Freeform makes its first foray into the Marvel Universe on June 7 with the premiere of Marvel's Cloak & Dagger, a 2018 take on the comic book duo that made their first appearance as runaway teens in Issue No. 64 of Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man in 1982. Freeform's version moves the young heroes from New York City to post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans and combines two of the network's greatest strengths: intriguing genre content and grounded social commentary.
Relative newcomers Aubrey Joseph and Olivia Holt star as Tyrone and Tandy, the Child of Darkness and Child of Light better known as the titular Cloak and Dagger, respectively. They carry the power to channel others' fear and hopes. Cloak can also teleport out of danger while Dagger manifests mini-spears (daggers, if you will) of light.
To capture Tyrone and Tandy's respective darkness and radiance, Marvel recruited Love & Basketball writer and director Gina Prince-Bythewood to direct the pilot episode to set the tone for the rest of the series.
"We were all on the same page of wanting it to be this very cool, grounded field within this fantastical universe, and give it a look," Prince-Bythewood says of the first episode. "We wanted it to look like a film, and feel like a film...We just wanted to play with natural light and shadows, and not have it feel poppy, but more of a moody, realistic feel to it, really reflect New Orleans where it's set, and use the environment."
To keep the show feeling grounded, Prince-Bythewood and her director of photography Tami Reiker kept the effects to a minimum to showcase Tyrone and Tandy's moods as well as their powers.
"When [Tandy] flashes to seeing somebody's hope, that was all something we created in camera, which I felt was great because when you don't have Marvel movie money, you have to be more creative because an audience still has an expectation of stunts and effects," Prince-Bythewood explains. "We kind of went old school with some things...really blasting the light and using a lot of flares, and natural flares for that. Tyrone's darkness was also shot in camera, giving it a really dark but saturated look, which we felt kind of gave it a claustrophobic feel."
Cloak and Dagger may physically embody the dark and the light with their powers but the show doesn't shy away from the deeper implications of bringing black and white together in 2018.
"In general, with Cloak & Dagger we wanted to make sure we were telling the story of a young black man and a young [white] woman and the struggles they have to go through, which are different from Peter Parker, which are different from Tony Stark," executive Joe Pokaski tells TV Guide.
Pokaski cut his Marvel teeth executive producing Season 1 of Marvel's Daredevil for Netflix before creating the critically acclaimed slave drama Underground for WGN America. Though Pokaski's previous works seem like completely different universes, they find a middleground with Cloak & Dagger, as the fledgling series not only grows superheroes in its first episodes but dives into hard topics like police brutality, sexual assault and racial privilege.
Tyrone and Tandy are united by a childhood tragedy that sends them on separate paths which take nearly a decade to reconverge. In that time, Tyrone's family manages to better their situation and move him to a better neighborhood while Tandy's life implodes. When they do meet again, Tyrone is an affluent private school jock while Tandy is effectively homeless, pickpocketing rich kids to get by. The show subverts the status expectation of its main characters but doesn't use Ty's financial privilege to erase his problems as a young black male in modern America.
"I feel like sometimes people often conflate race and socioeconomic status as if they're both the same thing," Pokaski explains. "And with Ty, it felt like the opportunity to show what a young black man has to go through without necessarily saying he was poor and he came from nothing — that there's still a lot of struggles that he has to go through regardless of being at a great school and [...] overprotected by his parents."
The use of darkness and light metaphor in the series doesn't just stand for race, though. A key component of Tyrone and Tandy's partnership is the use of fear and hope. While Tyrone has the more optimistic view of the world, he's gifted with channeling others' fears; the cynical Tandy can see their hopes. As they grow closer they learn from each other and their powers.
"It honestly felt like the most interesting thing to explore...What we came up with when we first started talking about the heroes was Tyrone was kind of on a spectrum from fear to bravery, and hopefully over the course of this first season you'll see him as someone who kind of hides in his own fear, who's overprotected, who for a very good reason is afraid of the world find his way to be brave in it," Pokaski says. "And then Tandy...there's something interesting about a cynic being exposed to hope in the purest fashion because it's almost [like] the light] — no pun intended — too bright for her to see. So Tandy is on a spectrum between cynicism and hope. And hopefully over the course of the first season, by way of Tyrone, she learns to kind of become more hopeful and heroic."
The convergence of those two perspectives, the marriage of the light and the dark in hopes of finding a balanced path is ultimately Cloak & Dagger is about. It embodies Freeform's ethos of empowerment for young people while taking an honest look at the struggles and tribulations they face as they grow up.
"The show is authentic, and moody, and it does go there...but it is about hope, and about these characters that have incredibly tragic beginnings as children," Prince-Bythewood adds. "To be able to fight through that and find themselves, and find each other in this relationship, and finding each other — that the fact that they are opposites, putting those opposites together to create something ultimately that is good — I love that theme. That is absolutely the theme and what they are going to be building towards throughout the series."
Cloak & Dagger premieres Thursday, June 7 at 8/7c on Freeform.