Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cloak and Dagger (One Shot)

The duo of Cloak and Dagger have long hung around the fringes of the Marvel Universe, often making an appearance but rarely having a major part to play. They've been bit players in Spider-Man, had small roles in both House of M and Secret Invasion, but their own self-contained adventures have never been all that successful. In Marvel's current big-picture continuity, the pair finds themselves mixed in with the X-Men, thanks to a timely opportunity for redemption presented by Norman Osborn.

In his first adventure with the characters, journeyman writer Stuart Moore reveals a surprising understanding of what makes them tick. While Osborn had recruited the duo for covert actions with the Dark X-Men, it didn't take long for Emma Frost to invite them on-board with the real squad. One thing's strange about that setup, though – Cloak and Dagger aren't mutants. And while the rest of the team is more than accepting of that fact, it's something that nags particularly at Dagger. An uncertain character at heart, she's struggled with the news that she's certifiably non-mutant. Dagger wants more than anything to find acceptance somewhere, anywhere, and despite the other X-Men's assurances, she just can't see that happening within Xavier's legacy if their powers come from different sources.

Moore's story is at its best in dealing with that kind of emotional stress, when he can speak volumes without a lot of dialog. In dealing with a character that wants to be counted among the persecuted just to fit in, he's turning the mutant dynamic on its ear. Later in the issue, when the focus moves away from that, the tone becomes more generic and the issue loses its hook. If this was a testing of the waters to see if the headlining duo could support their own monthly series again, well, that was their chance.

Mark Brooks's artwork gives the issue a strong personality, albeit one that's a bit more effective in pin-ups and splash pages than more mundane, story-driven layouts. His style is heavily influenced by animation: simplistic and minimal in general but sharply detailed where it needs to be. Brooks nails Dagger's pensive confusion in her facials and body language, then brings to life her presently awkward, uncertain relationship with Dagger. His prior familiarity with the X-Men is a huge benefit, since the mutants are involved so closely with the plot, but the new characters he's asked to introduce aren't nearly as exciting as the established ones he's already spent some time with.

I was enjoying the direction this one-shot seemed to be headed when it suddenly zagged off at a more common angle. That resulted in a story that's certainly more digestible to the mainstream, but also much less involved and unique as a standalone. It's tricky because Marvel's interested in printing books that make money. You've got to expect a certain quota of explosions, collapsing walls, sailing automobiles and fisticuffs. But in moving to meet those expectations and produce what will probably be a better-selling one shot, the issue lost track of the very specific elements that were working to set it apart. Flip through it but don't expect to be clamoring for a new series when you reach the last page.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5

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