Powers, costumes and…

If it wasn’t already very clear over the past decade, when X-Men the movie became a runaway hit in 2000, superhero culture is officially mainstream. Despite the long-overdue cancellation of NBC’s “Heroes” (which Kakita or Direcow stopped caring about a long time ago), and the lack of superpowers in Fox’s “Human Target”, our television screens will continue to be filled with empowered metahumans, at least for another year, thanks to ABC’s new primetime drama “No Ordinary Family” bringing the powers and NBC’s midseason replacement “The Cape” bringing the costume.

The question is, has the ship sailed on the superhero television show? Is ABC jumping too late on the bandwagon? Not if Michael Chiklis and Summer Glau have anything to say about it.

While I’m not surprised that the mainstream media haven’t picked up on the irony of Michael Chiklis of “Fantastic Four” fame starring in “No Ordinary Family”, a drama series about a family who gains superpowers after a plane crash, the geek in me could think of nothing else. The parallels between the “Fantastic Four” origin story are supposedly where the similarities end, however. According to Rich Johnston of, it’s a “family comedy drama”, and “not very” geeky. Chiklis plays Jim Powell, the dad who is suddenly able to “express himself and make a difference in a world that he thinks ignores him” as he gains several of Superman’s powers. Julie Benz, of “Buffy”, “Dexter” and “Desperate Housewives” fame, plays Stephanie the mom, who becomes a literal supermum after gaining super-speed, which allows her to have a “high-end job and a fulfilling family life”.

The mainstream media draws parallels to Pixar’s “The Incredibles”, and this is most obvious as the family is rounded out by Kay Panabaker and Jimmy Bennett, who play the kids. Panabaker played Lindsey Willows, the daughter of Catherine Willows on “C.S.I.”, but is probably best known for her leading role in the widely panned remake of “Fame”. That being said, it’s nothing compared to her onscreen brother, Bennett, who will probably never live down his mostly pointless role as “Young James T. Kirk” in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek”. Here’s hoping that they’re able to go beyond the sullen teenager and spoiled brat roles they seem to be constantly cast as, or the uncanny similarities to Violet and Dash from “The Incredibles” might be too much for audiences hoping for something original.

“No Ordinary Family” is created by Greg Berlanti and Jon Feldman, who previously worked together on the short-lived primetime soap “Dirty Sexy Money”. It will show on Tuesday primetime when the Fall 2010 season begins.

What won’t be appearing on our screens just yet is NBC’s new superhero drama “The Cape”. Based on the trailer and the promotional materials the network’s recently released, it looks like they’ve created an amalgam of “Robocop”, “Batman” and a dash of Marvel Comics’ “The Hood”. Not that it’s a bad thing, really – done right, the fine line between camp and meaningful drama is not impossible.

The “Robocop” bit comes from the plot device of the incorruptible police officer, Vince Faraday, who is left for dead by criminals and is forced to adopt a new identity to protect his loved ones. The “Batman” reference comes from his training-in-exile by a circus troupe to become the hero known as “The Cape”, as well as a technologically adept sidekick a la Barbara Gordon, the Oracle. Finally, other than the obvious visual reference to Marvel Comics’ antihero turned supervillian “The Hood”, the eponymous cape is seemingly supernatural – “made entirely of spider silk, stronger than kevlar, but thinner than filament”. Yeah right. There’s even a nod to “Ghost Rider” – the circus ringleader Max Malini says, “You give me your soul, Vince Faraday, and I’ll help you get your family back.”

As if that wasn’t geeky enough, the cast boasts some of geekdom’s cult favourites, including its queen, Summer Glau, who plays Orwell, the investigative blogger who eventually becomes The Cape’s sidekick. As anyone who’s watched Dollhouse knows, Glau can play nerdy girls to almost divine perfection, so this casting is nothing short of inspired. The Cape’s mentor Max Malini is played by veteran actor and voice-over performer Keith David (who will always be the voice of Goliath from “Gargoyles” for me). After watching the trailer, though, I can’t help but want to see more of Vinnie Jones, who appears to be playing a thug (surprise, surprise) named Scales. Here’s hoping he gets to go all “Juggernaut” on The Cape often.

It’s been years since the “The Flash” and “Lois and Clark”, television shows built around an actual costumed superhero – “Smallville” doesn’t count because we’ve yet to see Tom Welling in red and blue spandex – so naturally, I’m rather excited for “The Cape”. Unfortunately, this particular genre of shows tends not to last very long, and with television being as cutthroat as ever these days, it’ll take a really good script for “The Cape” to take off.

Pun not intended.

Peter Lin

His teenage years spent nursing a giant man-crush on Steve Rogers, the first Captain America, Peter naturally found himself drawn to many other heroes who depicted strong, manly qualities, including the honour-bound warrior Worf, first Klingon in Starfleet, and the muscular rock hard abs of The Thing.

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  1. Hey don’t forget the blink and you will miss it Birds of Prey TV series. Or for that matter how about No Hero, the BBC sitcom?

  2. I intentionally left out “Birds of Prey” and “No Heroics” because the latter was not so much a “superhero” show than a “lame powered losers” sitcom, and the former was a show about superheroes that didn’t wear costumes.

    But thanks for pointing them out anyway!

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