In a time with so much political and cultural tension, some people turn to fiction for reassurance that everything will be OK. If George Orwell’s 1984 can relate to our current Trump America, then why not look for a comic that is also relevant to our political climate? I stumbled upon 1981’s CLOAK AND DAGGER: SHADOWS AND LIGHT and the similarities are hauntingly consistent.

cloak and dagger
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

With a Freeform series in the works for these two heroes, it’s the perfect opportunity to discuss their history and how it remains relevant today. CLOAK AND DAGGER: SHADOWS AND LIGHT is written by Bill Mantlo, Al Milgrom, and Chris Claremont. A plethora of artists, such as Ed Hannigan and Rick Leonardi, bring the story to life. The trade spans about 15 issues as Cloak and Dagger interact with drug dealers, heroin junkies, undead robot old people, and famed villains such as The Kingpin. The book begins with THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #64 (pictured above) and follows Cloak and Dagger in their development as heroes. There’s one thing that remains consistent in their story: the war on drugs cannot be won.

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Cloak and Dagger and the War on Drugs

It’s important to note that Cloak and Dagger were created in a time when the war on drugs was at its highest. A main goal set by Nixon’s presidency in the ’70s was his initiative to end said war. Nixon raised the number of federal drug control agencies and placed marijuana into “Schedule One,” the most restricted category for drugs. Meanwhile, Cloak and Dagger fought drugs fictionally in the ’80s.

This never ending battle against illegal substances is stronger than ever today due to the presence of more synthetic drugs and higher potency in them. Many are willing to argue that this war has unnecessary targets. Rather than use their time and money to fight lethal drugs like meth and synthetic heroin, our government uses their resources to fight something that can be medically beneficial. This has led to the long debate on whether marijuana should be legalized so that our country’s funds can be focused on more dangerous substances. Because of these debates, seeing Cloak and Dagger’s story today would certainly pull in a lot of attention from readers.

cloak and dagger
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Super Drugs

Since drug use was still such a problem in the ’80s, it made sense for Cloak and Dagger’s origins to be linked to the whole mess. Tyrone (Cloak) and Tandy (Dagger) are runaways trying to escape some form of horror in their lives. In fleeing their life issues, the duo enters an even hotter disaster. Tyrone and Tandy are kidnapped along with other teenage runaways and brought to Ellis Island, where they are held hostage and forced to take a new and addictive experimental drug. These dealers force them through the experimentation just so that they can create a better selling drug. The duo somehow escapes this torture as the sole survivors and swims their way off the island to soon discover they have unique abilities.

The procedure seems to have activated unique traits within their DNA, which also connects them to each other through their powers. Tandy develops the ability to shoot daggers of light. These daggers have the power to cure someone of addiction, illness, and even cause them excruciating pain as if they’re overdosing. Tyrone gains the ability to envelop people in darkness within a cloak. In this darkness, he feeds on any light or warmth within his victims. Upon discovering their powers, the two go down a path of vengeance on those who cursed them, as well as on anyone involved with drugs.

cloak and dagger
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Naturally Addicted: Cloak and Dagger and their Symbiotic Relationship

The extremely twisted thing about these characters is how drug-related their abilities are. Their relationship is written as that of ‘“substance” and “user.” Cloak must feed on light to prevent himself from consuming the warmth of innocent people. Dagger must provide him with the necessary fix to contain his withdrawal.

Though it is mentioned several times that their bond is symbiotic, I struggled to notice this in my read through. Much like a drug, the hunger for more in their relationship is severely one-sided. Cloak needs her light to remain good, so it’s hard to see why Dagger would ever need him in any way more than moral support. Her light abilities do not need to feed off of darkness because light is always within her. It’s something she always has. This isn’t something that can be said about Cloak because it’s almost as if he must feed on things containing light to keep his darkness within. It seems as though light is the cage that contains the dark beast within Cloak. He must consistently feed to ensure this prison remains strong. 

A Moment of Connection

The only time in CLOAK AND DAGGER: SHADOWS AND LIGHT where we see the duo use their powers to assist one another equally is in the issue “The Hunters and the Hunted,” featuring Spider-Man and the New Mutants. In this issue, Cloak and Dagger are overtaken with raw power when they’re infected with a heroin-based drug. The drug is the same recipe as the one that gave them their powers. They are infected while trying to save two mutants, Wolfsbane and Sunspot, who were taken for experimentation similar to the duo’s origins. Cloak and Dagger cured the affected mutants by absorbing the excess energy they were letting out.

When this happens, Cloak and Dagger are overpowered and unable to control their abilities. In this state of massive power, the two heroes grab hold of each other. Through this unity, Cloak and Dagger nullify each other’s energies since their powers are polar opposites. This curing moment is a clear representation of their powerful bond. It’s a powerful moment of synergy for the duo, one that does not appear often. 

Cloak and Dagger are symbiotic in their morals, both remaining aligned in their actions. They both agree that they must kill the drug dealers who are pushing the highly concentrated heroin. They agree that Spider-Man is an ally, even though they don’t quite believe in legal justice. When it comes to their moral compasses, there is no argument against their bond. Only when referring to their abilities do I feel a need to debate their symbiosis, since Dagger’s light powers don’t feed off of Cloak’s darkness. That is where their relationship takes an addictive turn. 

cloak and dagger
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Something to Kill the Pain

Cloak needs Dagger to live, but, as an addict, he needs her light to get high. Several panels describe Cloak as getting a feeling of euphoria from her light daggers. Once penetrated, “his cry is one of sheer unbridled joy” rather than the dark and cold man Cloak is without Dagger’s light. The comparison is so apparent. Much like heroin, meth, and other hard drugs, Cloak must be injected by the substance. Dagger’s light injects itself into her victims like a drug, but only for Cloak does it actually take the form of a drug.

It’s scary seeing a comic book this dated tackle something that is still negatively affecting our society. Heroin is still as big, if not bigger, today than it was in the ’70s. In fact, painkillers — a medication that can easily be bought over the counter — have killed more Americans than any illegal substance. Now more than ever do we need real life heroes who are willing to fight this never ending fight.

cloak and dagger
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Black Lives Matter in Cloak and Dagger’s Origins

Cloak and Dagger’s personal war against drugs isn’t the only thing in their story that is relevant to today’s world. It’s not fresh news that there has been a cultural divide in our country. The Black Lives Matter movement may have just been coined over the past few years, but it’s definitely been an issue present in our society for decades. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination in 1968 is clearly a negative result of his success with the Civil Rights movement. People of color gained a voice after the movement, but that did not nullify the hate that had raged against them.

How does this compare to Cloak and Dagger though? Let’s take a look at their origin stories. Tandy came from a family of wealth living in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Her father was gone for work, leaving her mother with all their wealth. Tandy’s mother was a model who only cared about her career. Her boyfriend Rob was constantly craving attention she couldn’t commit to. When Tandy finally did cave into giving him the attention he wanted, it was short-lived. Rob left for college, leaving her alone and emptier than she had ever been. She was ignored by family and lovers, which forced her to run away to New York in search of real happiness, later becoming Dagger. As you can see, Tandy’s origin is a simple one. 

cloak and dagger
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

A Darker Path

Let’s turn the tables to Cloak’s origins as Tyrone. Growing up in the slums of Boston, he was great at basketball, and his grades were perfect. His only issue was his heavy speech impediment. Tyrone was unable to hold conversations because of it. The only friend he had was a boy named Billy. On a walk together, the two passed by a shoe store as it was getting robbed.

As the robber fled the scene, he pulled out a gun and killed the shop owner. Soon after a police officer arrived and accused Billy of the murder, but due to his speech impediment, Tyrone couldn’t argue against the officer’s accusation. Afraid and shocked, Billy ran and was gunned down by the officer. Worried for his own safety, Tyrone fled Boston and headed to New York, feeling at fault for his friend’s death.

Difference Through a Hoodie

There’s a dramatic difference between Tyrone and Tandy’s origins. Tandy grew up with everything, though she felt like she had nothing. Tyrone, on the other hand, had nothing. His future was ruined by the fact that he and his friend were seen as threats. It didn’t matter that the boys were so young, nor that there were witnesses to the whole event. The color of their skin made these boys perceived threats. It’s extremely familiar when you think of Trayvon Martin and every instance where dark skin and a hoodie turned people from innocent child to dangerous criminal. I can’t imagine what Trayvon was thinking in that moment, and it’s angering to see that this is something people of color have been experiencing for so long.

cloak and dagger
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

A Symbol of Change

It’s absolutely absurd that a story written decades ago can still be relatable to the news of our present year. It shows that rather than walking forward, we’re traveling backward. Martin Luther King Jr’s movement was one that took a great deal of risk, but the opportunity to gain equality was worth that risk. Cultural tension is on the rise after Trump’s victory. The movement’s great steps are being overwritten, so civil movements and protests have again become a beacon of hope. 

Tyrone symbolizes the misrepresented in our country. It’s not until he sees what the experiment turned him into that Cloak is able to speak fluidly. His first articulate word is a deep scream of “Nooooooooo!” This image is strong and resonates with people who have been fighting oppression and inequality for all their history. Our voices must be heard as we fight against the oppression that aims to suppress these cries of help. The cries of all minorities are fighting to be heard, no matter what race, sexual orientation, or religious alignment. 

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Final Thoughts

Despite being a metaphor for drug abuse, it is this bond they share that makes Cloak and Dagger so important. Though it isn’t always clear, the two do rely on each other. Even when Cloak seems to rely on Dagger more, their relationship is still one of co-dependence. Their characters stand for something we need now more than ever. In a historic year when our government is run by bigotry, we need cultural symbiosis like that of these two vigilantes.

cloak and dagger
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

The writers and creators of these characters were ahead of their time. They were aware of the disconnect in our society in the time Cloak and Dagger were written. However, they may not have known the direction history would take us. Cloak and Dagger are still relevant today, and it’s unfortunate how relevant they are. Hopefully, Marvel can capitalize on these heavy cultural issues in Freeform’s CLOAK AND DAGGER series. The LUKE CAGE Netflix series did a great job of portraying these issues, but CLOAK AND DAGGER has the power to exploit these tensions even further. I’ll definitely be looking out for what it’ll have to offer.  

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