Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger is yet another small part of Marvel Comics that has been auspiciously brought to life, not just because of the protagonists’ personal struggles and superpowers, but also because of socially knowledgable undertones that aren’t featured much in the rest of the Marvel Cinematics Universe.
In the aftermath of a Roxxon oil refinery collapsing in New Orleans, a young Tandy Bowen is left without her father, Sam, and a young Tyrone Johnson is left without his older brother, Billy. On top of that, Roxxon blames Sam, the refinery’s head designer, for the disaster, and the police officer who inadvertently shot Billy to death doesn’t even exist, according to the New Orleans PD. The two kids harbor their sorrow, leading separate lives until an encounter years later that causes the latent energy they absorbed from the refinery’s collapse to finally manifest in the form of unusual superpowers. The following events compel Tandy to clear her father’s name by probing Roxxon’s dark secrets and Tyrone to search for the officer who killed his brother.
Each of the ten episodes — having aired on ABC’s family cable channel, Freeform — lasts forty-five to fifty minutes. Part of the credit for Cloak and Dagger’s success goes to show creator and showrunner Joe Pokaski, who isn’t alien to the superhero business, seeing as how he also created the NBC show Heroes. He paid attention to the writers, making sure half of them were women and the other half were African-Americans so they could relate to Tandy (Olivia Holt) and Tyrone (Aubrey Joseph) and write them from realistic standpoints. A great amount of credit is also due to Holt and Joseph’s solid performances. You might get impatient, since they don’t appear together much in the first few episodes. But when they do, and as the show progresses further on, the chemistry is clearly present.
This could have been built so that the characters are forced to quickly learn how to control their powers and then summon them to save the city in Marvel-esque fashion, as we’ve seen countless times from the rest of the MCU. Granted, it works for the movies, but such a situation doesn’t appear until the season finale. Until then, we see Tandy and Tyrone tenaciously pursue their goals. They’re flawed and they make mistakes, but they remain sympathetic. This feels much more like a young adult drama where the young adults in question just happen to have superpowers.
The superpowers themselves will whet your Marvel stomach. Tandy, the Dagger half of the pair, can build daggers out of solid light and touch someone to see their dearest hopes. Tyrone, the Cloak half, can teleport himself and touch someone to see their deepest fears. There’s always a wonderfully ethereal atmosphere whenever they delve into people’s minds, and there are even a few occasions when the two of them combine their powers and pursue the venture together. You don’t need to possess your own clairvoyant abilities to know that they will experiment with their powers, briefly misuse them, and combine them for the sake of teamwork, just like anything else in the MCU. The journey itself, though, is what will enthrall you, even when the episodes’ pacing feels sluggish here and there.
This is the second time that Roxxon has been brought to life in the MCU (first time: Iron Man 3). The corruption and greediness of the petroleum conglomerate makes it comparable to Oscorp, A.I.M., and other similar organizations. One big change from the comics, back when they first appeared in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #64 (March 1982), is that they were stereotypical with Tyrone as the poor black boy and Tandy as the rich white girl. On TV those upbringings are transposed, with Tyrone living in an affluent household as a prep and a choir boy, and Tandy being a con girl and a drug addict after having run away from her alcoholic mother. In general Cloak and Dagger is a daring show, engaging in trope-switching again to add a twist in the middle of things.
Further praise goes to the detailed design of two supporting actors. Connors (J.D. Evermore), Billy’s killer whom the PD has hidden away as a vice cop, isn’t just a dirty cop; he’s an icky cop in the truest sense. Aside from the rare moments when he’s vulnerable and he feels guilty for causing Billy’s death, he’s the kind of villain who you love to despise. Then there’s Brigid O’Reilly (Emma Lahana), the street-smart lieutenant detective who lends Tyrone a hand to nail Connors for drug trafficking. Her arc is compelling, all the way through her struggling with a devastating event and then capping off with a plot twist at the end (which might not be a twist if you’re no stranger to the Cloak and Dagger mythos).
Cloak and Dagger boasts the superb element of mindfulness in regard to racism, drug addiction, rape, police violence, and suicidal depression. These issues, all of them at the forefront of our world, are presented without feeling preachy or pedantic. It also relishes in the robust energy of New Orleans, whether it’s through the formidable black community, the city’s eerie legends, voodoo, or the Mardi Gras parade.
Bereavement, grief, anger, shame — all these feelings that swirl in your heart after a loved one’s death can get exaggerated and tiresome in a story. Here, they are excellently channeled into the characters’ quests to achieve justice for the people they’ve lost and bring peace to themselves. It is frustrating to watch Tyrone’s parents process Billy’s death by behaving so emotionally inept about it, as if they’re trying to blocking it out, but hopefully they will change for the better next season.
The finale ties up many of the stories for Season 1 and leaves a few others to unravel into the next season, leaving us simultaneously satisfied with the resolution and eager to find out how certain matters will advance, including Tandy and Tyrone taking up the helm of a superhero duo. Most of the writers are returning for the second season, which gives me more confidence that the show’s integrity will continue. Whether or not you’re a Marvel fan, make it a point to put Cloak and Dagger on your docket.
Windup score: 92/100