Clearly, Cloak and Dagger are not the most popular characters in the Marvel Universe. But they may be two of the most popular among comic book writers.
"I think it's Joe [Quesada] that started this, but the saying used to go, 'Every new writer that we talk to comes in with the Nick Fury pitch and the Doctor Strange pitch,'" Nick Spencer, writer of the August-debuting Spider-Island: Cloak & Dagger miniseries, told Newsarama. "I would bet that Cloak and Dagger probably are No. 3 on the list. You hear about a lot of attempts at pitches; writers talk about how much they would love to get their hands on them."
Cloak and Dagger's cult favorite status has kept them in the mind of many since their '80s heyday, when they were introduced by Bill Mantlo and Ed Hannigan in the pages of 1982's Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #64. Ty Johnson and Tandy Bowen — whose rather unconventional origin story involves the teen runaways' latent mutant powers being awakened by forced injections of synthetic heroin — starred in three different series that decade, the longest lasting 19 issues.
In recent years, they've mostly appeared as guests in series like Runaways and Dark X-Men. A miniseries was announced at Comic-Con International: San Diego in 2008, but never materialized. Last spring, they were the subject of a one-shot by Stuart Moore and Mark Brooks.
"I think it comes down to a really striking visual combined with a lot of untapped potential, and backed up a couple of really nice takes on the characters," Spencer said of the duo's lasting appeal, specifically noting Mantlo's work and Brian K. Vaughan's run on Runaways.
Now that Spencer is writing the first series starring the duo in years, the Morning Glories co-creator is hoping that Spider-Island: Cloak & Dagger serves a similar purpose as Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction's Eisner-nominated series The Immortal Iron Fist — bringing characters from the past back to modern-day relevance.
"When you see a character, and they appear to be sort of long-suffering, and haven't had their time in the spotlight in years, there's just that feeling that somebody gets in there with the right pitch and the right script and the right artist, that it can be something special," Spencer said. "I think that's what everybody is hoping is the case here."
Spencer feels that the lifespan of these characters is "slightly generational," and foresees a wider revival of '80s Marvel properties like Cloak and Dagger for the simple reason that they're the ones that the current crop of burgeoning writers grew up on.
"You saw in the last decade a lot of characters that had been around in the late '70s and the early '80s, that had struggled for decades — and now they're Luke Cage, and Spider-Woman. Now they're A-list characters," Spencer said. "I wonder if it's not a little bit like music revivals, and if it doesn't have to do with people who were influenced at certain ages being at the point where they can create and contribute."
Though Spencer has been a fan of the characters since he was young, he didn't take the Spider-Island: Cloak & Dagger gig to indulge in nostalgia. Much like how his Iron Man 2.0 is about how a character called "War Machine" can exist in the age of asymmetric warfare, and how his run on Secret Avengers questions the validity of a "secret" team in a time where the public demands more government transparency, Spencer's starting point for Cloak & Dagger is grounded firmly in the real world.
"For me, I saw a lot of fun and interesting potential to do a book about a relationship," Spencer said. "Which is not to say to do a love story, but to do a book about a couple who have been together for a while, and sometimes it's romantic, sometimes it isn't. There are a lot of shades of grey in terms of exactly what their relationship is. For me, in a medium where relationships are usually subplots, and they usually involve a lead character interacting with a supporting character, it was really a fun challenge to get a hold of a book that is very much about the two of them, and the two of them together"
He's also approaching their surroundings realistically, drawing upon his recent experience living in New York City to populate their Lower East Side dwellings.
"You have all of this new development and growth existing alongside huge pockets of poverty," Spencer said of the book's setting. "You have lots of different cultures clashing. That gives you the recipe for a lot of great stories. There's really no characters that are better suited for those kinds of stories than Cloak and Dagger."
The Lower East Side is bordered by Chinatown, which brings Cloak and Dagger into conflict with Mister Negative, a recurring antagonist in Amazing Spider-Man since the beginning of "Brand New Day" in 2008. Spencer previously wrote the character in last month's Secret Avengers #12.1.
The villain received his powers in the same experiment as Cloak and Dagger, and this shared history is part of the reason why Spencer sees the possibility for Mister Negative to become the duo's archenemy, eventually as closely linked as Daredevil and the Kingpin.
"It's just one of those conflicts that you can see occurring so naturally," Spencer said. "I think that there's loads of potential for great stories about Cloak and Dagger dealing with Mister Negative."
Handling art on Spider-Island: Cloak & Dagger is Emma Rios, coming off the widely acclaimed Osborn miniseries.
"She's literally the ideal person for the job," Spencer said. "I've seen her work on these characters, and it's gorgeous."
The three-issue series takes place in the midst of "Spider-Island," a multi-part storyline where everyone on Manhattan winds up with spider-powers. For Spencer, it's his first experience writing in the Spider-Man corner of the Marvel Universe, though he says it was an easy adjustment.
"I have been a big fan of what Dan [Slott] has been doing on Amazing Spider-Man, just like I'm a huge fan of what Matt [Fraction] has been doing on Invincible Iron Man, so one of the fun things for me this year has been getting to work on the same block as those guys, getting to take cues from those guys, and learning by watching," said Spencer, who was announced as being signed to an exclusive deal with Marvel less than two weeks after his first work for the publisher, Iron Man 2.0 #1, was released.
It's fitting that Cloak and Dagger would make a high-profile return during "Spider-Island," given their long history with Spider-Man. They first appeared in one of his comics, and then played a role in several of the character's past storylines, including the vastly popular and still somewhat notorious 14-part 1993 crossover "Maximum Carnage."
They were subsequently featured in the 16-bit era Maximum Carnage video game (remember the red cartridge?), which likely remains their greatest exposure to a mass audience — at least based on the feedback Spencer's gotten so far.
"It's amazing how many people tell me that's where they were first introduced to the characters," Spencer said. "I didn't play this game. I don't even know what system it was for. I need to dig it up now. If anybody wants to give it to me at a con or something, I'd be happy to sign the cartridges."Visit Newsarama on FACEBOOK and TWITTER and tell us what you think!