Thursday, August 18, 2016

Marvel's Ultimate Cloak and Dagger and Freeform

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Note:  I was originally going to publish this article in 3 weeks after talking about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff possibilities.  However, the recent news that Marvel and Hulu are teaming up for The Runaways TV series pushed this article ahead to this week.

A while back when it was first announced that the Freeform network had ordered a Cloak and Dagger series, I wrote an article with some thoughts of how such a series could go in terms of characters and plots.  And since we still haven’t heard anything new about that series, everything I said in that article is still valid.

So what changed to warrant this follow-up article?

I subscribed to Marvel Unlimited and spent about an entire weekend reading Miles Morales’ entire comic history up until the beginning of Secret Wars.

Whoa, that’s a lot of reading for a single weekend!  In fact, that’s only been outdone by the time I read the entire Civil War arc in 3 days!

Ahem.  [puts head back together]  Moving on.

As part of that sequence of comics, I also came across Cloak and Dagger’s Ultimate Universe origin, something which I already knew but hadn’t given much thought to.  However, after reading their Ultimate Universe origins—as well as knowing where their story goes from there—I have some new thoughts as far as where this Freeform show could go.

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In the Ultimate Universe, Tandy Bowen and Ty Johnson are the class presidents of rival New York City high schools who meet at the mall and start dating.  On the way to her senior prom, their limo gets rammed by another car, leaving them in a vegetative state.  The Roxxon Corporation’s “Brain Trust” fakes their deaths and takes their comatose bodies to perform experiments on them (as part of their effort to replicate and improve on the Oscorp accident that gave Peter Parker his powers).  Their experiments with Darkforce jolt Tandy and Ty out of their vegetative state and give them the exact powers of their main universe counterparts:  he manipulates Darkforce and teleports; she throws light daggers.

In my previous article I noted that the mainstream universe versions of these characters received their powers from an experimental drug which a bunch of drug dealers were testing on runaway kids.  As such, their origin is tied very closely to the “War on Drugs” iconography of the 1970s-80s.  However, this does not fit nearly as well in today’s culture, which is why in my previous article I questioned if this is the direction they really want to go.

Considering that the MCU is already borrowing heavily from the Ultimate Universe (among other things, Hawkeye’s family is ripped directly from the Ultimate Universe), it would not be much of a stretch for this series to go with the Ultimate Universe origin:  the Roxxon Corporation (they’ve been all over the place, including a turn as part of the villainous Council of Nine in Agent Carter season 2) takes two comatose kids and experiments on them, giving them Darkforce-based powers.

And tying their powers to non-consensual experimentation also helps to set up the next element:

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The New/Young Ultimates

As a follow-up to the Cataclysm event (Main Universe Galactus gets thrown into the Ultimate Universe and tries to do what he does best—eat the Earth), Tony Stark disbands the Ultimates because both Captain America and Thor were lost in the final battle.  However, Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew) forms a “New Ultimates” team to pick up the mantle.  This team consists of Spider-Woman/Black Widow (Jessica Drew, who in this universe is a female clone of Peter Parker—because apparently biology works that way?), Spider-Man (Miles Morales), Bombshell (Lana Baumgartner), Kitty Pride, and Cloak and Dagger.  These heroes share 2 things in common:  they are all teenagers, and all of them but Kitty Pride can in some way attribute their powers to the Roxxon Corporation.  Roxxon’s experimentation on Cloak, Dagger, and Bombshell’s mother (who was pregnant with her at the time) gave each of them their powers.  Jessica Drew was cloned by Roxxon.  Miles’ uncle was working for Roxxon when he broke into Oscorp and the spider that bit Miles stowed away in his bag.  Even Kitty Pride and the X-Men can attribute their powers to nonconsensual experimentation: the U.S. Government was responsible for the creation of the mutants in the Ultimate Universe (side note:  are they still “mutants” if they were genetically altered instead of “evolving” naturally?  I really don’t think so.  Can we get an official ruling over here?).

I think it would be really interesting if the show at some point went in this direction:  Cloak and Dagger track down other teens who received superpowers due to unsanctioned and unethical Roxxon experiments, and some of these decide to form a team.  This would answer my question from last year about the possibility of an MCU-set series about teen superheroes.

Of the heroes who are part of the comic-book New Ultimates, the only real options for such a series would be Cloak, Dagger and Bombshell.  Miles Morales is unlikely to appear in the MCU any time soon, and certainly not on TV; FOX owns the X-Men; and it would be pretty early to start cloning Peter Parker, considering that he’s only had his powers for six months as of Captain America: Civil War.  And in any event, I’m not a huge fan of the “Peter Parker clone” concept, even if Ultimate Spider-Woman is an interesting take on the concept.

Bombshell would be an interesting character to introduce, as in the comics she is the daughter of a super-villain, received her powers in utero, and began as an antagonist toward the others.  She has the power to shoot energy blasts from her hands and cause explosions.  Using her energy blasts she can also fly short distances.

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Another possible young hero who could be given a Roxxon connection is Kate Bishop, a.k.a. Hawkeye (the other one).  Though she does not have any superhuman abilities, the Ultimate Universe version of her character is the daughter of Hydra sleeper agents who essentially use her relationship with Miles Morales to abduct him.  Oh, and in the main universe her father is also a villain.  To work that story into this series, I would change it so her father is actually a Roxxon executive who was directly responsible for the division which conducted all these experiments.  She is unaware of this fact and idolizes superheroes, specifically Hawkeye because he is a regular guy and she is already a talented archer.  However, while Cloak and Dagger are trying to figure out what happened to them, they break into the Bishop house and Kate confronts them.  They show her evidence of what her father did and she agrees to help them out because she feels guilt that her father’s actions robbed them of the chance at a normal life.

Finally, they could round out the team with someone like Eli Bradley, a.k.a. Patriot, who in the comics is the grandson of Isaiah Bradley (the “Black Captain America”).  Both Bradleys have similar abilities to Captain America—Isaiah’s from an experiment during World War II attempting to replicate the Super-Soldier Serum and Eli’s from a blood transfusion from Isaiah.  In the series, they could alter Eli’s origin so that he is another teenager abducted by Roxxon for their experiments.

Speedball is yet another young hero who could fit this concept:  His body automatically creates kinetic force fields that absorb and redirect all forms of energy.  In the comics his abilities came from exposure to a “kinetic energy dimension,” something which could be easily adapted into a parallel experiment to the one that gives Cloak and Dagger their abilities.

This would give a team consisting of Cloak, Dagger, Bombshell, Hawkeye, Patriot, and Speedball, all of whom could be introduced as having interconnected origins (even, to an extent, Hawkeye).

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In the Ultimate Universe, the New Ultimates faced several different villains working for two primary organizations.  When they were trying to stop Roxxon’s illegal experimentation, they faced both the Roxxon Brain Trust (four scientists who had given themselves superpowers via biological and technological enhancements) and Taskmaster.  Ultimate Taskmaster is a bounty hunter who has the ability to replicate any superpower used on him, making him a difficult enemy for the heroes to defeat.

The New Ultimates next fought the Serpent Skulls and their leader Crossbones, who were distributing drugs for a major corporation.  Crossbones does not have any superhuman abilities, but like the movie version he is a corrupt, traitorous S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.

Finally, they also faced Scourge, a Punisher-like vigilante who killed gang members in cold blood and whose killing spree started a gang war.

I don’t think that Scourge would work very well as a villain, particularly on a Young-Adult-centric TV channel.  The version of him in the comics would be much more brutal than network TV generally permits—“Punisher-lite” is still pretty gory!  However, if they were to make him a little less of a Punisher knockoff (and tone him down more), perhaps he would work as a secondary antagonist.

Crossbones is primarily a Captain America villain and indeed has already run his course in the MCU.  He was introduced in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and killed off early in Captain America: Civil War (uh, spoiler alert?) so he is not an option—Frank Grillo’s comments otherwise notwithstanding.  However, the Serpent Skulls gang (the Ultimate version of the Serpent Society) would be an option as a group of drug dealers which the team attempts to take down.

But the villain I would really like to see is Taskmaster.  As in the comic, I would set him up as a “super-villain for hire” who took a contract for Roxxon to capture their escaped experiments and keep them from blocking Roxxon’s plans.  I don’t know if Marvel has different plans with him now that they have his live-action rights back, but he would make for an interesting villain to go up against this group, particularly if (like the Ultimate version) in addition to mimicking fighting styles he can also mimic superpowers.  Interestingly, this would be a good way to give Kate Bishop/Hawkeye a key role in the fight despite/because she doesn’t have superpowers for him to mimic.


In the end there is a lot of overlap between this schema for Cloak and Dagger and the one which I laid out a couple months ago when the series was first announced.  I think the biggest difference between the two is the concept of transforming this over time into an ensemble series where Cloak and Dagger assemble a larger team of teen heroes which can fight major threats and become friends, or even something like a family.  Obviously the focus of the series would still be  on Cloak and Dagger, but the other characters would add a new dynamic to the main couple.

I also think that the origin story from the Ultimate version would fit better in the modern-day-set MCU, even if it is another “experimentation causes unexpected powers” origin.  We can always use another one of those!

Which origin would you prefer to see them adapt for the Freeform series?  What other teen heroes would you want to see on a team with Cloak and Dagger?  Let me know in the comments!

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