Created by Cheo Hodari Coker.
Written by Charles Murray, Kayla Cooper, Nathan Jackson.
Starting: Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Erik LaRay Harvey, Rosario Dawson, Alfre Woodard.
My only interest in the Luke Cage character occurred when I first read Alias by Brian Michael Bendis. Jessica Jones’ story was captivating, and the addition of the “bulletproof man” to contrast her was quite good. Yet, it never made me look back on his character asides from his Wiki page, instead I looked forward into the stories in which they were together, fighting crime and taking names. But the Netflix-Marvel series have been incredible so far, and seeing him there made me excited for this foray into his life. I was not sure what to expect, would there be more Jessica Jones? Would we be given a glimpse of the past? Who would be the villain? Are you familiar with Harlem’s history? No, yes, the lines aren’t always so clearly drawn, and you are about to learn.
“I asked Pop once why he didn’t want people to curse in his shop. And why we had to wear these ugly smocks. He said “These kids need to see a man go to work every day and to be in the presence of men in uniform putting in work.””- Luke Cage
The first season follows Luke after the events of Jessica Jones, as his life was turned upside down and he must keep his profile low (which he fails) in order to hide from his past. But there is much more involved. Luke is at the center of a struggle for Harlem, a world of underground criminal activity, political corruption and the police trying to halt it. A place designated by itself as the black community’s hold due to its historical African background, which is quickly becoming a place for all minorities to reside, an aspect that contrast with certain people in the same community. At the core it is a story of race, a story of blackness and what that means, in a black community, mixed community, and the occasional white community. That is where the heart lies, well, there and the incredible amount of ladies that can handle their own.
Much like Jessica Jones and Daredevil, the series focuses more on the noir aspect of their stories rather than the “heroing-only” we often see in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The same contrast of dark colours and imagery are used to give us characters more rounded on reality than other heroes like Thor and Vision. These are the stories of people that were living normal lives util one simple event decided to turn their lives upside down, and they are left with a choice, to use their powers to help others or themselves. While some, like Daredevil, find it easier to use it for the greater good, Power Man and Power Woman, find it harder to do, their demons are strong. This is the story or their demons and “redemption” of sorts.
On the basis of race:
Race is a hard subject to tackle, not because it isn’t realistic, but because it is often done through the lenses of the privileged instead of giving a voice to the individuals that are often seen more for their race instead of for who they are. Here, almost every major character, from the cops, to the delinquents, to the medics, and small business owners, is black.Amidst a world that currently sees black people as a nuisance for standing up against oppression and murder, this show gives us the many facets of being a person of African descent in America, while at the same time unifying them in the struggle of simply being black.
Different episodes delve into different parts of the black experience (which in many aspects is not that different from other people’s experiences), being an ex-con, living up to a family’s legacy, police shootings, crime, racism, sexism. And they are all done masterfully, written by and acted by people who have experienced it.
“I don’t seek justice, I stalk it.” -Misty Knight
On the basis of women:
Misty Knight? A detective tasked with bringing down the big crime boss, while getting herself tangled with Cage and murder. Mariah Dillard, a councilwoman, whose cousin is the same crime boss Misty is trying to pin down, who has more stakes in the game that we are originally shown. Claire Temple is finally given more story than she got in the previous two series, she is more than a nurse that comes across super-powered people, she becomes a driving force for Luke to face his past. Priscilla Ridley, the police inspector who prefers to climb the social ladder, unless she is proven necessary to save people. And these are only the main female characters. Patricia Wilson is the mother of a boy roughed up by the police, who has put herself through law school as a single mother. Mama Mabel, only seen in flashbacks, but the driving force between the two cousins, a woman who controlled much of Harlem and the crime syndicate there.
None of these women are used simply to further only the men’s plots, they are thriving forces themselves, and without them, the story would feel devoid. Each one provides a sample of what they are capable of, why they should be feared or revered, and how they can be just as capable as the hero himself.
So far it seems like a wonderful adventure to see right? Well, there is more, the music is fantastic, with even live performances added to the club scenes. The soundtrack is diverse, taken from a broad spectrum, from Wu Tang Clan, to Dusty Springfield, to Nina Simone. But the breakout performance came from Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, who composed the music for the series.
My favourite song in it:
I only had three issues with the series. The dialogue could have been better, one of the villains was weak, and the relationship between Claire and Luke seemed out of place. Quite a couple parts of the script seemed lacking when it came to the depth that other series have shown, it lacks certain emotional extent that would allow the viewer to comprehend more who the people truly are. Diamondback was the one character I found uninteresting. He was the only one whose involvement in the story seemed unnecessary and inadequate. Not even some of his great lines and the actor’s performance could save him as a person I would like to see more of, I would’ve preferred more Cottonmouth, Black Mariah, and even Shades. Claire and Luke seemed to have mostly a friendship type of relationship, and that is what I hoped would happen between them, but we all knew that would not be the case. Maybe is my love for the Jessica-Luke love, but it appeared rushed and second-thought.
“People are scared but they can’t be paralyzed by that fear. You have to fight for what’s right every single day, bulletproof skin or not. You can’t just not snitch, or turn away or take money under the table because life has turned you sour. When did people stop caring? Harlem is supposed to represent our hopes and dreams. It’s the pinnacle of black art politics innovation. It’s supposed to be a shining light to the world. It’s our responsibility to push forward, so that the next generation will be further along than us.”- Luke Cage
Now, go forward and watch this piece of gold, there is much to learn from the dynamics between the people and places shown. You might even like it more than the non-Netflix marvel series.
For other posts on the incredible show, here are some links to Nerds of Color posts on the matter:
Luke Cage on Netflix: Sweet Christmas in Autumn
Luke Cage is the Most Feminist Show on TV
Plus a NYT post by Mike Hale.