The Cowl

In the dead of night, an innocent's scream pierces through the darkness. The laughter of the wicked echoes through the streets, and with the click of a gun being cocked it seems that evil will take the life of yet another. But, all of a sudden, there is movement in the shadows. The alleys fill with smoke as the silhouette of a mysterious interloper rushes towards the would be murderer. In a moment, the tides turn, as swift and severe punishment is meted out to the unjust. Suddenly finding their life saved, the grateful citizen looks to find their savior, only to find merely a passing shadow, gone just as quick as it appeared.


A cloud of smoke and he appears;
The master of surprise;
Who's that cunning mind behind;
The shadowy disguise?

Nobody knows for sure, and bad guys are out of luck.

Yet another tale of the night, a tale that leaves criminals looking over their shoulder in search of the shadowy phantom whose swift justice is as mysterious as it is indomitable. A hero who is always ahead of his quarry, and who never fails to arrive when help is needed, coming from the shadows, using monsters' own fear against them.

The Cowl is The Cape (trope) with a dark twist and typically on the cynical side on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. Instead of adventuring in the daylight and showing themselves for the glory of the protected, they stick to the shadows and prey on the fears of their quarry. The Cowl tends to be a Costumed Nonsuper Hero, their greatest assets being wit and psychological tactics, but if they do have powers, they tend to be related to darkness or some kind of sufficiently-creepy animal.

See also Dark Is Not Evil and Anti-Hero. Compare and contrast with The Cape (trope). Sub trope of Terror Hero.

Examples of The Cowl include:

Straight Examples

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • Batman has, of course, practically built this trope, or at least the way it is seen now, but is, however, not the Ur Example, and is arguably not exactly the Trope Maker (see Literature, below). The description describes the quintessential Batman Cold Open, emerging from the shadows and inducing fear in all the criminals his eyes meet. Most examples of the trope nowadays are at least partially influenced by the Dark Knight.
  • The Spirit
  • Moon Knight, a rare version that wears all white.
  • The Phantom is sometimes this, usually in more urban or "civilized" settings (in the jungle he's more well-known, although no less an awesome presence).
  • V, swishy black cape and all.
  • Spawn. He literally pulls the trope description off several times, for one.
  • Zorro, of course.
  • Daredevil, who is in many ways the closest Marvel analogue to Batman.
  • Black Panther.
  • In "Johnny Saturn" Johnny Saturn I is clearly a cowl, a street-level avenger who fights organized crime.
  • The Revenant in PS238.
  • The Confessor from Astro City.
  • The Spectre is somewhat a subversion. Yes, he's scary, wears a cape and a cowl hood, chases villains at night, cloaks himself in shadows, makes bad people look over their shoulders and uses their fears against them. He is also one of the most powerful beings in the goddamn universe, and can juggle galaxies with one hand if he feels like it.
  • Cloak. Which is to be expected from someone whose name is almost a synonym for this trope.
  • In X-Men, Wolverine sort of serves as this to Cyclops' The Cape (trope).
  • The Terror from Alan Moore's Tom Strong.
  • Rorschach in Watchmen considers himself The Cowl. Many others just see him as a psychopath.


  • Halle Berry's best-forgotten portrayal of Catwoman as an Anti-Hero.
  • Zorro
  • Batman
  • David Dunn from Unbreakable is an example of this trope applied to a somewhat realistic setting- he wears a cowl-like poncho as part of his "costume", uses violence to save innocents, and has difficult family issues to boot.


Live Action TV

  • Angel in early episodes of Buffy and his own series. At least in spirit since his wardrobe is more of a Badass Longcoat
    • Subverted in the final season, when he tries to pull this only for his security team to show up and the person he saved being asked to sign a form attesting that she had been saved by Angel, CEO of Wolfram and Hart, and they turned it into a photo op. He didn't try again.
  • An in-universe comic book cast the mysterious mass-murderer Dexter as one of these: The "Dark Defender".
  • Zorro
  • Batman
  • The Daring Dragoon, being pretty heavily based on Zorro afterall.
  • Ironically, The Cape.
  • Spanish TV show Aguila Roja (Red Eagle) set in 17th century Spain.
  • In Smallville, Green Arrow is the Cowl to Clark's Cape.
    • In the episode Vengeance, Andrea Rojas aka "the Angel of Vengeance". Unlike Green Arrow, who was a recurring character before becoming a main character, she only appeared in one episode.
  • John Reese of Person of Interest.

Professional Wrestling

  • Suicide dresses in full-body spandex, appears out of nowhere to save people with violence, goes on and on about his dark and mysterious past... despite not being billed as a Superhero, he's probably the purest example of The Cowl in wrestling history.
  • El Zorro, who worked the masked wrestler gimmmick for a number of years.
  • The Undertaker can have shades of this, as a face at least. Normally when he does save someone it's because he's feuding with the other wrestler. He can appear suddenly after the lights in the arena go black for a few seconds and come back on again to the sound of his gong.
  • Sting also has shades of this following his change from Malibu Sting to Crow Sting- the black clothing, billowing trenchcoat, sudden dramatic appearances (either suddenlly after the arena lights go out, or descending from the rafters in Batman-like fashion) and general Dark Is Not Evil aesthetic definitley evoke this trope.


Tabletop Games

  • Night Haunter during before meeting the emperor and leading the Night Lords. Granted, he and his chapter is based on a darker take on Batman himself.
  • Both DC and Marvel have released role playing and table top games based off their comics, so yes, it is possible to play as Batman.
  • Further, there was a Zorro RPG released by Gold Rush Games.
  • The Freedom City setting for Mutants and Masterminds has The Raven, and his daughter, Raven II, homages to Batman and The Huntress, respectively.
  • Champions has the Dark Champions setting with extensive rules and suggestions for building street-level super heroes.

Video Games

  • Lego Batman
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum
    • Taken further in the sequel Arkham City, particularly in the side mission which essentially allows you to do a variation of the trope description by swooping in to save innocent people being threatened by thugs and then swooping away again once the bad guy's been taken down.
  • Tombstone in Freedom Force.
  • You can play this character archetype in City of Heroes.
  • There was a Zorro game as well.
  • Both Altair and Ezio from the Assassin's Creed games have elements of this, albeit in a period setting. While primarily assassins (albeit, one's with heroic motivations and objectives), both are also acute sufferers of Chronic Hero Syndrome, and have no problem dealing with city guards assaulting young women/psycho's threatening to slice up the local prostitutes etc. Both even wear cowls as part of their costumes.
  • In Ace Attorney the newspaper artist's depiction of the Yatagarasu is a shadowy cowled figure. Of course, the real Yatagarasu looks nothing like this. For one, there's three of them.
  • Yuri Lowell in Tales of Vesperia.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • Darkwing Duck, as the page quote shows, though, unlike most examples of this trope, despite being shadowy and mysterious he is also a teensy bit of a glory hound. Though he's a Affectionate Parody of this concept anyway.
    • Very affectionate. And when he says Let's Get Dangerous, the trope becomes very real for the bad guys.
  • South Park spoofed this in an episode where Cartman becomes a vigilante called The Coon but no one pays attention to anything he does. Played semi-straight with The Coon's Unknown Rival, Mysterion.
  • Monkey Man in Hey Arnold! is a comedic example of this.
  • Apparently there was an episode of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh where Tigger called himself the "Masked Offender".
  • "Catman" in The Fairly OddParents is another obvious parody. They even hired Adam West to do the voice.
  • One episode of Disney's |Hercules featured Theseus as The Cowl, in contrast with Herc being The Cape (trope).
  • Zorro again. He's had at least four animated adaptations, five if you count the Recycled in Space version.
  • Batman in some of his animated incarnations.
    • Going meta, Batman the Animated Series had the radio show character "The Gray Ghost", voiced by Adam West. Since he was clearly inspired by The Shadow (a major inspiration for Batman), he probably counts.
  • After having to retire from the Kids Next Door due to a technicality, Tommy begins to dress like The Shadow and attempts to reinvent himself as one of these.

Questionable Examples

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • In Mike Grell's run of Green Arrow Ollie trades in his Robin Hood hat for an actual cowl.
  • Batman was a questionable Cowl during the Silver Age, with all of the wacky foes they faced and sci-fi hijinks. Keep in mind, the famous Adam West Batman was an adaptation of all of this wackiness.

Live Action TV

  • Adam West's Batman. The high camp level pretty much destroys the "uses his opponent's fears against them" aspect.
    • Also the night theme. This Batman acts in broad daylight.
  • Batman was briefly seen in a flashback in the Birds of Prey series, alongside a pre-crippled Batgirl. The ladies in that show also count, probably.
  • The shortlived TV series Nightman, based off the equally short-lived comic series.
  • Clark Kent in Season 9 Smallville, since he dresses in black, saves people at superspeed so the can't really see him, and briefly gets in the habit of burning the Mark of El into places where he's saved people as a Calling Card.


Western Animation

  • Batman in Batman the Brave And The Bold, which is an homage to the more campy times of Batman.
  • Batman in The Batman has The Cowl tendencies, but he's more action-oriented and kid-friendly than other versions. If he were a straight example, he wouldn't eat nachos.
  • Danny Phantom
  • Die Fledermaus on The Tick (animation) (This is clearly the image he's going for, but the fact that he never actually fights crime makes him somewhat less intimidating.)
  • Zuko's "Blue Spirit" alter-ego on Avatar: The Last Airbender. He fits the style pretty well, but he doesn't really use the disguise for anything heroic. In his first appearance, the Spirit freed Aang from Zhao's clutches, but this was only so Zuko could capture Aang and get the glory for himself (though this was justifiable, as he felt this was the only way to make his father love him again). Later, in the second season, we see Zuko robbing Earth Kingdom merchants for his own selfish needs. Finally, Zuko dons the disguise one more time to capture Aang and Appa. However, Iroh stops him and Zuko ends up abandoning his mission and freeing Appa. At the end of the episode, Zuko drops his Blue Spirit mask into Lake Laogai and abandons his alter-ego once and for all.
  • In My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, Mare Do Well from her titular episode embodies much of the characteristics of a Cowl. She wears a dark costume, mysteriously appears out of nowhere when there is danger, and overall has a very mysterious demeanor. She's actually a Collective Identity taken up by Twilight, Pinkie, Applejack, and Fluttershy to teach Rainbow Dash about humility.

Did we mention Batman is an example of this trope? Also, Zorro?