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How Freeform’s CLOAK & DAGGER Actually Improves on the Comics

Freeform has found their biggest debut in years with Marvel Television’s Cloak & Dagger. Much of that success has to do with how much the network and Marvel were able to not just draw from, but actually improve upon the comics from which the duo come. The series draws backstory, themes, and supporting characters from the comics, but manages to tweak all of them in ways that make the whole even stronger.

The series centers on teenage Tyrone “Ty” Johnson (played by Aubrey Joseph) and Tandy Bowen (Olivia Holt), who gain mysterious powers over darkness and light: Ty (Cloak) can teleport through the so-called dark force dimension, as well as tap into the fears of those around him; Tandy (Dagger), on the other hand, is able to create weapons of pure light and connect to the hopes and dreams of those she interacts with.

Cover of Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man 64, showing Spider-Man fighting Cloak and Dagger

The duo first appeared in a 1982 issue of Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man by Bill Mantlo and Ed Hannigan. The story built on two issues very much in the news at the time: teen runaways and the War on Drugs. Ty and Tandy were two kids who had run away from home, ended up in New York City, and fallen under the sway of some sketchy fellows who promised them a place to stay, only to instead use them as unwilling guinea pigs for an illegal drug test. Only something goes wrong, and all of the kids/test subjects end up dead. That is, except for Ty and Tandy, who instead become… Cloak and Dagger.

While it’s a pretty great origin story, it was very much of its time. The War on Drugs drags ever onward, but the focus has shifted largely away from drugs like heroin, bought from drug dealers on the street, to prescription opioids bought at the pharmacy. And while teens continue to run away from home, it’s no longer seen as a priority epidemic. (Plus, Marvel already has that other show about, um, runaways.)

Marvel and Freeform thus wisely realized directly adapting the duo’s comics origin would feel hopelessly dated, especially for a teen-focused series. So, instead, they kept the elements of their origin that worked, and jettisoned what didn’t.

Olivia Holt as Dagger in ruined church

Both the runaway and drug abuse elements remain in the first two episodes of Freeform’s Cloak & Dagger, but in dramatically different forms. Here, Tandy is an on-again, off-again runaway who periodically checks back in with her mother, who abuses prescription drugs as a means of coping with the death of her husband (Tandy’s father). When not with her mother, Tandy spends her nights in an abandoned church—also an echo of the duo’s place of refuge in the comics. Without a regular job, Tandy survives by running a series of small cons. She’s nothing like the naïve Tandy from the comics who left home because her socialite mother didn’t pay enough attention to her, and that’s a good thing.

Meanwhile, Ty’s backstory has also been dramatically revised. He’s a black kid trying not to stand out at an overwhelmingly white private school, while also struggling to live up to his parents’ expectations. But there’s a gaping wound that won’t heal for Ty and his family: years before, he witnessed his brother killed by the police for a crime he didn’t commit—a killing for which the officer was never held responsible. This, too, draws from Ty’s backstory in the comics, where he ran away from Boston after seeing a friend killed by the police. But the show updates and personalizes the story in a way that feels brutally real in 2018. (One of the most heartbreaking moments of the first two episodes is Ty’s mother telling him that she worries she’ll lose him even if he does everything right.)

These takes on Ty and Tandy also avoid one of the more problematic aspects of the original comics: by leaning into the concept of Cloak as tied to darkness and Dagger to light, the comics could at times seem to reinforce racial stereotypes. Cloak repeatedly came off as controlling, heartless, and only interested in Dagger for her connection to the light he needed to survive. (He was also drawn in a way that erased his body—nothing more than the black space covered up by his cloak.) By making Tandy the “bad girl” and Ty the “good kid,” the series has reversed—and complicated—some of the connotations associated with dark and light.

It’s not just Ty and Tandy who are improved, however; their supporting cast also gets an upgrade. In addition to both of their families, who are present in a way they weren’t in the comics, Cloak and Dagger are also joined by at least two other characters readers should recognize: Father Delgado (Jaime Zevallos) and Detective Brigid O’Reilly (Emma Lahana).

In the comics, Father Delgado is the parish priest at the New York church where Cloak and Dagger take refuge. He offers them sanctuary, but at a price: Father Delgado is convinced that Cloak is possessed by a demon and is seducing Dagger toward the dark side. He’s thus an important, but deeply problematic character. The Father Delgado we see in the TV series is changed significantly. He’s a priest and counselor at Ty’s school, and he takes a special interest in helping him succeed. While there are hints that he ultimately might not approve of Ty’s powers or superheroics, he’s largely a sympathetic character trying to help Ty the best he can.

Emma Lahana as Detective O'Reilly crouching at a crime scene

The second episode also introduces Detective Brigid O’Reilly, whom we see investigating Tandy’s stabbing of Rick and subsequent wedding heist. Reilly too played a major role in the comics as an occasional ally in Cloak and Dagger’s personal war against drug dealers. Later, O’Reilly gained superpowers of her own, becoming the antihero Mayhem, after corrupt police officers exposed her to deadly toxins. The first two episodes don’t show us much of Detective O’Reilly, but but she seems a potential ally in Ty’s quest for justice for his brother.

While each of these tweaks is relatively minor on its own, all together they put the series in a much better position to succeed than a direct adaptation would. Ty and Tandy are both well-rounded characters that feel real, and they’re surrounded by a supporting cast that cares about them. While the old Cloak & Dagger comics definitely had a charm to them, I can’t wait to see what Freeform and Marvel Television can do with these characters.

Are you excited by the new direction for Cloak and Dagger? Let us know in the comments!

Images: Marvel Television, Marvel Comics

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