CCI: D'Orazio talks "Cloak & Dagger"

The forces of light and darkness are by definition polar opposites, but if you don't think these forces can work together you haven't met Marvel Comics' cult-favorite crime-fighting duo Cloak & Dagger. You'll get your chance in the first half of 2009 in the form of a new five-issue "Cloak & Dagger" miniseries from writer Valerie D'Orazio (writer of the acclaimed blog Occasional Superheroine) and artist Irene Flores ("Welcome to Tranquility"). CBR News spoke with D'Orazio about the project (first announced last weekend at the Women In Marvel panel at Comic-Con International), which promises to redefine Cloak and Dagger's relationship.

Cloak (aka Tyrone Johnson) and Dagger (aka Tandy Bowen) first appeared in 1982's "Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man" #62. They were teenage runaways whose latent mutant abilities were awakened after they were abducted by the mob and used as guinea pigs for an experimental drug. Cloak's abilities allow him to teleport and open an aperture to a dimension of darkness. He can send people to this dimension by enveloping them in his cloak and he is often gripped by a hunger forcing him to do so. Dagger gained the ability to create psionic shards or "light daggers." She can use her light daggers to drain people of their vitality, perform a number of healing type effects like curing drug addictions, as well as feeding Cloak's hunger to swallow people into the dimensional aperture inside him.

Since their debut in 1982, Cloak and Dagger have made a number of guest appearances and even starred in their own short lived ongoing series. The duo's most recent guest starring roles were in the first and second volumes of Brian K. Vaughan's "Runaways"; as background players in Marvel's "Civil War"; and Cloak appeared by himself in "Secret Invasion" #1, in which he used his teleportation abilities to help the underground New Avengers infiltrate Tony Stark's Avengers Tower.

While Cloak and Dagger may have been peripheral players in two of Marvel's big events, Valerie D'Orazio's story is more intimate and focuses on the duo's relationship with each other. "It was important to me to get to the heart of their relationship, rather than factor in guest-appearances and crossovers," the writer told CBR News. "And Marvel has been 100% supportive with that, and that freedom has been absolutely wonderful."

When "Cloak & Dagger" begins, Tyrone and Tandy's longterm relationship has gotten rather thorny and complex. Explained D'Orazio, "Have you ever known a couple in a long term, intense, sort of on-again/off-again relationship? You know, like on Facebook they list things as 'it's complicated?' Don't want to quite commit to 'in a relationship' --yet they see each other all the time? And things have grown so codependent and comfortable that they won't commit, but they won't break up either? I think that in those types of situations there are a lot of raw, emotional issues under the surface. And that's where Tyrone and Tandy are when the series starts."

D'Orazio plans to not only explore Cloak and Dagger as a partnership but as individuals as well. "I think Cloak -- Tyrone -- is so compelling because there is so much about him that has not been explored," she said. "He was an introvert to begin with, and then just sort of got thrown into this new life as Cloak as a teenager. I don't feel he has really been given a chance to develop and grow and define himself.

"Dagger was fascinating to me because she always seemed to be held up as this paragon of innocence and 'light' -- and yet that's an impossible thing to live up to," D'Orazio continued. "She reminds me of those 'perfect' girls in high school who secretly cut themselves to relieve tension. And so you have this 'couple' who -- because of the sudden onset of their powers in their youth -- are sort of in stasis, both individually and relationship-wise. And it's time to grow up and move on, and that can be painful.

"Basically, Tyrone and Tandy have reached a point in their relationship where certain issues need to be addressed. Instead of doing things the healthy way and addressing those issues years ago, they wait until a lot of negative emotions have bottled up inside each of them, especially Tandy. She's has always been sort of 'perfect' and 'innocent,' so it was like she wasn't even allowed having these emotions. And along comes something that feeds off of exactly that brand of poisonous, unexpressed feeling. And so it's like a tiny cut that blooms into a full-blown infection. And, like any really good infection, it spreads."

New York City have been Cloak and Dagger's stomping grounds since the duo's first appearance 26 years ago and D'Orazio's story will send them all over the Big Apple's various and diverse neighborhoods. "NYC was very much a character itself in the original series, and it's the same thing here -- though of course so much has changed in the area since the 1980s!" said the writer. "The sleazy 'grindhouse' atmosphere of Times Square as portrayed in the 1985 Cloak and Dagger series, for example, has largely disappeared -- now it's all tourist destinations and the Hello Kitty store. And I'd like to play with that change."

Given how the characters' powers were activated, many of the past Cloak & Dagger stories have dealt with drugs and drug addiction. D'Orazio's tale focuses on addiction as well, just a different kind. "I think there is drug addiction, and then there is relationship addiction," the writer said. "Sometimes, I think you get 'addicted' to a partner or a particular relationship, and, just like with drugs, it blinds you to aspects that need to be worked out. And so a long term relationship -- like Tyrone and Tandy's -- can go on and on without resolution because both parties are so codependent on the other, both emotionally and physically."

Cloak and Dagger's relationship will be complicated even further by the obstacles and adversaries D'Orazio plans on throwing at her protagonists. "One of my biggest priorities in this book was to come up with a new rogue's gallery of formidable foes for Cloak and Dagger -- adversaries that are created organically by the story and the actions of these two crime fighters," she stated. "But I think the biggest obstacles of all in this series are the human emotions of co-dependence, jealousy, and self-denial. And I think a lot of the big problems that happen in the real world also stem from these (at first) seemingly harmless little emotions."

D'Orazio of course cannot reveal the ending of her miniseries but hinted that whether her protagonists like it or not, the status quo of Cloak and Dagger's relationship will have changed by the story's end. "People change and grow. It's a lot like life," she said. "And, at first glance, these situations seem so commonplace, just one more drop in the bucket of the human drama. But, I subscribe to Joseph Campbell's view on the matter. These stories -- the ones you and your friends and loved ones experience -- are huge. They are their own little mythologies, little six-month crossover events. A tremendous amount of psychic energy is expended in these relationship issues. And in the end --things change. Things either change or rot away entirely."

Many of Cloak and Dagger's previous tales were gritty, street level urban adventures but D'Orazio's story will feature a different tone. "I've always wanted to write gritty tales," the writer remarked. "I grew up in a dicey area and I observed a lot of stuff that went down, and at some point I want to write about all that. But I conceive Cloak and Dagger as being more like urban fantasy/romance. There is also a level of humor in the book, but it's balanced out with much more serious moments -- sort of like The 'Runaways.'"

D'Orazio is very excited to have Irene Flores bringing to life her "Cloak & Dagger" scripts. "Irene is just wonderful -- really open, enthusiastic, and with a lot of her own great ideas to bring to the table," said the writer. "It's not just like having an artist, but a collaborator. In my days as an editor [at Acclaim and DC Comics], I've seen both -- artists who never really interact with the writer, and artists who collaborate with the writer. And this is definitely the latter. While certainly manga-influenced, her art goes beyond a matter of style, and has become an organic part of what this story is about."

When "Cloak & Dagger" hits stores next year it will mark D'Orazio's debut as a writer of full-length comic books. "I still can't believe it! My experience as a comic book editor initially gave me a sort of detached view of the whole process -- nothing to get too excited about, just another job. But it's really starting to hit me that I'm doing something I wanted to do since I was 12 years old -- write for Marvel Comics," D'Orazio said. "I read DC books like 'Batman' & 'Teen Titans' when I was very young --and Vertigo titles like 'Shade The Changing Man' and 'Doom Patrol' when I was in college. But that whole time in-between, in my most formative years, I was a total Marvel fan, and all I would tell anybody who would listen was that I was going to write for Marvel Comics when I grew up.

"When I was 13 I sent Marvel a Punisher pitch and was invited to be an intern -- but I was too young! However, one of the things I took from that experience is that the editor I talked to never told me that the Punisher was not an 'appropriate' comic for a young woman to write. I wasn't steered away from that material, but encouraged to be myself. And I have had the same experience with Marvel writing Cloak and Dagger -- there is a total encouragement just to be myself. There have been moments of self-doubt in the beginning where I would change things here and there to fit what I thought was 'expected.' And my editors were very perceptive and caught that and said, 'Be yourself.' And I just feel so lucky."

D'Orazio hopes "Cloak & Dagger" resonates with both new readers and fans of the duo because she'd love to tell more stories with the characters. "I'm especially interested in seeing what happens next for Tyrone, and to watch him develop into a richer sense of his own identity," the writer remarked. "And there are some denizens of the world 'inside' Cloak's cloak that I'm sort of redefining and will have a life of their own.

"If you like the 'Runaways,' 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' 'The Sandman,' or 'Strangers in Paradise' you will love 'Cloak & Dagger,'" she said. " I'm not saying I'm comparing myself to Brian K. Vaughan, Joss Whedon, Neil Gaiman, or Terry Moore. I'm just an incredibly lucky girl with a blog who sort of got her life's wish dropped into her lap. But I've also had a lot of experience writing ad copy for Previews. So, 'If you like the "Runaways," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "The Sandman," or "Strangers in Paradise," you will love "Cloak & Dagger." Guest-starring Wolverine, Spider-Man, and Ghost Rider!"'

"No, just kidding!"

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