“You give me your soul, Vince Faraday, and I’ll make you the greatest circus act that ever lived.”

After being spammed on three or five stations by ads for The Cape, I felt it was my responsibility as a nerd to sit down and watch it, if only to support (or openly deride) the newest superheroes show. Oddly enough, I got into superheroes later in life rather than earlier. Okay, I did spend about half my childhood buying bulk lots of old ’80s comics from garage sales and antique malls, but there’s getting into and getting into. Besides, the stuff I was into as a kid was hardly considered “supers:” Jonah Hex, G.I. Combat, House of Mystery, Weird War Tales, all those Dark Horse comics based off proprietary film franchises. The movement from “comic books” to “graphic novels” helped, making it somehow socially acceptable for the 18-35 demographic to read these things in public.

The push for more superheroes-based films and TV shows also helped. The modern age has blessed us with a bevy of supers programming. Smallville came out a before I got into supers (that was also before I dropped fantasy for SF), and was pretty monster-of-the-week, but I remember it being pretty solid. The first season of Heroes blew me away, with great pacing and realistic development of its heroes, seeing real people cope with their new abilities.  I watched seasons two and three religiously… up until I realized that, between the writer’s strike and Tim Kring’s inability to tie up loose ends, the show wasn’t going anywhere. Now NBC launches The Cape to fill its superhero shoes; it needs to draw back the Heroes fanbase who left the show for parts unknown, and is doing it while resembling something not terribly similar to Heroes at all. Probably for the best.

“What are you, like twelve?”

“You’re the one wearing long underwear and a cape.”

“Fair enough.”

— Vince and Orwell

The plot is straightforward enough. Vince Faraday (David Lyons) starts off a regular Palm City cop, but because of the growth of crime and police corruption, he moves into the private sector by joining the ARK corporation. Discovering it’s even more corrupt than the city police, Vince ends up framed as the arch-villain Chess. Instead, Chess is the guy who set up him, using the frame-up as a way for ARK to seize control; worse, Chess is Vince’s own boss, Peter Fleming (True Blood‘s James Frain).

Disgraced, Vince ends up captured by Max Malini (Keith David in all his scene-chewing glory), who runs (I shit you not) the Carnival of Crime. From there, Vince decides to fight back against Chess for destroying his life. Through Max’s training in various circus tricks, he takes the persona of The Cape; the name is even more staggeringly creative when you realize he’s ripping it off from his son’s favorite comic book. (Minor criticism aside, I kind of like it; it’s straightforward and two-fisted, bringing to mind pulp heroes like The Shadow, The Avenger, The Phantom, et al.) He also allies with Orwell (Summer Glau), the handle of a mysterious blogger intent on cleaning up the city.

So, here’s The Cape: a masked vigilante with a vendetta working to become a real caped crusader. He’s still drawn to his past life, even while he’s trying to bury it, trying to replace “Vince Faraday” with “The Cape” so his family remains out of the crosshairs. Chess has his sights on controlling Palm City, and has a wide selection of villains to back up his paramilitary force. The second episode brings up Tarot, a secret society of super villains; that’s sure to excite any supers fan, especially since it implies there’s a secret society of superheroes out there.

From the superheroes standpoint, it’s very much a vigilante-style level: Vince relies solely on his training and his gadgets (the cape), putting him on-par with Batman or Daredevil. Vince is believable: he screws up from time to time, and occasionally misses when grabbing or throwing something. He even gets the crap beat out of him; this is still very much a hero in progress, and currently, he’s only an above-average dude. During the first two episodes, it’s fascinating to watch him evolve, and I can only expect it to continue over the course of the show’s long run (knock on wood).

His gadget—the cape—is… kind of a letdown. Half the time, it looks like he has the love child of a tarp and a trash bag wrapped around him, while the rest of the time it’s Obvious CGI. Still, what he does with it is impressive; the first time he spun it around to vanish in a cloud of smoke blew me away in superhero nostalgia. Those little bits like that make the comic book style come alive. The “trained by circus stuntmen” background is similarly comic bookish without being campy, believable in a superhero worldview while retaining some creativity.  Also worth note is the scene of him sewing his mask—friggin’ awesome—a stepping stone on the journey of every good hero. Making the mask for The Cape is like a scene of Superman learning how to fly.

Acting-wise, everything falls into place nicely. David Lyons has transitioned nicely from ER to caped hero, likeable in the tormented everyman role. Summer Glau is great as eye candy, and she’s a talented actress to boot; having her opposite Lyons makes for a good dynamic, especially since she’s enshrouded in mystery. Keith David cannot be understated; he’s great in The Cape‘s mentor role, and manages to steal plenty of scenes on the way through.

The show is good enough to have me wanting… thirds, I guess, with the two-episode premiere coming across as fairly solid. This is a blend of supers we haven’t really seen yet: a little arty, nicely cinematic, humor without going too far into camp, heavy comic book tropes and flavor, weaving itself together into something that looks fairly well-rounded. The Cape has a lot of strong aspects, and I can see it developing into a solid success, given enough time to grow.

The pilot did nothing to dissuade my dislike of pilots (e.g., having to cram an excessive amount of setup into one hour), but the first episode had good pacing and strong development, with Vince trudging on even without his titular cape to prove his dedication to his ideals. In the end, it’s highly enjoyable entertainment: the show is about a masked vigilante seeking justice, probably the most basic of all tropes, and it performs this with gusto and flair. Alas, my negative outlook on prime-time network television leaves me expecting The Cape to flicker out. Which would suck, since it’s got a lot of promise.

Currently, it occupies the same Monday night, 9pm Eastern slot that was taken up by The Event, and Heroes before it.

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