|Major WM Releaser
Device: dell axim
: Cloak & Dagger
(Click to go to the release post)Writer(s)
: Bill Mantlo
(Click to see other books from this writer released on this site)Review source
: Chris Dahlen
(Don't click it, read the review here...
) " Cloak & Dagger turned out to be the most engrossing comic I’d ever read."Review
Sometimes the squarest channels drop the strangest art in your lap. I must have been ten or eleven when my mom bought me issue one of Cloak & Dagger, picking it up at the local drug store to keep me busy while I was home sick. What made her choose it from all the regular Spiderman and X-Men books on the shelf, I can’t remember. But Cloak & Dagger turned out to be the most engrossing comic I’d ever read.More info
From the title you'd expect a spy series, and on first look the cover evoked a martial arts comic: a young, glowing blonde woman in a body-tight costume holds a precise attack pose, while a grim black man looms behind her, in a shadowy, blue-black cape. But then you see the background: they’re standing in an alley that’s stained by graffiti and urine. This was an urban nightmare about a couple of teenage runaways, who met at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in pre-Giuliani New York. Naive and lost, they were kidnapped and dragged to a mafia lab where they were injected with experimental drugs. A dozen other kids died from the drugs, but our heroes were transformed into mutant vigilantes – who used their powers to terrorize the worst pimps and dealers that New York could throw at them.
On one level this was standard superhero fare. But I’d never read a comic this dark, from Rick Leonardi and Terry Austin’s grim but luminous art to writer Bill Mantlo’s ruminations on religion and law (Cloak & Dagger’s only friends were a priest and a cop). The heroes had high-concept superpowers: Dagger had the power of “light,” while Cloak stood for “darkness.” Dagger radiated a living light that she could throw like knives; she could paralyze the bad guys and purify drug addicts, and thanks to just a few years of ballet, she could jump around dodging bullets and kicking people senseless. Cloak, on the other hand, had turned into a shadow: left with just a human face and a booming voice, he wore a cape that covered an endless void which could swallow bullets or engulf his victims – way more bizarre than your average hero, who could only bash and clobber.
But what hooked me were the characters themselves. They were perfectly yin-yanged: a blonde white girl from a rich, broken home, paired with a young black man from the ghetto; a beautiful girl as shapely as a Greek statue – wearing a costume slit down to her navel in the shape of a dagger – opposite a man who was formless. Dagger was incredibly beautiful: in my pre-teen crush she awed me so much that I adored her looks but couldn’t even picture what was under that costume. But I also admired Cloak, and his struggles to contain himself: Cloak’s darkness had to be … fed, and when Dagger didn’t fend off the hunger with her own light, he had a tendency to seek out human lives. They were strong and vengeful, but they were still just kids: they wanted to use their powers for good but were constantly tempted to wreak havoc.
And that got to the heart of the comic. This wasn’t about the villains they fought or their heroics, it was entirely about them being miserable. All the conflict came from them. Not unlike a teen soap opera, it was almost obsessively centered on their problems and their fight with their own identities, to the exclusion of any (more) interesting villain: no pyrotechnic fight scene competed with what was going on in their own heads. And of course, I ate it all up. This made more sense to a weirdo kid like me than heroes like the Fantastic Four or Spiderman, who had it all figured out. Watching Cloak & Dagger struggle with basic questions of love and happiness, under the shadow of their own weirdness, made this the first comic really said anything to me. And I had to see them win.
I thought I was the only one who understood them. Nobody I knew had even heard of these characters. The first time a friend of mine flipped through an issue, he read the stuff about “living light,” caught that one of the leads was a girl, and immediately dismissed it as “gay.” Mortified I kept the stories to myself, and went on buying every comic book they showed up in – even dropping an allowance-crushing $15 on their first-ever appearance, in Peter Parker The Spectacular Spider-Man #64. And now that I’m an adult, I can get on eBay and drop a lot more money on all the issues that I missed. I’m not proud of it, but hey – geeks like me who get nostalgic for our childhoods are one of the only things the economy can count on.
Unfortunately, flipping through those old comics reveals that after a while, the story crumbled apart. Mantlo left, and the new writers lost track of the characters’ nuances. They dropped the moral conflicts and kept changing their powers – and limitations – whenever it suited them. To boost sales they rigged up crossovers with more popular heroes, and instead of sticking to the alleys of Hell’s Kitchen, Cloak & Dagger went up against a treadmill of pulp villains – including aliens, Nazis, sorcerers, sewer mutants, and the reincarnation of Jack the Ripper.
But mainstreaming the characters didn’t make them popular – and after Marvel killed their series, they were stuck guest-starring in other comics. By 2000’s Marvel Knights, Dagger has turned into a fairy-like creature with silvery hair and “the mind of a child,” while Cloak loses his powers and gravitas and becomes a teenager who’s addicted to Playstation. And we never even find out if they date each other.
In other words, the carefully-constructed concept turned into what most longform stories become – a soap opera. It takes a company with a commercial interest to keep these characters going, but that business doesn’t have to develop them. So year after year, the characters run through the same contrived ups and downs, the same story arcs that have no cumulative effect because the characters have no direction; they keep going, keep us hooked until the interest wanes and they can fade away.
Maybe Marvel should have stopped with a mini-series – with a story that could end, instead of petering out. But if they started the comic again tomorrow, I’d buy it. And if they ever develop a TV show – which is under discussion, now that the near-bankrupt Marvel is licensing every last green-skinned mutant they own – I’d be there in a heartbeat: I’d sit through every episode no matter how badly they handled it. Because that’s the other trick to longform storytelling: the characters are all that matters, and they work because you’re addicted to them. So what if those comics I bought off eBay were pretty weak: I still read every one of ‘em, and I got that aching feeling of withdrawal after I finished the last issue and the characters were gone.
And reading this as a kid set me up for a lifetime of seeking out experimental pop culture – not to show off to store clerks or to keep up with the “avant-garde,” but to find the few stories, records or whatever else that really click – that connect with whatever’s strange in my own head, the way this comic did. And the flipside is that no matter what I find, I know that it won’t last – and then it’s time to give up, and look for something else.
Artists: Rick Leonardi and Terry AustinPublisher
Writer: Bill Mantlo
|Post rewarded by Ojay on Mon Jan 09, 2012 8:44 am.
|Very Nice Review. 5 wrz$ reward. Thanks Zach!