Monday, January 10, 2011

Thoughts on the premiere episodes of The Cape

I watched "The Cape" last night and I have to say I enjoyed it a lot. Now, I may be an easy audience for a superhero show, I don't know. But I liked it far more than "No Ordinary Family" and I may have liked it even better than "Heroes". It was certainly worlds better than any episode of Smallville you would care to name. Here are some thoughts on The Cape, in no particular order.

The character of the Cape is heavily influenced by the Shadow, which I liked. The Shadow was written by Walter Gibson, who was also a stage magician, and originally he had no psychic powers like he later demonstrated on radio shows and in film. Rather, his "invisibility" and his ability to "cloud men's minds" were a combination of stage illusions and hypnotism. It isn't hard to imagine how the Shadow came to be such a big influence on the Cape; when you look at successful superheroes in film and comics, one of the first names on your list is Batman. And Batman was so clearly inspired by the Shadow that Bruce even admitted it in an old issue of Detective.

"Do you think the raccoon acted alone?"
"Probably not, sir."

Our show creators have also read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. The character of the Escapist in that book is a sort of blend of Mr. Miracle and the Spirit, but it is worth noting that he gets his start in a circus and is trained in the ways of escapology by an old mentor figure named Max. I was very glad to see Max become a recurring character in the show; when he appeared to die, my wife let out a "That's it?!" of dismay, thinking the character's death had been wasted, but it became all the more worth it when he made a hacking cough and rolled to his feet. Superheroes have a long connection to the circus, as Chabon reveals in Kavalier & Clay and which we can see for ourselves in comics like Avengers #1 (by which I mean the original, first, Avengers #1). If you can't have your hero trained by ninjas -- and Batman Begins has done that, so we can't do it with the Cape -- then the logical second place to go is the circus. And the delivery of the Carnies was refreshingly good. I loved the fact that our hero got beat up by a midget not once but multiple times. I do wish the beautiful girl had a beard though. The circus should be made of freaks. There should be no non-deviants in its ranks. But hey, I'll take what I can get.

The story is moving very fast, which is surprising to TV audiences who expect "the next Lost", but which comics readers will take in stride. We remember that Spider-Man's entire origin story was told in one issue long before Bendis re-told it in six. I think this is a pretty straight forward example of, "It took too long to get to the island." That is, the creators are afraid that they will lose the audience if they do not get right to the superhero part. Now that the Cape is established, now that Vince Faraday is in the cape, he has an adversary, a supporting cast, and a goal, we can slow down and tell episodic plots which are all fairly self-contained.

This episodic nature of the story seems a wise decision to me; this is not an attempt to be Heroes, a drama with a dozen plots all intertwining and intersecting. This is one man's story. He has a wonderful supporting cast -- Jennifer Ferrin and Keith David are especially good -- but everything is wrapped around one central plot and that can only be a good thing. You will not need to watch this show with the passion of a completist. Each episode you turn it on, there's some freaky villain in town, and the Cape has to stop him. And there will be some other B-plot going on, which will hopefully be interesting, but basically we know how this show works. Good guy, bad guy, struggle to redeem his name, attempts to connect with his son, roll credits, tune in next week.

The show's creators seem to understand the importance of a large Rogues Gallery. We need to see a new villain every week, at least until a few of them catch on as fan favorites. Then these can begin cycling back through for return appearances. Stan & Jack had this down to a science in 1963. Cram the pages with more imaginative characters than  you could ever need and then see which ones caught on and floated to the top. Those became recurring characters. Personally, I would not mind if Chess got pasted in the season finale and we got a new mastermind next season. This is a lesson we learned from Buffy. The Master was fine, but comic writers know that the first stories are about setting up your character, and an overpowering villain can distract from that. You need a villain who is dangerous, of course, but don't get too attached to him. Fantastic Four #1 is not about the Mole Man. It's about the Fantastic Four. Dr. Doom came issues later. And so it can be with the Cape. Remember, Spike didn't show up for a while in Buffy. Who will be the Cape's Spike? His Dr. Doom? Maybe we have yet to meet him. That would not necessarily be a bad thing.


  1. Try this show: Misfits ( )

  2. One month later...and NOW what do you think? I also liked the first episode but now just find myself waiting for it to be canceled so I can record something else.....