No matter what your opinions on crossover events are, at this point it’s become clear that Marvel’s been using them to smuggle in some interesting material under the guise of tying into the main event. A few years ago this method gave us a bananas Dark Reign: Mister Negative by Joe Casey and Nathan Fox and this year we got an incredibly funny Fear Itself tie-in by Dr. McNinja‘s Christopher Hastings. Shit’s crazy. With “Spider-Island,” the big Spider-Man-centric event where genetically-engineered bedbugs give the entire island of Manhattan superpowers (!), we get a seemingly tenuously related Cloak and Dagger miniseries by Nick Spencer and Emma Rios.
Cloak and Dagger are a pair of characters I probably first discovered in the Maximum Carnage video game back when I was 9. They had roles in the comic book crossover, so in the game you could summon them to help you battle screens upon screens of palette-swapped rejects from Final Fight. As such, all I knew about them is that they lived in a church. They weren’t X-Men, so I had no reason to follow them at that age. Their shtick is clear, though: she’s light, he’s dark! They fight crime.
Notably, Cloak and Dagger are among the few crime-fighting items in comics. Sure, lots of superheroes date, but Cloak and Dagger were always a pair; it’s inherent to their origin. In scripting the pair, Nick Spencer really nails the relationship dynamic of the team — not just the casual living-togetherness (“Eggo?“) but also the duality of a relationship, where two distinct personalities are trying to work in tandem. That’s where Spencer’s dueling narration boxes come in, giving the characters alternate takes on the same situation, playing off and reacting to one another.
What makes it even better is that Spencer doesn’t short-change either of them. Cloak and Dagger have their own perception of one another, but thanks to their respective internal thoughts we get a sense of their own perspective. Cloak’s a jealous boyfriend (pretty much), but he also wants to be a proper helpful superhero and not a second stringer or glorified taxi. Conversely, Dagger feels simultaneously marginalized and smothered by Cloak, ultimately desiring of a bit of normalcy in her life. It’s that dynamic that really sells these characters to me — not their powers, not their Reagan-era backstory, but their personalities and how they interact with one another.
The characters especially come to life under the pencils and inks of Emma Rios, who’s been doing Marvel work under the radar since 2008. Her talent is fierce and multifaceted, capable of amazing panel-to-panel storytelling, character expressions and some trippy collage-y page layouts when Cloak’s “Darkforce Dimension” powers call for it. Not only that, but her style is distinct amongst Marvel’s stable, delivering a vaguely manga style (not to, y’know, pigeonhole) but one where characters are always moving between panels. Mainstream comic art is often about creating the illusion of movement through dynamic, muscly poses and striking panel composition, but Rios draws characters so naturally and with such an eye for how real human beings act that they actually feel like they’re moving.
Despite its tie-in status, Cloak and Dagger is one of the more accessible superhero titles to hit the stands this year, thanks to both Nick Spencer’s script focusing on character over crossover/continuity and Emma Rios’ marvelous artwork. Together, the two prove that the right talent behind a book can make minor Marvel Comics characters more vital and vibrant than the guys who get their own movies.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter as @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his newest comic, “Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men,” over at Champion City Comics.