Darkest Before The Dawn
The comic book and entertainment titan Marvel has set its sights on New Orleans for the launch of its latest super hero tale “Cloak & Dagger” — airing Thursday nights on Freeform (formerly ABC Family). Simply put, this is the perfect superhero story for New Orleans. The latest addition to stories told in “the city that care forgot” gives New Orleanians something to care about.
Before we get started, a note on spoilers: We’re gonna talk about this show. We won’t ruin plot points and story arcs, but if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t want to know ANYTHING about a show before you tune in, such as why Marvel decided to relocate the story from NYC to NOLA, then bookmark this page and come back after you watch it. If you’re cool knowing some of the background info on how the story moved from comics to television, read on True Believers!
Behind the Cloak
Unless you have been living under a rock, or a racoon in a substation knocked out your power, you are probably aware of the mighty Marvel brand of superheroes. You know, Iron Man, Captain America and Black Panther – all most famously seen in the summer mega-blockbuster hit “Avengers: Infinity War.”
“Cloak & Dagger” feels less like Marvel’s “Agents of SHIELD” with its polished network TV aesthetic or the critically panned “Inhumans,” and more like the edgier Marvel series like “Luke Cage” and “Jessica Jones” on Netflix. The series has the grit of the Netflix series but made for Freeform’s audience of “Becomers,” a network term for viewers between 14-34. “Cloak & Dagger” launches with style, powerful storytelling and bubbling chemistry between the main characters, and a plot that will have viewers talking about much larger issues in the very real New Orleans.
For those unfamiliar with the comic books, “Cloak & Dagger” began as a spinoff of a Spider-Man comic book series in 1982. But instead of New York, this time we’re in New Orleans. Instead of a criminal experiment, it’s an accident on a platform rig in Lake Borgne that exposes the characters, as children, to a chemical that gives them dormant powers … (You’ll notice that the series mentions the Roxxon Corporation, which is the nod to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Roxxon was mentioned in several films and televisions series.They were first mentioned in the Marvel’s first installment of its MCU via 2008’s Iron Man) But it’s not until the children meet again years later, that their mystic super powers awaken.
The two characters, Tyrone Johnson/Cloak (Aubrey Joseph), and Tandy Bowen/Dagger (Olivia Holt), are outcasts from different backgrounds and lifestyles — but both irreparably changed by the accident.
While Tandy lives on the streets, Tyrone lives with his affluent and overbearing parents. Yet, they have something profound in common. Both are reconciling with tragedies in their pasts. Both are hurt, fearful and lost, but when on screen together and united, their powers emerge and they feel whole. And not due to cheesy special effects. For example, when Cloak teleports into darkness, heavy shadows are used to provide the darkness and a few wisps of smoke to illustrate the power is being used. For Dagger, the light daggers emerge from her hand with little computer generated lighting effects and with Holt holding a light in her hand instead. The practical mixed with computer effects are crafted carefully and feel natural.
We learn that Tyrone/Cloak discovers he has the power of the “darkforce dimension” which allows him to teleport in darkness. Tandy/Dagger’s power is that she can create psionic light daggers in her hands to use as weapons. According to the comic books, Cloak has a hunger for light and can use it to solidify his intangible form by absorbing light from Dagger. Dagger can become “overcharged” by her powers and expends the energy to Cloak before it becomes dangerous. It remains to be seen if the television series will dive into this piece of comic book lore. But simply put: They need each other.
Shedding Light on New Orleans
It’s not the powers the teens have that pack the biggest punch in this show. The pilot episode dives right in to deep topics like drug abuse, the culture of crime, police brutality and sexual assault. The show offers a large amount of black and white imagery, and, most importantly, the power that Tyrone and Tandy have when they come together.
Without spoiling the events of the series, these issues are brought to the screen in abrupt and jaw-dropping fashion. In the advanced screening of the pilot at the Broad Theater, the audience gasped aloud during the scenes depicting police brutality and sexual assault. It was a jolting and thought-provoking experience in a Marvel show, given the topics we see every day in our newsfeeds.
The change from New York to New Orleans makes sense. First, by leaving New York, the show can come into its own without the need to nod or connect itself to all the Marvel superhero antics in the Big Apple. But more importantly, it’s the Crescent City’s rich culture and history that makes it a compelling character all its own, ripe for the mystic super pair, and it’s highlighted when the two heroes finally connect in a cemetery.
When the show begins, you’re not peppered with visuals of wrought iron galleries and balconies of the Vieux Carre, or bombarded with shots of Carnival floats and parade goers. The show’s first scene brings us to the Bywater (which is somehow really close to Lake Borgne, but we’ll give ‘em a pass in the spirit of the suspension of disbelief). The show brings viewers to other areas of the city that not all tourists explore. Some of the shooting locales include the Warehouse District, Le Pavillon Hotel, the Bywater and a cemetery. While watching the pilot, I never felt like I saw the usual visual suspects from whenever New Orleans usually appears in film and TV.
We’ll learn more about the “divine pairing” in New Orleans as they develop into their comic book counterparts. Like the characters, New Orleans has experienced tragedy and devastating loss, but the story shows that when people come together there is an undeniable power that is hard to keep down. This pilot felt significantly different from other superhero shows in its focus. And like New Orleans, it stands out.
In the end, this show is about the struggle of growing up, coping with loss, and finding unity with others. A tale told perfectly in New Orleans.