Superhero Psychology – Marvel Capes Mean Complex?

Amy wearing a cape in cosplay
Thor's cape is a status of godhood. For some others, it's a symbol of their delusion. Image: Amy Lora

When thinking of superhero costume designs, my mind always jumps back to the eccentric designer from Pixar’s “The Incredibles,” Edna Mode, and her famous fashion advice for heroes: NO CAPES.

I will admit that when I was younger, I went raiding my dress-up box for my alter ego (don’t laugh, I was seven years old at the time) Eagle Lady’s crime-fighting uniform, always searching for the cape no matter how unnecessary it was.  After all, who didn’t look cool with a red sweater over your shoulders, sleeves tied around your neck as you bolted down the front lawn in a desperate attempt to get off the ground and take flight with your majestic cape lagging and trailing behind?  Never once did I think it could possibly hinder me in my gallant escapades.

Though capes are extremely iconic and indicative of heroism, they can be dangerous, burdensome, or just plain impractical when it comes to protecting the city and fighting enemies. If that’s true, then why are so many of our heroes donning the glorified bed sheets and becoming caped crusaders?

In Marvel’s universe of comics, you may notice that capes are actually surprisingly absent from the diverse range of cat suits, armors, and even casual fashions that decorate these heroes. Could you imagine Iron Man taking to the skies with a cape fluttering behind?  How about the Hulk rocking Harlem while simultaneously rocking a matching green cloak?  It just does not seem to work for most of Marvel’s heroes. In fact, the only costumes with capes belong to just two types of characters – gods and individuals with a god complex. And here you just thought they looked cool fluttering in the wind.

Now, it’s easy to picture the gods of Marvel comics.  The iconic Norse gods Thor and Loki are easily recognized by their capes, as is the goddess Sif, all three characters hailing from the “Journey into Mystery” comic serial.  Two other such characters are mutant Ororo Munroe, Storm of the “X-men” series, and T’Challa, the hero and avenger known as Black Panther. Storm earns her costume cape by being revered as a goddess in the Serengeti, while Black Panther’s cape is a result of his special connections to the Wakandan Panther God.

So what about the rest of Marvel’s cloak-clad characters who can’t claim godhood as explanation for their outfits?

They fall under the category of god complexes. Absent from the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), a god complex is not a diagnosable psychological disorder, but it is a pattern of thoughts and behaviors that can be classified as a belief in one’s own grandiose power, superiority, and infallibility.  Even in the face of evidence to the contrary, someone with a god complex will have faith in their own ability and ambition.  Persistent is certainly one word for this type of person.

So who among Marvel’s colorful cast qualifies for a cape in this manner?

Certainly Magneto, who wished for the mutants to dominate the earth and render the human race obsolete, gets one of the biggest, most fluttery capes there is to offer. Joining him in matching fashion is his daughter Wanda “Scarlet Witch” Maximoff, whose hex powers and chaos magic allow her to warp reality to her whim.  Rounding off this article’s list of notables are the good doctors Strange and Doom, with their mastery of sorcery and persistence in attaining power, no matter the cost.

If that’s what it takes to get a stylish cloak on your costume in the Marvel universe, would you take the cape or stick to something more practical and a little less “complex?”

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About Amy L 26 Articles
The fates first smiled on Amy the day she received Pokemon Yellow for her precious pink Gameboy Color, and since then she has been on a journey to be the very best, like no one ever was. Amy has delighted in cartoons and comics and video games of all sorts since a young age. She is currently studying as an English major in sunny California, developing a literary research project on the monstrous feminine in modern works of science fiction.


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