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Friday, 23 March 2018

Comics Explained: Cloak and Dagger

Marvel has recently released the trailer for their new TV series Cloak and Dagger (above). Since their debut in 1982 this duo has regularly appeared in various Marvel comics, including their own. Due to this we'll not be able to cover all of their appearances. Cloak (Tyrone 'Ty' Johnson) and Dagger (Tandy Brown) are truly some of Marvel's most interesting characters so it is really exciting to see them finally making a live action debut - something which has been in the works for a while now. Before we look at their comic history we first need to look at their real world origin. 

Cloak and Dagger #1
Real World Origins
Cloak and Dagger were created by Bill Mantlo and Ed Hannigan making their debit in 1982's Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #64. Mantlo was writing for Marvel and thought up the duo after a visit to Ellis Island where he said 'They came in the night, when all was silent and my mind was blank. They came completely conceived as to their powers and attributes, their origin and motivation. They embodied between them all that fear and misery, hunger and longing that had haunted me on Ellis Island.' In the 1980s both Marvel and DC were starting to move away from the Comics Code of Authority which often forbade comics dealing with serious topics, and Cloak and Dagger were part of this shift. Even their debut in Peter Parker #64 reflected this: Spider-Man first encounters them when they actually murder a drug dealer. In the 1980s it was common for characters who debuted in Spider-Man to receive their own four-issue title - he was Marvel's biggest seller so little marketing was needed to advertise their new title. Cloak and Dagger debuted in 1983 and soon became extremely popular where in 1985 Marvel gave them a bi-monthly series. 

Comic Origins
Their debut
The origins of Cloak and Dagger were set out in Cloak and Dagger #4. By the looks of the TV series trailer it appears that they've partially swapped the character histories of Cloak and Dagger - albeit their origins are heavily based on stereotypes of the 1980s. Ty Johnson was born into a poor family in south Boston and despite a stutter he excelled at school. That is until aged 17 he and his best friend Billy witnessed a robbery. The police blamed Billy but due to Ty's stutter he was unable to proclaim Billy's innocence and the police shot his friend. Feeling responsible and afraid of the police he ran away to New York. Meanwhile, Tandy was a rich girl from Ohio and her mother was a self-centered model who neglected her. When the only person to show her any affection moved to New York she followed. In New York Ty met Tandy and as he was homeless and hungry he thought about robbing Tandy. He decided against it but when someone else robbed Tandy he got her purse back. That night Tandy bought Ty dinner as a way to say thanks and they became friends. Later on they were kidnapped so a chemist called Dr. Simon Marshall could test out his new drug: D-Lite. D-Lite was supposed to be a mix between 'crack and heroin' and Marshall had been unsuccessfully testing it. The drug happened to kill those it was tested on except for one who would become the villain Mr. Negative. We later find out in 1991's Cloak and Dagger Vol.3 #19 that D-Lite also had mystical origins. A demon called D'Spayre helped create D-Lite as it creates a feeling of despair in those who take it and survive, something which D'Spayre feeds off of.

Ty and Tandy were kidnapped by Dr. Marshall in order to test out D-Lite. Unlike other test subjects they survived and gained powers through it. Here a controversy about them enters the mixture. There is an argument to be made that D-Lite really activated the duo's latent X-Gene making them mutants. Over the years creators have put forward evidence to support or go against this theory. This is not clear cut as well because both mutants and mutates can have powers being both science and magic related. Regardless of what they are it allowed Ty and Tandy to tap into the forces of two dimensions: Tandy could tap into the Lightforce while Ty could tap into the Darkforce. With the Lightforce Tandy can create 'light-daggers' which she can shoot from her hands and later we find out she can cure people with the Lightforce. This can even be done to cure drug addicts. Meanwhile, Ty became intangible thanks to the Darkforce (when disconnected from it his stutter returns), and he can travel through the Darkforce dimension unhindered - something without Tandy's protection can cause people to go insane. However, Ty needs to absorb people into the Darkforce to ease his 'hunger' but Tandy can use the Lightforce to ease this hunger. After gaining their powers they dealt with Marshall's thugs going under the names Cloak and Dagger. Later, in Peter Parker #64 they killed Marshall but Spider-Man befriended them.

As Cloak and Dagger
The duo from their debut
Unlike most heroes Cloak and Dagger did not regularly fight other costumed villains instead going after drug dealers and the drug industry in general. In Peter Parker #69 they returned to assassinate criminal kingpin and notorious drug trafficker Silvermane. Dagger managed to wound him but he would survive and in Peter Parker #81-82 they would try and fail to take out the Kingpin himself. After these failed attempts Dagger would opt for less brutal methods but this would clash with Cloak who required absorbing people into the Darkforce to survive - something which her Lightforce could not always stop. Throughout the 1980s and early-1990s the duo's popularity would skyrocket so they would regularly appear in crossovers with other Marvel heroes; most notably these included Spider-Man, Daredevil, the Power Pack, and New Mutants. It was during their crossovers with the New Mutants that the theory that they were mutants who had their powers activated by D-Lite came about although in this case it was directly stated that they were mutants instead of hinting at it. In fact, Cloak and Dagger Vol. 3 was called The Mutant Misadventures of Cloak and Dagger. It was in Vol.3 that Dagger became one of the few disabled superheroes. Writer Terry Austin made Dagger go blind and had research with the American Foundation for the Blind to accurately write and depict the physical and psychological impact of going blind as well as coping with it. However, this has since been forgotten, especially as by the mid-1990s the duo's popularity had wavered causing their title to be cancelled after nineteen issues.

Other Appearances
The duo at the top left during the final fight in Civil War
Since their cancellation the duo have still regularly appeared in the comics. When the Spider-Man villain Carnage created an army in Maximum Carnage they were two of the heroes to aid Spider-Man in defeating them. They even appeared in Infinity Gauntlet which is one of the comics which the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War is based on. When Thanos obtained all the Infinity Stones he snapped his fingers causing half the universe's population to vanish and Dagger was one of them. Cloak joined the remaining heroes to defeat Thanos and he did swallow Thanos into the Dark dimension. However, he realized that as the Titan has the Infinity Stones he cannot hold him and Thanos literally made him explode. When Thanos' actions were reversed the duo returned to life. Later they also took part in the street-level team Marvel Knights, in the comic Marvel Knights, and they were tricked into capturing the Runaways before trying to help the young heroes. During Civil War they sided with Captain America and were briefly imprisoned in the Negative Zone prison. When Captain America's allies free the prisoners during the final fight Cloak is the one who teleports them all to New York. Since then they've had a few other appearances including a time when Mister Negative, who can use both the Light and Darkforce, swapped their powers so Dagger used the Dark while Cloak used the Light.

Unlike other notable Marvel characters since the cancellation of their comic they haven't had their own major story arc and have largely been confined to guest appearances. They are really interesting characters though and hopefully this new TV series should spark more interest in them. If Marvel ever decides to bring back their darker, more adult MAX imprint a new Cloak and Dagger comic could fit perfectly in. 

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