Every other week, Jason Shayer will highlight an issue or a run of issues pulled from the horde of comic book long boxes that occupy more room in his house than his wife can tolerate. Each of these reviews will delve into what made that issue or run significant as well as discuss the creative personalities behind the work. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.
Peter Parker The Spectacular Spider-Man #64
“Cloak & Dagger!”
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Penciler: Ed Hannigan
Inker: Al Milgrom
The origin of vigilantes Cloak and Dagger didn’t involve cosmic rays, radioactive spiders or cosmic rays or gamma bombs. Their origin reflected the brutal reality of the drug trade. Their first appearance and origin was in the pages of Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #64.
Drawing from polar opposites, writer Bill Mantlo had Tyrone, the street-wise, yet insecure ghetto boy with a stuttering problem and Tandy, the spoiled, but self-reliant debutant trying to break free from her mother’s socialite world, find each other as runaways. They were both escaping their old lives and naively hoping for a start fresh in New York City.
Alone and afraid in Manhattan, they were preyed upon by agents of the drug trade and kidnapped, along with other runaways, to be used in dangerous trials for new designer drugs. The drug was a dramatic failure, killing all the test group subjects except for Tyrone and Tandy in the test group. Tyrone and Tandy escaped to discover that the drug had forever changed them.
In Marvel Age #6, Bill Mantlo explained the inspiration behind Cloak and Dagger: “They came in the night, when all was silent and my mind was blank. They came completely conceived as to their powers and attributes, their origin and motivation. They embodied between them all that fear and misery, hunger and longing that had haunted me on Ellis Island.”
Mantlo’s new creations tapped into the mindset of his teenage audience. While they were costumed vigilantes, Cloak and Dagger were still kids and they struggled with issues that real kids struggled with. Not only did they struggle, but they also changed when they dealt with these issues. Mantlo spoke to his readers and effectively used Cloak and Dagger to connect with them and to create an immediate relationship.
From their first appearance, readers knew they were something different. Set up against the wisecracking, but responsible Spider-Man, Cloak and Dagger were serious and almost mechanically dedicated to their cause of destroying the drug trade. While their cause was noble and well-intentioned, it also betrayed their simple and naive view on the world.
Artist Ed Hannigan created an atmospheric and moody city of New York that complemented Mantlo’s moralistic tale. Hannigan’s use of heavy inks and shadows really helped define the look and feel of Cloak and Dagger.
While Cloak and Dagger’s popularity may have peaked in the mid-1980s, they are still effective social symbols who have proven themselves versatile and universal, connecting to teens of any generation. What I always loved about them was how they could change and evolve and genuinely learn from their many mistakes, unlike so many stock characters that are robotically forced through stories.
Jason Shayer has recently joined the Biff Bam Pop! writing team. He’s been trying his best not to grow up for that last 30 years and comics books are one of the best ways to keep him young at heart. He’s also known as the Marvel 1980s guy and has probably forgotten more than you’d ever want to know about that wonderfully creative era. Check out his blog at: marvel1980s.blogspot.com.