This is a spoiler-free review of Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger, based on the opening three episodes.
With Cloak and Dagger, it would appear that Marvel is running out of properties to exploit – which, considering just how many characters exist in the Marvel Universe, seems a little unlikely.
First appearing in 1982, in an issue of The Spectacular Spider-Man, the characters were, over subsequent years, relatively minor players within the world of Marvel comic books (although they have been given brief runs with their own comic title). As with Marvel’s Runaways and the upcoming New Warriors, their relatively obscurity is also something of a blessing. Without the weight of years of continuity – and, by extension, the weight of fan expectation – it allows the programme makers to experiment with the formula that the superhero genre often rigidly sticks too. The first three episodes of Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger eschews much of the slam bang action that we’ve come to expect from our comic adaptations and instead opts for a slow burn of mystery and suspense.
Episode 1, First Light, is an effective introduction to the show and the lead characters. Beginning with a flashback to the day in which our titular characters’ fates intertwine, both Tyrone (Aubrey Joseph) and Tandy (Olivia Holt) are young adults dealing with tremendous loss in their lives. Both have dealt with it in different ways. Tyrone has thrown himself into schoolwork, pushed hard by a family sacred of losing everything. Tandy has become involved in petty crime, trying to stay far away from an alcoholic mother. Both still can’t shake off the tragedies of their past.
But fate will intervene, as they meet once again and discover strange new abilities and the fact that the past will not leave them alone. By Episode 2 (Suicide Sprints), both are reeling from the revelations of their abilities, as well as the consequences of their actions. As Tandy tries to escape from both her recent and distant past, and Tyrone attempts to confront his, both find themselves drawn back into each other’s lives.
With the first two episodes, the show is a slow drip feed of information. Interspersing the present day with more flashbacks to Tyrone and Tandy’s pasts, the show is consistently walking a tightrope between holding back and providing revelations for the audience. But this perhaps creates more of an empathy for the heroes than many shows of this ilk provide. Superhero stories are often an exercise in dramatic irony – even those with a cursory knowledge of comic history tend to know the origins of the likes of The Punisher and Daredevil. But with less established characters, there is more a joy of discovery.
This empathy is helped by some fine performances from Joseph and Holt. While playing characters who ostensibly have built barriers around themselves, they provide a sense of vulnerability yet determination. In the very brief moments in which they meet in these opening episodes, there is a spark between the two (both literally and figuratively), which bodes well for the rest of the series.
By Episode 3, Stained Glass, we’re beginning to find out more about where the show is heading, as various plot points begin to crystallise. The episode ends on a promise of some more concrete revelations, but even then, the show is content to devote much of its time to a bravura section in which our two leads have visions about each other, as they still don’t understand exactly what is happening to them. There’s a slight whiff of Twin Peaks in these moments, with reality and surrealism being mashed together to create something that – at least within the Marvel Universe – is quite unique.
Add in the fine use of a New Orleans setting, alongside weighty themes of guilt, religion and responsibility, and Cloak and Dagger is shaping up to be an intriguing blend of teen drama and traditional genre fare. Those who might find themselves fidgeting with the lack of full-on superhero action in these first few episodes will be placated by the many mentions of the Roxxon Corporation (already alluded to many times in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the TV Universe), which promises many explosive things to come.
Cloak & Dagger is available to watch online in the UK exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive weekly on Fridays, within 24 hours of their US debut.