In early April, Marvel Entertainment announced that their television universe would be expanding to include a live-action adaptation of teen heroes Cloak and Dagger, to be broadcast on Freeform, ABC’s family-oriented cable network. And that’s great! Marvel has a big roster of entertaining “young adult” characters, and a TV show could give oft-neglected characters like Cloak and Dagger the space to grow into their potential.
There’s just one big problem.
Cloak and Dagger’s classic costumes don’t quite reflect the personalities and origins of those characters: that of two near-homeless teens forced into New York City’s drug trade, where they gain unstable abilities and a desire to eliminate the trade as teen vigilantes. The costumes for these comic book characters, although visually arresting and iconic, reflect the perspective of their designer Ed Hannigan more than they do the story of the characters themselves. Author and artist Kate Beaton sums it up perfectly in this [potentially NSFW] series of webcomic strips about the characters:
The “dagger” motif sure looks cool, but the practicality of Dagger’s costume presents an immediate puzzle to the reader. How does Dagger’s costume stay on? Especially when it’s being worn by a character who tumbles around fire escapes and rooftops? In the absence of practical answers to these questions, the answer then most obvious to the reader is that the costume sticks around because the creator (Bill Mantlo), and not the character, desires it. Because the intent of Dagger’s creator is overt in her costume, the creator’s presence then becomes an obvious driving force for the character’s adventures. This would make sense if Cloak and Dagger’s story was a metafictional tale about the creation of stories, or a commentary on impractical comic book costumes, but Cloak and Dagger is primarily intended as an exploration of teen runaways and drug addiction. Ultimately, this leaves the reader with no connection to Dagger other than through the perspective of her creator.
In contrast, the design for Cloak is more organic and representative to that character’s background. Cloak is essentially the living gateway to a “Dark Dimension” that exists underneath our reality, a dimension that exudes through his body and would consume him if Dagger’s light-based powers didn’t periodically push the Dark Dimension back. The design of Cloak’s character is wonderfully evocative, conveying the sheer creepiness of the void that Cloak keeps in check while keeping the costume simple and (dramatically) practical. A reader takes one look at Cloak and they understand that character’s powers and his struggle with those same powers.
At the same time, Cloak is also a black male teenager by the name of Tyrone Johnson, and the realities of being a black male teenager in the United States mean that, because of his race, Tyrone faces stereotypes and struggles that are unique to him. Cloak’s costume, even though it originates from the character’s story, nevertheless reinforces those stereotypes. Beaton, again:
So, hooray for bringing Cloak and Dagger to 21st century television, but now: what to do about those costumes?
This isn’t the first time this question has come up. In summer of 2014, illustrator Babs Tarr was assigned to DC’s new Batgirl comic and promptly rolled out a redesigned costume for the character that was practical, stylish, and iconic. It felt like something this teenage character would choose to wear, and it instantly communicated that she was part of the Bat-family of superheroes.
(Note to self: Look into snap-on capes.)
Later in 2014, artist Kris Anka followed suit with Marvel’s Spider-Woman character:
It seems likely that Freeform, a network that used to call itself “ABC Family,” will institute some kind of costume update for Cloak and Dagger. Other kid-oriented depictions of the duo have done the same, even if that only involved whiting out Dagger’s dagger cut-out. (Dig the anime-style bolt Dagger throws at Spider-Man in that clip, though!)
But why wait and see if Freeform takes action regarding their costumes? If I don’t want to see Cloak and Dagger’s current costumes, then what do I want to see?
I set to work joined by the illustration talents of Tor.com’s production associate Sarah Tolf (tackling Dagger) and freelance designer Michael Eskridge (tackling Cloak), both of them long, long-time comic readers. There were two big goals we wanted to hit with the redesign:
- Keep Dagger’s motif present while making her clothes practical, sturdy, and an expression of what she would want to wear and/or have available.
- Restore Cloak’s body and individualism while portraying the Dark Dimension.
This is what we came up with.
Our thinking for Dagger was that, hey, the weather is weird in New York and she’s slight-of-frame, so she’d want extra padding in her outfit to battle the elements and/or the fists of bad guys. A jacket would be perfect for that, and also present a perfect canvas to incorporate her dagger motif. (Also, motorcycle jackets just look cool.) The purple and grey colors are for contrast. Underneath the jacket she’s wearing a plain white t-shirt, which probably glows when her powers are charged up.
Originally we had Dagger in yoga/exercise pants, but she ended up looking too much like a 20/30-something who hits the gym three times a week. What’s on the back of her jacket? Probably something cool.
Our thinking for Cloak was to ditch the eponymous cloth cloak for a hoodie, so that his body can actually remain visible. The hoodie is striped in a similar pattern to the cloak he has in the comic books, and the Dark Dimension clearly exudes from a central point in his torso, darkening his clothes into a texture-less black which, if left unchecked, creates a larger aura of darkness that would be shaped like the cloak we’re accustomed to seeing. The hoodie itself acts as a sort of security blanket for Tyrone, as well. He feels safe when he has it on, and that sense of security helps him reign in the Dark Dimension. The idea is that everyone should want to see Tyrone wearing his hoodie, because without it a true cloak of darkness would emerge unchecked.
These are fan-centric redesigns, obviously, and they’re not going to supplant the Cloak and Dagger costumes we see in shows and comics, but hopefully these redesigns help prove that it’s possible to update a character’s costume for a new decade (or a new network) without sacrificing the essence of that character. That, simply, there’s no reason why the problems inherent in Cloak and Dagger’s costumes need to extend into their television debut. If we can re-imagine these characters, so can anyone else!