4:00 pm EDT, June 22, 2018

Marvel’s ‘Cloak & Dagger’ brings emotional power to a Black teenage superhero

Cloak & Dagger’s Tyrone “Cloak” Johnson brings an emotional depth and nuance to the teenage Black superhero scene.

He’s a New Orleans teenager who witnesses the police-shooting death of his brother Billy as a child. As he dives into the Gulf of Mexico, a nearby oil rig explodes and results in him acquiring dark powers.

Years later, his parents have worked diligently to climb the socioeconomic ladder to shield their remaining child from the street life. Tyrone attends a predominately White, private school and lives in an affluent neighborhood, but he is still acutely aware that none of this can shield him from racism.

He is harassed and assaulted by several of his peers early in the series. Meanwhile, he runs across Tandy “Cloak” Bowen, whom he saved during the oil accident, and the pair activate their powers after touching.

Tyrone is understandably frightened by this dark force, which allows him to teleport and see others’ deepest fears. He’s not sure if it is a blessing or a curse at first, but he seems to be accepting his newfound abilities.

It forces him to confront his own issues of survivor’s guilt and his relentless need to seek revenge for his Billy’s murder by transporting him repeatedly into the cop’s vicinity. He also begins to question and straddle a thin line of morality as he attempts to shoot the cop responsible for committing and covering up Billy’s murder.

This is explored even deeper when Tandy sees Tyrone in a dream state. He continuously kills the cop only to be chased down and brutally murdered by a team of cops.

She tells him there has to be a better way and offers him a light dagger, which turns into handcuffs. It’s a clear hint that they will work together to bring legal justice to the cop, but it also signifies how this pain consumes Tyrone.

He may be a burgeoning Marvel hero, but the issues he deals with are very real for many kids who look like him. He feels the pressure to be “respectable” in hopes of minimizing trouble on his end or being labeled as an angry Black boy.

His parents are like many Black parents who send their children out into a world where they are automatically villainized simply because they exist. They are extremely protective over their son and live in constant fear of him becoming another shooting victim.

This puts them at odds with Tyrone, who is fighting to establish his identity and find some semblance of closure/peace while dealing with the intense pressure of their expectations. He feels like he has to live two lives — his own and the one that was taken away from Billy.

Systemic oppression and the dehumanization of Black people are at the center of Tyrone’s life, especially in the aftermath of his brother’s death. He’s justifiably angry about the social ills of the world and often fears for his own life.

He also exhibits an emotional depth that needs to be shown with young men. Tyrone is refreshingly raw about his feelings and openly displays his fear, confusion, rage, desperation, and sensitivity, which humanizes him by providing layers to his character.

Many young men are taught to internalize their feelings to affirm their masculinity, but Tyrone challenges this notion and confirms that it is okay to experience a wide range of emotions. He’s young, so he still has some lessons to learn, particularly about mental health/depression/suicide, which he balks at after Tandy admits her desire to die.

But, life experience has taught him the sobering lesson about how privilege, race, and stereotypes play a role in his daily life.

Tyrone’s ability to evade danger via teleportation and the eventual development of his power to use the dark force against enemies would be an amazing trait for marginalized people to possess, but he knows it still isn’t a complete shield from harm.

He still has to think about the ramifications of his actions and potential retaliation against his loved ones. As he steps into his heroic destiny, there will certainly be people who view him as a dark vigilante and prop Tandy up as a White savior.

It will continue the conversation about how race will play a factor in this partnership and the public’s perception of Cloak and Dagger.

Tyrone is a superhuman, but it is his humanity and real-life issues that make him a powerful character. Cloak & Dagger is just starting to get warmed up, so there is a lot of room for Tyrone to grow. Right now, he is connecting with his father’s roots in the 9th Ward as a spy boy and found his infamous cloak, which interestingly is his brother’s unfinished regalia.

I think the remainder of season 1 will continue to focus on Tyrone’s journey into the world of Spy Boys and how he can hone his powers to become an unstoppable spy boy. He will get a chance to not only honor his brother’s legacy but also team up with Tandy so they can both find justice in their own lives.

This will open the door for them to take on the inevitable larger force that will threaten New Orleans and require their combined powers to defeat a foe. His journey as a young Black man will continue to be complicated as he balances his regular life with incredible powers.

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