In the early 1980s, New York City was a much different place. Crime rates were high, people felt unsafe, and that is the world where the Marvel Comics offices were located. And at the same time, the First Lady of the United States had set her agenda of taking on the issue of drugs.
Out of those circumstances, it would have been easy to have characters created in that background feel like an afterschool special. But instead, writer Bill Mantlo created a unique duo that are definitely a couple characters that you should know.
What’s the origin of Cloak and Dagger?
Cloak and Dagger began as Ty Johnson and Tandy Bowen, two runaways in New York City that came from very different backgrounds. Ty was from a lower class upbringing in Boston, who ran away when a debilitating stutter caused him to be unable to help a friend, who stepped into a car accident.
Tandy is from a much different background, the daughter of a fabulously wealthy supermodel who wasn’t paying any attention to her daughter. They met when Ty considered robbing Tandy, who was new to the streets, then later retrieved her purse from a mugger. When some strange men offered housing for the night, Ty couldn’t let Tandy go alone.
When they arrived at the location, it turned out to be as an experiment for a mob doctor, who was cooking up a new form of synthetic heroin. The tests had killed all the other street kids that had been experimented on but for Ty and Tandy, it unlocked powers.
Ty took on the name Cloak, becoming a nebulous being of darkness. He has the ability to move through some sort of other dimension essentially teleporting, and the ability to let the darkness move into this world, creating an almost mystical smoke cloud. But Cloak’s darkness has a deep curse as well, as he has to “feed” on the light of others to hold off pain to himself.
Tandy, who had training as a dancer, developed an ability to generate light, most the time those taking the form of daggers of light that she can use to attack others. Her daggers also have the ability to cure others of the effects of drugs.
Cloak and Dagger from Marvel Comics
So what makes these characters unique?
Their interdependence. Cloak’s constant need for light is a clunky metaphor for drug addiction but in most the stories he is involved in, it works well. For Cloak, having Dagger around means that he doesn’t have to take light from others. At times, Dagger is unsure of this relationship, especially when Cloak takes light from others in his vigilantism.
The issue of vigilantism. Cloak and Dagger were essentially waging their own war on organized crime and the drug trade. Given their history, it is completely understandable. But it does mean that at times, it puts them at odds with other heroes, who don’t understand the need to be vigilantes that consume Cloak especially.
Class issues. It is a bit uncomfortable for the modern reader to see how much Ty and Tandy are stereotypes before they become Cloak and Dagger. But it does raise some interesting issues about background and class that occasionally show up in the storylines.
The Drug War. In most modern stories, this part of Cloak and Dagger is rarely dealt with. The world of Nancy Reagan morphed into a world where one of the most celebrated shows on television was about a drug maker (Breaking Bad). So there is some space and place to consider how the changing world has changed their story and their focus.
Light and Darkness as metaphor for faith. One of the protectors of Cloak and Dagger is a priest who gives them sanctuary. This part of their story is only hinted at and would be ripe for a longer, more in-depth examination, as I do think it is a part of their characters, with Cloak playing the role of doubt and Dagger the role of faith.
Will Cloak and Dagger come to television?
So what about now? Cloak and Dagger are among the list of characters that seem to never be able to maintain their own title but that are used effectively in short bursts in other titles. They have interacted with most of the street-level New York City heroes, as well as Spider Man, the teenage New Mutants, Power Pack and others.
These crossovers show Cloak and Dagger to be interesting characters that you should know.
In terms of moving forward, Cloak and Dagger seem to be a perfect fit for Marvel Netflix. They likely wouldn’t be able to sustain a series on their own, but the world of Daredevil and Jessica Jones are a perfect fit for Cloak and Dagger and inspirations off them. (If I was the writer, I would mess with the class and gender ideas some to make them feel a little less dated.)