There are few characters as undeniably ’90s as Cloak and Dagger — an interracial couple of teenagers created as an inevitable aftereffect of George Bush’s war on drugs. Sparingly used in the decades since, the duo would make a return to prominence on the back of the Civil War event, and continue to pop up sporadically in the ensuing years, never really able to capture the magic that propelled the characters to such success in the era of Cross Colours and Cavariccis. When they do pop up, it’s typically in quick limited series with interesting new creative teams attached to them, with Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum being one of the key voices in the redefinition of our monochromatic heroes as modern characters.
As such, you would expect a writer of his caliber to inject some life and humor into what can be a fairly austere meditation on themes like addiction, racism and youth violence, but in Negative Exposure, the writer’s trademark banter and pathos falls a bit flat and we’re left with more caricatures than characters.
This series, which sees Cloak and Dagger facing off against Mr. Negative, never really gets out of the blocks. Now admittedly, I haven’t followed the exploits of Mr. Negative in his past appearances in the Spider-Man, Punisher or Cloak and Dagger series, so maybe this perception is only on me, but his role in this books really feels directly cribbed from the recent (amazing) Spider-Man game on PS4 — itself cribbed loosely from part of the Brand New Day storyline. Still, the inclusion of things like the Demon “Brute” — a term usually applied to video game villains that are larger but not dangerous enough to be a boss — kind of hurt the credibility of this series as little more than a cash grab from both the popularity of that game and (more directly) the new Cloak and Dagger series on Freeform. To be fair, Tandy and Tyrone retain a lot of their non-TV characteristics, but they, like the conflicts between them, feel created for the sake of conflict, rather than honest takes on either.
The central conceit at the start of the book is that Tandy and Tyrone have gone official. No they’re not dating again, they’re actually working as special agents for the LAPD under the direction of one Detective Ikeda — Tandy’s current boyfriend. While busting the aforementioned Demon Brute, Tyrone catches the entirely too-randy attention of a woman named Vi and the two also spark up a relationship. Unfortunately, Vi is potentially the most artificial-feeling part in this book about super-people fighting the power of negative vibes, as most of her dialogue paints her as the thirstiest woman this side of the Sahara. She comes onto Cloak so hard you’d think she had been It Follows‘d, except that she seems super into the whole “unfathomable darkness” thing. Her love of monsters must also extend to energy drinks, because she’s also a motocross enthusiast who wants Cloak to use his Dark Force powers to build her launch ramps and other crazy adrenaline junkie stuff. She’s effectively Poochie, is what I’m getting at. A character so seemingly pulled from buzzwords and committee thought as to remove anything genuine or interesting about the character, even when she begins to exhibit her own smokey powers toward the end.
The story, which involves Mr. Negative’s evil side’s efforts to become its own entity by teaming with an amorphous Georgia O’Keefe painting in the sky called “the Devourer” to…make Cloak sad? I guess? It’s not exactly clear, but it is one of those “Love saves the day” kind of things and the job of getting from point A to point B isn’t terribly exciting. It’s not that it’s actively bad or anything — Hallum knows how to construct a scene, and the pacing keeps the story moving — it’s just that it all feels very paint-by-numbers and devoid of any new or interesting ideas.
You could say the same for the artwork of Francesco Manna and Ruairi Coleman, whose pencils are always competent (even if they sometimes butcher Dagger’s haircut), but never terribly exciting. It should be said that they both have some issues with their illustrations of Mr. Negative, who must be an incredibly difficult image to conceive from a planning standpoint, but he’s never egregiously bad. I mean, the design of Mr. N as its own entity is pretty lame, but it’s well rendered.
Overall, it’s hard to recommend Negative Exposure to anyone but comic neophytes. People who haven’t read a ton of comics in the past may find some novelty in its pages, but longtime readers will most likely be a little underwhelmed with this collection. It’s a shame, as there are some impressive creative talents on this book, but this feels like A+ students turning in C+ work. Fans of Cloak and Dagger will probably be better off sticking to their ’90s run, or check their occasional appearances as NPCs in the background of Spider-Man books, as this series just leaves a lot to be desired.