In prior posts we looked at an overview of the cloak, pondered whether it could ever work in reality (Mostly, in the far future), and whether or not the cloak could be considered agentive. (Mostly, yes.) In this last post I want to look at what improvements we might make if I was designing something akin to this for the real world.
Given its wealth of capabilities, the main complaint might be its lack of language.
A mute sidekick
It has a working theory of mind, a grasp of abstract concepts, and intention, so why does it not use language as part of a toolkit to fulfill its duties? Let’s first admit that mute sidekicks are kind of a trope at this point. Think R2D2, Silent Bob, BB8, Aladdin’s Magic Carpet (Disney), Teller, Harpo, Bernardo / Paco (admittedly obscure), Mini-me. They’re a thing.
Despite being a trope, its muteness in a combat partner is a significant impediment. Imagine its being able to say, “Hey Steve, he’s immune to the halberd. But throw that ribcage-looking thing on the wall at him, and you’ll be good.” Strange finds himself in life-or-death situations pretty much constantly, so having to disambiguate vague gestures wastes precious time that might make the difference between life and death. For, like, everyone on Earth.
Additionally, its muteness makes it very difficult for Strange to ever understand the reasoning behind any but its most obvious actions. That would be very important if it ever did anything ethically questionable, because intent would be difficult to gauge without the abstract representation of language.
So between the speed and clarity gains of language, I’d want to equip the Cloak with language: spoken, sign, direct-to-brain, or maybe even a mystical weave which, like the Marauder’s Map in Harry Potter, could mystically transform in real-time to convey linguistic information.
Using apologetics, though, we can see that the muteness isn’t a bug, it’s an important feature. Read on.
But, the hero…
One of the things writers “buy” with a mute sidekick is it lets the hero be the hero. If the Cloak could speak, suddenly we have a “sidekick” who knows much more and can do a few more things—i.e. fly—than our hero can. This is not good for optics. Note that the Cloak’s last intention seems to be “Keep him looking sorcererly,” which implies a service status, and which it could not do if it upstaged him. So from a narrative perspective, the muteness means they are less like a crime fighting duo, and more of a hero-with-a-sidekick, or dare I note it: a familiar.
Also if you contrast the cape with JARVIS and the Iron HUD, note that this has language, but that conversation is wholly private with Tony. To an outsider, it looks like Tony is just the Iron Man. They may have no clue that it’s probably all the suit. So JARVIS’ use of language doesn’t get in the way of keeping Tony looking hero-ey. I’d even go so far as to say that the muteness is the thing that lets the Cloak be primarily agentive, as language would encourage its use as an assistant.
Language is the big one, but there are a few other improvements I could imagine.
If this were for a soldier or a police officer or anyone else who could expect combat as part of their job, the Cloak might make them look cartoonish, like a cosplayer rather than a person with authority. But, hey, if it let them fly, and can supernatural protection, maybe that impression wouldn’t last long. Maybe they could take advantage of being underestimated. But I’d still want to look at how little fabric we could get away with and still maintain its benefits.
Remote control / telecommunication
Another constraint seems to be that it has some proximity limits. To imprint on Tony, it makes some social sense that it would want to be within “handshake distance.” But when Strange is astrally overseeing the emergency operation of his own body (a later post), the Cloak sits back at the Sanctum and doesn’t rush to help when things get fighty. Extending its connectivity would help it fulfill its duties. At the very least tape a cell phone to a pocket and let Strange shout orders at it.
Whew. So that’s my take on the Cloak of Levitation. It’s a marvelous piece of speculative “tech” that fits Tony, his role as Sorcerer Supreme, and is nicely unique in the MCU.
It’s a great sophisticated example of agentive tech the constraints of which make complete narrative sense. I hope we get to learn much more of this marvelous, agentive familiar in the sequel.