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A Review of Marvel’s Luke Cage
By now every Black comic book, movie, and television fan has seen the new Luke Cage series on Netflix, and if you haven’t seen it yet, I’m sure you have heard the talk. Our humble estimation is that the Marvel/Netflix combination has once again knock a series out of the park, and more importantly, finally portrayed one of their heroes of color in a manner that even the staunchest critic gives a nod to. Those who have seen the series will testify that they indeed witnessed one of the best superhero shows; television or movie; since Blade hit theaters. The treatment of this character by show runner Cheo Hodari Coker was so on point until you almost missed the updated changes in continuity, and also witnessed Marvel further establish its niche in the ever-growing, extremely popular, live- action superhero shows, much like DC has all but cornered the television market with shows of its own.
We would joke around here at WorldofBlackHeroes about Marvel needing to come up with an “Urban” division, to specifically target the Black market and garner black readers. When we saw the diversity initiatives starting to take place within the Marvel company, we joked that they must have heard us! We saw positive signs happening though. We are not talking so much about the superhero swapping with Sam Wilson/Captain America and the new Ironheart, but we are referring to books like Moongirl and Devil Dinosaur, the upcoming Mosaic, the re-emergence of the Black Panther under the hands of Ta-Neshi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze, the revival of the original Powerman and Iron Fist written by the awesome David Walker (one of my favorites) and Stanford Greene, or the Nighthawk mini-series also penned by David Walker, and the recently announced spin-off series from the Black Panther, titled World of Wakanda, to by authored by the team of Roxanne Gay and Yona Harvey, and the ever- building excitement of what Ryan Coogler and Chadwick Boseman will bring up with the upcoming Black Panther feature film or what Zendaya will bring to the role of Mary Jane Watson. We see that no longer does Marvel have to talk about diversity, but they are actually doing it. A few years ago we did an article on the evolution of Luke Cage, where we compared Luke’s beginnings to the point in his comic career where has was, which at the time was just now leading the Mighty Avengers. He had experienced a maturation process as well as some retcons to his continuity under writer Brian Michael Bendis, and had that characterization for several years. This new Cage series presented Marvel the opportunity to not only give a character new relevance to its viewers, but to bring one of its iconic characters into the modern times and show a whole new generation what he has meant to us old schoolers for decades.
We knew that Mike Colter was a solid choice, and the trailers teased it, but to see him in action, not just getting shot and tossing guys around, but to see his depth as an actor in bringing Luke Cage to life gave us goosebumps. Colter has done for Luke Cage what Wesley Snipes did for Blade and with a hipper, sleeker soundtrack! To steal a line from the show; when asked to describe the guy in the hoodie she saw the witnessed could only say; “He was FINE!” Equally on point was Simone Missick’s portrayal of Police Detective Mercedes “Misty” Knight. Misty has always been perceived as not only a strong Black female character, but as a mainstay in the Marvel universe, and Simone captured everything we have always loved about Misty; including her sexiness; with style and authority.
Mahershala Ali as Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes and Alfre Woodard as his 1st cousin the equally ruthless Mariah “Black Mariah” Dillard bring their characters to life in a way that makes them more real than they ever appeared in the comics. Theo Rossi plays long time Cage nemesis Shades, and while he doesn’t spend the series alongside his partner in crime Commanche, there are some scenes where we see the duo in action. Rosario Dawson reprises her role as Clarie Temple; the nurse we met in the first Daredevil series, and who has a knack for being in the right place at the right time when a superhero needs help. Eric Laray Harvey stars as Willis “Diamondback” Stryker, who like Shades, has ties to Cages past, albeit differently from comic book continuity. Frankie Faison appears also as “Pop”, a local barber shop owner who was once a thug running in the streets, but turned his life around and now tries to help kids from growing up like he did. In the series it is said that he got the nickname “Pop” because that’s the sound his fist made when he hit someone. Pop and Cottonmouth used to run together back in the day.
Besides having an impressive cast, the series sports an impressive story. As with the other Netflix series, the story is set in the same universe and ties in with both the movies and the other shows. References are made to a “magic hammer” and a “big green monster”, as well as their being someone on the streets selling DVD copies of what’s called “the incident”. While it is not necessary to have watched the Daredevil series, even though Claire’s appearance in Luke Cage coincides with her appearance in the second season of Daredevil, it is important to watch the Jessica Jones series in order to make sense of Luke and Claire’s interaction with Dr. Berstein. Also, references are made of ammunition made by an “alien metal” that are being sold on the black market, and in the final episode Claire finds a flyer for a self-defense class being taught by Colleen Wing, who will be appearing in the upcoming Iron Fist series.. The story is set in modern day Harlem, and lets the viewer know that there is a deep, rich history in this place, and it is the love and respect of that history that gives it an allure you cannot find anywhere else. The 90’s hip hop driven soundtrack gives the film a gritty edge and helps draw the viewer into the story. The story does not lose or change the love of community dynamic that started with Daredevil in Hell’s Kitchen. Although in this iteration of continuity for Cage he is not a native New Yorker, his knowledge of the famous Black crime mystery writers and his knowledge of their rich stories places him on even footing with anyone who was born in Harlem.
It was very impressive to hear Pop and Luke talk about the literary works of James Baldwin, Donald Goines, and Walter Mosley. Luke Cage had always a protector of sorts, even as Carl Lucas, so when he is asked by Pop to locate the son of one of his friends from back in the day, he agrees. Pop, who knows Luke’s secrets, sees Luke as having the same effect on his community as some of the characters portrayed in those books.This is the catalyst that draws Luke into a showdown with not only the criminals that would ruin Harlem, but a showdown with his past. The execution of this is done with a style and distinction that Black comic fans will be talking about for a long time.
As for the comic, this is exactly the Luke Cage we grew up reading, minus the Blaxploitation elements that were so heavy into play when the character was created. The character is brought into modern times, and in doing so, changes to his continuity were made. Some may cry foul for these changes, but let’s face it; it is not Cage’s past that is the most important thing, but it is his present and what he will do in the future that is what will keep fans coming back. The changes in continuity that occurs with the other characters are welcomed as well. Gone is some of the stereotypical elements that were often a burden surrounding the old Cage, and in its place we get updated characters who now enjoy a depth that they never had. As pointed out, the portrayal of Misty Knight was on point and was close to the continuity we are familiar with for her early beginnings as a cop.
The final verdict is that this Cage series will go a long way in dispelling the myth of limited reception for Black leads in movies and television. This series shows that even with characters created by white creators, when placed in the more than capable hands of Black creators, can take that character to new heights. This series is one of the most important pieces of comic book storytelling to the modern Black comic book fan, and whets our appetite for the possibilities that the upcoming Black Panther film hold. 5 out of 5 stars