Love stories come in plenty of shapes and sizes — however, in comic books, that’s not so clear. A lot of the time, it’s love at first sight or severe codependence. There seems to be few other options, honestly. Sure, a few examples of healthier romances stand out, but they’re few and far between. Tandy Bowen and Tyrone Johnson in the comics aren’t exactly one of those healthier couples. However, CLOAK AND DAGGER seems to be making some changes surrounding relationships and romance in the show.
Codependency and Racism
Plenty of people — most notably by Kate Beaton — (NSFW, for the record) — have commented on the fact that Tandy and Tyrone’s relationship in the comics isn’t exactly the best. Tyrone is a black man who literally needs Tandy, a white woman, in order to survive. Her light and “purity” in the comics helps him fight off his “darkness” and destruction. Not exactly the most forward-thinking position to put a black man in.
On top of that, the original writing built unhealthy dependency into the relationship because of their powers. Not only are their powers racially charged — Tandy gets to represent purity and light, while Tyrone represents darkness and destruction — but the relationship is uncomfortable even without the racial aspect. Tyrone is tied to Tandy through a need to…well, live. Tandy is tied to Tyrone through guilt, knowing if she leaves him he’ll die. Their romance is tainted by the fact that there’s not much choice.
While I have no doubt that the authors meant to portray Tandy and Tyrone as genuinely in love, the relationship seems uncomfortable nowadays. There must be better ways to portray a romance that still makes room for their powers and their racial status, right? CLOAK AND DAGGER as a show walked in with an answer to that question. So far, that answer seems like a pretty promising “yes.”
In the comics, we don’t get to see much of Tandy and Tyrone before they meet each other. In CLOAK AND DAGGER, because it starts with Tandy and Tyrone meeting as children during the accident, we see glimpses of their pasts around every corner. Seeing how Tandy and Tyrone grew up, and how they lived as teens before reuniting, is helpful to get a hold of their characters. We have not only an idea of what they’re like outside of romantic relationships, but what their ideas of romance are outside of each other.
Importantly, Tandy’s past specifically implies past — and present — relationships. While Tandy’s main gimmick for robbing people is seducing snotty rich kids, the show makes it clear she’s been in something like a relationship with Liam for a while. The idea that Tandy had an entire life with fleshed out relationships before the show focuses in on her is clear.
On top of that, it’s realistic. Tandy and Tyrone barely remember each other. Both of the protagonists are modern teens. They’ve had years of their lives to develop crushes and strong emotions for others long before they crossed paths again. CLOAK AND DAGGER see to it that Tandy and Tyrone aren’t just static figures waiting to find their true loves—they’re teenagers with social lives and romantic lives.
Not So Much Love At First Sight
In fact, in CLOAK AND DAGGER, the relationships in the personal lives of the protagonists continue even after they have their initial reunion. Meeting again alters their lives, definitely, but it doesn’t put everything else in their lives on hold. Tyrone still has his own issues to tackle at school and his own personal life, much like Tandy has her own problems and relationships to deal with.
Neither of the two have immediate romantic inclinations towards each other. Tandy, after meeting Tyrone, confides in Liam and still sees herself as close to him. Tyrone, working through the appearance of his powers, is shown growing closer to Evita. The show has given us something more genuine than immediate infatuation between Tyrone and Tandy. As their storylines twist together, the main thing tying them together is a desire to help the other.
Personally, I find this much more refreshing than love at first sight. Even if the show still sticks to the idea that Tandy and Tyrone are “destined” for one another, it feels more natural. It’s not that love, at first sight, isn’t real — it’s that for most people, love doesn’t start outright as love. Sometimes it starts as thinking the other is funny, or it starts in relating to someone the way you can’t to other people. CLOAK AND DAGGER seem familiar with this, and it’s leading the show down a path that feels more genuine.
One benefit of past and present relationships is that they’re excellent for teaching people things. It may seem like this rule would mostly apply to Tandy. After all, she ran from Liam (pretty literally) after thinking that she could see herself marrying him. Tandy is already haunted by the men she’s robbed in the past, as we see from Tyrone’s vision. However, Liam is the only man in the line-up that she seemed to have genuine care for and interest in.
Liam seems the obvious example of ways past relationships can teach people things. Tandy’s experience with Liam and the chance of her seeing him again exposes a lot about her attachment issues. However, Tandy isn’t the only one who this applies to. Tyrone’s budding relationship with Evita shows his shyness and aversion to socializing, something he likely developed as a means of defense.
Showing the relationships that Tandy and Tyrone have outside of each other allows them to be more fleshed out as characters. Furthermore, it sets the show up to tackle certain character flaws that the characters have. When creators flesh out the protagonists’ relationships outside of each other, there’s more ground to cover. Tandy can try to not run from Tyrone as either a friend or lover. Tyrone can begin to learn how to open up to Tandy.
An important turn CLOAK AND DAGGER has taken is realizing that popular romantic tropes might not fit their story. In general, the show seems to have railed against popular comic book conventions — relocating the story so that it’s not in NYC, flipping the stories of Tandy and Tyrone, among other things — and that seems to be working for the better.
In a story like this, because of the kind of characters Tandy and Tyrone are, tropes can hurt instead of help. Tropes function off recognition and societal standards. That means that in a racist society, a lot of tropes are going to be, well, racist. Straying away from the typical tropes for interracial romance could definitely help CLOAK AND DAGGER.
More than that, CLOAK AND DAGGER seems to present romance in a way that feels more realistic. Not to mention, it also feels much healthier. As much as I love comics, the relationship expectations they set aren’t really that great. To have a show try to rewrite things to reflect more genuine experiences is refreshing. Seeing teens who are able to be teens, instead of being automatically shackled to each other, is nice. Maybe the bar is a bit low, but here we are…and it’s at least nice to see CLOAK AND DAGGER stepping over it.