Tom Wheeler's New Hero Dons THE CAPE For NBC
Costumed crime fighting returns to network television this Sunday when The Cape premiers on NBC. An honest cop is betrayed, framed for crimes he didn’t commit and presumed dead. To reclaim his life he becomes a comic book superhero to bring down the sinister forces that have separated him from his family. Performing comic book heroics is a risky venture, a risk all but matched by bringing them to small screen. Newsarama sat down with Tom Wheeler the creator, executive producer and show runner of The Cape to ask him about the show, its mysteries and why genre fans should tune in week after week, and even get a little tease on some guest stars coming up in the show's initial 13 episode run.
Newsarama: Put simply, what is The Cape?
Tom Wheeler: I like to think of it as a “costume crime drama,” [that] has a little bit of a pulp feel to it. It’s a "comic book show" from a life long fan of comic books that centers around a family man who is torn away from his family and betrayed by a friend. In a desperate act to give his son hope he attempts to recreate his son’s favorite comic book superhero, The Cape. It takes place in Palm City, a fictional town we created to be our playground, a city falling apart because of corruption. It’s the kind of superhero story that I grew up with, like , a boots-on-the-ground type fighting gangsters and larger than life villains in a heightened reality, but non-super powered world.
Nrama: Recent superhero TV shows like and have eschewed costumes for their heroic characters, what made you decide to add ‘the masked hero’ element?
Wheeler: That’s what superheroes are to me! When I was coming up with the concept of the character, he had to have a costume. The cape itself has twofold symbolism, a cape is the first thing that kids tie around their necks when they wish to embody a superhero, also in kind of a Jungian-subconscious way the cape represents the priesthood or the shadow and it has a real energy and mystery to it. I feel it’s an icon of comic books and heroes, and the idea felt to me that it was the kind of thing that could have worked for The Spirit or The Shadow back in the 30s. Nevertheless, there is still a freshness to it that seems right, so I know our guy had to have [one], and I embraced the challenge. I like my comics served straight up and there are a variety of ways to do the hero story, as did and is doing, to take nothing away from those shows, but this one happens to be one where people wear masks in a heightened reality world. I think people will enjoy the grounded emotions, but get the kind of hyper-realized world we are creating.
Nrama: The Cape takes place in fictional Palm City on an alternate Earth, how much fact will be weaved into the fiction?
Wheeler: It’s our world; there are for example wars in the Middle East. Palm City we can assume is somewhere in Southern California. It has a feel of a hybrid of Miami and Los Angeles. The city itself happens to be a kind of corporate experiment. The ARK Corporation has a real track record overseas with military police and defense contracting and has gotten into civil and municipal police work under the guise of an outreach program but it is extending its tentacles into the city itself. We’ll find out that ARK is run by a less than well meaning guy named Peter Fleming played by James Frain (). I think there are attributes to ARK that don’t stray too far from real-world corporations that now have the power and money comparable to real countries. So even as we were developing the idea, I was reading articles about charter, private police forces being developed across the country. Palm City is fiction, but it’s not too far removed from the reality of today.
Nrama: How deep will the mythology of the show run? For example, is Vince Faraday aka The Cape the first to don a mask, and will this kind of information be forthcoming to faithful viewers?
Wheeler: I’d say that Palm City doesn’t quite have the history of say, the New York City of , but that’s not to say that colorful villains have not existed in it’s past. I would say that the initial mythology that viewers will learn about as we go along is that of the cape itself. We will certainly learn about its history and the hands through which it has passed. There isn’t anything supernatural in this show, but we do get into the power of putting the cape on and what it brings out in it’s wearer, sometimes what it brings out is a very, very dark energy. So we have a very angry hero who’s had everything taken away from him, but has to balance revenge and justice. There also might be people who’ve worn the cape in the past who still think it belongs to them. We get into that all early on. It has a lot to do with Max Malini who is Keith David’s character who has a long history with the cape. Expect to see a lot of [the mythology of the cape], I love that aspect of it.
Nrama: So there will be psychological element rather than a supernatural one?
Wheeler: The cape itself will bring out aspects of the wearer’s character that they didn’t know were there. Vince Faraday (David Lyons), because of what’s been done to him, he will wrestle in episodes to come to control his anger, because donning a mask a cape frees you up to do things you might not ordinarily do.
Nrama: How will the show be structured? Villain of the week style, more of a season long arc, or both?
Wheeler: I love serialized story telling, but I knew that The Cape also had the opportunity, like comics do, to have a villain of the week structure. I think the best villains have to be rolled out a little bit. You have to introduce [the villain], tell a good origin story, making sure that when you bring somebody new to the party that the character has the appropriate introduction. We’ll have these two existing, great villains in Vinnie Jones () as Scales, a mobster that will rise to power in the city and James Frain’s Peter Fleming who is the evil billionaire who couldn’t be more of his opposite. So in the first run of thirteen [episodes] you’ll probably see six or seven villains that challenge The Cape, but I always want to be careful when we bring someone in, it has to be great. I want to build a rogue’s gallery that people will want to see again and again. [There is a] balance between the adventure-of-the-week with serialized storytelling, storytelling that’s not so serialized that you could get lost. You can catch up, things won’t be moving so fast that if you’d feel if you missed one you wouldn’t just say “aw, forget it.”
Nrama: Anyone in particular we should look forward to seeing?
Wheeler: Mena [Suvari] () is terrific as this character, Dice, who will appear sometime in January. Thomas Kretschmann () is phenomenal as this character Kozmo who related to the cape’s mythology I described. I’m really pleased so far with a two part-er we are doing with Illeana Douglas () and Glenn Fitzgerald (), it’s a really gothic story and it’s fun to see how far we can go. We can tell a crime story, dip into sci-fi a little bit and ease into a “haunted” story, its fun seeing what the boundaries are.
Nrama: One name sticks out of the cast list is genre luminary Summer Glau (). How is working with her, and can you expand on what her role will be?
Wheeler: I describe her as our mystery buff, but also kind of our Wolverine. She’s this militaristic princess, she likes really nice things, she a very glamorous, but at the same time she’s in this one-woman war that she allows Vince Faraday to help her with as long as he doesn’t screw it up. She very dedicated to her mission, and there is a great deal of mystery to her and uncovering her past is going to be a main focus of the second part of the first season. She’s awesome, by the way, as a person. Great to work with, really smart and completely dedicated, we’re incredibly lucky to have her. We are really blessed to have this cast.
Nrama: So she’s not a sidekick?
Wheeler: No she not a sidekick and what’s cool about how [the show] is developing, we have this desperate man put into this situation with allies that he wants to trust, but doesn’t necessary know if he can trust. You don’t get to choose your allies in a war like this, for example, Keith David’s Max Malini is a bank robber. His motives for helping Vince aren’t always clear, and it’s not all fun and games between them. We play on the conflict between this straight arrow cop who’s hell-bent on clearing his name and getting his family back, but at the same time his new mentor who is at the opposite end of that spectrum and so there’s this inevitable collision and we’ll see tension building. Likewise with Summer’s character Orwell, we will see the consequences of not really knowing who you are dealing with. It won’t be “the team is set, let’s go out and have some laughs, beat some bad guys and then have a beer.” Regular views will see the relationships develop, and the occasional viewer will get see some superhero action with The Cape.
Nrama: Beyond the cold math of ratings, how will you know The Cape is a success?
Wheeler: I have a lot of respect for the loyal and passionate fans of this genre and I realize that [The Cape] didn’t exist in any form before, and this creates a lot of skepticism about what the show is going to be. I’m a life long fan of this stuff and I understand the questions [genre fans have], but I’m immensely proud of what we’ve done so far, but it’s going to belong to the audience soon, and I’m really, really eager to share it with everyone and I’m paying attention to the feedback. I want it to rock, for The Cape to be a character that people love. I’ve been having an awesome time doing the digital comic with this beautiful Michael Gaydos () art and Alex Maleev () cover, there’s also an Alex Ross cover. It’s a dream of mine to work with these people and I have enormous respect for what they do. What we are doing is creating the comic book that exists in Palm City, the inspiration for Vince Faraday to become The Cape, so for those seeking to go deeper into this world, we’re writing the actual The Cape comic. I want the audience to love [the show], they are going to be tough but I welcome it.Will you be watching the premiere tonight? Tell us what you think!