The Cape (trope)
The superhero as an ideally good person. Generally associated with older protagonists, before whenever the latest round of Deconstruction happened, and often invokes elements of The Messiah. Has now become nigh-synonymous with the "classic" Superhero.
Capes don't need to actually wear capes, although a distinct outfit and some kind of special ability is part of the image. The most important feature is these heroes adhere to a strict code of honor and sense of authority; capes can be notoriously inflexible and perceive things in black and white, and even be painfully straightforward and selfless. They often downplay their own heroism and will act heroically even when no one will know. They almost universally subscribe to Thou Shalt Not Kill. Capes usually have secret identities, but make public appearances in costume and actively try to keep a good public image.
This can seem unrealistic, but a major reason is it serves as self-imposed safety to keep them from abusing their powers. Most Capes have Evil Counterparts who do whatever they want and eventually devolve into villains.
Capes are contrasted with the past two decades' emergence of vigilantes and Anti Heroes who have become more extreme (sometimes to ludicrous effect), mainly as a response to the perception of comic books as "kid stuff." Nearly all Superhero series eventually address the idea that Capes and Bad Ass Normals have unspoken issues: Capes can impose their morality because they have the power to back them up. In a setting where these two types of heroes coexist, The Cape usually considers the latter to be unstable, amoral Smug Supers. In more cynical universes, the Smug Super might consider himself to be a Cape, but very much isn't.
This trope is named, appropriately enough, for Oliver Queen's term for certain superheroes, as opposed to Bad Ass Normals who live otherwise relatively mundane lives.
See Superheroes Wear Capes for the actual wearing of capes.
Contrast Nineties Anti-Hero.
Compare and contrast with The Cowl.
- Lazenby, from Rave Master was made as a parody of this.
- Sayaka Miki from Puella Magi Madoka Magica... You can guess how this one's played.
- Mr. Legend and Sky High from Tiger and Bunny. Kotetsu wants to be this but his destructive approach to justice usually gets in the way.
- In an interesting turn of events Mr. Legend turns up to be a Subversion of this trope.
- Superman is usually considered the most famous modern example of a Cape. He could just about be considered the Trope Namer; the fact that he wears a cape is one of the main reasons why capes are associated with costumed superheroes.
- In the Novelization of Kingdom Come, Wonder Woman probes him for being so visible. He could have easily did all of his superheroing anonymously instead of "showing off like Apollo". Superman replied that he felt that "an ounce of prevention" would do more good preventing crime. She counters that that was the source of all of the other metahuman's desire to do good - through his example.
- Oddly enough, the classic Cape on Justice League Unlimited isn't Superman, but golden-age boy scout Captain Marvel. The series also frequently has subplots involving Superman's motivations and temptations despite being The Cape (trope) everyone looks up to.
- Silver Age Flash Barry Allen. A CSI with Super Speed powers. Trained police officer, founding member of the Justice League of America. They originally killed him because they couldn't deal with his awesomeness. And then they brought him back to face Darkseid because they couldn't think of anyone else capable of taking him down.
- Batman holds himself to enough standards that he is often closer to this than an Anti-Hero, just more on the pragmatic side. But regardless, there's a reason his comics are the Trope Namer for Joker Immunity.
- When Superman was dead, Steel took up the role of The Cape (trope) and fought "to keep the spirit of Superman alive." Many readers thought he was an even better Cape than the Man himself.
- Captain America is probably Marvel's best capeless Cape. As a youth, he tried out for World War II, but was rejected on physical grounds, so he volunteered to be a guinea pig in a military experiment. He did not know there had already been successful trials, and the risk was much less than is commonly advertised; the experiment turned him into a soldier with physical and mental capabilities very slightly above peak human. In the modern era (how he survived is another story), he is such a tactical and moral exemplar that while powerless and wielding nothing more than an indestructible shield that doesn't obey the laws of physics, he leads a team of consisting of powerhouses like Thor, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Ms. Marvel, and the rest of "Earth's Mightiest Heroes". And, despite the name, he figured out he could go against the government and still stand up for America's ideals... and he was killed as an Anvilicious way to "punctuate" the civil war's Family-Unfriendly Aesop.
- And on a different note, as a young artist he liked to sketch a muscular costumed man called "American Eagle". Later, once it turned out that he would be the only Super Soldier, his remaining experimenters stole the sketches and made a costume based on them. It did not include a cape, unlike the sketch, despite Steve writing "Has to be a cape. So boss!". Much later in the Seventies, when Steve despairs at the corruption of his country, he takes a new identity and sews a new costume, this one caped. Promptly he tripped on that cape, tore it off, and it was never seen again.
- Todd McFarlane's Spawn subverts the cape image with minor characters repeatedly pointing out how "faggy" Spawn's superhero outfit looks. Also, he's very much a Nineties Anti-Hero.
- Justice of the New Warriors.
- Captain Metropolis in the backstory of Watchmen is the closest to emulating the mold... but of course, this is Watchmen. He's noted to have been racist, and was in a homosexual relationship with Hooded Justice. Among the main characters, Ozymandias is a deconstruction of the Cape.
- The Comedian is a very brutal deconstruction of the Cape,
- Both Nite Owls would also qualify. The first Nite Owl is actually closest to being a conventional superhero out of the whole group.
- Samaritan in Astro City.
- Hyperion of the Squadron Supreme.
- In Irredeemable, the Plutonian was seen as one of these until his Face Heel Turn. The comic book series is essentially exploring what would happen both is Superman went bad and, by extension, what would happen if someone who ultimately didn't have the moral fibre to be The Cape (trope) was given this role.
- Bright, Cheery, Mentally-Sound Man from Dark, Brooding, Mentally-Disturbed Man. An "evil" counterpart to DBMD Man (even though they're both vaguely good-ish), BCMS Man is trusting and gentle to a fault. In that he believes violence is not the answer when dealing with armed lunatics and gives mad scientists a stern talking to before escorting them back to their hidden volcano bases to think about what they've done.
- The eponymous Empowered might well qualify. For all her faults and frailties, she knows what's right, and will go to tremendous lengths to do just that. In the last story in issue 5, she's willing to very probably die to save Mindf*** , and she only slightly knows the other woman.
- In Johnny Saturn Johnny Saturn I is a cape, due primarily to his reputation for integrity and his unwillingness to compromise. The Utopian, especially later in the series, is a cape, and his father Elect is the archetypical cape.
- The title of Thom Zahler's independent comic-book sitcom Love and Capes says it all. Issue 10 reveal some practical reasons for superheroes to wear capes.
- Thundermind of DC's Great Ten fulfills this archetype despite lacking a cape. As a result, he's the only member of the Great Ten deemed capable of being a media darling.
- Atlas in PS238.
- Cyclops in X-Men, though Depending on the Writer. Some play up his 'boy scout' image, others play up his 'emotionally conflicted and badass leader' image, so he varies on either a cape in charge of the group, or a somewhat reckless, Crazy Prepared Four-Star Badass that often makes him look like a Jerkass. In general, the most consistent thing about Cyclops is that he is a skilled field leader that lacks the natural charisma of a true "Cape".
- The Mighty Thor is another Marvel Comics Cape.
- Another Marvel one is the Sentry. When he's sane. In theory.
- All Fall Down has the superhero veteran, Paradigm. Of all the victims of the Fall, he handles it best.
- The titular character in Captain America: The First Avenger. The movie is able to play this trope straight, and beautifully so, by giving him a deep need to prove himself and making him Adorkable.
- The trope is also played straight in The Avengers where Cap gives Tony Stark a lecture about his selfishness and lonewolf behaviour.
- Captain Carrot of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. He has no overtly superhuman abilities, but he combines a strong sense of justice with a fountain of charisma—he assumes that everyone else is basically a decent person, and somehow, they can't help but live up to his expectations.
- Of course Carrot is only defined as not overtly superhuman by fantasy standards; he still has a punch that trolls respect and his sword, while "quite the most unmagical sword" most people have ever seen, can stab several inches into a stone pillar. Through someone else. He was raised by dwarfs, who are tougher than humans and stronger pound for pound, and had to get stronger to keep up.
- Tycho Celchu. He's a brilliant pilot but not superhuman. What makes him a Cape - well, there's an exchange in Wedge's Gamble that illustrates it.
Horn: "So, you don't even know, really, if you are an Imperial agent waiting to happen or not?"
Celchu: "I know I'm not. Being able to prove it is something else again."
Horn: "But being constantly under suspicion, that's got to wear on you. Why put up with it? How can you put up with it?"
Celchu: "I put up with it because I must. Enduring it is the only way I can be allowed to fight back against the Empire. If I were to walk away from the Rebellion, if I were to sit the war out, I would have surrendered to the fear of what Ysanne Isard might, might, have done to me. Without firing a shot she would have made me as dead as Alderaan, and I won't allow that. There's nothing in what I have to live with on a daily basis that isn't a thousand times easier than what I survived at the hands of the Empire. Until the Empire is dead, I can never truly be free because I'll always be under suspicion. Living with minor restrictions now means someday no one has to fear me."
- Wedge, his CO, probably qualifies too. One example: during the Borleias evacuation, the shuttle he's supposed to ride out is destroyed, so he grabs a damaged X-Wing from the vehicle bay. A freighter warns him of nearby Vong ground troops, so he goes and destroys them. Then, while escorting the transport up, they're jumped by a squadron (12, for those of you keeping score at home) of Vong fighters. Wedge proceeds to pull them off the freighter and annihilate the squad, losing his shields in the process. Another squadron catches up to the freighter in this time, and Wedge pulls them away too, despite knowing that there's no possible way he can win. ..except the Rogues showing up.
Gavin Darklighter: "Blackmoon Eleven, what did you think you were doing going after an entire squadron?"
Wedge: "My job."
- Subverted viciously in Minister Faust's Journal of Dr. Brain. Omnipotent Man is a semi literate idiot, The Flying Squirrel is a racist, Iron Maiden is a self-loathing depressive etc.
- Played straight in the Nightside novels with Julian Advent, who could've been another Dr. Jekyll, but chose to drink a formula that brought his Good side to the fore instead.
- In Aaron Allston's Galatea in 2-D, Captain Steele, a full blown superhero. Roger drew him in order to have a really powerful ally but discovered it took too much to get him out of the painting. Uses him in the end, though whereupon Kevin kills him with an Evil Weapon. Roger reveals that he didn't bring him out, he brought Kevin into his painting.
- Gently subverted in Wearing the Cape. The more powerful and photogenic superheroes are major media celebrities, who often publicly play to the Golden Age Hero stereotype and have whole marketing campaigns and PR departments to back them up.
- Of course, Atlas did start out as, and remained, pretty much the closest thing they had to The Cape (trope). This was even lampshaded when Astra comments you could have put a big S on his chest and dared someone to claim it wasn't appropriate.
Live Action TV
- Benton Fraser of Due South, a Mountie who came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of his father, exemplifies this trope, being genuinely polite, noble, selfless and heroic to everyone he meets. In something of a subversion, everyone consequently assumes he's unhinged.
- For bonus points, a new genre television show: The Cape. Ironically the title character is actually The Cowl.
- Hercules, as portrayed by Kevin Sorbo. He doesn't have a cape or secret identity, but in all other aspects he pretty much fits the bill.
- The Crash Test Dummies song "Superman's Song" is actually a fairly interesting, in that it contrasts Superman with Tarzan, to explore the concept of The Cape (trope), as sort of a Reconstruction of the concept before Deconstruction of it became popular.
- WWE wrestler The Hurricane is, essentially, Superman meets the Green Lantern by way of Adam West.
- More recently, John Cena doesn't actually have a Superhero gimmick, but nonetheless has earned the Fan Nickname "Super Cena" both from his resemblance to this trope and his tendency to never lose cleanly.
- Optimus Prime, from any incarnation of the Transformers franchise, is a non-superhero example, somewhat like Carrot above but played a great deal straighter. To be fair, Optimus and the rest of his race do fall under the Super Robot category, so to us Puny Earthlings, he seems pretty strong... But his respect for sentient life, his inspiring oratory, his dedication to justice, his courage in the face of impossible odds, as well as being one of the finest warriors and most well-constructed Transformers in history... He's a shining example of this trope, and a beacon of light in a war without end.
- A much less publicized character called Countdown is, if possible, even more so. He's no more powerful than Optimus (though his recent Ultra-class figure gives ridiculous statistics for him), but in attitude, morality, determination, intelligence, and so on, he's sort of a cross between Captain Picard, Superman, Thor (from Stargate SG-1), and Carl Sagan.
- The central figure of the "mythology" behind City of Heroes, Statesman, is a classic Cape. Strict moral code, no-kills rule, monochrome vision, enforces his code upon others and backs it up with literally demigod-like powers. Naturally, he comes complete with an Evil Counterpart, Lord Recluse.
- Of course, there is the pervasive theory amongst the heroes (players) of Paragon City that Statesman has a stick magically implanted up his posterior as well.
- Then again, he is the current incarnation/holder of the power of Zeus, who was not the warmest or most forgiving of deities.
- He is also canonically over 100 years old and has been in the superhero business since the 1920s. So being a little jaded and tired of it all is somewhat understandable.
- He tends to come off when well written as something of a Jerk with a Heart of Gold. Though he is basically an Expy fusion of Superman and Captain America (comics) (backstory by the way of Captain Marvel) after all.
- Of course, there is the pervasive theory amongst the heroes (players) of Paragon City that Statesman has a stick magically implanted up his posterior as well.
- Ky Kiske from the Guilty Gear series exemplifies this, minus the actual cape. Always standing up for peace and justice, his flaw is his primarily black-and-white view that leads him to be at odds with the lawless-yet-positive Sol Badguy.
- In many RPGs the player can become The Cape, examples include the Fallout series, Mass Effect and Knights of the Old Republic.
- Haran Banjo and Rom Stol get turned into these in Super Robot Wars. When all seems lost, Haran Banjo will arrive on the scene (sometimes with a distinct yell of "DAIITAAAARN...COME HERE!!!") and will deliver his Badass Creed and Boast of how Daitarn 3 is here to smash evil ambitions (along with fixing whatever the problem was). Rom Stol one ups this by always interrupting the villain with a yell of "MATE!" (HALT!) before going into a speech about justice, love, punishment et al., sometimes in improbable places (like on top of the stage boss' cockpit). Inevitably, he will be asked who he is, whereupon he declares that they "do not deserve to know [his] name."
- The Warrior of Light was made out to be a MASSIVE cape in Dissidia Final Fantasy. He's unwaveringly loyal to Cosmos, flatly shoots down Ultimecia's Hannibal Lecture, and even vows to save his Evil Counterpart Garland from his fate. No wonder Cosmos' Batman Gambit worked so well.
- Mario. He may be something of a Flat Character, but his defining quality is his unrelenting altruism. He is an incorruptible do-gooder.
- Bob and George. George, though, sometimes has to be reminded
- In "The Adventures of Gyno Star" Gyno-Star embodies a feminist version of the trope, attempting to abide by a strict feminist code (although often failing).
- Several characters in the Johnny Saturn series could qualify, but the most blatant is The Utopian, the local Superman Expy, he's one of the series' most moral characters, and his powers are actually fueled by his idealism, the one time he (completely accidentally) breaks the Thou Shalt Not Kill rule, he is Brought Down to Normal instantly. He claims he's powered by his "Devotion to the Utopian ideal", but it's never made clear if he lost his powers for breaking the code, or if his guilt and horror over doing so caused him to somehow shut his powers off since genuinely believed he didn't deserve them.
- For reference, the guy he killed was a supervillain and a Complete Monster, who had killed dozens of people and was responsible for multiple atrocities, and the killing itself was a complete accident. No-one would blame him or deny it was justified, but Utopian still views it as My Greatest Failure,and, for a while, his Moral Event Horizon.
- Plus he wears a white and gold costume, and defeats a Face Heel Turn-ed friend of his by forgiving him and flying away, since he believed the guy would do the right thing, he is not only one hundred percent sincere, he's also completely right!
- From the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, there's Ultra-Man, The Golden Marvel, Centennial, Empyrion, Thunder, Champion, Dharma, Kismet, Shaktimaan, Scanner, Protonik, Paladin, and El Grifo Rojo, just to name a few. Somewhat subverted by The Aryan (a white supremacist NPC crimefighter who most of the players hated to deal with).
- Subverted in Doctor Horribles Sing Along Blog with Captain Hammer, who is treated like a cape by most characters, even though he is really a Jerk Jock.
- The titular villainess of Interviewing Leather has nothing but respect for the "old school" superheroes.
- The <3-Verse has Mr Perfect of the Brat Pack as a Cape-in-Training, as well as Thunderbolt and Uncle Sam as full-fledged Capes.
- In the Whateley Universe, there are plenty. The Headmistress of Whateley Academy is a retired Superhero and very much fits the The Cape (trope) trope, even if her current superheroine garb is a body suit without cape. Since she's been fighting villains since 1943, she has a 1940's sensibility about superheroing... along with over sixty years of experience. She still looks early- to mid-thirties.
- And don't forget the 'Future Superheroes of America', better known around the school as... The Cape Squad.
- Unlike his Marvel Universe counterpart, the Sentry of Marvels RPG is The Cape (trope). Other heroes might also qualify, but he stands out.
- Any Hanna-Barbera 60s superhero.
- The Tick (animation)
- Funny Animal example: Gizmoduck, from DuckTales (1987) and Darkwing Duck, derives his super powers from a specially crafted Plot Technology set of Powered Armor, and does not have an Evil Counterpart, but he is The Cape (trope) in every other sense of the trope. Charisma, sterling reputation, unwavering principles, black and white outlook on morality, motivated by his sense of civic duty, and flat out the single most personally powerful character in his setting. He also exhibits instances of By the Power of Greyskull (or as he puts it, "Blathering blatherskite!") and even in-show Lampshade Hanging of The Merch, cheerfully appearing at public events not only to hobnob with his fans and reinforce his reputation as a friend of the public, but also to provide an official market supply for his ever-full fanclub's desire for Gizmo-tchotchkes. In DuckTales (1987), this is not as strong, as the show gave more screentime to his Secret Identity, but in Darkwing, he's almost never out of costume.
- The Crimson Chin on The Fairly OddParents is usually this. Catman tries to be this, but he's too much of a Cloudcuckoolander to pull it off.
- Spoofed in Ben 10 with a group of alien superheroes led by a rules-spouting Superman Expy. When they 'port in, the current Monster of the Week is less than happy to see them:
Vulkanus: Rrrgh! Capes! I hate capes!
- Hego from Kim Possible is a parody of this archetype.
- Played with in Megamind. Metroman is a classic Superman Expy Cape (right down to his backstory originating on a doomed homeworld) who grows tired of having to live up to his responsibilities and fakes his death to retire. Megamind is his evil counterpart, who fell into supervillainy after his childhood attempts at doing good went wrong (ironically, at times because of Metroman's competition). After Metroman fakes his death, Megamind then tries to create his own Cape to fight in the form of Titan, which goes horribly wrong (forcing Megamind to finally become the Cape himself to stop him and save Metro City).