Luke Cage. The African-American Comic Book character that graced the screen before T’Challa, the Black Panther. Luke Cage actually went by Power Man in the Marvel Comic Books, but adaptations are adaptations and studios need names that sell. Did you really think comic book die hards alone are what’s keeping the influx of Super Hero media so fat and healthy? The answer to that question is no. The introduction of comic books turned Netflix binges is what is fueling this genre’s resurgence and Luke Cage is a diamond in the rough. The series even outperformed Daredevil Season two, which is no small feat. So, it comes as no surprise that Luke Cage will be getting a second season. Key characters like Cottonmouth, Black Mariah, and Misty Knight steal the show and outperform the main hero himself. This is what makes Luke Cage so fun to watch. The show also captures the grittier side of Harlem and isn’t afraid to murder and beatdown anyone caught in its path. Combine this with star-studded hip-hop cameos and Luke Cage becomes a rallying cry for the streets.
Soon after clicking that play button we find out that this rendition of Cage is an escaped convict who has been wrongfully sent to jail. Cage becomes part of an experimental program aimed at making super soldiers. Once Luke punches his way out of prison and swims for miles back to civilization (Harlem, New York), he needs a new identity. This is the birth of Luke Cage, formerly known as Carl Lucas. The first season explores the limits of Luke’s invulnerability and dives into his intriguing backstory; including that pesky criminal record. Cage eventually learns how he obtained his powers and gets closure regarding old feuds with his so-called family. Did I mention the cool supporting characters?
When Cage isn’t kicking evildoer butt, he spends his time working at a barbershop, washing dishes at Cottonmouth’s (the local crime boss) club, and practically living in the gym. Cage may look like he wants trouble, but he usually keeps to himself. I hate to say this, but Luke is a man of few words. He seldom changes attitude or shifts emotions, mostly speaking in his stern monotone and hiding whatever he’s feelings behind a bright smile. This all changes when a gun deal between Cottonmouth and fellow mob boss Domingo goes awry. What follows is a series of fights, investigations, and a whole lot of running. What makes Luke Cage so unique is that he’s out on the streets; he walks around in a black hoodie and even gets a freestyle from Wu-Tangs very own Method Man over the Harlem Radio waves. The nods to hip-hop don’t end there. Dapper Dan himself makes an appearance and up and coming rapper Jidenna’s “Long Live the Chief” (Classic Man anyone?) graces the halls of Cottonmouth’s club. Way before Black Panther united African American actors and celebrated everything proud and black, Cage was putting on for his people and for the culture. Outside of Cage, other characters are more animated, which helps to keep the show interesting and alive.
Cage can be one-dimensional at times, but his adversaries and allies are anything but that. The show effectively incorporates an interesting supporting cast and it’s a major plus. Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, the local mob boss comes off as pretty calm and collected at first, but when he learns that one of his goons accidentally killed Pop (the local neighborhood barbershop owner), Cottonmouth throws him off the top of a building. It’s this rage that makes Cottonmouth’s character so appealing. His backstory also garners sympathy and adds to the character’s development. He was always taking piano lessons as a kid, never having the stones to put a beatdown on henchmen who broke the rules; something his mother would force him to learn. The mob life is something he was born into, not something he chose. So, once grown up, Cottonmouth continued to play beautiful jazz ballads whenever reminiscing of how far he’s come along, all within the comfy confinement of his club. Cottonmouth repeatedly elevates the tone of the scene by yelling death threats when you least expect it. He goes from 0 – 100 like that! He also has a wicked sense of humor. Repeatedly taunting Luke and anyone that comes his way. Making fun of their race, shortcomings, or just flat out insulting. Cottonmouth laughs his way to your grave and only loses his temper when it’s absolutely necessary. He also has a swagger that could fit in at any red carpet. He unfortunately reaches his demise at the hands of his own sister, Mariah Stokes, known as Black Mariah.
Black Mariah is a Harlem City Councilwoman who gets her funding from Cottonmouth’s illegitimate dealings. She may work with the underbelly of society, but she has a true vision for a better Harlem: a place of renaissance and prosperity. Black Mariah was the public friendly face of the Stokes family empire. She smiled for the camera and spoke about reform and rebuilding the ghettos. The one time she loses her cool, she murders her own brother Cottonmouth. The bloody scene that detailed Mariah beating Cottonmouth’s face in after pushing him off of the second floor of his own club is something I still haven’t gotten over. Not just because of the glass in Cottonmouth’s face or the blood trail he leaves behind trying to crawl away, but because of the loss of such a boss character. Mariah uses her political know how to frame Cage for the murder of Cottonmouth and kills off anyone connected to her dead brother, all in the name of protecting her alibi. Mariah is interrogated but ultimately let free due to lack of evidence (the evidence being a dead witness). She literally steals the life of the show. Black Mariah plays dirty.
No gang war would be complete without a detective on the case. This is where we’re introduced to the voluptuous Misty Knight. Knight gets right to it, having a one-night stand with Cage in the first episode, neither aware of the other’s true identity. This series is not afraid to show- I mean to imply, hot and heavy fornication. When the two crime fighters learn that one is on the side of the law while the other operates above it, they develop a truce on shaky ground. At their best, the two work together and Cage often swoops in to save his partner. At their worst, Misty arrests Luke and attempts to take him in. Misty isn’t just a badass detective who isn’t scared of your typical thug, she’s prone to losing her cool and beating an interviewee (or anyone) who gets under her skin. Talk about losing your temper. These imperfections make Misty relatable and all around enjoyable to watch in action. When you learn about her sister’s death at the hands of several men by sexual assault, you gain a whole new level of empathy for our legal crime fighter. Most importantly, her shifting dynamic with Luke Cage sets the pace for the plot and gives an intriguing twist to the show. Like a Harlem version of Batman and Gordon.
The gangs aren’t the only ones terrorizing the streets however. The Harlem police force starts pulling over and investigating innocent citizens while looking for Cage after he was framed for the murder of a police officer. In other words, police brutality was raining down on Harlem and it reaches a point where a young boy had his face bloodied during an interrogation by a police officer. This breaks the news and goes viral, leading Harlem citizens everywhere to don black hoodies with make shift bullet holes to look like Luke Cage. All in the name of standing up to corrupt law enforcement. This adds to the theme of black power and unity in impoverished neighborhoods that is present throughout the show. It is here in the series where Harlem Radio plays Wutang’s Method Man’s freestyle for Luke Cage. An anthem for the streets who have his back. Harlem’s very own Black Captain America (as quoted from the show).
Overall, the series may have a slow start, but it delivers roughly in the cut street warfare, compelling characters, and over the top moments. This show will leave you breathless through sheer shock and awe. But also, from laughing so hard that you’ll have to hit pause and rewind. The real will recognize real on this one. Luke Cage gets a 9/10.