Two nights ago, I got around to watching the pilot episode of the brand new hero drama The Cape, and I was wowed. That first episode was pulp vigilante heroism at its present day greatest. For me, it combined all of the good from Dark Angel‘s first season with raw “Vengeful Father ” fury.
And yes, some spoilers of the first episode follow, so read at your own risk.
The allegory to Dark Angel is pretty heavily established by the end of the first episode. The hero template is almost identical, although gender-swapped. Lyons plays the action hero guy with the bad ass toys, paired with Glau’s role as the sexy super-hacker blogger who exposes fraud and wrong-doing, and guides him through his missions. This is a pretty common trope, in fact, in many shows and stories.1
As heroes tend to go, The Cape’s origins also aren’t anything new. Betrayed by his best friend, Vince Faraday (the good cop archetype) is framed for a terrible something that he didn’t do, and must now clear his name by getting revenge against the man who wronged him. All the while, he must keep his identity secret, in order to protect his wife and son. To do this, he adopts the persona of his son’s favorite costumed comic book hero, which has the added bonus of impressing the shit out of the kid. It’s one of the most classic origin stories of the vigilante superhero genre, and there’s a reason for this: each and every one of us can identify with this guy. He’s the good-natured everyman that we all consider ourselves to be. His world gets wrongfully obliterated, and like all of us like to believe we would also do, he takes matters into his own hands and fights back. Instead of giving up and crawling into a booze-hole, he goes for the throat of the evil nemesis, damn the obstacles.
He’s not a millionaire playboy with daddy issues. He’s not a super-powered demi-god. He’s not an invincible badass (and even gets costumed his ass thoroughly kicked several times). He’s just a guy who wants his life back. He’s got some help both likely (an anarchist blogger) and less-than likely (a band of circus-themed bank robbers), and one hell of a Big Bad: the most powerful security corporation in the world. And he’s got a damn cool cape that reminds me of The Iron Monkey.
Peter Fleming, played by James Frain (“Franklin the crazy vampire” from season 2 of True Blood), is one of those stereotypical smarmy, wealthy, creepy-faced British villains that everyone loves to lunch in the face (preferably that satisfying nose-crunchy bone-twisting kind of punch). Every line he delivers drips with slime, and I couldn’t get enough. Although there seems to be very little personality difference between the characters of Franklin and Fleming, who cares? He fits wonderfully in this kind of tongue-in-cheek color-noir action story. Every hero needs a villain, and Fleming delivers.
And who doesn’t love Keith David? Almost everything that man touches turns into clever deep-voiced gold. As the hero’s semi-shady mentor “Max Malini,” he fit the bill quite nicely, and his character’s subversion of the “Obi-Wan Moment” was well-played. Malini’s sidekick “ass-kicking little-person” rocks the house, and thankfully never got turned into a midget gag.
Summer Glau plays… well, she plays Summer Glau. Love it, hate it, or remain ambivalent. Truth be told, her character Orwell is the weakest link in this show. My hope is that the show will either give her some interesting character development, or leave her largely in the background. In Dark Angel, we knew about 80% of who Logan was right in the first episode, including witnessing a permanent physical crippling, and the remaining 20% developed in some surprising ways over the rest of the series. In The Cape, we can sum the entirety of our knowledge of Orwell into the following: Nice house, cool car, doesn’t like regular keyboards for some reason, Damn the Man, probably reads books, and Summer Glau.
I do have one specific complaint: wear a mask, dude! Your cape is cool and all, but if you want to fight your enemy hand-to-hand and not get ID’d (a subject mentioned at least a half-dozen times in the first episode), wear a goddamned mask! Even the eponymous comic book character you’re copying clearly wore one, so why the hell don’t you?
Aside from that gripe, I’m impressed. Now let’s hope the rest of the series keeps up this level of pulpy excellence.
1 Don’t click that link, unless you want to suddenly find yourself having lost hours of your life from following it ever deeper.