Jun 5, 2018

Marvel's Cloak and Dagger

Cloak and Dagger debuted in Spectacular Spider-Man #64 written by Bill Mantlo, with art by Ed Hannigan and Al Milgrom.  Mantlo had previously enjoyed moderate success at Marvel by launching comic series based on two licensed toy properties, Micronauts and ROM: Spaceknight (as well as co-creating Rocket Raccoon) but Cloak and Dagger would prove to be the crowning creative achievement of his comic book career. 

Marvel's Cloak and Dagger
Ben Smith

Cloak and Dagger were early members of the antihero wave that was sweeping ‘80s comics.  Along with characters like the Punisher, Cloak and Dagger were not afraid to kill the criminals they faced, and that level of grittiness provided a stark contrast to Spider-Man’s more traditional approach to superheroism.  Cloak and Dagger hunted and killed drug dealers, often in the dark streets and nighttime rooftops of New York City.

Spider-Man first crosses paths with Cloak and Dagger when he notices them in pursuit of a middle-aged man in a suit.  Spider-Man attempts to protect the man from their deadly justice, but fails to prevent Dagger from killing the man with her light daggers.  web-swinging through the city when he notices a man named Simon Marshall running for his life across a nearby roftop.  Marshall is running from a couple of costumed characters named Cloak and Dagger.

Spider-Man later learns that the man was Simon Marshall, a pharmacist hired by the Maggia (mob) to create a new synthetic drug, a drug that would be more addictive and cheaper to produce.  The Maggia kidnapped runaway children to test the new drug on them, resulting in the death of all but two.  Instead of killing them, it gave the two kids strange new powers.  Dagger can create psionic daggers of light, which drain people of their energy when struck, causing pain or even death.  Cloak’s body is a portal into a dark dimension, where he can envelop and trap people within the folds of his cloak.  People feel numbing cold within this formless black void, and experience terrifying visions.  Prolonged exposure can cause insanity, or death.  The cloak also gives him intangibility and the ability to teleport. 

This origin would eventually cause some controversy, as it sort of implies that using drugs may possibly result in giving you fantastic powers.  Marvel has tried to modify it over the years, at one point suggesting that the drugs activated their latent mutant powers, but they were eventually revealed not to be mutants.  I prefer the original origin as it stands, as drugs are such a believable and therefore relatable plight for many of us, especially in big cities.

With their vengeance on the pharmacist complete, they turn their attentions toward the Maggia bosses responsible for the experiment.  Spider-Man attempts to intervene, but fails, as Cloak uses his dark powers to lead the mobsters unknowingly into falling to their deaths.

Cloak and Dagger would prove popular enough to return in subsequent issues of Spectacular Spider-Man, having now turned their attentions toward fighting a war on drugs.  First against Maggia boss (and longtime Spider-Man villain) Silvermane, and then eventually setting their sights on Kingpin.

One notable story featured an early appearance by the Punisher.  After Cloak and Dagger separately use their powers to cleanse a group of junkies of their addictions, in the hopes they will no longer commit crimes to feed their habits, those same junkies are later murdered by the Punisher in his never-ending war on crime.  This was during the controversial storyline where the Punisher lost his mind, killing jaywalkers and litterers, a story that would eventually need to be retconned in the historic first Punisher mini-series.

Cloak and Dagger eventually got a mini-series of their own, by Mantlo with the amazing Rick Leonardi, and the equally amazing Terry Austin on art duties.  (Rick Leonardi is one of the best artists of his generation, but doesn’t seem to be remembered as much as his contemporaries.)  This mini-series expanded upon the light and dark motif of the characters, establishing that Cloak needs to consume living light to counterbalance the darkness within him.  Normally, Dagger’s light knives could satisfy him, but it was becoming increasingly more difficult to quench his hunger.  Cloak would have to constantly struggle against his desire to steal the life force from other human beings, killing them in the process.  With Dagger on the verge of extinguishing the light within herself to keep him from feeding upon criminals and innocent homeless people, Cloak makes the heroic decision to return all her light to her, saving her and leaving him to struggle with and overcome his constant hunger.

The series also further revealed the back-story of Cloak and Dagger.  Dagger was formerly Tandy Bowen, a spoiled rich teenager unhappy with her new step-dad and absent mother.  After a boy breaks her heart (it’s implied that he uses her for sex and then dumps her) she runs away to New York on her own.  Tyrone Johnson is a talented basketball player from South Boston, with a terrible stutter.  Ty and his best friend Billy witness a murder/robbery, and Billy is shot by a cop as he attempts to flee the scene in fear.  Ty blames himself, and his stutter, for not being able to explain to the cops quickly enough that Billy was not the murderer.  He then also runs away to New York, where he meets Tandy and they become friends.  Soon after that, they’re kidnapped and forced into participating in the deadly experiment that would give them their powers.

Apparently the mini-series was a success, because they got their own ongoing comic series shortly after.  This series would amazingly feature a virtual murderer’s row of soon-to-be superstar ‘80s artists.  The majority of the short-lived series would be penciled by the aforementioned Rick Leonardi, but he would leave after the sixth issue.

The seventh issue was penciled by Marc Silvestri.

Followed in the very next issue by future Hellboy legend Mike Mignola.

Not to be outdone by that back-to-back tandem, the issue after that was penciled by superstar Art Adams.

Finally, Bret Blevins would pencil the tenth issue of the series, in which Cloak and Dagger meet Marvel’s greatest villain, Dr. Doom.

Leonardi, Silvestri, Mignola, Adams, and Blevins is an unbelievable roster of talented artists.  Unfortunately, the stories don’t match the quality of the art, as Cloak and Dagger leave New York trying to find a purpose in the world.  The series took them too far away from the streets of New York, with their simple but appealing concept as defenders of innocent kids and soldiers in the war on drugs.

The series would be cancelled after the eleventh issue, but the duo would continue to appear in anthology series like Strange Tales and Marvel Fanfare, as well as the occasional appearance in Spider-Man’s comics.

With the duo about to make their transition into television with the new show on the Freeform network, now is the perfect time to dig out some Cloak and Dagger back issues or purchase the trade paperback collections of all these surprisingly wonderful stories, with some of the best art you’ll find in ‘80s comics.

While you’re at it, feel free to donate money to help with Bill Mantlo’s medical costs at https://www.billmantlo.com.  Bill needs all the help he can get after a car hit him while rollerblading in 1992.  With all the joy he has given us, and continues to give us, it’s the least we can do.

1 comment:

gtm480 said...

Mignola seemed to work with Bill Mantlo a lot I. His early career at marvel. Hulk, rocket raccoon, alpha flight, and that c&d issue which I wasn't aware of. I also didn't know Art Adams drew an issue of the series. Thanks!

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