Cloak & Dagger, the latest series from Marvel's television division, doesn't shy away from heavy material: the first episode quickly delves into themes including police violence against a young Black male, and sexual assault against a young white female -- in both cases, teenagers.
While it's a superhero show based on the Marvel Comics characters created by Bill Mantlo and Ed Hannigan and first introduced in 1982, it's not exactly escapist fiction. Yet while the show feels undeniably timely given the current cultural dialogue, diving headfirst into social issues is authentic to the characters -- the early Cloak & Dagger comic book stories were heavily connected to '80s concerns such as drug dealers and runaways.
"[Cloak & Dagger have] been around for 30-plus years, it was perfect for that time, but I think changing it up a little bit and making it more current and talking about topics that are happening in 2018 makes it a little bit more relatable," Olivia Holt, who co-stars as Dagger/Tandy Bowen, told outlets including CBR at a press event in Los Angeles last month.
Holt told reporters it was "perfect timing for a show like this," which unapologetically confronts fears facing American teenagers. Aubrey Joseph, the show's Cloak/Tyrone Johnson, agreed, calling tackling these issues "essentially important."
"Black men have been completely dehumanized, in our media and society, period," Joseph told reporters. "Women are always minimized. They always have to ask to be represented as equals. This show brings humanity to these groups of people, and it's just time for this to come out. I think this is going to jumpstart the new normal."
Cloak & Dagger debuts tonight on ABC's Freeform network, with a pilot written by showrunner and Heroes veteran Joe Pokaski and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the director of The Secret Life of Bees and Love & Basketball. While Marvel projects have a long history of attempting some degree of relevance to the "world outside your window," few have done so as openly as Cloak & Dagger.
The first season of Cloak & Dagger started filming last July, a few months before the #MeToo movement sparked and helped further spread awareness of rampant sexual harassment and assault against women, both within the entertainment industry and beyond. The Black Lives Matter movement dates back to 2013, but has certainly remained relevant in exposing and condemning instances of institutionalized racism. Holt said the growth of these movements was definitely something all involved paid attention to as the series developed.
"We became even more passionate about the stories, and the journey that Tyrone and Tandy were on -- together, but also as individuals," Holt said. "I think it definitely made a difference, and had an impact on us, and made us feel like we were actually doing something to change society a little bit -- and to also help people gain perspective on the situations that are going down. I almost felt like we saw the future a little bit, because some of the stuff that was written was happening."
Jeph Loeb, a veteran comic book writer and the head of Marvel Television since its inception in 2010, said that while it's not the intention of the producers to preach, he does appreciate that simply providing greater exposure of important issues -- especially with the power of a massive pop culture brand like Marvel -- could have a positive impact.
"It's a shame that the stories that we're telling are not going to solve the problems of the world," Loeb told reporters. "We wished we could have that kind of ability. But the more you talk about them, the better it is."
Cloak & Dagger debuts at 8 tonight on Freeform, with a two-hour series premiere.