In short, Cloak & Dagger is trippy. It’s not Legion-level trippy, but it’s perplexing astral plane time and space travel — or whatever it is that the two teenage leads do — is enough to make a worthy and woke adaptation featuring the lesser-known Marvel comic book super duo.
With Marvel’s long list of TV shows, Cloak & Dagger stands out in more ways than one as a different kind of superhero show. In fact, showrunner Joe Pokaski makes it feels less like a superhero show and more like a drama-thriller. It doesn’t have the urban grit as Netflix’s quartet of street-level superheroes and it isn’t cut from the same cloth as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — but there is a minor connection within the MCU which I will get into later. It has moments like the aforementioned Legion that leaves you asking “WTF was that?” and there are minor similarities to The Runaways, but it doesn’t share the same vibe or tone. Both are filled with angst, but compared to Runaways, Cloak & Dagger is cooler when it tackles the woes of having superpowers while traversing that hormonal landscape of adolescence.
As much of a comic book fan as I was (and still am), Cloak & Dagger always remained tertiary to me (although I loved the movie starring Henry Thomas). They popped up as guests in a couple of stories I read, but other than that, my knowledge of them remained very limited. I knew that they worked together to fight evil and, well, that’s about it. That said, Freeform’s adaptation is the perfect introduction to a different kind of comic book TV series while Marvel diehards will be re-introduced to the characters that have now been reframed in a story couched in class and race with millennial angst woven in.
The two-hour premiere serves as an origin story for the titular characters — although they have yet to even receive those monikers. In the first episode directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball, anyone?), we are introduced to a young Tandy Bowen and Tyrone Johnson. Two very different kids with two very different upbringings. Tandy comes from money and prestigious ballet classes while Tyrone is learning the art of street hustling from his older brother.
As the two live their young lives in New Orleans, a new refreshing setting for a Marvel series, tragedy strikes the kids simultaneously when a Roxxon Corporation oil rig explodes. As Tyrone sees his brother get shot down by cops and fall into the water, he dives in to help him. In another part of town, Tandy and her father get into an accident which sends their car plunging into the same body of water. As Tyrone and Tandy attempt to save themselves a blast of energy from the aforementioned rig does something and Cloak & Dagger is born… at least that’s the impression.
Fast-forward a handful of years later and the roles seem to have switched. Tandy (Olivia Holt) is living in an abandoned church and hustling money from douchey rich kids while Tyrone (Aubrey Joseph) is living a well-off life under the eyes of his successful parents and attending private school life. Tandy tends to run away from problems and hide while Tyrone, although he seems like a good student on the outside, he has some serious anger issues brewing in his soul. The two live parallel lives and it’s clear that they are both suffering from “I feel isolated and no one understands me” syndrome. They are finally reunited when Tandy attempts to steal Tyrone’s wallet at a party only to have their dormant powers bond them. They both freak out, but they recognize each other from the accident years ago. She runs away while he is left flabbergasted.
It should be noted that the socio-economic roles of the characters from the comic book were switched. Although both are runaways, she maintains her wealth while he is still a street hustler. They both meet when Tyrone attempts to take her purse only to have someone else beat him to it. He attacks the robber and they form a fast friendship. In an effort to switch things up, the series tinkers with this origin story and they are anything but fast friends. The altered story makes things more subversive, provides more room for dynamic storytelling and also plays into the show’s attempt to make Cloak & Dagger lean into social issues affecting their target audience and the world.
As Freeform finds its voice as the go-to millennial network, it is using its platform to tackle relevant issues and feature inclusive storytelling with shows like The Fosters, The Bold Type and grown-ish. Freeform takes that to the next level with Cloak & Dagger, leveraging a superhero fable to essentially address the old adage of “you don’t know someone until you walk in their shoes.” Within the first two episodes, there is a clear distinction of what a young white woman and a young Black man can and cannot get away with based on their class, gender and race — it’s quite fascinating to watch it unfold in the midst of a superhero story. And by the way, it’s worth mentioning that the aforementioned Roxxon has been present in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the past including the Iron Man movies, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Daredevil. So we might this leaves the door open for potential crossovers.
Expect to hear the word “intimacy” a lot when it comes to Cloak & Dagger because that’s exactly what it is. The drama gives an intimate, character-driven superhero drama that doesn’t give you a clear superhero-supervillain showdown from the start. It’s a slow burn. Like Tandy and Tyrone, we are not 100 percent clear as to what their powers are and why they even have them. The audience goes on this journey of questions with them before they realize that Tandy can make light daggers appear out of thin air and can see the hope in people by just touching them. Tyrone, on the other hand, can envelope himself in a cloak of darkness that can make him teleport anywhere and he can also see the darkness in everyone. And when they combine their powers it is explosive — literally. Then there is the dream-like time traveling they do — which can get confusing. Nonetheless, they are the yin to each other’s yang.
Cloak & Dagger a lot to unpack because the characters aren’t your normal kind of superheroes, which is why the pacing is deliberate — but not to the point of impatience. There has to be a point to their superpowers and you don’t find that within the first two episodes. If they just started using their powers willy-nilly from the start, the show would just be all flair with no soul.
Cloak & Dagger premieres June 7 on Freeform.