April 17th, 2008
So, I said in part 1 that Cloak & Dagger’s origin needs revisiting, that’s because, like almost everything to do with C & D, it’s undercooked and under-exploited. For a start kids don’t just run away from home, something or someone pushes them. Whether it’s physical or emotional abuse, a catastrophic problem like drug addiction or mental illness, or some other insurmountable situational hurdle, the roots of homelessness usually run dark and deep, but with Cloak & Dagger what’s there on the page doesn’t really add up to much. Tandy was spoilt rotten, and neglected by her rich, socialite mother, so she bought a one way ticket to cardboard city? That doesn’t cut it for me. Not only does it feel inadequate, it lacks drama, and, crucially, fails to tell us anything much about the character. That’s the big crime. This stuff should be at the heart of who C & D are beneath all the eternal darkness and white-hot knives. Their histories unlock them as living breathing people, and, I’ll argue, augment our understanding of their transformation, and consequently open up all kinds of storytelling possibilities.
I see Tandy’s relationship with her mother (her biological father ran off, her stepfather is a non-entity) occupying classic unwanted child territory, except in this story the parent is wealthy enough to provide care for her child without resorting to state intervention. Tandy’s mum could well have suffered from severe post-natal depression, or have a pathological fear of the responsibilities incumbent on a parent, whatever, her daughter never felt her love, and often suffered the consequences of her neglect. Consequences that in her brighter moments Tandy could smother beneath a giant financial cushion, the rewards of privilege, and her love of dancing. At some point, however, it all came to a head. Something happened and deep inside Tandy something snapped.
I imagine Dagger’s teenage years to have much in common with Drew Barrymore’s – a Club Kid in the making*. Her parents living a decadent lifestyle, slopping knee deep in parties and drugs and sex. Tandy locked in her bedroom as her mother snorted white powder and fucked strangers in the living room sofa. Her first faltering steps as a dancer were a transparent attempt to win her mother’s love and she put her heart and soul into it. All her effort, all her energy was expended on the task. Tandy worked to the point of sickness and exhaustion. Later, once it became clear that no matter how hard she tried, how skillful she became, failure was inevitable, she used dancing as a retreat, a distraction from the pain and anger. Years later, Tandy would put the same kind of effort -more- into feeding another black, bottomless pit.
But how did the situation reach a tipping point? In the original origin story, Dagger’s mother fails to attend a performance and Tandy finds comfort in the arms of the Bowen’s lecherous gardener, Rob, who inevitably dumps her a week later when he leaves for college. Tandy, despairing, finally flees the life that has brought her so much pain. As far as I’m concerned, however, Tandy’s decision is reached after years of suffering. If anything, the fiery high points of trauma were seared into her soul when she was a child and unable to put up any kind of defense against her mother’s resentment. Locked away in the darkest recesses of her mind, only to blaze their way to the surface when Tandy faced unspeakable horror on a boat off Manhattan island.
All of this is a long winded way of answering the question, who is the Tandy Bowen who steps off the bus in New York? To my mind she’s love starved and capable of sacrificing everything to win some warmth and affection. Like many of those who have suffered abuse and neglect, Tandy blames herself. It’s her that isn’t good enough, so she must forever try harder. In addition, despite her good looks Tandy is very poorly socialised, having spent her life in a cocoon spun from wealth and the unwholesome antics of her mother’s household. Finally, she’s a dreamer, her dancing an escape route when the world gets too much.
And you don’t get much more disco than that
As you can see, I’ve thought about this stuff an unhealthy amount, but, hey, Max Brooks must’ve wasted a considerable chunk of his life mulling over a hypothetical zombie world war. It’s just something those of us with nerdy impulses need to do.
Next week, we’ll have a look at Cloak’s past, chew over another morsel of Disco Horror, and perhaps get round to the birth of Cloak & Dagger, and those hidden traumas.
Christ, this was only supposed to take up one post…