By 2012 Cloak and Dagger’s stock had sunk somewhat from the novelty of their 1980s appearances, so the chance to reappraise their earliest stories compiled in an attractively produced hardcover collection was welcome.

Much of Cloak and Dagger’s early appeal is down to their visual designer Ed Hannigan (sample art left), in 1982 impressing with art on Spider-Man that drew on both Steve Ditko and Frank Miller, creating an atmospheric noir world for them to operate in. His designs are solid, distinctive and contrasting. The balletic grace of Dagger is seemingly mismatched beside a bulky flowing cloaked figure, but that strong visual disparity is striking and effective. Later artist Rick Leonardi (sample art right) picks up on it, able to use them more effectively together in stories that don’t require Spider-Man, emphasising the contrast of dark and light, and working in a very appealing cartoon realism influenced by Michael Golden’s approach to superheroes. Hannigan and Leonardi are the best of the artists by some distance, with Ron Frenz, Al Milgrom and Tony Salmons less imaginative and less skilled. Kerry Gammill’s pages are fine enough, but he only contributes a short chapter.

Bill Mantlo’s not a subtle writer, and very much of the era, so while he has the necessary lightness of touch for Spider-Man’s dialogue in the early stories, the speech patterns become ever more melodramatic and overwrought as Cloak and Dagger move into their own stories. Their origin is explained occurring via unwilling participation in experimental drug procedures, briefly covered in a Spider-Man story and more effectively fleshed out later with the detail of what prompted teens Tandy Bowen and Tyrone Johnson to leave home. However, for all the overwriting, Mantlo’s plots sustain the stories, with Cloak and Dagger settling on a war against drug dealers and those who’d exploit children, while we’re gradually made privy to what they’ve become and how they need each other. He’s at his peak over the four chapters of what was originally gathered as Child of Darkness, Child of Light, which is overly melodramatic in places, but exploits a theme of contrast well and introduces two interesting supporting characters. Leonardi’s art helps greatly.

Beyond their first solo outing, the quality drops downward, as Mantlo begins to repeat himself and the characters fall into the hands of lesser artists. The idea of Cloak and Dagger’s powers transferring into a couple of the New Mutants isn’t very well handled, and four different artists working on a very ordinary story comes across as page filler, although Leonardi excels again.

With a TV show for Cloak and Dagger in the planning stages, this collection was reissued in paperback as Shadows and Light, with what sounds like the alluring bonus of an extra three chapter story by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz.