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Review: The Cape, In Context

If I can’t be upfront here, then where can I be.  I was not looking forward to The Cape.  As I said to Robert on Friday: “Oh.  I guess I should watch The Cape this weekend.”  It’s not that I thought it was going to be bad…

Actually, that’s a lie.  I thought it was going to be mediocre.  When you consume so much powerless-superhero media that you have decided that writing stories about them is basically what you want to do for a living, you get wary of other interpretations of the same archetype.  What if their idea isn’t as cool as the one in your head?  Worse, what if their idea is better?!  What if the show is actually not bad, but isn’t any more innovative or original than the comics that were published ten years ago, so everyone you know will be unable to understand why you don’t like it I mean come on I thought you loved superheroes?

(In a nutshell, this last bit is why I could never be convinced to watch Heroes, The Cape‘s predecessor in NBC’s lineup.)

But I watched The Cape.  Partly because I am professionally obligated.  But also because I owed The Cape a look for the same reason that I owed Hancock a look: the show is something I have been eagerly waiting for since superheroes started making a comeback in the mainstream consciousness.

The Cape is an original, non-parody superhero story appearing in something other than a comic book, and I’ve been waiting for the separation of the superhero genre from the comic book medium, because that separation will beneficial to both sides.  Superheroes benefit from being exposed to a larger audience, increasing the number of people who are willing to take the concept seriously for the really interesting philosophical and political points you can make with it.  Comic books benefit from a better mainstream understanding that they are simply a way to tell stories, and not emblematic of a specific kind of story.

But enough wishful thinking about the future of art.  This ain’t an English class.  I liked The Cape.

Here’s Why

Refreshingly, The Cape is not a show, comic, or movie that is throwing its chest out and loudly declaring to anyone who will listen that it is a “realistic super hero story.” Instead… it’s just a relatively “realistic” superhero story.  With an origin story that’s a few parts The Punisher and a few parts The Escapist, it doesn’t wallow in either nihilism of The Dark Knight or Kick-Ass’s insistence that the-loser-is-the-everyman-is-realism. A circus troop that robs banks sounds silly, like a parody of the pulp style. In execution I found myself reluctantly, completely charmed by it.

The deft flips between SERIOUS vigilante BUSINESS and jokes about stage voices; between a corporate security firm conspiracy that would be just a tiny bit over the top for 24 and a presentation of sideshow life that would seem right at home in an episode of Doctor Who; reminded me of nothing so much as the DC Animated universe.  That is, the shows that taught me that in order to make the Joker really scary, you’ve first got to make him really funny, and there’s no reason why characters can’t make sardonic jokes about how weird and mentally hazardous their crime fighting lives are.

And you know what? Just a few months ago, Batman got lost in time because he tried to kill a god with the archetype of all bullets, and was turned into a living weapon that was going to destroy time itself unless he was killed and so the Justice League put him in a state analogous to death for a few minutes and then brought him back to life and he promptly told the world that he was funding organized vigilantism.

So yeah. I could use some of The Cape’s tone and content in my life.

The episode suffered a bit in its third act, from the pressure of putting so much exposition in the first and second, leaving very little time for the climax or the pivotal “first time in the costume” moment. A few scenes that strained my suspension of belief (Woah, Orwell, you don’t even know if this guy is sane, much less competent enough to work with…  What kid wouldn’t recognize their own father’s voice..? Doesn’t he want to see his wife too..?) might have been more convincing if there had been a little more time for character development. But The Cape picked itself back up again and delivered a punchy final scene. I will definitely be tuning in next week, just to see if it continues to charm in a normal episode.  If you didn’t manage to catch or DVR last night’s episode, Hulu has it up already.

An Addendum

I, Susana Polo, as an aspiring writer of superhero stories, do hereby solemnly swear on this day of January 10th, 2011, to never, ever write a scene in which a mentor figure looks down on their pupil and says “I think he’s/she’s/their/you’re ready.”

Ever.

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