The superhero cape has become less and less prominent as most modern superheroes have opted out of wearing them. Just look at the Marvel’s superhero line up and you will notice that the majority of their popular characters such as Spider-man, Iron-man and Captain America don’t wear them at all.
Via: Marvel Comics
The look has become extremely dated and thanks in part to Edna Mode from “The Incredible” pointing out that the cape not only lacks functionality but it could also become detrimental in the field, wearing a cape has become a joke.
The idea that someone who spends most of their time jumping through alleyways or fighting bad guys would wear something that could easily get caught in something seems ludicrous in hindsight, however there was a time when the superhero cape was an integral part of every superhero costume design.
But why you ask?
Simple. Because the architype of superheroes Superman wore a cape in his debut in 1938.
Via: DC Comics
Superman was the first ever Superhero comic book character and the inspiration for all superheroes that came after. From his personality and powers to his look, Superman was the prototype everyone followed when designing a superhero.
When you ask someone what a superhero looks like, the first image that pops in their head would be that of Superman no?
In fact, one of the few Marvel’s characters that wears a cape is Thor and that’s because his costume was modeled after Superman.
So why does Superman wear a cape?
Well a popular theory is that Superman’s original creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were inspired by circus strongmen, acrobats and wrestlers of the 1920’s and 1930’s. These circus stars were the embodiment of human’s physical excellence, so it only made sense that a character called Super-man would also embody their wardrobe.
The cape also made it much easier to show a character as strong and imposing, and in the case of villains, more menacing. Furthermore, the cape was more than just a costume adornment however, for a character like Superman, the cape became a defining feature, used to give the character a look of majesty. Whilst for characters like Batman, the cape was used to give him a darker look and a more bat-like experience.
But the cape was more than just an inspiration taken from the first Superhero. Most early comic book artist realized that the best way to show movement was to draw a cape flowing behind a superhero. Want to show someone moving right to left? Draw a cape flowing the opposite way. The simplest way to show someone flying and not just floating in air? Draw a cape. The cape was the easiest tool in the artist arsenal to show the physics of a scene.
This isn’t limited to just comics, the first Superman movie starring Christopher Reeves used the cape to “make people believe a man could fly”. And in Tim Burton’s Batman, it was used to give Batman a more frightening look.
All in all, the reason why most superheroes wore capes was because the two most popular heroes in comic book history, Superman and Batman, inspired them to.