Luke Cage; the hero-for-hire, Power Man, Avenger, and all around bad-ass has finally gotten his own show. As we grow closer and closer to assembling to The Defenders, Marvel’s first African-American lead comes to Netflix, but is it as bulletproof as its title character?
Luke Cage is a brave show and that is a word that I do not use lightly. Marvel’s previous have not been afraid to explore the thematic depths of humanity, whether it was the nature of law and order in Daredevil or how to live with emotional abuse in Jessica Jones. Race is at the fore of its story, which This show is heavily informed by the African-American experience, reflected in choosing Harlem as its principal location. It would be impossible for Luke Cage, a character created in the wake of the blaxploitation phenomenon, to tip-toe around this issue. Instead, it makes the bold choice of embracing these origins and presents us with a character who truly representative of the history of race in America. Luke Cage isn’t a stereotype, he is a nuanced take on a very all-too familiar reality. The Black Lives Matter movement is name-checked and how could it not be? Today, perhaps more so than ever before, there is something incredibly powerful in the concept of a bullet-proof black man.
Netflix has continued is traditional of impressive villains, eclipsing their big-screen counterparts. Luke Cage finds itself overlapping thematically with Daredevil‘s examination of the corruption of the political class and the disturbing influence of gangsters over ordinary people. Yet from the start, Cottonmouth is established as a different class of criminal than Wilson Fisk, one willing to deal with matters personally, one who values their public persona. He is a symbol of the creeping influence of gangs in African-American communities, the evil that prays on vulnerable youths and turns them into killers. Cottonmouth remarks that “[e]verybody wants to be the king”, and for most young African-Americans the gangs are the only hope of achieving status. This is a social evil not so easily defeated with fists. He is supported by Shades; a hitman and former resident of Seagate prison with a link to Luke’s past. This is a living world, with a rich, interconnected history between the characters, that is slowly revealed throughout the pilot. There is no traditional origin story to see, instead, like Daredevil, our hero’s tragic past is naturally disseminated throughout and only insomuch as it is necessary to serve the wider plot.
All this would be for naught if it was wasn’t supported by a stellar cast with incredibly performances. Mike Coulter remains as charismatic as ever in the title role. Following his reoccurring role in Jessica Jones last year, it was evident that he had the acting chops to carry his own show. Thankfully, he has been given the material worthy of a man of his talents. He doesn’t seek the spotlight, but is slowly coming around to his community’s need of a hero in this opening episode. Strong turns from Simone Missick as Misty Knight and Alfre Woodard as sleazy politician; Mariah Dillard, bolster an outstanding display of acting from all involved.
The rumours are true, Luke Cage is as good as everyone says it is. It is thematically resonant in way few shows are and moreso than it probably had a right to be. This will re-invigorate the character in the way that Netflix has done for the rest of its Defenders‘ lineup. No longer to be resided to the D-List, Luke Cage doesn’t need his Power-Man moniker to be the hero that we need. It’s about time an African-American man was bulletproof.