Television review: 'The Cape'

To describe something as being like a comic book is usually to say that it is colorful and paper-thin, more obvious than subtle, more invested in event than in logic. I will make your objections for you, fans of the form: Often comics are not paper-thin (except for the paper-thin paper, of course), or obvious or illogical; sometimes they are not even colorful. But I will also make an additional claim on their behalf — that it is perfectly all right to be any or all of those things, if you're entertaining in the bargain.

And here is "The Cape," premiering Sunday on NBC, as if to prove the point. (Next week it moves to Monday, in the space temporarily vacated by "The Event" and previously occupied by "Heroes," significantly, I would say.) Not only is it "comic book" in nature and design, its hero, a police detective ( David Lyons) framed for murder and believed dead, actually assumes the identity of his son's favorite comic book hero in order to strike back at the agent of his misfortune. There is nothing metafictional in this.

In the comic-book universe of my remote youth, the competing houses of Marvel and DC retailed different narrative philosophies. Marvel heroes, like Spider-Man, were on the whole a neurotic breed, not always happy in their work or at home. Though you might at leisure ponder Batman's relation to Robin, or note the Christological armature of the Superman story, the DC heroes tended to just get on with the job, in the name of truth, justice and the American Way. But DC was eventually Marvelized, Batman became a Dark Knight, and nowadays even the attitude of doing right has become a pathology, and you can't always tell the good guys from the bad.

It's therefore kind of refreshing to greet a series as straightforward, as devoid of subtext, metaphor and soul-searching as "The Cape." (It also has what "Heroes" lacked: visual grace.) While the guardians of Palm City may be mired in corruption, Lyons' Vince Faraday is a good cop who wants only to serve and protect — indeed, it's this very goodness that eventually lands him outside the law, where to live you must be honest, like Robin Hood. And like Robin Hood, he consorts with thieves, a band of bank-robbing circus types headed by the grand Max Malini ( Keith David, scene-stealer). There is also a sexy crusading hacker-blogger who goes by the name of Orwell ( Summer Glau), which you will understand is a reference to George.

"You give me your soul, Vince Faraday, and I'll make you the greatest circus act that ever lived," says Max, and by "circus act" he means "masked avenger." His target is the man who framed him, a psychopathic billionaire ( James Frain) with a private army, weird eyes and an English accent that suggest Sheriff of Nottingham. "Search the forest," he commands at one point. "Find these comedians."

Created by Thomas Wheeler, whose bouncy 2005 Rome-set TV miniseries "Empire" had virtues and vices similar to "The Cape," it is almost wholly a cocktail of things you have seen before. Still, novelty is not the point here, but rather a wallow in old tropes and verities. (The place where Max, Vince and company reside is actually referred to as "a hideout.") Marked by logical elisions, word-balloon dialogue and conveniently located plot holes though it may be, this is a machine for putting its heroes in tight spaces and watching them kick their way free, and it does its work efficiently and with flair.

'The Cape'

Where: NBC

When: 9 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language and violence)

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