First, apologies for the extended break. This past month has been a month. The weather went to extremes, record lows to record highs, then a derecho almost stopped me this week, with massive power outages through the region. But, everything is up and running, so the research is done, finally.
Lost in Translation has discussed Marvel Comics’ recent successes with both theatrical and streamed releases. Prior to Disney setting up Disney+ and using the streaming service as an exclusive route for Marvel series, adaptations of various titles had to go to broadcast television. Granted, Disney owns the ABC network and its affiliate, ABC Family, now called Freeform, but broadcast television runs on different rules than Internet streaming. Ratings matter in the broadcast world. Low ratings, and a TV series will get axed by the network. Television also has a lower budget than theatrical releases. Superheroes, by their nature, are effect heavy. However, some powers can be done through practical effects, which can be less expensive than CGI.
One of the pre-Disney+ Marvel TV offerings was based on the comic, Cloak & Dagger. Created by Bill Mantlo and Ed Hannigan for the March 1982 issue of Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, the duo made several guest appearances in the Spider-titles before getting their own limited series in 1983. The limited series led to a a regular bimonthly series in 1985. That series was then combined with Doctor Strange and re titled Strange Tales. The title then split back into bimonthlies nineteen issues later, with Cloak and Dagger moving into The Mutant Misadventures of Cloak & Dagger, lasting another nineteen issues before cancellation. The characters, though, still had graphic novels and made appearances in other titles, including Runaways
In the comics, Cloak, Tyrone Johnson, and Dagger, Tandy Bowen, were teen-aged runaways. Tandy came from Shaker Heights, the daughter of a supermodel who was more concerned about her career than her kid. Tyrone ran from Boston after witnessing a cop killing Ty’s friend. The two wind up in New York City, meeting after Tyrone stops a thief from stealing Tandy’s purse. They get picked up by a criminal gang as part of a round up of runaways to be used as guinea pigs. Only Tandy and Tyrone survive, their latent mutant abilities triggered by the synthetic drug. With their new powers, they become Cloak and Dagger, and fight the War on Drugs on the streets, targeting drug dealers and those who would prey on the weak.
Tyrone’s power is to be a portal into the Darkforce, a semi-sentient force that drains the Living Light out of others. Cloak can command the Darkforce within him to reach out and pull targets within him, where the Darkforce can drain the victim. It takes an effort for Cloak to evict the target out of him; as part of his mutant abilities, he no longer needs to eat food. Instead, he relies on the Living Light of others. Tandy is the embodiment of the Living Light, capable of throwing light daggers that can shock and even purify the system of a target. Dagger can also use the Living Light to heal others. Being a source of the Living Light, she is one of the few who can safely travel within Cloak without harm.
The duo take up residence in the Holy Ghost Church, located in Hell’s Kitchen in NYC, having been granted sanctuary by Father Francis Delgado. There is some tension between Cloak and Dagger, with Tyrone feeling like he is taking from Tandy by feeding off her Living Light. However, without a way to bleed off the Living Light, Dagger can get heady and detached. Dagger needs Cloak as much as he needs her.
In 2018, Freeform began airing Cloak & Dagger with Aubrey Joseph and Olivia Holt as the duo, and Maceo Smedley III and Rachel Ryals as their younger selves. The beginning of the series uses some of the ideas of Tyrone and Tandy’s background, with Tandy being picked up from ballet class by her father and Tyrone following his older brother Billy (Marcus Clay). the young Tandy and Ty didn’t realize that their lives would entwine that night, but circumstances change. Tandy’s father Nathan (Andy Dylan) is driving while on the phone trying to get details about a problem on a Roxxon Oil rig. Tyrone steals an object that Billy’s friends were considering, not realizing that his brother had convinced his friends to skip it.
Nathan, unable to multitask, winds up swerving across lanes over a bridge, and into the path of a truck. He over corrects, sending his car into the Gulf. Billy tries to return the stolen goods only to be shot by Detective James Connors (JD Evermore), who is in uniform. Tyrone, seeing that Connors isn’t going to stop and one dead Black youth, runs away and jumps off the docks into the Gulf. Both and in the water when the Roxxon rig explodes. Tyrone winds up near the Bowens’ car and, through both his and Tandy’s nascent powers, rescuues the girt. They wind up on the beach where they are found by rescuers.
The two meet up again in their late teens. Tyrone’s parents, Otis (Miles Mussenden) and Adina (Gloria Reuben), have worked hard to get where they are and have Ty in a private school. Tandy’s home life has fallen apart after her father’s death, with her mother falling apart and Tandy turning to crime with her boyfriend, Liam Walsh (Carl Lundstedt). They don’t recognize each other, but their powers return.
As the first season unfolds, Tandy and Ty get embroiled in multiple conspiracies. The first conspiracy involves the New Orleans Police Department. The official word on Billy’s death was of drowning, that Connors wasn’t even on the force. A detective who transferred from Harlem, Brigid O’Reilly (Emma Lahana), notices that Connors seems off, and is willing to listen to Tyrone about Billy’s death.
Tandy, however, gets involved in the scandal that resulted in the death of her father. While she is slow to get going, when she meets her mother’s latest boyfriend, Greg (Gary Weeks), a lawyer looking into Nathan’s death. Greg is close to a breakthrough, leading to an assassin being sent to kill him and destroy his files. What the hitman didn’t know was that Tandy had copies. There was a survivor of the rig explosion, Ivan Ness (Tim Kang), who could help, except he is catatonic. Tandy and Tyrone combine their powers to go into Ivan’s memories, where he is stuck in a time loop.
Despite Tandy getting caught up in the loop, the pair figure out how to end the loop so that Ivan can breakout of his memory. The rig and the new pipeline to access a new source of energy were subject to budget cuts, all initiated by the project head against the advice of Roxxon’s experts. The result is a leak of the energy source, the Terrors who infect humans. With the pipeline failing, the Terrors are released on an unsuspecting population, leaving Cloak and Dagger to end the problem.
At the same time, the police, under orders from Connors, is out to arrest Tyrone. Connors catches up to the duo once the Terrors are dealt with. The corrupt cop thinks he has Tyrone where he wants him, but Ty has one new trick to use. Tyrone winds up pulling Connors within him.
At the end of the season, Tandy has reconciled with her mother. Tyrone has left home, not because of his parents but to keep them safe from police reprisals. He moves into the Holy Ghost Church, taking over residence from Tandy. The two are closer than at the beginning and understand that their powers work best when they are together.
There are some obvious changes from the source. The series is set in New Orleans, not New York. The War on Drugs is downplayed, and not a factor in Tandy and Tyrone gaining their powers. Like science fiction, superheroes reflect the era they’re from. Spider-Man and the X-Men are a product of worries of nuclear power and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Cloak & Dagger fought the War on Drugs, often with more nuance than law enforcement and politicians. Today, though, the main issues in the US are the environment and law enforcement killing Black men. The Deepwater Horizon explosion and susbsequent oil spill occurred in 2010 and is still causing environmental issues, with the cause being, “traced to a series of identifiable mistakes made by BP, Haliburton, and Transocean that reveal such systematic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of the entire industry[,]” as per the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. Corporate mismanagement plus political corruption, the issues of today all in one disaster.
Marvel’s go-to for corrupt or short-sighted corporations is Roxxon, and the depiction of corporate internal politics and cost-cutting for the sake of bonuses is on the nose. Recommendations by engineers get ignored over trying to get a larger bonus. In the real world, buildings collapse and oil rigs explode. In Cloak & Dagger, unspeakable horrors are released. The damage is done.
Tyrone and Tandy don’t have their costumes from the comic, but the first season is an extended origins story. Tyrone does use a cloak that his brother made, but when that gets tatttered, her switches to a hoodie. The cloak motif through the series is filled by hoodies and even lighting, with Tyrone weaing black more often as the series progresses. Tandy doesn’t have her leotard, but as her character arc develops, she wears white more often, to the point where she is wearing a white tank top for the fight to stop the Terrors.
Being an origins story, the series does take liberties, but the comics didn’t go into details about who Tyrone and Tandy were before running away. There’s room to explore who they were and how that affects who they become. They pair aren’t really Cloak and Dagger until they team up to deal with the Terrors, accepting their powers and each other as partners.
Cloak & Dagger isn’t a perfect adaptation. Details were changed to fit today’s concerns. However, the series goes into detail and shows Tyrone and Tandy becoming superheroes, something that the comics glossed over to get to the action. The series is a coming-of-age story with superheroes, a teen drama with superheroes, and works as such.