Marvel may be kicking butt and taking names with their Cinematic Universe – the latest Avengers movie having earned literally all the money – but on the small screen they haven’t been as consistently successful. With Netflix doing most of the heavy lifting on television – the less said about ABC’s Inhumans the better- one has to question if a regular Network can compete with the Netflix model, and with the premiere of ABC Spark’s Cloak & Dagger, that question becomes even more pertinent.
In 1982, comic book writer Bill Mantlo and artist Ed Hannigan created Cloak & Dagger – a unique duo introduced in the pages of Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man. They are a couple teens that were experimented on with a new synthetic heroin that gave them superpowers. Those familiar with these characters from the pages of Marvel Comics, or random guest appearances on some of Marvel’s animated shows, won’t quite recognize the heroic Tyrone “Ty” Johnson (Cloak) and Tandy Bowen (Dagger) we see here on ABC Spark, as series creator Joe Pokaski has almost completely divorced his show from the source material. Pokaski has stated that, “The original [comic] stories were fantastic, but for the time, while they were a little progressive, they were a little bit sexist and racist once you got into it.” And this apparently means changing everything about the characters found in the comics and recreating almost the whole lot from scratch. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Absolutely not, but if you are going to totally re-imagine a beloved comic book, you better bring your “A” game.
In the 80s, Cloak & Dagger were all about the war on drugs – not even as an allegory, they basically hunted down the drug manufacturers who turned them into super-powered freaks – but as times have changed, the alteration of this origin story is pretty understandable. Pokaski has their new backstory centered around some sort of industrial accident at a facility owned by the Roxon Corporation, one of the show’s few links to the Marvel Universe. Now, drugs do still rear their ugly head in this show – Tandy (Olivia Holt) is no longer the privileged runaway white girl from the comics, she’s now a career criminal who snorts stolen drugs – and her mother is an alcoholic/drug user as well. Tyrone (Aubrey Joseph) isn’t the urban youth whose stutter resulted in his friend being shot by a trigger-happy cop – as it did in the comic – now he lives in an affluent neighbourhood with his successful parents, though he still has a similar tragic backstory as his misdeeds as a child led to his older brother being shot by a trigger-happy cop.
The industrial accident at Roxon looks to be this season’s main mystery – with Tandy’s dad being blamed for it and his subsequent death sending his family into poverty – but in the two-episode premier, we only get hints at what direction the series will go. We get to see the corrupt cop who shot Tyrone’s brother – who also becomes a future nemesis for teen Tyrone – but we have yet to know if he is tied into the bigger story or if it’s just a mini-mystery unconnected to Roxon. But, most startling of all, is that in the two hours that make up this premiere, we get very little explanation as to how Tandy and Ty’s superpowers work. We see Tandy conjure up light knives to stab a would-be rapist – that these “daggers” draw blood is another departure from the source material – while Tyrone’s “shadows” seem to teleport him around as if guided by a divine force and not something he can control — at least not yet.
What this version of Cloak & Dagger has going for it is definitely the two leads – who even with very little screen time together show great chemistry – and it’s their performances alone that will have me back to check out episode three. How a budding romance will fit into the show – with Tandy having a fellow crook as a love interest complicating things – is still up in the air, but as their strange powers throw them together, we could be treated to an interesting dynamic. The one thing viewers won’t be seeing is the many superhero team-ups that Cloak & Dagger have had in the comics – don’t expect to see Spider-Man or the X-Men showing up – but there is a little continuity from other shows as Tyrone’s powers tap into the Darkforce dimension, which has been previously established in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, and the aforementioned Roxon corporation who made it’s cinematic debut in Iron Man 2.
Season one will most likely be about how the two kids learn to use their powers – which, as mentioned, are radically different from the comics, as here they also get visions that allow them to see into a person’s heart – and aside from seeing Tyrone teleporting in his sleep, and Tandy accidentally stabbing a would-be rapist, we don’t get a lot of on-screen superheroing. The showrunners clearly are going for the slow burn here – no sprinting to the finish line like their Netflix cousins – and whether the show makes this work will mostly come down to how they balance the social drama/young adult aspect of the show with the superhero elements of its comic book origins.
Coming from a guy who has been reading their stories since their debut back in the 80s, I’d say it’s clear I’m not the key demographic here – just too many changes for an old comic nerd like me – but Young Adult viewers will most likely get a kick out of this new show.