When I first heard that they were going to make a series out of Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger I thought, “Dear God, why?” My memory of the team is mostly jumbled up with their appearances in Spider-man comics back in the ‘90s and a whole lot of drug analogies that really didn’t age well. However, after catching previews during Siren I became more hopeful, and after one episode I can say it may be my favorite Marvel adaptation yet.
Cloak & Dagger is the story of two teens who are granted strange powers after a tragic accident energy rig accident (in the original comic it was the side effect of an experimental heroin forced on them by drug dealers… told you it didn’t age well). Tandy Bowen (Olivia Holt) is the criminal daughter of a scientist for Roxxon Oil who developed the ability to create hard light shards and pleasing visions in the accident that killed her father when she was a young child. She was saved from death by Tyrone Johnson (Aubrey Joseph), who gained teleportation and dark vision projection in the incident. The two grew up separately, but maintain a mysterious connection that draws them together.
If I had to compare Cloak & Dagger to any other show it would be Orphan Black. Holt channels a lot of Tatiana Maslany’s Sarah Manning in her con-artist lifestyle and broken heart. She spends her days robbing rich people through seduction and sedatives in order to support herself and her mother, whose combination of substance use disorder and legal battles against Roxxon have turned into a shadow of a parent. Tandy is vulnerable and likable despite her cruelty, and you feel for her as she navigates a world that was shattered beyond her control.
Tyrone has a different path. His brother was accidentally shot by police the night of the accident and the authorities hushed it up. His upbringing remains solidly middle class and healthy, but he is eaten up with bitterness regarding his parents' overprotection and his own guilt that he may be partially responsible for his brother’s death. It’s hard not to see how incredibly timely his story is, and Joseph balances teen angst with a good heart perfectly.
As the show opens there are few superheroics. Both Tandy and Tyrone find their powers activated by touching each other, and the results are mixed. Tandy manages to stop her first crime in self-defense, while Tyrone finds himself beamed unconsciously to sites and people that are connected to crimes surrounding to the both of them.
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Much of the season premiere is basic set up and origin story, but it plays well. Both Holt and Joseph bring realism and pathos to their characters that have you rooting for them in seconds. More than most Marvel vehicles, you can feel that the enemy they face is the system, be it Roxxon’s corporate apathy to the lives it ruins or the authorities that took Tyrone’s brother from him without a second thought. A lot is made of the circumstances that the heroes are thrust into, and setting the story in New Orleans where so much has remained in need of repair since Katrina is a subtle touch. Cloak and Dagger are fighting the world. Not as symbolized in something like Thanos, but in more mundane, realistic terms that anyone struggling can appreciate.
If there’s a complaint to be had it’s the pacing. Compare it to, say, Jessica Jones or Daredevil, which establishes their heroes within minutes. Cloak & Dagger is a much slower burn, capitalizing on the emotional impact of Tyrone and Tandy’s personal journeys. Those journeys are marvelous, but viewers have to be very patient if they’re hoping for action.
Cloak & Dagger feels like a middle ground between the street-level powers and adventures of the Netflix characters and the big screen powerhouses of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s room for big bads without sacrificing the personal feel that makes the show instantly compelling. So far one of Marvel’s least likely success stories is off to a good start.
Cloak & Dagger airs at 7 p.m. CST on Thursdays on Freeform.