Marvel fans the world over will be loading up on snacks and praying for bad weather this weekend, as they prepare to binge on Marvel’s latest addition to it’s Netflix series lineup, Luke Cage. All 13 episodes of the show drop on September 30, with Mike Colter reprising his role as Cage, who debuted in last year’s Jessica Jones.
Luke Cage is the second to last character of the Defenders stable to have his own series prior to the Defenders mini-series, scheduled for release in 2017 (Iron Fist is the final Defender to have his own series, due in 2017). With Daredevil and Jessica Jones having seriously impressed fans and critics alike, the bar is set high for Luke Cage. Early reviews and the trailers released to date indicate that this latest instalment will not drop the ball.
Here’s what you need to know about Luke Cage – both the character and the series – before you settle in for a serious Netflix and not-so-chill session this weekend. You’ll be fully clued up quicker than you can say “sweet Christmas.”
He Is a Classic Experiment Gone Wrong
Science experiments gone wrong are probably the most classic origin story for comic book heroes – Wolverine, the Hulk, and Spiderman, just for starters. You can add Luke Cage to the list. Cage ends up in prison after being betrayed and framed by a childhood friend, Willis Stryker. Whilst in prison he volunteers for a Super-Soldier experiment, similar to the process that gave Captain America his powers. When a disgruntled prison guard meddles with the experiment’s controls, Cage ends up with far more superhuman strength and durability than he was meant to attain. As a result he is able to bust out of prison and make his way back to New York.
He Has a Few Other Identities
Luke Cage: Hero for Hire was Cage’s first appearance in comics, but he is also known as Power Man. He also has a more checkered past than your average Marvel hero. Luke Cage was born Carl Lucas, and was a small-time Harlem hood in his youth until he decided to turn away from a life of crime. He adopted the name Luke Cage when he set up his Hero for Hire business, selling his super-powered services to the highest bidder. Interestingly, when young actor Nicolas Kim Coppola was choosing his own stage name in the late 1970s to separate his career from that of his famous uncle, he also drew inspiration from Carl Lucas’ alias: he chose the name Nicolas Cage.
He’s Got a Pretty Funky Past
If you’ve read any of the early Luke Cage: Hero for Hire or Power Man titles, you might recognize a little of Black Dynamite in Cage – a hulk of muscle with a mostly open shirt and an afro, referring to ladies wearing big hoop earrings as “foxes.” The blaxploitation vibe of the comic initially put Mike Colter off the show; “When I saw the tiara, all the 1970s blaxploitation stuff, I was like, ‘oh my God…’ But they assured me, ‘that’s not what we’re doing, we’re doing a modern day version.” Colter definitely does not have an afro and not one pair of hoop earrings has been spotted in the trailers to date, so it’s safe to assume that Colter won’t be channelling Shaft.
Both Luke Cage and his fellow Defender Iron Fist are products of Marvel’s decision to capitalize on two key cultural trends of the 1970s – blaxploitation in the case of Cage, and kung-fu movies in the case of Iron Fist. However as the popularity of both genres declined, neither character was able to sustain their own separate series. Marvel, keen to save both characters from outright cancellation, created the joint Power Man & Iron Fist title in 1978.
Iron Fist Is His Partner in Crime (-Fighting)
The two characters have continued their partnership on and off since the 1970s, and look set to pick it up in the Marvel/Netflix universe. Marvel’s Iron Fist Netflix series is set to drop in 2017, along with the Defenders series which will bring the whole stable together. Iron Fist, whose real name is Danny Rand, crosses paths with Cage in the comics when Cage is blackmailed into trying to take out Misty Knight, Rand’s on and off again girlfriend. Finn Jones, who is playing Rand in the Iron Fist series, is not billed on the cast for Luke Cage, so we can only assume that Cage and Rand get together further down the line – perhaps not until the Defenders series.
He’s Got Some Complex Lady Problems
Two women with whom Cage has relationships in the Marvel comics are already present in the Marvel Netflix series. Cage first appears in the Marvel Netflix world in Jessica Jones, as her occasional friend with benefits. He’s also a key figure in Jones’ twisted history with Kilgrave in the show. The second season of Jessica Jones could well expand on Cage and Jones’ relationship, following the couple as portrayed in Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias comic book series, in which Jones and Cage end up quite seriously involved.
Interestingly, however, the trailers for the show feature Colter with Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple – best known as Matt Murdock/Daredevil’s emergency clandestine medical support and almost lover. Temple and Cage have been romantically involved in the comics. We already know from the Jessica Jones series that Cage had been married to Reva Connors, whom Jones was forced to kill whilst under the control of Kilgrave. In a recent interview Mike Colter revealed that the Luke Cage timeline takes place 3-5 months after Jessica Jones, so it will be interesting to see how Marvel balance the Temple-Cage relationship with what viewers already know about Cage’s involvement with Jones.
As a Black Superhero, Cage Could Be a Game-Changer
Thankfully the new Netflix show is set to move quite a way away from the comic’s blaxploitation roots, and is set to be Marvel’s most politically charged production yet. Luke Cage is Marvel’s first film or television series featuring a black lead (the Black Panther film, starring Chadwick Boseman as the character introduced in Captain America: Civil War, is due for release in 2018). In a film and television climate where showrunners, studios and the Academy are being (rightly) criticized for a lack of diversity not only on screen but behind the camera, Luke Cage is “pretty much the blackest show in the history of TV,” according to its showrunner, Cheo Hodari Coker.
The top-billed cast is majority black, as is the writer’s room – something noted as unusual by Coker. The show’s composer, Adrian Younge, also notes that Cage has characteristics that are rare for a black male character: “He’s not bombastic. You rarely see a modern black male character who is soulful and intelligent.”
One of Cage’s superpowers is his impenetrable skin; he is literally bulletproof, and his skin is one of his most powerful assets. In the current political climate and with the prominence of movements like Black Lives Matter, the cultural impact of a bulletproof black superhero – who walks around at night, wearing a hoodie – shouldn’t be underestimated. In fact the chance to make the show at this precise cultural moment is what Coker has called “the opportunity of a lifetime.”
The Show Might Introduce Marvel’s First Black Female Superhero
Simone Missick has been cast to play Misty Knight, an NYPD detective, in the show. Although we don’t know where the show will take her character, Misty Knight was the first black female superhero to appear in the Marvel comics, another of the kung fu/blaxploitation-inspired Marvel characters of the 1970s. The character’s roots in blaxploitation are pretty clear from her look in the comics – a formidable afro, hoop earrings, and a skintight bodysuit – but you can be pretty sure that her look will be updated along with the rest of the show.
Her superpower? After her arm is blown off by a bomb, Misty is offered a bionic replacement by Tony Stark, giving her superhuman strength. She returns to crime-fighting with some super-powered friends, including Iron Fist, with whom she ends up in a relationship.
The Old Spice Guy Was Almost Luke Cage
A live-action Luke Cage has been on the cards for a long time. Quentin Tarantino revealed last year that he had been considering making a Cage film before he made Pulp Fiction, with Laurence Fishburne playing Cage. Columbia Pictures held the rights to a Luke Cage film since 2003, and Isaiah Mustafa – whom you might better recognize as the Old Spice Guy – expressed interest in the role, as did Idris Elba. In 2013 the rights reverted back to Marvel as they began plotting their Defenders stable of shows.
Harlem Is the Beating Heart of the Show
Coker initially pitched his version of the show as an examination of Harlem, doing for upper Manhattan “what The Wire did for Baltimore.” When it came to filming the show, Coker and his team were adamant about filming on-site in Harlem, even when easier locations were available: “I didn’t want us to talk about Harlem and then not film in Harlem.” Alfre Woodard, who plays corrupt local politician Mariah Dillard (a modern take on Cage’s foe from the comics, Black Mariah) and who lives in Harlem herself, was convinced to join the show through Coker’s commitment to the neighborhood.
Viewers of the Luke Cage series will witness the strength of his street knowledge. Luke Cage is a hero for his neighborhood first and foremost, with no high-tech suit or magical hammer to help him clean up the streets. Much like Daredevil is the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen”, Cage grew up in Harlem and won’t tolerate the likes of Cornell Cottonmouth (played by Mahershala Ali), a drug lord who has set up shop in Cage’s hood. Mariah Dillard and Cottonmouth look to be the two big bads of this first series.
It’s Heavily Influenced by Hip Hop
Rarely has any television show had such strong hip hop cred. Given the show’s setting in Harlem, it makes sense that Luke Cage is heavily influenced by hip hop and soul, both critical elements of Harlem’s cultural fabric. Each episode of the first season is named after a different Gang Starr song, and the soundtrack was composed by Ali Shaheed Muhammad, of A Tribe Called Quest, and Adrian Younge. In addition to scoring films, Younge has worked with Ghostface Killah and Kendrick Lamar, so the pairing of him and Muhammad is near perfect for a show that was going to have a “strong ’90s hip hop vibe” and a number of musical performances.
Guest performers include Faith Evans and Method Man, as well as featuring Wu-Tang Clan and others on the soundtrack. Younge and Muhammad approached the score for each episode as an album in itself, and developed a mix tape for each character, allowing viewers to associate a certain sound and vibe with each character. Check out the featurette above on the show’s soundtrack – featuring Method Man and A$ap Ferg – for more.
Read up on how Netflix’s other hit show, Narcos, is just another form of cultural imperialism.
- Author: Fern Seto