So, the first two episodes of Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger have just landed on Amazon Prime – which is odd, cos most other Marvel series like Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil, The Defenders and Cheesy Iron Fist have appeared on Netflix. Strange that Marvel have changed platform? Well, Netflix had already shown DC’s Black Lightning, you see, so Cloak and Dagger would have been far too similar to what the Netflix audience had already seen.
Which one is better: Black Lightning or Cloak and Dagger? The latter, by quite a margin. Where BL is very hammy, preachy and cumbersome, C&D is nuanced, ambiguous and non-expository. Both series deal with serious issues about what it is like being a person of colour in today’s America, but BL is moralising and about taking individual responsibility, where C&D is about empathising with those who are victims/creations of their circumstances through no fault of their own. Put simply, BL is old-fashioned and stereotypical goodies v baddies fare, whereas C&D is real-world and morally confusing. Where BL’s storyline jumps around illogically in order to permit a big set-piece fight scene (always popular), C&D is about two young people coming of age, fearing the adult world into which they are emerging and seeking to suppress their incipient powers that will make them even more of a target. The two series are almost photonegatives of each other in terms of story-telling approach and plot organisation. They have competing philosophies, fundamentally.
Cloak and Dagger is not only better than Black Lightning as a TV show, but also it is markedly better than its own original comic strip. I grew up reading Cloak and Dagger (from their first appearance in The Spectacular Spider-Man), and they were a simple pair of heroes representing light and dark as superpowers, fighting an array of very silly baddies. There was no actual social context within their stories. Yes, Cloak was a person of colour, but literally only in how he was coloured in – there was nothing about his ordinary travails in the real world – and there was no real attempt to deal with (or discuss) their implicit inter-racial relationship. The TV show on Amazon Prime, by comparison, is fully ‘woke’ (if you’ll forgive the term).
The young pretty blonde who is Dagger is a petty thief. The way she steals from others is quite distressing to watch – and her crimes become less and less justifiable. We do empathise with her, because we’ve seen her upbringing and abusive mother (and she is as pretty as she is well acted by Olivia Holt), but at the same time we are increasingly horrified by what she does. Then there is Cloak, who is a young black guy who is morally upstanding but still ends up getting into no end of trouble (in part because of his colour). Dagger rides her luck and uses her colour to her immoral advantage, whereas Cloak (as buff as he is well played by Aubrey Joseph) does the right thing but always has his colour as a disadvantage. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition and complementarity. Their lives are a mess – and, we ironically suspect, things will only get better when they embrace their opposite. Roll on episode 3! So far, it’s an 8.5/10 from me (not more yet cos of the incipient evil-corportation cliche).