Until now, the superheroes of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe have fought aliens, worn capes, and flown about New York City, and none have been as real or relevant as Luke Cage. The newest character to join the Marvel-Netflix “Defenders” lineup, Luke Cage wears no armor and uses no magic—he’s a bulletproof black man whose ‘costume’ is a simple hoodie, and he’s the hero the world needs right now.
Created by Archie Goodwin and John Romita Sr. in the grooving ’70’s, Luke Cage originally debuted on the comic book scene as the embodiment of the cool black man with a background in crime, typical of the subgenre of blaxploitation. After a botched experiment granted him invulnerable skin, Cage became a hero for hire called Power Man, lending out his services to paying clients in Harlem, New York. The version of Luke Cage busting onto computer screens via Netflix is a modern man whose timely story speaks to the state of racial tensions and gun violence in America today. He’s dropped the popped collar, ‘fro, and silver tiara for regular shirts and hoodies which take more damage than his bulletproof body.
Show runner Cheo Hodari Coker knows the importance of departing from the dated stereotypes surrounding black culture and superheroes, making the Luke Cage season one debut a shining blend of hip hop and heroism in Harlem without feeling campy or cliché. The cast is Marvel’s most racially diverse out of all its films and Netflix shows, and the action feels fresh.
Where Daredevil deals with corporate greed and Jessica Jones tackles psychological trauma, Luke Cage confronts the topic of political corruption and race relations at a time when our world is very much struggling with the very same problems. While other heroes are off stopping alien warlords and evil dictators, Luke brings the fight down to a more human level as he works to save his city from police problems and political power plays that put dirty money in the pockets of government officials.
Each Marvel Netflix series connects to another in smart ways, and while it is not exactly necessary to have seen the previous shows in order to watch Luke Cage, doing so adds intrigue and clarifies references, revealing just how deep the Marvel waters run. If you absolutely must have an introduction before starting this series, Luke first appears in Jessica Jones season one, and is a key part of her story. Each season of Marvel’s Netflix shows are 13 hour-long episodes that can be easily, temptingly binge-watched in a day or two. But don’t expect Iron Man action in this one—Luke Cage relates more stylistically to The Wire than to anything Marvel has produced thus far.
The show boasts an all-star cast, featuring Mike Colter as Luke Cage himself, with Mahershala Ali as the nightclub manager Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, Simone Missick as fan-favorite police officer Misty Knight and Alfre Woodard as politician Mariah Dillard, whose ‘New Harlem Renaissance’ initiative is funded in secret by dangerous dealings. Other big names like Theo Rossi, Rosario Dawson and real-world Harlemite Dapper Dan add depth to the character roster and really bring Marvel’s Harlem to life. The soundtrack is flush with hip hop and R&B tones that play well on the mood of the series, while mentions of Notorious B.I.G. and Nicki Minaj add to the celebration of the vibrancy of black creative culture.
Ten hours into the show, my only real complaint is that the flow of the series sometimes drags under slow expository scenes and a few thinly-spread subplots in places, but given the acting caliber of the cast, this is more a fault of the writing which is otherwise incredibly solid. Luke Cage stacks up strong against previous installations of Marvel’s Netflix roster. My personal favorite remains Jessica Jones, but Luke Cage comes in close second over both seasons of Daredevil for its relevance, strong cast and focus on the diversity within black culture. The show is smart, breaking up the monotony that has settled over recent superhero flicks. If you are looking for an amazing new show to binge watch or savor over the weekend, let Marvel rattle your Cage.