Within the last decade, we have witnessed a new, cinematic renaissance with comic books. They have slowly been saturating our screens and the momentum doesn't seem to be slowing down. Growing up, I would never have imagined that I would see so many of my favorite comic book characters converted into another of my favorite mediums: television. Comic books and the films/TV shows inspired by them were important to me because they offered a bit of escapist fun in a complicated world. Like many of my favorite heroes, I would soon learn that trying to escape from your problems instead of facing them would never be the answer I needed in my life. That is where Netflix’s Luke Cage comes in and changes everything.
You may be familiar with Luke Cage, AKA Power Man, and his partner Iron Fist (whose show is coming out next year) as part of the Heroes for Hire. Instead of introducing them together, we get to delve into Luke Cage’s past, but with a few changes. Cage returns to his home city of Harlem to find it on the brink of destruction. Trying to lay low, especially after his near death encounter with Jessica Jones, Cage is a reluctant hero until the problems in his city take a personal form. There is a power struggle created as several people, each thinking they are doing good, fight for power over Harlem. It's often been said that power should be given to those who want it the least, and that’s where Luke Cage enters this conflict.
Luke Cage was created in a time when heroes of color where in short supply, but high demand and the need exists now more than ever. While the show provides a contemporary and socially relevant take on our hero, it still gives us so many nostalgic elements from the 70’s. The nightclub setting is fantastically retro, especially with the amazing artists (many from the 70’s) they had performing there. Iconic artists like The Delfonics, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Fab Five Freddy and many more. There were many other visual elements that were meant to feel familiar and channel that 70’s vibe, but not to just recreate the aesthetic of the decade. That decade is marred by the civil rights struggle and clashing with police, something that we currently face in our society yet again.
Showrunner and writer Cheo Hodari Coker has plenty of experience developing strong black characters and it shines throughout all of Luke Cage. The depth of every character, no matter how brief we see them on-screen, is created with great care and attention to detail. Much like the villains in Daredevil and Jessica Jones, the villains in this show have their own morality that is presented so persuasively that it makes us think how we would react when put in the same situation. The complexity of not just Cage, but Misty Knight and Cottonmouth, are what make this show such an engulfing experience. While we get introduced to mostly new characters, Coker also fully develops the underrated Claire Temple, who we have seen as part of every Netflix produced Marvel series.
Temple is finally developed as a character of her own rather than playing just an undeveloped sidekick. One of my favorite developments in the show is when Temple finally embraces her long teased role as the Night Nurse. This is only the tip of the nods and Easter eggs, which tease or reference other Luke Cage specific characters, his original outfit (dashing tiara and all), and even a few of his iconic catchphrases. How can you not love a hero who says “Sweet Christmas!” instead of using a profanity?
Every comic book adaptation up to this point is something I have wanted, but only Marvel’s Luke Cage provided something I needed. Aside from providing a great role model, it gives us a great outlet for actors of color. Diversity has long been a problem with Marvel properties and the franchise has finally started making up for this by creating films like Black Panther and shows Luke Cage that include a mostly Black-cast and -led narrative that never feels like it is hijacked by any of the white characters. This show becomes a necessary outlet to showcase talented Black actors like Mike Coulter, Simone Missick, Mahershala Ali, Alfre Woodard and many more. This show may be focused on matters and characters in the Black community, but it also champions diversity all the way, including in actors like Theo Rossi and Rosario Dawson.
The biggest complaint I have with Luke Cage is the inconsistent tone and shaky story structure it has. Much like Luke Cage, the TV show has a hard time deciding what it wants to be. A comic book hero origin story trying to establish itself as a piece of something bigger? A powerful political statement that echoes social problems happening in the real world? It tries to find a balance between both, never quite setting up sure footing in either. There are moments when the show does find that harmonious balance, and they are the most memorable of the entire show. The ones where they have nothing but discord are the least memorable. A great reason Luke Cage stands out from the rest of the Marvel Defenders shows is that the message and meaningful moments tower over the structurally weak ones and shine all the brighter for it. Luke Cage may be far from the total package that Jessica Jones is, but the beauty in the diversity of these shows is that they don't need to/shouldn't be compared to one another.
Quality: ★★★★★ (5/5 stars) Queerness: ★★★★★ (5/6 Kinseys) The monumental social movements mentioned, like Black Lives Matter, in combination with the depiction of gun violence both inter-community and from police, echoes the growing racial tensions we currently face. It gives a fair representation of the communities affected by this type of violence, like Harlem, and shows the various problems while giving some inspiring solutions. It was a great experience seeing this Black-led production that strives to represent the underrepresented. It is Marvel's most diverse and least racially whitewashed production to date. Even though this is a work of fiction, the material still resonates within our society and makes it an important and uplifting experience in a dark spot in American history.