'The Cape': Creator Tom Wheeler discusses the show's 'pulp' roots

the-cape-explosion-320.jpgWhen Zap2it visited the set of "The Cape" in December to talk with creator Tom Wheeler, he used the word "pulp" several times in describing the show's origins. The show, which premieres Sunday (Jan. 9), is proudly old-school in its depiction of a comic book-inspired hero, and Wheeler cites several vintage heroes among its inspirations.

"I think about characters like the Spirit, the Shadow, Green Hornet, the earliest, purple-gloves Batman -- the more two-fisted kind of [character]," Wheeler says. "I wouldn't characterize him as a Marvel-type hero or even a DC hero. It's the simple symbolism of it, and kind of the iconic feeling of the cape, and drawing out crime stories that feel more old-school. ... It feels sort of evocative of a different age."

Wheeler (who previously created ABC's 2005 miniseries "Empire") is a man who knows his comics. Asked about his early and current favorites, he rattles off a list of titles ("Growing up, my favorites were the X-Men, Power Man and Iron Fist, Conan, I liked the Avengers") and creators ("I read everything Grant Morrison writes, anything Alan Moore writes. ... I loved Ed Brubaker's stuff with Captain America") that have influenced him and that he hopes to channel into "The Cape."

Wheeler's love for the genre is evident in the show, which is about a cop, Vince Faraday ( David Lyons), who takes on an alter ego after being framed for murder and left for dead. He becomes The Cape, a personification of his son's ( Ryan Wynott) favorite comic-book hero, and sets out on a crusade to bring down the power-mad billionaire ( James Frain) who set him up. Vince gets some help -- and the title garment, which he uses as a weapon -- from Max Malini ( Keith David), the leader of a troupe of carnival performers/bank robbers who move in the underworld of the fictional Palm City.

After "Heroes" fizzled out last season, NBC wasn't exactly looking for another show that played in the same arena. Wheeler says he was able to sell the network on his idea because it's grounded in the story of a man trying to clear his name and get his family back. He's also prepared for some skepticism from viewers and comic fans.

"I think audiences will need to get over an initial, 'Wait -- that's not based on anything I know,' so they [may be] kind of suspect," he says. "And I get it -- I'm a comics fan. I understand that. But there hasn't been a hero that's been nailed in a comic-book style, a sort of Silver Age, classic style, on television. I like that. We're taking a big swing for the fences, and we'll either do it or not, but I definitely like that challenge."

And why create a hero whose only weapon is a cape?

"A cape feels sort of primal in a superhero way," Wheeler says. "It's the first thing you do as a kid -- you tie the cape on. But we also want to explore, and we have been in the story -- there's one episode that's almost like the Jungian mythology of the cape. ... There's a lot to it, but it's sort of simple. 'The Incredibles' were like, get rid of capes, but I just felt like capes deserve more respect. Capes are due for a comeback."

"The Cape's" two-hour premiere airs at 9 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC, then moves to Mondays at 9 the following night.
Photo/Video credit: NBC