Cloak & Dagger

Back in my comic book-collecting heyday in the mid-to-late 1980s and very early 1990s, I came to like a pair of characters named Cloak and Dagger.

They started out as part of the supporting cast in Spider-Man — runaways independently kidnapped from the streets of New York and brought together for a test of a new illegal drug. Every other kid given the drug died; but Tandy Bowen and Tyrone Johnson somehow survived, and became Cloak and Dagger.

Tandy — the hot, blonde rich girl who ran away from home to piss off her parents — was given powers of light. She can fire psionic “daggers of light” and drain the vitality of her victims.

Tyrone — a poor, black inner city boy — given powers of darkness. He can create portals into a realm of pure darkness, which in effect gives him the power of teleportation.

They have a symbiotic relationship; Cloak hungers for light, which Dagger can discharge into him to keep her powers from overloading and killing her.

So you’ve got a hot, rich white girl who gets to be even more sparkly than before she got her powers, and a poor black kid who has control over the ultimate darkness.

This just doesn’t set as well with me as it used to — probably because 20 years ago when I first was introduced to these characters, I didn’t even think about it. Now, it’s enough of a roadblock that I have a difficult time getting into stories about them. They’re in a three-issue limited series supporting Marvel’s big “Spider Island” event, and throughout the entire story (which included several pages retelling their origin for those who hadn’t been exposed to them before or who need a reminder), I just kept thinking how they’d be such significantly more interesting characters to me now if only their powers were reversed…

Dagger, the hot blonde woman, with the powers of darkness — striking down bad guys with daggers made of nightmares. Cloak, a shimmering paladin of light with healing energy and the powers of teleportation, who needs the balance of Dagger’s darkness to prevent the light from consuming him.

The more I think about it, the more that seems significantly more interesting than what we’ve got.

Andy Bartlett

By day, I am the executive director of communications and marketing at Bemidji State University. The rest of the time, I'm a husband, father of three, and proponent of super heroes, lasers, space ships and explosions.

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2 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    You know, I do think that if the roles were reversed, it would give an entirely novel twist to the series… but I also think that allegorically, the roles work as is. What was once a burden to the two protagonists has been turned to their respective strengths – their weapons – in symbol.

    Cloak comes from a culture weighted down and smothered by the darkness caused by society’s inequities… darkness is not something one brings; it comes upon you, or happens to you. Poverty, crime, racism – all intangible darkness visited upon the black community. Tyrone can only control the powers of darkness, perhaps, because he is familiar with its ravages when he was untouched by the drug. Now changed, he can seize the darkness that was once his oppressor and turn it against those who would bring more darkness to the world.

    Tandy’s light power was also that which caused her pain – though her spoiled, rich girl boredom is less sympathetic than Tyrone’s. The sparkle of her life of privilege, the superficial aspect of light, became something that cut into her and left her feeling empty. Her wealth and status – the sparkle, the light – consumed her, just as the tangible power of light threatens to consume her avatar form. It’s true that light can represent goodness and healing – and wealth and privilege can be the source of great charity, in the hands of the right philanthropist. To the poor, however, every glimpse of the wealthy world of sparkle and shine is like a bounty of food behind a glass window, and that causes great pain. It cuts like the dagger into the soul of the have-nots. In the form of Dagger’s power, she turns that hard diamond-edged side of light back to its more positive aspect – though if she is not careful, it could again consume her.

    Just my thoughts – or overthoughts. I picked up one or two issues back in the day, but it never caught me long-term.

  2. I love your perspective on this! I think this is in-line with how I read the characters back when I first discovered them, and it makes sense to me that this would’ve been the mindset of their creators when they made their first appearances. Now, to me, it just seems like it was the easiest way to develop the characters; I still think they’d be more interesting if they were flip-flopped. 🙂

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