lance from Pokémon. In the anime Marina has an admiration for men in capes, which causes Jackson to start wearing one like Lance to get her attention.
- The Great Saiyaman from Dragonball Z wears a cape, as it's Gohan intentionally invoking super hero tropes to sell the whole "costumed hero" thing without making anyone suspicious of superhuman martial arts powers or his alien heritage.
- Miki Sayaka in Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
- Mr. Legend, from Tiger and Bunny.
- Luffy lampshades this in One Piece when they meet Usopp's alter-ego Sogeking who is supposedly a hero. Luffy immediately knows Sogeking is a hero, and when Chopper asks why, Luffy replies "because he wears a cape! To be a hero, you have to wear a cape!"
- Batman is possibly the straightest example of a useful one... short of people who have magic capes, anyway. He uses it to glide (yes, even before Batman Begins), he uses it to hide his arms (so nobody knows whether he's about to throw a punch or a Batarang), it makes him appear larger and scarier than he is (going along with his motif of fear), and it provides a large amount of useless space for mooks to target. Not to mention it's kinda necessary if you want to look like a giant bat.
- And it's got breakaway fasteners (that woefully underused yet extremely inconvenient bane of the "No Capes" Deconstructor Fleet), just in case some thug who watched The Incredibles tries to get all Genre Savvy and tangle up Bats' cloak.
- Robin, although when the original became Nightwing, he dropped the cape.
- Lampshaded, now that Dick Grayson is Batman, he keeps complaining about how impractical the cape is, pointing out that he lost his as soon as possible, and anyway it was a short fabric thing, not a couple of square metres of kevlar.
- Lampshaded in a story arc of Batman/Superman. Batman and Superman find themselves in an alternate universe where there are still superheroes, but none of them wear capes. When Superman appears, the locals find him strange not because of his powers, but because he's wearing a garment that went out of fashion centuries ago.
- Deconstructed (like everything else in Watchmen) with the character of Dollar Bill. He was a former football player hired by a bank when they realized that having their own personal superhero on payroll was a great way to cash in on the masked vigilante craze. The costume was designed by the marketing department, who were going for style over practicality and thought that the cape added visual appeal. It ended up getting caught in a revolving door while he was trying to stop a robbery, at which point one of the robbers shot him point-blank in the chest. Aside from Captain Metropolis and the second-generation Nite Owl, none of the other superheroes wear capes.
- Nite Owl I's original costume had a cape, but when he failed to master the art of walking around his own house with it on without the cape catching on things, he got rid of it.
- This deconstruction was carried over into the CGI animated film The Incredibles with heavy nods to Watchmen.
- In Love and Capes, it is said that the reason superheroes favour capes is because they cover your butt (an important consideration when you're running around in spandex).
- Generally, characters designed by Jack Kirby tend not to wear cape, unless they are supposed to appear regal (Thor, Magneto, Doom...)
- Doctor Strange: Justified since it's 1) part of the inheritance of the Sorcerer Supreme and 2) very useful.
- Captain Marvel
- Astro City examples: Samaritan, Beautie, The Confessor and Altar Boy, El Hombre and Bravo, Mermaid, Starwoman. The series, typically, acknowledges the potential disadvantages but posits that people will work around them, for instance by applying low-friction coatings that prevent adversaries grabbing the cape during a fight.
- When Captain America (comics) stopped wearing the stars and stripes and took the name "Nomad", he stitched himself a costume and decided to include a full-length cape. Why not? He'd always sort of wanted one. The first time he went into action, he tripped on that cape and missed catching the bad guys, one of whom snarked as she was escaping that she'd always hoped she'd see that happen. Promptly he tore the cape off. It was never seen again.
- This old desire for a cape was revisited with one of the revamped and expanded origin story issues - Steve Rogers, training during the day to toughen himself before being hit with the Super Serum, spent his evenings drawing the imaginary superhero "American Eagle", writing in the margins that he had to have a cape, capes were boss. The military rifled through his drawings, based the design of his costume off of them without telling him, much to his embarrassment, and left out the cape.
- Cap's spoof, Major Glory from Dexter's Laboratory, wears a cape. Of course, he's also a Superman spoof, so he probably doesn't have the same problems Cap did.
- The Spectre
- Spawn, his cape is a Badass Cape all by itself thanks to its Voluntary Shapeshifting.
- There's a Polish superhero spoof Chinchilla Man. Chinchilla Man's team employs one caped hero, who is rather useless, but teams with caped heroes receive funding from European Union.
- As befits its founding in the 1940s, the Justice Society of America has had a multitude of caped members: the first Green Lantern, Doctor Fate, the Spectre, Hourman, the Sandman, the Atom, Doctor Mid-Nite, Batman, Superman, Robin, Power Girl, the Huntress, Red Tornado, Miss America, Captain Marvel, Obsidian...
- The Mighty Thor
- The Sentry, Marvel's version of Superman.
- Storm from X-Men
- Scarlet Witch
- Booster Gold was told by Superman that he couldn't handle wearing a cape.
- Spider-Man villain Mysterio
- Quantum. Woody thinks they're stupid.
- Orient Men, as part of his origins as a parody superhero.
- Magneto and Mr. Sinister, both of X-Men books usually wear capes.
- Deconstructed: the protagonist of Joe Hill's The Cape had a blanket that was turned into a costume cape, and he wore it as a kid when playing with his brother as superheroes. As an adult, he discovers that the cape makes him able to fly. His full "costume" is just his cape.
- Utterly averted in The Teraverse -- starting with Terawatt in The Secret Return of Alex Mack, no hero in that setting has yet included a cape in their costume.
- Also averted in Drunkard's Walk. Peripatetic metahuman Colonel Douglas "Looney Toons" Sangnoir wears motorcycle leathers and a helmet, and the brief view seen of several of his teammates in Drunkard's Walk II seems to indicate that "no capes" is a rule for them as well.
- In The Cannonball Run, Victor dons a cape when his 'Captain Chaos' alternate personality takes control.
- Played With, Discussed, and ultimately Deconstructed in The Incredibles - the villain wears a cape, and at the end of the movie we see why the heroes don't.
- In Soon I Will Be Invincible, Dr Impossible grumbles about the impracticality of his cape a couple of times (it gets in the way of fighting and is heavy and cumbersome when he's fleeing), but continues to wear it because "I promised myself I wouldn't go down in street clothes".
Live Action TV
- Ralph's alien-bestowed super suit in The Greatest American Hero comes complete with a hip-length cape.
- Sesame Street's entry into the world of superheroes, "Super Grover" also includes the requisite cape—along with a decidedly non-standard knight's helmet.
- The Cape.
- In Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Harvey's superhero alter ego in one episode, "Mighty Teen" does indeed wear a cape.
- Sabrina comments on this when she's yelling at Hilda for running in the election:
Sabrina: "I will not let you make a mockery of what this town stands for! (pause) That would sound a lot more convincing if I was wearing a cape".
- "The Cape" by Guy Clark is a song about the importance of capes, at least symbolically.
- Calvin and Hobbes presents: "This is a job for..."
- Outside of the above example, one of Calvin's alter-egos, Stupendous Man, also wears a cape.
- Mandrake the Magician wears a cape.
- This is one of the many, many costume options in City of Heroes. Annoyingly, you normally have to reach level 20 and do a specific mission to get one. (In the initial release of the game and its first few updates, there were no capes available at all due to technical issues with properly animating them. When the animation issue was solved, the In-Universe "ban" on wearing a cape before level 20 and the story arc needed to get one were implemented as a Retcon to explain why they weren't available until them.)
- Notable cape wearers among NPCs are Statesman, whose former cape was refashioned into the flag atop Paragon City City Hall; his Evil Counterpart Reichsman; Hero 1, whose disappearance at the end of the Rikti War is the reason new heroes can't wear capes, and Rikti warrior Honoree, who wears a suspiciously familiar cape.
- Nowadays you can unlock certain capes that can be worn before level 20, including a Doctor Strange style 'magic' mantle with a huge collar and even bigger cape. Looks extremely awesome when done right.
- With the resurrection of the game in 2019, capes became available right from character creation. Amusingly, the level-20 "cape quest" still remains in the game and can be still be taken, although it grants nothing you don't already have.
- Preferred by Ms. Terial in the Fashionably Heroic cartoons of The KAMics.
- In El Goonish Shive Elliot as a superhero wears a cape, though this is used to show that most of his knowledge of superheros comes from Pop Culture Osmosis.
- In Spinnerette, the Canadian superheroes greet the American ones as "Caped Crusaders." Tiger notes that no one is actually wearing a cape.
- Capes are worn by several members of the League of Intergalactic Cosmic Champions.
- Comes and goes in the Whateley Universe. Shroud of Team Kimba wears a cape, because she is animating all the parts of her uniform with her powers and can use it as a weapon. Gloriana has found another advantage: provides warmth when wearing a skimpy costume that is nothing more than a maillot.
- Delta Spike wears a cape to hide the power harness she wears on her back to jack up her superstrength and blaster powers.
- Darkwing Duck
- Corporal Capeman in the second season of Inspector Gadget.
- Captain Caveman, the superhero who wears only a cape.
- This trope is lampshaded in an episode of Danny Phantom. When Danny split in two, his superhero side donned a cape to emphasize his 100% dedication to world-saving. The cape spends the better portion of the episode bellowing in Dramatic Wind.
- Robin in Teen Titans wears one, what with his origins. Raven wears more of an All-Encompassing Mantle with a hood. None of the other Titans wear capes.
- When Fry and Leela gain superpowers in an episode of Futurama, they form a team with Bender, and all wear capes.
- Played with in Rugrats where Chuckie and the other babies thought that he's a superhero but he needed a cape to have super powers. So, Chuckie put on a towel and began to think of himself as a superhero.
- Prevalent, though not universal, in Young Justice. Robin and Miss Martian both wear capes, as do several other superheroes.
- Taz-Man, Taz's makebelieve superhero persona in Taz-Mania, wears a cape (of the bath towel tied round your neck variety).