Two lesser-known characters of the Marvel Universe, Cloak and Dagger are an African-American man and a Caucasian woman tied together by their powers revolving around darkness and light. Bill Mantlo (who also created Rocket Raccoon) spun Cloak and Dagger out of Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man in March 1982, but they have been featured in stories all over the Marvel landscape. Now, on Freeform, the two’s origin finds a live-action revisioning at the hands of Heroes’ creator Joe Pokaski.
As a comic book nut, I’ve tried to watch everything I can from Marvel – Daredevil, The Punisher, The Defenders, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage… except Agents of Shield. But I stumbled onto Cloak & Dagger and The Runaways, and reluctantly downloaded the first few episodes of each. Within the first forty-five minutes of C&D, I was hooked by the way their characters were grounded in their humanity, their pain, their hope, and their fears forming them in a realistic way.
Tandy Bowen (Olivia Holt) and Tyrone Johnson (Aubrey Joseph) are living in broken present tense when we meet them; as young children, they were exposed to a massive explosion at Roxxon Gulf that was connected to the death’s of Tandy’s father and Tyrone’s older brother. Now, Tandy is a ne’er-do-well, stinging unsuspecting wealthy young men with the help of her partner/boyfriend Liam Walsh (Carl Lundstedt), while Tyrone plays it safe at a private school that his grieving parents, Otis and Adina Johnson (Miles Mussenden and Gloria Reuben), have hidden him away. But when the past impacts the present, the two of them find their powers manifesting and they’re drawn closer and closer together.
Several elements of C&D stood out from the other shows available this summer. One, it’s a rare show to tackle the ways that racism, grief, fear, and depression manifest themselves in the lives we lead. It’s a boiling cauldron of nastiness that is a past and present stain on our society – C&D tackles it head on, as Tyrone and his mother disagree on the appropriate ways to handle their loss at the hands of corrupt white cop Connors (J.D. Evermore). [Sidebar: one such conversation fleshes out a young person’s desire to take action versus a mother’s desire to protect her living son. And, C&D makes it clear that not all cops are bad. This isn’t black versus blue.]
Two, the show’s two protagonists aren’t in love with each other. They each have love interests, and they’re allowed to circle each other cautiously before recognizing that their call to action as heroes doesn’t mean they have to crawl in bed with each other. It was …refreshing.
Three, C&D’s spiritual content is New Orleans infused. Not everyone will like this, but there’s a Christianity and a blend of voodoo that gets all mixed up. It’s a bit like the writers are playing it safe (are the characters Christian or aren’t they?) but our two heroes take refuge in a church, and certainly provide a specific stance on what it means to stand up against the forces of evil through sacrifice and redemptive purpose.
The action is fast and furious, the witty banter amusing. But in the end, the show’s first season is about how Tandy and Tyrone can find their way to inheriting a new world, where their powers protect others. It’s a startling display of personal integrity, sacrifice, and bravery versus corporate greed (yes, you could make allusions to oil spills and such). But the evil that Cloak and Dagger battle is tangible, and oppressive, both spiritually and physically, and the show’s first season sets the stage for the next great Marvel heroes to face the world.