In 1982, Bill Mantlo introduced us to Tyrone Johnson and Tandy Bowen, better known as Cloak and Dagger, in Spectacular Spider-Man 64.
The teenagers staged out of an abandoned church in New York and rescued runaways like themselves from the drugs and crime of the streets. Over 30 years later, Joe Pokaski brings the duo to the small screen on FreeForm. Early in May, BGN interviewed Joe just before his directorial debut of Episode 7 of Season 2, “Vikingtown Sound.”
With the pantheon of superheroes available, what is it about Cloak & Dagger that made you want to produce this show?
I don’t know. I always loved their relationship. As a television writer, I’ve always been drawn to good relationships and I feel like — there might be some exceptions — but Tandy and Tyrone are kind of a true duo in the sense that there’s no sidekick. They need each other. They rely on each other and there’s not necessarily a hierarchy. They just have each others’ back. So, it felt good to be writing just a show about finding the one person who understands you.
There are some differences between the comic books and the television show. One of the most striking is the location. Why not have Tandy and Tyrone in New York?
Well, I think when we started making the show, New York was plenty covered. We had all of the superheroes that lived there. By then Dr. Strange was there. All of the Netflix superheroes, so we started talking about where to locate the show, as well as if we could move it and we started talking about New Orleans and I just loved that idea. There is something kind of gothic about Cloak & Dagger and there’s something gothic about New Orleans. And when I started toying with the idea of moving it down here, it felt oddly like it was a better fit than New York, at least for the television adaptation.
The first season saw the duo coming together. This season seems to have them exploring their abilities. But in the background, is this mystical element of the divine pairing, sort of interwoven through the history given by Evita and her aunt. Can you tell us a little more about the significance of the divine pairing?
Yeah. We wanted to give the show a bit of its own mythology and you know, I was working on my previous show called Underground, and I learned a little bit more about the origins of Vodun and Louisiana Voodoo, and I was always curious about it. We didn’t get to do enough of it in Underground. And so, we started talking about Vodun. Vodun is kind of a basis for us spiritually and laying in this divine pairing as the idea that it takes two of us to overcome certain things.
I think when we started breaking the season, Parkland had happened and we were just all kind of impressed by how the young man and women that survived had decided to change the narrative. They had been told you can’t take on the gun lobby. You can’t change gun laws and they said, you know, for lack of a better word, F-you to that prescription. So, I think we decided to give a decade, centuries-old mythology to Tandy and Tyrone, saying one of them had to live and one of them had to die and I love the idea of them saying, no. We refuse. We refuse the premise of your question and we’re going to push on and save each other.
Another difference is that the backgrounds for Tandy and Tyrone are different. What advantage has that given you as a writer?
I think it takes us out of the days of having to do a one-to-one analysis — adaptation —from the comic. I think when I was writing the pilot, I was by myself. I didn’t have my writer’s room. I didn’t have as diverse a population of voices as I wanted to in the first episode. So, I like the idea of flipping the script a little, it wasn’t me trying to tell the story of a young man growing up in the inner city and being Black. I was not qualified to tell many parts of that story. So I wanted to make sure I could write something I could identify with, which was being a fish out of water.
I liked the idea of dropping Tyrone, you know, after having seen violence in his family, his family is circling the wagons. Putting him in school is something I felt like I could write a little better. And then from the Tandy perspective, I didn’t necessarily want to tell the story of a privileged white girl with lots of money. I wanted to tell the story of a privileged white girl with no money. Her character in the comics was great, but possibly a little two-dimensional, and I liked giving her a little more of a struggle. I liked giving the girl with hope a little too much cynicism and giving the boy who has to deal with fear and bravery this place that he was put in because his parents were afraid.
Your past association with Cloak & Dagger has been as a writer and executive producer. I understand that you were in a different role in the May 9th episode.
Yeah. They let me direct an episode because they’re crazy. (Laughs).
Do you approach writing episodes differently now that you have directed something you co-wrote?
No, I usually kind of write to leave some the imagery on the screen. I think it was easier because I didn’t have to necessarily micromanage on the page as much as I usually do because I knew what I wanted to try to do. So I think there’s probably more of a shorthand between me and myself that there is with me and another director. But, I think, for the most part, we always try to overwrite our scripts and really, most importantly, lay in where Tandy and Tyrone are feeling emotionally.
This is not your first foray into the superhero genre. Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Yeah. Absolutely. The first writing assignment I got was on a show called Crossing Jordan. I had a great boss, his name was Tim Kring. I was his assistant for a while and he was tooling around this idea of playing with superheroes, but he had never read a comic book. So, he would pop out every once in a while and say you know, I’m looking to do this. I’m talking about maybe doing this guy who can heal and I was like, yeah, that’s Wolverine.
And then he’d pop back in and say, what if it’s a girl and it’s a cheerleader and then that became the show Heroes. Tim was very kind to kind of let me play in that sandbox for four years. It was really my first real writing gig. So I got to come up and almost go to grad school on these four episodes. That’s where I met Jeph Loeb, who is now the president at Marvel Television, and a really great guy to boot. So, when the Cloak & Dagger opportunity came around, you know, Heroes was ending and he’d asked me what property would you like to write for Marvel Television and I told him, Tandy and Tyrone.
And I had written the script and it was sadly rejected and then I worked on Daredevil for a little while and as we were kind of winding down Underground, Jeph had called and said someone had read the Cloak & Dagger script and the new regime at Freeform…they really wanted to make it. So it was kind of this great opportunity that people never get to kind of revisit it, look at it again and kind of play with Tandy and Tyrone again.
You mentioned Heroes. It sort of told the story of ordinary people with extraordinary powers dealing with each other. And then you took on the heroism and the cowardice in Underground. Cloak & Dagger seems to move you more towards spandex and capes. Was there any difference in how you approached this project than you did with Heroes?
Absolutely. I think weirdly, the heat I get on Cloak & Dagger all the time is that they’re really angry they’re not in their costumes yet.
I get very angry Tweets daily about it’s not called Hoodie & Dagger, it’s called Cloak & Dagger!
And I try to explain quietly that people walking in with a cloak don’t get to have real-life stories. So I think I like all of my stuff to be grounded. Underground was interesting because Misha and I were kind of telling a period piece, but at the end of the day, we were telling a hero story. If you look at Jurnee’s character, Rosalie, we were telling the origin of a superhero. It wasn’t very different from the Peter Parker story, other than the fact that it was real and it was brutal. But, we wanted to tell … Weirdly, Underground has the structure of a superhero story more than Cloak & Dagger does. So, Heroes was its own…it was Tim’s baby and had its own tone. Underground was trying to be blatantly a superhero story based in the antebellum south. Then Cloak & Dagger, in a weird way, we liked calling it the Sundance coming-of-age story in the Marvel Universe. So whenever we can, we try to lean away from spandex, but it certainly leads us to the teleportation and the light daggers quite a bit.
Well, speaking of the teleportation and the light daggers, Cloak is typically a lot darker in the comic books. Are we going to see that progression with Tyrone?
Yeah. In fact, episode seven coming up this Thursday [May 9th]. We see him go to his dark side a little bit. You know, I think Aubrey and the character Tyrone, as we’ve written him, is … he kind of measures himself. He’s playing with the idea of someone who thinks two or three times before he reacts. And, you know, because he is who he is,… he tries to check himself. In this episode, I think it’s one of the first times we see him very much unchecked and it’s a different side of him, which I think will be interesting.
Another big character in the comic was Father Delgado and you sort of just been playing with him back and forth. Are we going to see him assume a bigger role in their lives?
Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, it was so nice to inherit these two characters who had such good supporting casts. Obviously, Brigid has been a big part, as Mayhem has in the second season. Father Delgado comes back in a really big way in episode eight and then, not to give away anything in the finale, but his role is kind of redefined in our season two finale, as well.
In the comics we see Cloak and Dagger teaming up with The Runaways. How likely is it that we will see Cloak and Dagger meet up with other members of the Marvel Television Universe?
I keep making lots of phone calls and pounding on lots of tables, so if the bruises on the bottom of my hand mean anything, we are working on it.
Do you think you will get to direct other episodes of Cloak & Dagger?
I hope so. It was a pleasant surprise, you know? It’s a good reminder of how hard our crew works. It’s a great way to interact with our actors and not necessarily be playing telephone. So, if Marvel will have me … if Aubrey and Olivia will have me to do it again, I’d love to. I think it’s a good way to make sure you connect with your crew in a more tangible way.
While talking with Joe, it is clear that Cloak & Dagger was not just something thrust upon him to exercise his talents as a writer, producer, and now director. Like his other efforts, the narrative seems more the work of a talented fan than someone in love with film for film’s sake. This apparent relationship with the characters gives those of us who loved the comic books permission to like the television show. Of course, I am sure there are some die-hard fans that will remain, haters, until Tyrone relinquishes his hoodie, actually assumes his cloak and thus his place on this divine team. Fortunately, hating on the hoodie doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the show in the meantime. So join the fight against the evil corporate officers of Roxxon by tuning in on the Freeform app or Hulu on Thursday for Cloak & Dagger. The final episode of Season 2 debuts the last Thursday in May.
E.Angel is an engineer and holds a BS in electrical engineering from North Carolina A&T State University. In her spare time she works at her comic book store – Brainstorm Comics and Gaming – when she is not writing. She’s a real nerd who loves all things Star Wars and Star Trek, and is an avid gamer. E.Angel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on either game platform as Bunnehs Sister.