We live in a time where young black men in the United States are being killed and riots are running rampant both in the streets and emotionally in the hearts of many black communities. No situation is black and white, but the one thing that stands tall above the crazy reality we exist in is that this contentious issue is ever still prevalent. It will not disappear; it will not end until we come together and heal the rifts that are bleeding us dry of our will to believe that our society is anything more than a never-ending fight. We must find hope, we must find a hero, we must find our Luke Cage. You see, Marvel's Luke Cage is more than just a Marvel Netflix series, he’s more than just a cultural icon for Marvel geeks and African Americans alike – he is a symbol of hope for all of us.
Or. . . maybe you are just keen for me to keep it a little lighter and tell you whether this is another worthy Marvel watch or not? See that’s the infinite beauty of all the Marvel Netflix series; to straddle the boundary between the two without the vociferous difference between them seeming obvious, melding the two into a sublime symbiosis that keep the Netflix series ahead of the game when it comes to comic book adaptations. And in keeping with the standard-setting productions that were Daredevil and Jessica Jones, Luke Cage (played by Mike Colter) punches through these heavyweight shows to deliver a solid series that establishes it’s hero and exactly what he stands for – someone who just wants to keep to himself and leave the hero stuff to the Captain America’s of the world.
Not exactly a hero right? But this is what makes Luke Cage the hero we can relate to. He is just an ordinary man who sees wrong in the world and physically has the power to do something about it. Imagine every time your blood boiled, but not just any boil, that Halloween cauldron, Hamlet hocus-pocus, spits over onto your oven and makes those marks that are impossible to clean off, type of boiling, imagine being able to actually wipe those marks away, imagine you were given the superhuman ability to actually right the wrongs of the world. Would you do it? This is the premise of Luke Cage, the reluctant hero who gets in deep and realises that is exactly where he belonged all along.
The Harlem Renaissance of the early 1900’s was a time that saw black culture thrive amongst a background of artistic creativity and freedom, the African American identity moving physically from the South to the North and with it the moving preconception of black men and women being poor and uneducated, demolished along with the Confederacy. Now unshackled by pre Civil War conditions and free to live the life they deserve, the rich and vibrant black culture was established. It was gifted to the world and Harlem was its stage.
“Harlem is supposed to represent our hopes and dreams. It's the pinnacle of black art politics innovation” – Luke Cage
However, like many flourishing times, this came to an end – the Great Depression hit and Harlem saw a decline in the opportunities it once had. Despite this the iconography of this Manhattan borough still remains today. It is the background upon which Luke Cage is fighting the good fight and it parallels his own story of identity establishment, living up to the great black men and women who fought for his rights and unshackling himself from his past, fighting for the present and ensuring the future is one in which Harlem is once again flourishing.
Meanwhile criminal businessman Cornell Stokes aka Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) is trying his hardest to keep a firm and forthright grip on the Harlem via his guns trade. This is obviously something that keeps Cage and Cottonmouth on the opposite side of the fight. Like all crime, the innocent people in the crosshairs are simply collateral damage to Stokes; the intended targets are dead on arrival.
Luke is initially pulled into this world through the tragic death of Pop, the redeemed Harlem elder who holds a place in everyone’s hearts. Starting out as a young street thug he soon turns his life around to ensure that no young person follows in his footsteps and offers his barber shop as a Switzerland free of the stress of the streets and of any violence. He is the epitome of the spirit of Harlem and everyone knows you don’t start anything in Pop's shop. So when the spirit of Harlem is taken, Harlem is shaken up and Harlem’s hero is reluctantly born.
Luke fights many villains along the way, new villains rise to the occasion and along for the ride we are taken on a journey that doesn’t feel like a comic book at all. This is one of the defining differences between the movies and the Netflix series; you watch the Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy and you feel like your watching a comic book movie, nothing wrong with that, but you are immediately ripped from your existence and taken to another reality. Luke Cage feels like your world, like you could walk down the street and meet Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) the power hungry politician, or Misty Knight (Simone Missick) the New York detective who wants to do good and believes in the system despite its flaws. The very real, raw feel of the Netflix world makes for a much more immersive experience. And the fact that the hero is a bulletproof black male sits in a very apt position in today’s current time – a young black man who may feel the pressure to act, think, be different when simply walking down the street for fear of being judged based on his skin, seeing himself in ‘Power Man’ with all his flaws and yet all the virtues he fights for, and seeing him bullet proof – it’s a sad irony and a beautiful inspiration.
But of course a show about a man who can't be hurt doesn’t exactly make for the most exciting viewing experience. See Luke can be poisoned, his bones can break from extreme force and most notably his tender little heart or rather large heart in relation to his body mass can be easily moved to the point of pain. Despite his best efforts to not care about others, Harlem’s fight is his fight and the moment our hero becomes emotionally vulnerable, opening himself up to the idea of being a hero and the prospect of a relationship with ‘Night Nurse’ Claire, he becomes a little less bulletproof. The emergence of armour piercing bullets sees Luke finally bleed, Cage’s emotional vulnerability leading to a life-threatening one also.
However, much like a forcefully rushed DC Extended Universe, the show is not perfect. The dialogue can be eye rolling at times, coming off a little cheesy, however you could argue that is in keeping with the Blaxploitation inspiration as seen through the soundtrack, characters and yes, dialogue. Luke and Misty are prime examples of this. The show also suffers from the ever popular third act lag, starting off strong and ending up with a less than impressive villain that doesn’t feel intimidating, despite being built up through the characters lauding his prowess at the most opportune and convenient times. Initial antagonist Cottonmouth had a suave charisma that had you eager to see what he did next, Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey) was just kind of whiney, a little boy with daddy issues and a childish grudge that took it to the extreme.
Mariah’s political warfare did leave me intrigued to see more though and the future prospect of Heroes for Hire left me fan-girling out with embarrassing amounts geekdom. With Iron Fist coming up next near and Misty’s romantic connection to him, Heroes for Hire is an obvious show in the making. However before we see that, the highly anticipated Defenders series is due in 2017 and I am honestly more excited by that than Infinity Wars.
For all its third act failures, I am definitely intrigued to see more of Cage’s story. He isn’t the most interesting character personality wise, which is why his buddy-cop relationship with Iron Fist in Heroes for Hire works so well, but this is a series that will leave you feeling connected to a character that has to overcome the everyday and extraordinary odds alike to live a life more fulfilled all the while helping others along the way. Taking the wondrous and making it feel personal - keep it up Marvel!
Top 5 Character Easter Eggs
Hold the Mustard
We're gonna to rock down to. . .
And of course the obligatory Stan Lee Cameo
4 out of 5 Stars