I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

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Around 1983, anguished teen superheroes were all the rage. Marvel’s Uncanny X-MenUncanny X-Men was establishing a stranglehold on the top of the sales charts, and DC’s revamped take on the Teen Titans was a rare sensation to emerge from that publisher at that time. There was perhaps no clearer proof of the trend than the emergence of Cloak and Dagger.

Introduced in the pages of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man, Cloak and Dagger were teen runaways who were captured by New York mob figures experimenting with a new strain of heroin. The pair were injected with the drug, but instead of suffering the same lethal results that beset others, they developed superpowers. Of course they did. From then on, their specialty involved fighting villains who preyed on similarly adrift youth. And the established hero they crossed paths with most often was everyone’s favorite wall-crawler.

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And if Spider-Man was teaming up with someone, there was a decent chance it was taking place in Marvel Team-Up. If there was a little extra space needed to fit even more guests, well then an Annual was in order.

In the 1983 Annual, written by Cloak and Dagger co-creator Bill Mantlo and drawn by Ron Frenz, Spider-Man’s interaction with the young heroes who molded shadows and light to their will took on the feel of a full-to-bursting high school homeroom when the New Mutants showed up.

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The latest pupils of Professor Charles Xavier had recently been launched into their own series, a clear attempt to exploit reader susceptibility to the exploits of mutants as well as the surging interest in teen heroes. Bringing them together with Cloak and Dagger into a sensational story made all the sense in the comics publishing world.

All of these criteria put the comic book squarely in my crosshairs. I was especially enamored of the story’s sense of high drama, spun out of the most florid worries ripped from the headlines.

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Intensely sensitive to the perceived shortcoming of wasting my time with greasy kid stuff, I loved it when comics I read had a veneer of importance to them, especially if it was social commentary that could puff up my pinging political entitlement. Make no mistake, Mantlo was fully committed to infusing some seriousness into his storytelling around Cloak and Dagger, and those stories did stand out in an era when publishers were still pitching their comics to kids rather than the arrested development nostalgia addicts who make up the target market today. Still, I feel obligated to concede this material wasn’t nearly as erudite as I chose to believe.

Then again, a good yarn is a good yarn. And after all, I was roughly the same age as all these teen heroes bounding through the pages of Marvel Team-Up Annual. Why, it’s as if the comic was made for me.

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Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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