Here's part 2 of my Cloak and Dagger article reprinted from Back Issue #45 (November 2010). If you like the article, please pick up a copy of the magazine!
The origin of Cloak and Dagger didn’t involve any radioactive spiders or cosmic rays or gamma bombs. Their destinies unfolded within the stark, brutal reality of the drug trade.
Tyrone was a street-wise, insecure boy with a stuttering problem who grew up in a Boston ghetto. Tandy, on the other hand, was a spoiled, but self-reliant girl born into her mother’s harsh socialite world. They were both runaways, escaping their old lives and naively hoping for a start fresh in New York City. Alone and afraid in Manhattan, they were preyed upon by agents of the drug trade.
They were kidnapped and, along with other runaways, were used as guinea pigs for a new designer drug. The drug experiment proved to be failure as it had killed all but Tyrone and Tandy in the test group. Perplexed by how they survived (which would later be explained by the drug activating their latent mutant abilities), Tyrone and Tandy escaped to discover that the drug had forever changed them.
The inspiration behind Cloak and Dagger came to Bill Mantlo in the aftermath of one of many outings which were attempts to avoid penning his first Spider-Man story. He had visited Ellis Island and was deeply shaken by “the Island of Tears”.
From Bill Mantlo’s article in Marvel Age #6, he explained their genesis: “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.”
“Bill had a short page or two synopsis of the story that he showed me, and we discussed what the characters would look like,” co-creator and artist, Ed Hannigan, recalled. “He gave me a lot of leeway, but it was fairly obvious that Cloak would be black and have a big ‘animated’ black cloak and Dagger would be white with a skintight leotard type thing. I am not sure, but I think I might have come up with the ballet angle. I put the same kind of amulet/clasp on both costumes and came up with the dagger shaped cutout on her costume, which was quite daring at the time. The hardest part was determining what her "light daggers" would look like.”
In Marvel Age #25 (Apr. 1985), Mantlo further expanded on his beloved characters: “With Cloak and Dagger, I’m trying to deal with children at a very vulnerable and frightened age, where life is seen as oppressive, something that conquers, rather than is conquered. I want these two kids to find a way to survive, and to come out of this process changed and better – and the way they’re going to do that is by helping others.
“I don’t know in the end run what form that growth is going to take, but I hope that they’re going to come out of it better people, at least feeling better about themselves. So I view Cloak and Dagger as a process of growth – a chance to watch two people grow, morally, physically, and spiritually.”
Bill worshipped New York City, and the Cloak and Dagger storyline echoed his sentiments. On more than one occasion, he did tell me that Cloak and Dagger was his proudest accomplishment,” shared Mike Mantlo, Bill’s brother.
The success and popularity of Cloak and Dagger were a combination of Mantlo’s grasp of his audience and the need of his audience to deal with these same issues. Cloak and Dagger were kids struggling with issues that real kids struggled with. Cloak and Dagger were changed by how they dealt with these issues in the same real way that real kids were. Readers felt they were being spoken to and connected with Cloak and Dagger which created an immediate relationship.
“I think they were just different enough to appeal to fans, and they weren't the usual crime fighter types,” Ed Hannigan recalled. “The homeless runaways angle probably struck a deep chord with many adolescents. They were a male/female combo, but one wasn't the main hero with the other a sidekick, so they were unique. Also, they didn't engage in the usual Marvel wisecracking patter, so they were a bit more serious, which played well off Spider-Man.”
VIGILANTES OR HEROES
Retrospectively, Cloak and Dagger might be seen to be part of the later 1980s trend of gritty, urban realism made famous by characters like the Punisher and Daredevil. But, it’s important to recognize that back in 1983, the Punisher was being used as a secondary character and Daredevil’s Born Again storyline was still a few years away. Cloak and Dagger were well ahead of their time in discussing vigilantism and social justice.
It was more than exploring the cathartic yet empty feeling of vengeance. Through these characters, Mantlo engaged readers and explored these heavy, adult issues. These issues were hot topics in the mid-1980s with the Bernard Goetz shootings which had North America wrestling with vigilantism and frustrated with high urban crime rates.
These Cloak and Dagger stories can be viewed as a way to deal with the frustration that everyone involved with law and justice had to deal with. The brutal reality of their efforts was that there was no end to the street war, that there was always someone else desperate enough to join their ranks.
“Bill [Mantlo] was studying law at the time -- I'm not sure, perhaps he already had completed his bar exams -- but he knew law, and in Cloak and Dagger, Bill found a means of presenting issues of a sociological and morality-based nature to his audience,” explained David Yurkovich, author of the Bill Mantlo biography, Mantlo: A Life in Comics.
Cloak and Dagger were kids dealing with strange and frightening powers and also tasking themselves with rooting out the evil that made them. In Cloak and Dagger #1 (Oct. 1983), Cloak boldly proclaimed their mandate: “Ours is a mission of vengeance. We seek out those who deal in darkness, in death … and slay them.”
Their mission was ultimately a childish notion, believing two people, as powerful as they might be, could bring an end the drug trade. Recall your own perception of the world when you were a child and how as you grew up, you discovered that the world was far larger than you could have ever conceived.
When they took down local drug dealers, they felt like they were striking a blow against the industry, but they weren’t. There was always a line-up of vermin ready to take the place of a fallen drug dealer and to take their turn at exploiting children. On an emotional level, they reacted as children would. When children are hurt, they lash out, instinctively not wanting to be hurt and wanting to hurt those that hurt them.
From Mantlo’s article in Marvel Age #25: “They’re going to get involved in some very violent and bloody confrontations with the criminal elements that are pushing drugs and trading drugs for money, with terrorist organizations that are selling drugs to finance their political goals. And they’re going to take stands, and find out that their stands are naïve. They’re going to find out that their positions are formed on the basis of a seventeen-year-old’s understanding of geopolitical machinations. They’ll have to revise those ideas.”
“With Cloak and Dagger, the vigilante duo's self-appointed "mission" changed as the series progressed,” elaborated David Yurkovich. “Though possessed of noble intentions, they were ultimately in way over their heads. Their lofty goal to rid the world of illegal drugs was short sighted, and the characters themselves came to know this. How simple it would have been to have kept Cloak and Dagger in New York, battling supervillain upon supervillain each month.”
The 1983 miniseries was a success and just over a year after it had wrapped up, Marvel Comics green lighted a bi-monthly Cloak and Dagger ongoing series. With their origin revealed and the foundation for their mission set, this ongoing series focused on the relationship between Cloak and Dagger.