“The darkness and light are both alike … I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
- Psalms 139:14
From their first appearance in the pages of Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #64 (Mar. 1982), it was plain to see that Cloak and Dagger were not your usual Marvel characters. They were two single-minded teenagers with incredible powers driven to root out the evils of the drug trade at any cost.
Cloak and Dagger were diametrically opposed, one of light and one of darkness, but forever bound together. Wronged and victimized, they didn’t set out as heroes, but rather as vigilantes, eager to extract their revenge. They struggled to be heroes as they tried to temper their vengeance with justice. They were devoted to each other, but often found themselves at odds. It was these conflicts, both internal and external, that made Cloak and Dagger so compelling.
The 1980s was the comic generation of the teen with titles like The New Teen Titans, The New Mutants, and Power Pack exploring real teenage issues. In 1982, Nancy Reagan kicked off her “Just say no” campaign against drugs and it drew world-wide attention. Drugs, crime, and justice were themes Cloak and Dagger dealt with regularly.
I recall not liking Cloak and Dagger when I had originally read their stories. Looking back on it now, I believe it had to do with the tone of their stories, rather than the characters. The Spider-Man titles were usually light-hearted and fun with a level of conflict you knew wouldn’t have any significant impact. But, the issues in which Cloak and Dagger guest-starred carried a certain weight to them. And I’m not saying that a weight or depth to a comic book is a bad thing, but it was a radical shift in the escapism I had sought out as a kid. Their relevant and hard-hitting stories didn’t hold any punches as they boldly and honestly discussed topics like prostitution, drugs, and violence.
Enter Cloak & Dagger
It was initially difficult to understand Cloak and Dagger’s motivations through their early appearances in Peter Parker Spectacular Spider-Man. Writer Bill Mantlo successfully eroded any feelings of condemnation that a reader might feel as they witnessed Cloak and Dagger’s brutal methodology.
Cloak and Dagger were contrasted against Spider-Man, allowing both Mantlo and the reader to explore the role of vigilantes. They were children without colorful costumes or secret identities. They didn’t use witty banter to down play the seriousness of the violence they were perpetrating. While Spider-Man acted out of a sense of responsibility, Cloak and Dagger acted out of a sense of necessity, having no choice as they felt they were instruments of vengeance. They didn’t have the supporting cast that Spider-Man could depend on; they only had each other.
In their first appearance, Spider-Man couldn’t stop them from killing a drug dealer. He tracked down the dangerous and misguided duo only to discover they had captured the drug dealers responsible for changing them into Cloak and Dagger.
“It is not justice we want, Spider-Man. It is vengeance! These men must die!” Cloak declared. Protagonists killing bad guys, even though it was difficult to condone, was not seen in the pages of any Marvel Comics at that time (even the Punisher at that time was using his “mercy bullets” rather than live ammunition).
Cloak and Dagger blurred the line between villain and hero. Reading this issue, it was easy to sympathize with them and demand revenge. But, you could also feel Spider-Man’s point of view, believing the drug dealers had to be brought to justice and not murdered in cold blood.
Cloak and Dagger proved to be popular, spawning several more guest appearances in Peter Parker Spectacular Spider-Man. They tangled with the wall-crawler as they followed the drug chain, confronting powerful mobsters, like Silvermane and the Kingpin.
Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #82 (Sept. 1983) was a significant issue as Mantlo cleverly used the Punisher as another point of contrast to Cloak and Dagger. As the Punisher’s war on crime escalated, it took a toll on him, eroding his sanity and driving him into madness. If Cloak and Dagger continued on their reckless path of vengeance, would they spiral down into madness like the Punisher?
With the growing popularity of Cloak and Dagger, there was a noticeable decline in their unrepentant vigilantism. In their early appearances, Cloak and Dagger had no moral reservations about killing the drug dealers they preyed upon, but if they were to be heroes, that approach had to change.
Mantlo added a new facet to Dagger’s light daggers, allowing them to purge the devastating effects of drug addiction rather than inflicting deadly force. Cloak and Dagger’s righteousness was also tempered as they focused on the enablers rather than the victims.
After their popular appearances in Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man, Marvel gave Cloak and Dagger their own miniseries in late 1983. Rick Leonardi drew the miniseries as Ed Hannigan and Al Milgrom were busy elsewhere in the Marvel Universe.
“Rich Leonardi has brought an intensity and excitement to Cloak and Dagger that is more than I ever could have hoped for,” gushed Bill Mantlo in Marvel Age #6 (Sept. 1983). “His design is daring and original. His characterization insightful. His draftsmanship a joy to behold.”
This miniseries allowed readers to enter the world of Cloak and Dagger and to learn more about this obsessed and troubled couple.