Monday, December 26, 2016

Cloak and Dagger by Christopher York


Cloak and Dagger is a Marvel Superhero duo that debuted in Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #64, March, 1982. At the time, most comics were dealing with larger than life issues (world domination, intergalactic invaders, etc.).  Cloak and Dagger was decidedly different and dealt with the real world problem of drug addiction and ever increasing gang violence, often associated with it.

The debut in Peter Parker #64 set the stage for what would become the primary ethical quandaries Cloak and Dagger (and by proxy Spider-Man) dealt with: vigilantism and justice.

This is best illustrated by the dialogue which takes place when Spider-Man first meets the duo and they have just killed a drug dealer despite the fact he sought to confess his crimes and go to prison. 

Spider Man: What did you do to him!? His blood froze in his veins!
Cloak: He deserved no better.
Dagger: His punishment fit his crime.
Spider-Man: So who nominated you to the Supreme Court?! All right, the guy was a criminal, he confessed as much but EVEN CRIMINALS HAVE RIGHTS!
Cloak: Not in the eyes of Cloak and Dagger.
How does the comic compare to other comics we have reviewed?
Cloak and Dagger is interesting in that the duo had a unique backstory which had real world implications.  They were both drug addicts who had been the unwitting recipients of an experimental concoction that somehow interacted with their biochemistry and enabled them to become “Cloak and Dagger”.   It’s a bit dark for a comic book and especially for the time period in which it derived. It compares best to “Batman Year One,” in that it is a similarly dark, grim setting and that the hero(es) are motivated mainly by revenge and justice for a wrong suffered previously.  Both “Batman Year One” and “Cloak and Dagger” deal with grim worlds in which the characters could have just as easily been victims, like so many countless others, to a crime laden world where criminals regularly escape justice, whether they be drug pushers or murderers.

How is the comic illustrated?
The illustration method is similar to most comics from Marvel’s Silver Age.  Sort of dull colors, but this could be attributed to the cheap paper used for printing.  One interesting aspect of the penciling is that Cloak’s face is relatively unclear no matter which comic you read.  I reviewed Peter Parker The Spectacular Spider Man #64, #69 and #81, as well as Cloak and Dagger #1, and in each of these Cloak is always shown with a face obscured or drawn with vague suggestions for features.  It is only later comics that Cloak becomes better defined and fleshed out hero.  By contrast, from the first appearance, Dagger is shown with clear features and a well-drawn face, physique.  Part of this could be derived from the fact that Cloak IS a creature of the shadow and thus being somewhat insubstantial and unclear is part of his persona.  Dagger, on the other hand, is representative of the the light and what is easily observed and clear, and her artwork reflects this.

How does this comic deal with the “ethics of being a superhero”?
Cloak and Dagger represent the frustrations of a real world populace which had become frustrated with crime and the justice system’s inability to prosecute it.  Cloak and Dagger was only one facet of other media and entertainment products that dealt with the same issue in a similar way.  While Dirty Harry and Rambo were giving voice to vigilantism on the big screen, Cloak and Dagger (and Punisher, but that is a different paper) were giving voice to it in the guise of the comic book.  The very first incident involving Cloak and Dagger has them killing a drug dealer as he begs for mercy and explains to them that he is willing to pay for his crimes.  Sorry pal, not on their watch! This same them is expressed in every other appearance they made in Spider-Man.  Some bad guy (nameless mostly but Silvermane in one issue) is being killed by Cloak and Dagger while Spider-Man is fighting to keep this from happening.  In these issues Spider-Man is DEFENDING the criminals in many cases.  This is a very sharp contrast in ethics, to say the least, but representative of the time in which the comic derived. 

Review and discuss a sample issue of this comic book:
Cloak and Dagger #1 starts out with new territory for the duo.  They are now dealing with pornography makers and human trafficking in Times Square, New York.  The very first sequence has them killing a pimp/pornographer who is (per the usual) begging for his life as Cloak and Dagger kill him mercilessly.   The only difference is there is no Spider-Man to stop them.  The rest of the issue explores the developing ethical divide between Cloak, who is always for retributive justice of the deadly variety, and Dagger, who tends to view justice as encompassing other aspects of punishment.  The big scene in this comic book involves Cloak and Dagger’s encounter with a group of college age drug-users.  That’s right, this time Cloak kills a user and does so explaining to Dagger that the user is better off dead and is just as guilty as the hardened drug dealer who sold it to him.  This sets of an ethical debate the runs throughout the rest of the issue which is illustrated by Dagger’s view that the user is as much as the victim as the innocent non-user and Cloak’s view that the user is just as guilty as the dealer.   In the end they appear to be at odds and are considering splitting because of these differing viewpoints.  Thus, we have a unique debut issue that ends with our comic book hero duo not coming together, but actually falling apart!

Would you recommend this comic to others?
I would.  It’s an interesting window into the early 1980’s and gives the present day reader and up close glimpse of real world issues seen through the eyes of what could be considered a “young adult” viewing lens.  It involves superheroes dealing with real world issues rather than super-villains mutated by radiation or nameless monsters.   Lastly, it represents a comic book doing what they do best, introducing deeper and more substantial issues to readers in the protective guise of fictional heroes and villains. 

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