We truly live in the golden age of Marvel characters. Note that’s different than the Golden Age of comics, which was of course supremely important, but limited to just the one medium.
Now, Marvel characters are everywhere. Movies, games, animation, network TV, Neflix, Hulu and the soon-to-be Disney+ that will be semi-dedicated to them. We’ve even got tertiary characters Cloak and Dagger on Freeform, the former ABC Family channel!
And what a great series that’s been. Hulu’s Runaways is also about teen characters, but the show itself feels more geared toward an adult audience. Cloak and Dagger, on the other hand, seems actually directed at teenagers, but takes them seriously enough to not insult their intelligence or hide away the “bad words” they’ve been using since they were 10, anyway.
So it was only natural that Marvel Comics would want to pump out a Cloak and Dagger series to capitalize on brand synergy, and it probably makes even more sense for such an effort to be digital-first, considering the show’s audience. Thus was born Cloak and Dagger: Shades of Grey, by Dennis Hopeless and David Messina, in print this month for the first time.
Hopeless is, of course, one of the new masters of teen character voices, with overlooked gems like Avengers Arena and Jean Grey to his credit. Even by the standards of Marvel’s sliding timescale, though, comic Cloak and Dagger are well into their 20s. Maybe that’s where things start to break down.
Shades of Grey immediately throws the reader into a drug bust pulled off by the police and Dagger, sans Cloak. The two are no longer a couple, thankfully (a wrinkle the relationship never needed; platonic friendship between men and women DOES exist), but Cloak’s still protective of her, understandably, and he does periodically still need that light fix, too. So there’s tension between the estranged pair. They both want to try things on their own even though they know, deep down, they’ll always be inextricably linked.
That should make for palpable emotion, but sadly, it’s hard to feel for either of these characters. Cloak is kind of a doofus who doesn’t seem to bothered that people are dying while he takes his time to figure out what’s going on, and Dagger’s just a little too irascible. You don’t have to yell at everyone you meet, constantly, Tandy.
The new characters Hopeless introduces don’t really get enough to be developed, either. Dagger’s maybe love interest is a prop more than anything else, and the (sort of) new villain, Grey, has some kind of a personality, but it’s goofier than what you’d expect, considering his history with Cloak and Dagger.
I say “sort of” because Grey is a new character inserted into Cloak and Dagger’s origin, which is fine, in principle. In Shades of Grey, though, it leads to a lot of flashbacks that interrupt the flow of the story taking place in the present. We lose track of Dagger’s maybe love interest for about an issue and a half while everything else is going on.
The pencils of David Messina don’t much help matters. Many of the character faces look the same (both male and female), and they have a boxy appearance, like slimmed down John Romita Jr. figures. Speaking of, in a panel where Dagger is said in the dialogue to be emaciated, she barely looks thinner than normal, and her “upper body” is maybe bigger and even more pronounced. It’s not the only time what the characters say doesn’t match the attendant imagery.
Giada Marchisio does the best he can with the colors, though the story calls for a lot of black, white and yes, grey. The brighter colors do pop when he gets the chance to use them.
Cloak and Dagger: Shades of Grey had a good idea in reexamining the duo’s origin, but it’s just not realized well in practice. Hopeless is unable to make us care about the characters (old and new) and the dialogue is flat. The art doesn’t always match the script and the facial expressions do a poor job of communicating emotions and thoughts. It must have been popular enough, though, as a follow-up was released digitally last month.