Is NBC’s “The Cape” just “Diet Spawn”?

January 23, 2011 | By More

NBC has aired 3 hours of the “The Cape” as of this writing. I’ve watched so far, and since the pilot something has been nagging at me. There just seemed to be something familiar to me that I couldn’t put my finger on. Then it hit me, the show was like the “lite” version of Spawn.

Ironically, the film version of “Spawn” was on TV this week, and I DVR’d it to see if it was like I remembered. I’m not necessarily comparing The Cape to the film, comic or animated series. More of an amalgam of all of the versions of the Al Simmons version of the Hellspawn.There are some definite similarities to the two properties.

Like what? Both heroes were protectors of the people before assuming their current roles. Sure, Al Simmons was a covert ops assassin. But, at his heart, he was soldier fighting for what he believed was the greater good. Vince Faraday was a cop who was trying to make his city a better place for the residents.

Through strange twists of fate both heroes are setup to fall by the people above them. Each of the high ups will become enemies of the hero.

Meanwhile, as each hero falls their wives are left behind to pick the pieces of their lives after the apparent deaths of their better halves. Wanda Simmons has five years before Spawn appears in her life and has a daughter Cyan to fill in the years. Mrs. Faraday has a son, who misses the guiding influence of his comic book sharing father.

Into each of the wive’s lives, the former best friend of the hero tries to help the women. However, neither wife knows that the friend is working for the very people who set up the demise of their husband.

As each hero starts a new phase of their existince, they find that the place they now fit in the world is the seedy underbelly. Spawn finds his base of operation in an alley where he comes to watch over the bums that also call it home. The Cape makes his lair out of in an abandoned underground vault and hangs with carneys.

To help each hero down their new path is a mysterious guide. Spawn has Cogliostro, a wizened old man who can tell Spawn how to use his new powers for good instead of the devil’s work. Faraday is guided by Max, a circus master who has a clouded past. Ironically, Max is portrayed by Keith David, who voiced Spawn in the HBO animated series.

The guides each teach the heroes the ins and outs of their mystical costumes. Faraday is given a, well, cape. The cape appears to be an ancient artifact that was used more for the darker side of deeds. Spawn is armed with his necroplasm armor. The distinct feature of this armor is a cape that can be used to accomplish what ever Spawn needs.

As each hero starts to go down the path of fighting for right, there are some bumps along the way. The early efforts to use their “powers” don’t always go as expected. However, they learn and get more proficient at taking down the bad guys.

Of course, there’s a little Batman snuck in there as well. The “Carnival of Crime” that Max leads has strong echoes of the Penguin’s band from the second Batman film. For the comic readers, Orwell is an obvious retread of Oracle from the family of Bat books.

The animated version of Spawn on HBO was a fairly gritty ground breaking animated series. Compared to a number of other adaptions, Spawn was a fairly good represetnation of the early Spawn issues.

Where “The Cape” falls short is the darkness and the humanity. While Faraday is an obvious dark avenging character, he’s no where near as dark as Spawn. He tends to take the moral high ground, at least from what we have seen so far. It remains to be seen whether he will cast off the cop role and fully become a vigalente.

The thing that I really think is lacking from “The Cape” is Faraday’s angst. Spawn is an interesting character facing dilemas on a number of levels. He wants his wife to be happy, but he also wants her back. Spawn must also face the ultimate choice between good and evil, while evaluating it against his own desires. The conflicts Simmon’s face are much deeper and you can feel the tension inside of him.

While The Cape is facing a great challenge and a need to be avenged, he doesn’t seem to have the internal stuggles that Spawn does. To be honest while his story is interesting, as a viewer, I’m just not as invested in him as a person. Yeah, I want him to get back to family. But, he’s just not as compelling as a character. Al Simmons and Spawn are like two dimensions to the character and between them is the conflict. With The Cape and Faraday there is no really issue between the halves. At this point, he’s really just the hero.

And that’s where I think NBC has missed the boat. I think instead of being edgy and dark, the show comes off as being just another attempt to make a show to appeal to comic geeks. It’s like they look at a book like Spawn and try to take elements out of it to “make” a hero show that will be a hit. You just can’t throw ingredients in a pot and have something good, though.

What I don’t think they understand well is that the heart of any good comic book is the characters. Yes, fanboys love mutant powers and alien devices. But, as any comic fan will tell you, they read because of the characters. And we want the same thing in our TV shows. A show driven by a plot device big enough you name the show after it, might just be like a one calorie soda. Yeah, it might tame your thirst, but it isn’t nearly as satisfying as the real thing.

Spawn image copyright New Line Cinema / The Cape image copyright NBC
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