The fantastic nature of the Marvel Universe tends to mean high-level crimes like world domination and global blackmail are often commonplace, but other traditional criminal enterprises like drug trafficking are very much a real problem as well. In 1982’s “Spectacular Spider-Man” #64, writer Bill Mantlo and artist Ed Hannigan illustrated what happens when realistic crimes smash up against the wondrous nature of the Marvel U with the introduction of the super powered anti-drug crusaders known as Cloak and Dagger.
Cloak (Tyrone Johnson) and Dagger (Tandy Bowen) developed super powers as a side effect of the Maggia injecting them with an experimental new drug the criminal organization was hoping to turn a profit on. Tyrone’s body was transformed into a portal to the Darkforce Dimension, endowing him with the ability to envelop others into that stygian realm, as well as the ability to teleport and turn intangible. Tandy was given the ability to generate light daggers that disrupt a person’s life force and the power to purge a person’s body of toxins. For years, the duo used their abilities to combat crime on the mean streets of New York City. In 2009, they relocated to San Francisco where they reluctantly joined Norman Osborn’s team of “Dark X-Men” before switching sides and joining the ranks of the true X-Men.
Since then, Cloak and Dagger have parted ways with the X-Men, returning home to New York City. This summer, writer Nick Spencer and artist Emma Rios will reestablish the duo as major players in the street-level corner of the Marvel Universe with the three issue “Spider-Island: Cloak & Dagger” miniseries that will tie into the upcoming Spider-Man event story “Spider-Island.” We spoke with Spencer about the project, which he hopes to use as a platform to launch an ongoing “Cloak & Dagger” series.
When Cloak and Dagger first met as teenage runaways, they became fast friends. After receiving their powers, they stayed together, both due to their friendship and a side effect of their powers that makes them physically dependent on each other. Cloak’s link to the Darkforce Dimension gives him a craving for light and warmth, which Dagger can feed with her light knives. Doing so also has the benefit of preventing her from becoming overcharged with life energy. The characters’ friendship and symbiotic relationship has made them very close and on several occasions, they’ve considered becoming more than just friends. Spencer’s series finds the duo finally ready to give romance a try.
“I think they’re in a very interesting place right now because they’ve just come back to New York. They’re literally just moving into new digs and restarting their lives, and in terms of their relationship, they’re in a very strange place. For the first time in a long time, there is no reason why they could not and should not be together,” Spencer told CBR News. “There have always been things that have gotten in the way. The timing usually isn’t right, and when it has been, one of them just hasn’t been feeling it at the time. So they’re at this moment where, if they’re going to be ‘together,’ now’s the time. That’s a big part of our initial set up. There really isn’t going to be an excuse any more.
“You’d think both of them would be very happy and excited about that, but with so much tension and so much build up and so many will they or won’t they moments, it’s going to be scary,” the writer continued. “It’s going to be intimidating and it’s going to be nerve wracking. That personal dynamic is so much of what I love about these characters. We have so few books about relationships. They’re a huge part of our lives, but they’re usually handled as sub-plots, in a very surface-level way. They’re one of the trickiest things to make work in mainstream super hero comics. One of our big goals is to make a great book about a super hero relationship.”
Spencer’s other big goal is to reestablish Cloak and Dagger as members of New York City’s street-level crime fighting community, which means the duo will become embroiled in the world of their initial contact in that community, the Amazing Spider-Man. “We’re interested in reestablishing them in Spidey’s life because that’s where these characters got their start and they’re really best known for their connection to Spider-Man. I think their broadest exposure was the ‘Maximum Carnage’ crossover, both the comics and the video game. We really felt that Ty and Tandy should become part of Spidey’s world again. We wanted to make sure these characters are interacting a lot,” Spencer said. “I’m very aware of that, and as a big fan of what Dan Slott is doing on ‘Amazing Spider-Man,’ I want to be part of that world. ‘Iron Man 2.0’ is meant to feel like it lives on the same street as Matt Fraction’s Iron Man and I hope ‘Cloak and Dagger’ can be that to Dan’s Spidey.”
“Spider-Island: Cloak & Dagger” embroils the titular duo in the coming Spider-Man event story, which finds Manhattan infected by an epidemic of spider powered people. “Big things are going to be happening to New York City in ‘Spider-Island’ and that will all be reflected in and important to the book. At the same time, you really can read this book and not read anything else. If you’re just a Cloak and Dagger fan and you just want to pick this book up, it will certainly stand on its own,” Spencer said. “Everything you need to know we will explain in the book. You will be able to enjoy the story fully based on the pages of this comic. It’s written in a way where it can be taken on its own or in the larger tapestry of “Spider-Island.’ It’s a fun challenge to have as a writer; to make it work on both levels like that.”
During “Spider-Island,” life in New York will be turned upside down by the several thousand people infected with spider powers. Several members of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery will look to exploit the chaos by making moves to further their own nefarious agendas. In “Spider-Island: Cloak & Dagger,” the titular duo will run afoul of a Spidey villain that they have a personal connection to — the Chinatown crime lord, Mister Negative.
“Mister Negative will play a role in this story. Direct ties exist between these characters in terms of their origins, and beyond just that, the symmetry is just too perfect to be ignored,” Spencer stated. “My hope is that Mister Negative will be Cloak and Dagger’s Kingpin. Kingpin is a Spidey villain, but he’s also Daredevil’s greatest enemy. I’m hoping we can set up that dynamic with Negative. You can just feel how great that conflict could be and how perfect a foil he is for them. So, yeah, he’s going to be a key part of this story and a key part of their lives.”
Another key element of Spencer’s story is the New York City setting. “We want to make the city a part of the book. We want to reestablish them as street-level characters, because when you go back to that classic Mantlo stuff, that’s really what made it great. The book was quintessential New York in its early days. As a writer, I like writing about places, and I haven’t been able to really do that for a while,” Spencer stated. “The book where I really did that was ‘Forgetless.’ I think in some ways you’re going to see a somewhat similar vibe to what that book offered, which is to say that New York City geography and culture is going to be a big part of the story. I’m lucky I lived there and know the city and love it. Hopefully, I can really make it breathe on the page. Cloak and Dagger going to be spending a lot of time in some of the more gritty locales, like the Alphabet City area and Chinatown.
“It’s going to be a romantic book. It’s going to be a funny book. It’s going to be terrifying book. It’s going to be a frenetically paced book. It’s going to be a character driven book,” Spencer continued. “It’s going to be a very complete package, hopefully running the gamut between smiles, tears and a few screams. It’s really about as complete a book as you can ask for. I really feel people are going to be taken on a pretty serious roller coaster ride.”
Spencer is happy to have artist Emma Rios bringing to life his script. When the writer first began talking with Marvel, he expressed his desire to work on a Cloak and Dagger book. When he found out one was in the works and Rios was attached to draw it, he actively campaigned to be a part of the project.
“Cloak and Dagger always felt like a perfect fit for me. They’re characters I grew up with, and as a fan, I’ve been sort of frustrated by the lack of Cloak and Dagger stories over the years. I was very vocal about wanting to work with the characters and sent a pitch to Tom Brevoort. A couple months later, Steve Wacker called me and said, ‘I’m going to do a Cloak and Dagger book, but there’s no way you can do it,'” Spencer told CBR. “They looked at my schedule and my workload and thought it would be very tough. Steve genuinely thought there was no way I could do the book. I think he was calling me to make sure that my feelings weren’t hurt when somebody else wrote it. I sat there for a second and asked, ‘Who’s drawing it?’ He said, ‘Emma Rios.’ I then said, ‘No — I’m writing it.’ And Steve was like, ‘I don’t see how we can do this.’ I told him, ‘I’m writing it. We’re done. I’ll get you an outline.’
“In the ensuing week or so, I had some very passionate conversations with everybody at Marvel just to make clear that nobody else was going to write this book. I was being very territorial about the characters. It was fun because they understood that I was very adamant that this was my story to tell. Maybe I was being a little too stubborn for my own good, but it all worked out great,” Spencer continued. “And to get an artist that you just feel is the perfect fit for the book is amazing. I’ve been a fan of Emma’s since ‘Hexed’ #1, her first comic, and I’ve seen her initial drawings of the characters. They are so beautiful they will make you cry. She is absolutely born to draw these characters. At the Ka-Pow con in London, me, Emma and Steve got to sit down together and talk story. She is absolutely one of the most delightful, enthusiastic and friendly people you could ever meet. I just walked away with a buzz.”
Working with Rios on “Spider-Island: Cloak & Dagger” is a dream come true for Spencer, one he doesn’t want to wake up from for a good long while. “No one in the office is thinking of this as just a three issue tie-in mini. Everybody wants to be doing a new #1 of ‘Cloak & Dagger’ immediately after. We’re swinging for the fences and hoping enough people like our take and like this story that we get to keep going. We’re really trying to start a big ‘Cloak & Dagger story,” the writer said. “I want to be working with Emma on ‘Cloak and Dagger’ for a lot more than three issues. We are setting the foundation in these three issues for what we hope are a lot of great ‘Cloak & Dagger’ stories to come.
“I have some big, big, high concept ideas for this book that I have to keep for myself for the time being, but one of the great things for me about the early ‘Cloak & Dagger” run was the brilliant use of religious iconography,” Spencer continued. “I certainly want to make that a part of their story again. It’s something that’s going to play a key role down the road. So if people show enthusiasm for the book, like our take and tell us they want more, this will be just the beginning. This is how you get in on the ground floor of something special.”
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