It’s important for me to recognize one thing to start off with – everyone in this show is charismatic. From the villains, portrayed so well by Mahershala Ali (who, along with Sterling K. Brown, I believe to be the finest actors in the televised world) and Erik LaRay Harvey. The hero – Mike Colter’s Luke Cage – is a modern day black superhero. He’s not the blacksploitation plot that he was when he was first created. He’s another Black Panther – a superhero who is so charismatic, so well portrayed, so well written that it’s a wonder why there aren’t more.
But it’s that diversity that showcases what Marvel so otherwise lacks. There are three women currently in the MCU with powers. Jessica Jones, Wanda Maximoff, and, if you can count her, Natasha Romanoff. While women have been portrayed in every movie and show from Marvel, they hardly get a lead treatment. We hardly know anything about Maximoff. This show goes against that grain.
Misty Knight (Simone Missick) and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) feel like heroes themselves. We understand more about the police’s perspective in this universe because of Knight. We understand what it feels like as an outsider because of Temple – something which Daredevil and Jessica Jones have also done, but to a lesser extent. A woman is also the ultimate bad guy in the show. I’d venture to say that Alfre Woodard’s Mariah Dillard is far more in control than we give her credit for. Plus, ultimately, she is the last one standing.
And this is a fully “black” tv show. If Marvel is as white as the ABC network, this is their Black-ish. The show vastly superior to the others but doesn’t see as much attention because of the lack of white characters. There were people complaining about the diversity of this show. This show, that is the blackest thing Marvel has done, well, until Black Panther. And perhaps even then. Because this show is fully about a different experience than we, the American audience, is used to seeing. This show is about a bulletproof black man in a hoodie fighting with – but sometimes against – the police.
It is a better picture for our times than the fiction of the Marvel universe. The show makes sure to ground itself. It continues to imagine a realistic world where a man is bulletproof. And Luke Cage’s actions themselves make sense. His tragedies, his successes, they are far more real than anything Iron Man has ever done, besides his alcoholism. In a universe where magic is about to exist – not only in Doctor Strange but in the Defenders, this show is all about science. Science explains how Luke exists. It explains how what is happening exists. It’s physics.
I think Luke Cage is the most important thing Marvel has done. It may not be its biggest financial success. It may not make it a pile of money as large as Infinity War. But after that money, it is meaningful. It is deep.
Loss plays a huge role in Luke Cage. From when he loses Pop to when he discovers his first true love lied to him about everything, it’s an emotional journey. And the one thing Cage has is the city. He will defend Harlem, not only because he can, but because he must. Because that’s what Pop wants. That’s what Cage himself, deep down, wants. This is most seen when he continually declines money for keeping people safe. He’ll take food, or shelter, or a hoodie, but never money. That he can easily take from the bad guy.
Cage is the ultimate bad for good purposes. He is scary. He is massive, looming, a frightening presence, only because you think there’s no possible way of bringing him down, and he’s a large man. He does hurt police officers, he injuries, often severely, criminals. But the difference between him and every other superhero – there’s no killing. He will not kill a person, even the worst he encounters. That’s something the others do, that the bad guys do. It’s not something Cage can bring himself to be capable of. And for that, he gets the most respect I give to any fictional superhero.
If there was a superhero I’d wish into reality, it’s Luke Cage. Superman, nothing can matchup against. Batman is insane. Luke Cage, just like he protected and help rebuild Harlem, could do the same across the country. Imagine sending Cage in to the worst parts of Chicago, Detroit, Compton, any major city with its issues. Who better to mediate than someone you can’t kill. Someone who’s been there, had the same experiences. Knows what prison is like, what it takes to survive. Cage is a man who could fix America on the street level. And I think that’s what was intended.
Diamondback (played by Harvey) being Cage’s brother is a bit of symbolism bashing you about the head. It was enough when Diamondback was Cage’s former best friend. I think that’s Luke Cage‘s fatal flaw. The symbolism is deeply meaningful in that when battling Diamondback, Cage is battling who he used to be. He’s up against his past, and there seem to be times when that past could win. Cage is still Carl Lucas. But then his need to be the hero takes over and he finishes the job.
Again, this is just a really good show, and there needs to be more. Please?