Recently I opened up the old box o’comic books and rediscovered an old favorite of mine from the early 80’s: Cloak and Dagger #1 from the 1983 mini-series written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by Rick Leonardi and Terry Austin.
Cloak and Dagger, introduced in Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #64 (March 1982), were created by Bill Mantlo and artist Ed Hannigan. Runaways Tyrone Johnson (Cloak) and Tandy Bowen (Dagger) meet in New York City and are tricked by an offer of shelter from strangers that prey on runaways. Tyrone and Tandy are forced to take a synthetic version of heroin, and the side effects of the drug provide them with their superpowers: Cloak creates a dimension of darkness in which he can consume people’s energy to feed his “hunger,” Dagger creates and shoots daggers of light that drain the energy of her enemies and are also used to feed Cloak’s constant hunger.
The first of the four issue Cloak and Dagger mini-series opens with a splash page of the New York Port Authority on the corner of 42nd Street and 8th Avenue. It’s July 20, 1983 and the neighborhood in the opening pages bears little resemblance to the Hell’s Kitchen/Times Square of today. Father Francis Xavier Delgado, a priest born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen, walks among the pimps, prostitutes and lowlifes of the neighborhood in an effort to save them. That night’s attempt proves fruitless and he returns to the Holy Ghost Church on 42nd street. He kneels at the altar of the empty church praying for God’s guidance when Cloak and Dagger appear seeking sanctuary.
Several blocks away at the 21st Precinct, Detective Brigid O’Reilly observes a group of “chickenhawks,” lowlifes that victimize newly arrived runaways at the Port Authority, as they shiver in a jail cell. Doctors and cops have seen others in their condition and chalk it up to bad drugs, but when questioned by O’Reilly, one of the thugs tells her about the “angel” of light and “devil” of darkness that put them in their condition. O’Reilly connects their story to reports of vigilantes attacking criminals and drug pushers, then takes to the streets of Hell’s Kitchen.
After a debate with Father Delgado over the ethics of their “mission” to punish the criminals that prey on runaways, Cloak and Dagger attempt to save a pair of brother-sister teen runaways from a group of chickenhawks. Gunfire leads Detective O’Reilly to their lair, but before she can act, a stray bullet strikes and kills the brother. Dagger’s light makes quick work of the lowlifes, but O’Reilly refuses to accept their methods. To her, Cloak and Dagger’s methods make them no better than the criminals. She attempts to arrest them, but Cloak teleports them back to the Holy Ghost Church. Later that night, Father Delgado sees Dagger in tears as he takes a phone call from the 21st Precinct requesting last rights for the dead runaway.
It was usually the art that would draw me to a particular comic book, and this was no exception when Cloak and Dagger #1 hit the stands in 1983. Seeing Terry Austin’s name on the cover was all I needed to plunk my 60 cents on the counter to buy this issue. His inks were a great match for Rick Leonardi’s pencils, and an original page from this mini-series has always been on my want list.
But it was Bill Mantlo’s writing, particularly his use of 1983 New York City as a backdrop, that got me to buy the subsequent three issues of this mini-series. Combined with Leonardi’s pencils and Austin’s inks, Cloak and Dagger brought the seediness of early 80’s Hell’s Kitchen to the comic book page. Looking back, I’m surprised at how much of that atmosphere they were able to include in their stories. This was a comic book with a significant readership under the age of 18 that showed pimps, hookers and drugs. These were dark stories for the time, years before “dark and gritty” would become overused in comic book stories.