Freeform is bringing us CLOAK AND DAGGER this year, and just recently dropped the trailer for the show. The comics themselves have had their fair share of love and…loving criticism from the fandom. Some people are excited, while some are choosing to be cautious. Some people are hesitant to get their hopes up.

This is a quick rundown of important things to know about Cloak and Dagger — the characters and the comics. You can make your own opinions about whether the hype’s worth it.

Origins

Bill Mantlo and Ed Hannigan created Cloak and Dagger. Their first appearance was in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (issue #64 if you want to hunt it down), but Cloak and Dagger were popular enough that Marvel gave them a miniseries and then an ongoing series.

Cloak and Dagger
The first appearance of Cloak and Dagger in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man, #64

Mantlo got the idea for the characters while visiting Ellis Island. It shows in the origin stories and the powers that he gave to them. Clearly Mantlo was contemplating loss, especially the loss of one’s home and sense of belonging while at Ellis Island. The idea of contrast, the thoughts on racial and class inequality, and the ideas about connection and dedication to a cause likely came from the trip as well.

As far as the characters’ origins in the comics, the themes of the team (light and dark) come through quickly. Tyrone Johnson, a.k.a. Cloak, and Tandy Bowen, a.k.a. Dagger, come from two entirely different worlds. The contrast works well to bring out the ways they’re similar as well, and the way their fates are intertwined.

In the Comics

Tyrone Johnson is a 17 year old who ran to New York City. Tyrone ran away from his home in Massachusetts after the police shot his close friend, spurred on by racial profiling. Unable to save his friend or even try to speak during the incident due to his speech impediment, Tyrone blamed himself for his friend’s death.

Tandy Bowen is a 16-year-old who ran away because her supermodel mother was neglectful. Tandy grew up in a place of extreme privilege—not just as a white girl, but as someone whose mother was a multi-millionaire. All the glitz and glamor that comes with money and fame couldn’t replace what Tandy truly wanted, which was the love of her mother.

It’s a coincidence that brings Tyrone and Tandy together. What started as a one-time meeting soon shifts into something life-changing for the both of them when they are kidnapped and drugged by an evil chemist. Unlike the other runaways that were being used for drug testing, Tandy and Tyrone live. In fact, the drugs give them strange powers.

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A split-second decision is what cemented Tyrone’s and Tandy’s shared fates — the decision to help Tandy get her purse back.

Tied together by their shared experience, their powers, and a desire for revenge and justice, the two become Cloak & Dagger.

Action

CLOAK & DAGGER has the chance to be an incredibly intense, action-packed show. Not only do the powers of the main characters lend themselves easily to fight scenes. Cloak has the ability to absorb people into another dimension, as well as teleportation and intangibility. Dagger’s light daggers are psionic, meaning she can control them, and they can be used to hurt or heal.

Cloak and Dagger deal heavily with the drug world in NYC. As vigilantes, they dedicated themselves to two main causes — stopping drug-related crimes and protecting runaway children. Cloak and Dagger don’t pull any punches in their vigilantism. They kill the men who gave them their power and dismantle the heroin ring through killing the criminals running it.

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Cloak and Dagger explain themselves to the priest and detective who have been questioning their choices as vigilantes.

It’ll be interesting to see if the show goes through with this — two teens deciding that killing is the only course of action. Then again, there’s quite a lot of things in the comics that the show needs to make important decisions about. The comics have left a lot of amazing things to work with, but they’ve left things that are difficult to work with two. The decision to have Tandy and Tyrone be murderers is just the tip of the iceberg.

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Race

It’s an understatement to say that CLOAK AND DAGGER will have to deal heavily with race. This isn’t really surprising considering that Tyrone’s origin story in the comics was closely tied to police brutality against unarmed black men. The set-up of the duo itself is racially charged—a young black boy living a difficult life and a white girl who’s grown up with everything.

The comics clearly wanted to talk about race frankly and make big statements. However, not all of them hit. The comics, when talking about how Tandy and Tyrone met, have it set up so that Tyrone was planning on stealing Tandy’s purse. That’s right—the same writing that gave us a realistic admission of racial profiling by police seems to not think about how a scene like that comes across.

The Unfortunate Relevance of Race and Drugs in 1981’s CLOAK AND DAGGER

Even worse is the issue of Tandy’s existence as a pure white girl—literally representing whiteness and light—providing the only way Tyrone can continue his existence. Tyrone needs to “feed” off Tandy’s light in order to not give in to the hunger that his powers cause him. It’s…not exactly the dynamic people would like to see when it comes to interracial couples.

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The problem summarized in three panels, courtesy of Kate Beaton.

The show clearly isn’t going to shy away from matters of race—that’s not much of an option. In fact, judging from the trailer, they’re keeping a lot of the considerations about police violence. There’s hope that the creators of the show will contemplate the issues within the comics and strive to fix them or examine them more closely, though. Fingers crossed.

The Outfits

The Outfits for Cloak and Dagger in the comics were decided from the get-go — the creators knew they wanted the contrast of a dark, constantly flowing cape to a light, form-fitting outfit. It’s pretty easy to assume who got what, even without knowing their hero names. Tyrone, of course, has the dark cape that is practically a part of him now due to his powers. Meanwhile, Tandy is in a form-fitting costume.

Tandy’s costume specifically has gotten a lot of flack, and with good reason. Besides being form-fitting, which could have been written off with the consideration that it was supposed to emulate dance leotards, it has a dagger-shaped cut-out. Perhaps now is a good time to remind everyone that Tandy is, in the comics, a 16-year-old girl.

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It’s not that I have nothing to say (I have a lot, actually) — it’s that this mostly speaks for itself.

The dagger cut-out is infamous. “Boob windows” were already a large issue in comics (unnecessary stomach windows too), and this was combining that with a skintight outfit, and putting it on a teenage character. Needless to say, choice in costume design still irritates people, even today.

Luckily, we won’t see the dreaded “boob window” in the show. Firstly, it’s just impossible for some aspects of comic book outfits to exist in real life. Even if an outfit like that could exist without a wardrobe malfunction every second, it’s hardly TV-friendly. Secondly, people have made it very, very clear what they think of the outfit over the years.

Choices for Adapting

When it comes to adapting comics to a different form of media — any different form, be it movie, television, or (recently) podcast, it’s obvious that things can’t stay the same. Comics have the benefit of being ongoing. While movies can have sequels, it’s not the same as comics carrying through their stories to the next month. Even television shows at their lengthiest can’t shake a stick at how long certain heroes have been running around.

Whether or not you can class adaptations as “better” or “worse” than the original material is up for debate. A lot of people who read books would contest that the book is always better — as much as I love books, though, there are things movies can do that books can’t. Gaps in the capability of a medium exist for everything, and adaptations have to account for this.

Perhaps more importantly nowadays, adaptations also have to think of how to place a narrative in our modern world. Even stories that were well-intentioned at the time — such as CLOAK AND DAGGER — can reflect poorly nowadays when it comes to race, gender, and other issues. Things like this are bound to happen when we’re constantly learning more about oppression in our world (and as knowledge trickles down from academia) and adjusting our conversations for nuance.

CLOAK AND DAGGER as a Show

There’s a lot of choices for creators to make with CLOAK AND DAGGER. I definitely fall into the category of cautiously optimistic — I think the trailer looked really promising. Cloak and Dagger are an iconic duo, and even with the issues in the comics, they’re genuinely enjoyable characters.

People may have misgivings about how the creators might handle race, the outfits, or the general storyline (and whether it will carry through)…and I think that’s also fair. Adapting content to a different form of media is difficult as-is. Adapting content that has existed since the 80s, meaning people have had plenty of time to analyze the flaws? The creators of CLOAK AND DAGGER may have their work cut out for them.

Still, I like to stay positive. Comic adaptations have been getting better and better, and Cloak & Dagger fits in nicely with the current feel of comic book television and movies. The comics brought us an intense, touching story chock-full of difficult and important questions. The show has every capability to do the same — or even better. Here’s hoping for “even better.”

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