COMIC BOOK REVIEW: Cloak & Dagger #1 (Darkness and Light)

After years of crime-fighting codependency, Tandy and Tyrone have gone their separate ways. Cloak is working as a bodyguard while Dagger pals around with the LAPD, but when a crime lord appears to have been murdered by the darkforce the former partners are dragged into each other’s orbit once again. When they meet, will they be friends, or at each other’s throats?

Cloak and Dagger #1
Writer: Dennis Hopeless
Artists: David Messina & Elisabetta D’Amico
Cover Artists: Mahmud Asrar and Dave McCaig
Colorist: Guadalupe Marchisio
Publisher: Marvel Comics

What You Need to Know:

As teenagers, Tandy Bowen and Tyrone Johnson were experimented on by the chemist Simon Marshal. His experimental drug trial activated their latent mutant genes and gave them superpowers. Tandy can generate and manipulate a substance called Lightforce while Tyrone’s body became a conduit for a place known as the Darkforce dimension. The two spent a decade (of in-comic time) fighting crime together, but they have since gone their separate ways.

What You’ll Find Out:

The comic opens on a large, split-level house in The Hollywood Hills. Three members of the LAPD are gathered in front of the driveway, getting briefed on a raid they are about to perform during which they will attempt to extract and arrest a supervillain-cum-drug-lord known as ‘The Fix’. Detective Brandon Ikeda informs the other two men that they will be providing backup for Dagger who appears wearing a spiffy new costume with a more sensible neckline than she’s had on any outfit that she’s worn before. A panel at the bottom of the page reveals Cloak. He’s been watching her from the roof of the house that Dagger is about to raid and over the next few pages he narrates a truncated version of their history together. His monologue inadvertently reveals the possibly unhealthy codependent nature of their relationship, ‘Two lost teenagers born of the same sick torture — who propped each other up…’. The following pages depict Cloak moving through the house that Tandy is about to raid, sliding silently, almost invisibly, through a gym, a well-stocked armoury, a living room where henchmen lounge, utterly relaxed, before a big-screen TV, and out into the woods across from the driveway, where Dagger and the members of the LAPD are preparing to enter. As Ty fades into the shadows, Tandy glances up and almost catches him staring at her. She follows him into the woods saying, ‘Would you please, please, please — just leave me alone?’ before turning back to the cops.

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On the next page, the front of the house explodes inward, dispatched with Dagger’s usual pyrotechnic precision, and she runs in. As the bullets begin to fly, as she dances between them, her own internal monologue begins.

She thinks about how it was easier when she did this with Tyrone. She remembers him protecting her. Henchmen fall at her feet, flesh embedded with her shards of light. Tandy makes a balletic leap and cracks two skulls with the toes of her boots, thinking that it feels like something inside her is missing. Leaping over the crumpling bodies, she wonders, ‘Is this just how I’m wired? Obsessive. Broken. Codependent.’ A mountain of a man rises up behind her, crushes her head in his hands. She thinks, ‘Even my name is only half a thought’ and he hurls her into the big screen TV.

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Of course, she gets up again and fights him. She stabs him in the thighs with her daggers and he drops like a stone. A man with two very large guns enters ‘fashionably late’ and she blasts him through the wall with an explosion of Lightforce.

Once the room is clear, she makes her way down into the basement. Cloak is watching her again, from the shadows beneath the stairs, but she doesn’t see him. Tandy’s thinking ‘I need to move on. I need to let go.’ as she opens the door.

The next page is a big splash: a drained, grey corpse lying gape-mouthed on the floor. The body has been totally dessicated. It was a woman, once; the leader of the cartel that she’s been sent to collect. At the bottom of the page, you see Tandy’s shocked face. She’s thinking, ‘Ty. What. Did. You. Do?’

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The scene changes on the next page. Ty teleports behind two of his new co-workers. One of them points a gun at his face and admonishes him for waltzing into work an hour late. They’re at Stark Colosseum where a star named Happy Hour is hosting a pre-show meet and greet. Cloak is Happy Hours’ bodyguard. He sees a man pickpocketing the crowd and teleports him outside, through the Darkforce dimension. Ty places the stolen wallets he recovered into the lost and found, stating that he’s not being paid to protect the crowd. His co-worker compliments him on being so pragmatic.

Back at the scene of the raid, Dagger emerges from the house and informs Detective Ikeda about the body before driving off in her incongruously souped-up Volkswagen Beetle and returning home to her apartment. Her flat is decorated with training equipment (including a punching bag which resembles Thanos) and she spends two pages trying very hard not to think about Cloak. She punches, kicks, throws daggers. She eats leftover takeout and downs a bottle of merlot. It doesn’t help. She’s thinking about the look of the body she found and she starts digging through her trunk until she finds a photograph. We don’t see what the picture has captured but she looks at it and thinks, ‘So it happened. It all…’ Her thought is interrupted by a knock on the door.

It’s Detective Brandon Ikeda, here to tell her that he’s put his job on the line bringing her into this case and he knows that the body she saw today scared her. He tells her that she needs to trust him enough to tell him what she knows. There’s more than a little sexual tension between the cop and the superhero, but Tandy dismisses it. Then he tells her that they’ve found six bodies exactly like the one she saw today and he needs her help getting to the bottom of it. She says, ‘If there’s a bad guy who needs to be beaten, you point me in the direction.’ and she leads him to the door.

When the detective has gone, Tandy turns back to the picture. We can see it, now. It’s Tandy and Tyrone, as teenagers, with a third boy. They look young, happy. Just three friends, having fun.

Tandy thinks, ‘Dammit.’

The scene shifts one final time. It’s a flashback. ‘New York. Back then.’ Tandy and Tyrone, young and scared, their heads stark against a blood red background, are looking down at something on the ground. Tandy says, ‘I think you killed him.’ Tyrone stutters and weeps, inconsolable. He asks, ‘W-what are we… w-what do we do now?’ Instead of answering, Tandy takes him by the hand. They run.

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The final page is drawn from the level of the street. In the foreground, you can see the head of a corpse, desiccated and grey but clearly belonging to the smiling boy from the picture. In the background, there’s Cloak, running after Tandy, running far away, and as fast as he can.  

What Just Happened?

The first issue of this Cloak and Dagger miniseries surprised me on a number of levels. The tone was considerably more adult than I would have expected from a series which was created to accompany the release of a show aimed at adolescents, and the writing was much better than I would have anticipated. It’s difficult to balance scenes of action and character-establishing introspection, but this script manages it almost perfectly. The art and the writing worked together seamlessly in a way which allows the reader to successfully inhabit the perspectives of each of the leads.

There’s a lot that could be written about the relationship between Tyrone and Tandy. Sometimes, they’re lovers. Sometimes they’re merely friends. They’ve always been codependent. Tyrone protects Tandy without being much of a sexual threat (it’s difficult to damage anyone’s concept of innocence when you lack a traditional body) and Tandy ‘feeds’ Tyrone her light. As a team, they’ve always walked the line between heroism and vigilante vengeance, but since they’ve generally been depicted as teenagers, they’ve usually fallen more on the side of ‘good’ than otherwise. But no matter who has written them, the problems at the heart of their relationship have always resided in subtext. This series seems to be bringing those problems to the forefront by examining who they are as separate individuals and testing whether or not they can exist by themselves.

For Tandy, the answer seems to be yes, with an ‘if’. Yes, she can learn to fight defense — if Tyrone leaves her alone. Yes, she can work for the LAPD — if Tyrone gives her the space to do it. For Tyrone, the question seems to be more complicated. He seems to think that he’s protecting Tandy (staking out the places where she’s about to work and seemingly dispatching her enemies) but really he’s just hungry for her light, her life.

I was impressed by the way that the characters internal monologues functioned in tandem with the action. It’s a familiar trope, in comics, to have characters divulge their backstories while in the middle of a fight, but it worked particularly well in this issue — not least because the panels were so well planned. Overall, there is a taut noir energy to the book which drives the reader on and serves to infuse the story with a sense of melancholic dread. I think that the intended audience for this story, like the characters themselves, are little older than the teenagers that the show is aiming to reach. That’s a good thing. The story will be better for it. It also seems as though this series is going to be a relatively self-contained narrative, and therefore a good jumping on point for new readers. And, for those of you who noticed that bit about Ty and Tandy’s ‘activated mutant genes’ in the section titled ‘What You Need to Know’, that’s taken from the first page of the comic. It looks like Cloak and Dagger are mutants again. That could have some interesting ramifications as the story unfolds.

Rating: 8.5 /10

Final Thought: Issue #1 takes the series off on a strong start, pairing a tight narrative and strong characterization with a surprising amount of psychological depth and some well-planned art. This miniseries seems to be aimed at a slightly older audience than the show it is promoting, but that is more of a strength than a weakness. It’s a good jumping on point for new readers.

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