It was announced a week ago that NBC are working on a number of new television dramas, including commissioning a pilot The Cape by Thomas Wheeler, a proto-superhero comic book about a policeman framed for a murder he doesn't commit, and who becomes a masked vigilante to take down his opponents. Kick-Ass meets Dirty Harry, that kind of thing.
Well, today I received a leaked copy of the script for that pilot. So, you know, obviously there are spoilers going in at this point, but there won't be many, I'll keep them restricted to general discussion, and I won't majorly spoil the plot's twists apart from the general set up stuff.
This first episode sees our protagonist, Vince Faraday, honest cop with a family in a city beset by corruption, dealing with a political assassination threat from a mysterious figure known as Chess. Vince is also considering a move to a new private police operation that intends to take over the city's police force operation. Naturally we discover that the private police force are just as corrupt, if more so, than the existing force. We've all seen Robocop, right? And of course, organised crime and political assassins all link in together, and the conspiracy ends up framing Vince for the very murders he's been investigating.
So after a few more conspiratorial shenanigans, the world believes Vince is dead, as do his family and even those who betrayed him and hunted him down. So naturally Vince has to dress up in a costume and go out and enforce some one-on-one justice with fists and stuff, just like in his kid's comic book.
Okay, it's not quite that simple. And The Cape's central conceit is quite a neat one. That Vince becomes a superhero, The Cape, whose secret identity is the villain he's now been forced to become – and the villain's secret identity is that he's a heroic ex-cop. Vince is trapped in a world not of his choosing by circumstances out of his control, he is left trying to do the right thing under very difficult circumstances.
What we're getting here is the Trapped Man scenario played out with superhero tropes. Most popular in the eighties with The A Team and Knight Rider, there are also cues here back to The Spirit, The Hulk TV show, The Shadow and The Phantom… the world thinks he's dead, his reputation is destroyed, he fights crime with crime in an impossible battle to put right what once went wrong. But he's not alone.
There's the blogger reporter called Orwell sending secret information, the carnival of crime that take Vince in and become his entourage, there are crocodile men, trained racoons and even a fictional location, Palm City, just like the DC comics. And a whole state stucture to be taken down. It's all a bit V For Vendetta, without the planning, style or elegance – it's more a bludgeoning, well-aimed force.
Now this is just a script, many a scene can change between typewriter and broadcast, but as it stands it is full of the kind of characters and scenarios familiar to those who saw The Dark Knight or Spider-Man movies, but kept off the small screen since, well, the sixties Batman TV show. Remarkable, ridiculous costumed characters doing remarkable things, following a plan of attack, and using a city as their game board.
It's a game of chess.
I mean the dialogue is fairly dumbed down, there's a potential blandness in a number of supporting characters, and even the "freaks" are fairly well-adjusted freaks. TV superheroes can be a real pain to pull off convincingly, and some of the effects look a little overbudget for this kind of thing.
But you can't fault it for ambition. This is not just a high concept trying to find ways to eek it out over five years, this looks a little more complex than that, a little more fractal in its design.
And it's got a cape.