"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."
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.
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, turning the monsters' own fears against them.
The Cowl is The Cape
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 of the night where evil lurks and prey on the fears of their quarry. The Cowl tends to be a Non-Powered Costumed 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
. Compare and contrast with The Cape
. Sub trope of Terror Hero
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Anime and Manga
- Kaiketsu Zorro
- Batman in Batman: Gotham Knight.
- Invoked in Code Geass, where Lelouch (who is definitely not this) tries to play himself up as a combination of The Cowl and The Cape in order to gain public support.
- Karas, which has some resemblance to Batman.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica applies this to Magical Girls. This is especially true of Homura, whose mysteriousness and Stealth Hi/Bye antics make her Batman-esque even to other magical girls.
- While all the magical girls with the arguable exception of Madoka display this to varying extents, the most stark example is Sayaka, as she is the most clear-cut example of The Cape (with an actual cape) who slides towards this trope as the reality of her idealistic wish bears down on her soul. Then she slides past it into Fallen Hero when she becomes a Witch. The series spends the most amount of time on her journey.
- Kaitou Kid the Phantom Thief from Detective Conan and Magic Kaito has a cowl.
- Batman has practically built this trope, or at least the way it is seen now, but is 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, because, unlike most cowled heroes, he wants to be seen coming by his enemies.
- When The Phantom (the name is telling) is after a group of bad guys, there will typically be someone around to tell them about the legend of the Ghost Who Walks, the Man Who Cannot Die. Just when they dismiss it as nonsense, they start noticing members of their group turn up knocked out or having been attacked and questioned by a mysterious masked figure, with an ominous skull symbol (of the Ghost Who Walks!) where they were punched. He always disappears when they go after him, but if they try to victimise an innocent, he will be sure to show up to whisk them away unseen or reveal himself and kick arse. By the time he reveals himself to the last or leading villains, they're liable to be a bunch of nerves. Most good guys he saves will be left wondering who the heck that was (but agreeing that he was awesome).
- V, swishy black cape and all.
- Spawn. He pulls the trope description off several times, for one.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Terror from Alan Moore's Tom Strong.
- Rorschach in Watchmen considers himself The Cowl. Many others just see him as a psychopath.
- From Stormwatch and The Authority, Midnighter, who is so rarely seen out of his cowl that no two artists have ever been able to agree on what colour his hair is (explained away by admitting that he likes to dye his hair). His husband and crime-fighting partner Apollo is very much The Cape.
- Halle Berry's best-forgotten portrayal of Catwoman as an Anti-Hero.
- 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.
- Big Daddy from Kick-Ass
- The Shadow, which is the other candidate for Trope Maker of the modern version of this trope.
- Pulp magazine characters inspired by The Shadow:
- Zorro, who was a main influence to the creation of Batman.
- in Tales of an Mazing Girl Night Hawk, The flame and Knife Girl are all this-and all seem to be very diffrent examples of this from A street Level Bruiser, to a Masked Avenger to a Demonic Presence.
- Batman, in many prose books and movie novelizations.
- Philip Pullman's Spring-Heeled Jack is described as "Batman in Victorian Britain", and it suits.
- The Opera Ghost in Terry Pratchett's Maskerade, while mostly a parody of, well, exactly who you'd expect, has a brief scene where he takes down a gang of muggers in a very Cowl-esque way.
- Though a villainous example, the appropriately-named Cowl in The Dresden Files believes he is one of these.
- NightHaunt, in In Hero Years, I'm Dead. Too bad, he's also the big bad
- Dr Shade in Kim Newman's fiction. A British Captain Ersatz of The Shadow, he's so mysterious that the closest he's come to appearing in a story is as a spirit based on a fictional character in "The Original Doctor Shade". In settings where he's real (such as the Diogenes Club series... usually), he is only referenced, often as someone the Diogenes heroes really don't want involved, because it'll lead to a lot of dead people and no real answers.
- Stealth from Ex-Heroes.
- Barry Reese's new pulp hero The Rook is one of these. Unsurprising, as he's a deliberate homage to characters like The Shadow, The Spider and The Phantom Detective discussed above.
- Indeed, many pulp-throwback novels will feature variants of The Cowl as the protagonist, such as Chuck Miller's Black Centipede or PJ Lozito's Silver Manticore.
- Anita and Edward from Anita Blake can make all minor and most moderate supernaturals shit bricks by simple introduction. Well, they have probably the highest body count of all kill..., ergh, executioners of preternatural criminals.
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.
- Subverted on other occasions as well. At one point, he leapt heroically into the wrong car. ("City Of...")
- An in-universe comic book cast the mysterious mass-murderer Dexter as one of these: The "Dark Defender".
- The Daring Dragoon, being pretty heavily based on Zorro after all.
- Ironically, The Cape. He used to be a By-the-Book Cop until the Big Bad framed him, forcing the cop to fake his death. After being trained by carnies to use the titular cape and other magician tricks, he is forced to stay in the shadows and mostly comes out at night. He even has a Voice with an Internet Connection (the Big Bad's daughter with daddy issues). Meanwhile, the Big Bad is one of the most respected and powerful men in the city. In fact, when another villain tried to out him in the middle of a high society event, they just laughed at him (it didn't help that said villain looked and sounded like Vinnie Jones with a bad case of acne).
- 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.
- And now Green Arrow in Arrow, to a much greater extent.
- John Reese of Person of Interest.
- 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 Super Hero, he's probably the purest example of The Cowl in wrestling history.
- El Zorro, who worked the masked wrestler gimmick 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 suddenly after the arena lights go out, or descending from the rafters in Batman-like fashion) and general Dark Is Not Evil aesthetic definitely evoke this trope.
- Warhammer 40,000's backstory has two, both Primarchs. Corvus Corax ended up leading the miners of his homeworld in an insurgency against their overlords, and passed on those skills of stealth and asymmetrical warfare when he was given command of the Raven Guard legion, resulting in an army of uncannily sneaky hulking armored Super Soldiers. Konrad Kurze, aka the Night Haunter, is a darker take on Batman - he turned his Wretched Hive home planet into a law-abiding community by personally hunting down and butchering every criminal on it, uniting the populace in mortal terror. His legion went renegade, and today the Night Lords are among the most dreaded foes the Imperium faces.
- 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 & 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.
- Garrett from the Thief series.
- 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 Altaïr and Ezio from the Assassin's Creed games have elements of this, albeit in a period setting. While primarily assassins (albeit, ones 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.
- Later protagonists Connor and Edward Kenway have some of the same elements (both are cowl-clad heroes who use stealthy tactics), but don't really match the trope completely due to their adventures generally not taking place in the sort of shadowy urban setting typical of The Cowl.
- In Ace Attorney Investigations the newspaper artist's depiction of the Yatagarasu is a shadowy cowled figure. The real Yatagarasu looks nothing like this. For one, there's three of them.
- Yuri Lowell in ''Tales of Vesperia'.
- Garrus Vakarian in Mass Effect 2, who in the two years between the games have become their universe's equivalent of Batman, as a vigilante on Omega known as "Archangel". Paragon Shepard can curb the more extreme tendencies he's picked up, during his loyalty mission, pointing out that Garrus is very close to becoming one the monsters he's fighting.
- A "good" player character in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines can assume this role (which is probably a good idea if that character also happens to belong to Clan Nosferatu).
- 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.
- 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.
- An episode of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh centered on Tigger calling himself the "Masked Offender", a Screwy Squirrel parody (though he initially fails to recognize it) of an adventure novel featuring a straight example called the "Masked Avenger". When he's outed as the "Masked Offender" thanks to a Batman Gambit concocted by Rabbit, he retires out of shame, but when real danger looms over the others, he comes back into action and genuinely saves the day.
- "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.
- 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 tv 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.
- Subverted with the Blue Spirit (Zuko) from Avatar: The Last Airbender, who frees Aang from Zhao's clutches, but only to capture Aang and get the glory for himself.