One of the more challenging parts of adapting comic books for television and film these days is that showrunners have to find a way of reconciling with the sometimes problematic aspects of the source material that, frankly, just haven’t aged well. Take, for example, Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger.
From left to right: Olivia Holt as Tandy Bowen and Aubrey Joseph as Tyrone Johnson in Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger. Screenshot: Marvel
In the comics, first published back in the ’80s during the height of the Reagan administration’s war on drugs in the US, the titular heroic duo are imagined as a pair of runaway teens who gain their powers as a result of an experimental drug. Tandy (Dagger) is a girl from a wealthy, white family, and gifted with the ability to create daggers of hard light that can cure people of their addictions. Tyrone (Cloak), by contrast, is a black boy with a working-class background who is given the ability to teleport, a power that comes with the unfortunate and implicitly racist drawback of a crippling addiction to other peoples’ life force that can only be sated by either draining folks or being exposed to Dagger’s light.
The optics alone are enough to make the idea of a Cloak & Dagger TV show somewhat questionable, but showrunner Joe Pokaski went in knowing it was something that would have to be modified in order to make the Freeform series work. In a recent interview with Syfy, Pokaski explained how, while people may have nostalgia for the comics, the fact of the matter is there’s a lot about the characters that was straight up racist and sexist:
Marvel has been fantastic in letting me take the essence of Tandy and Tyrone and really take them into 2018.
In the original Tyrone story, he had a stutter and was unable to stop his friend from being shot. We changed that a little, but I definitely wanted to talk about police brutality, about the quick trigger finger on boys in hoodies that doesn’t seem to be going away… It’s something we have to deal with; the young boy with the hooded sweatshirt needs a hero, and we need to see ourselves in him.
In Freeform’s Cloak & Dagger, it’s Tyrone who comes from money and Tandy who has to steal in order to survive and, from Pokaski’s description, it sounds as if the show will go even further in order to distance itself from the comics’ more worrisome elements. Whether the show’s any good, though, remains to be seen.
The new Marvel series is set to debut on Freeform (the channel formerly known as ABC Family) on June 7 in the US. An Australian broadcaster has not yet been announced.