[T]he TV show Luke Cage that the Marvel cinematic universe has recently brought to the stream screen (a new word coined as a result of Netflix’s cultural penetration) have held up to the onslaught of critics and has gained respectable ratings on the big three of the TV review world namely Rotten tomatoes, IMDB and Metacritic bagging an 8.1 and a 96% rating on the first two websites performing far better than their D.C counterparts.
Jessica Jones came to the screen first giving a slight preview of a character that was soon to have his own show. It was only a positive development afterwards that Mike Colter agreed to play the character of Luke Cage which enabled consistency and a sense of connection to be made between the different story lines originating in the various TV shows planned for each character of the ‘Heroes for Hire’. Fans that are familiar with the Luke Cage universe will know that the fates of Cage, and the famed Daniel Rand or ‘Iron Fist’ , another hero that is set to appear soon with his new show form a company called ‘Heroes for Hire’ Inc. later down the road. The superhero entrepreneurial pursuit aims at generating a cash flow from the duo’s day saving activities by combining the efforts of battling evil with the payouts that are received for private investigations. But until the Iron Fist series is released and the intersection happens between the world’s of Cage, Rand and Jessica Jones we are left with the origin stories of each of the heroes.
The World of Luke Cage
The story starts off in a barbershop located in the famed neighborhood of Harlem, New York. A casual conversation is taking place between young adults getting a haircut, the owner of the barbershop Henry ‘Pops’ Hunter and a not so mysterious looking character who happens to be our hero – Luke Cage that is sweeping the barbershop and giving his input into the casual conversation that is taking place. Thus the show starts with the introduction of our character in a humble capacity which makes him appealing in the longer run as it sets off the premise for a rags to riches story except here the riches appear in the form of popularity and power. The dexterity of Luke in maintaining a multifaceted personality is displayed in the opening act as he is able to give deep philosophical rebuttals to the mean on comings of the teenagers getting a haircut in the shop – of course Pops is also present in assistance to his right hand man with witty comebacks in the ensuing war of words. The opening act is persistent in being able to nail the description of a tightly knit Harlem neighborhood by clear visual presentations, whether it’s the couple of old folks absorbed deeply in a game of chess at Pop’s barbershop or the father-leader figure of Pops himself the viewer is immediately absorbed and encapsulated by the story-telling skills of the Netflix production. The second difference in the show that makes it drastically different to the other earlier shows featuring comic book characters (read Green Arrow and Super Girl) is that there isn’t much focus in the start on Luke’s origin story.
We are dropped into the middle of it and whether the producers expected the viewers to be already familiar with the character or nurture an image based on their depiction of him in the show the narrative is focused on envisioning a form of Luke Cage that pays ode to the culture of today as opposed to building a very comic accurate Luke and a world of Luke. Later on in the show an entire episode is dedicated to his origin story and contains by far the best scene of the show. In that particular episode this scene has to be when Luke ends up in his famous comic outfit – providing a sort of signature from the creators to the content creators of this production.
The great part about the writing that brought this show to life was the interweaving between the different story lines that is present without utility of any plot device (such as flashbacks). The story moves forward on its own strength and keeps the viewer engaged at each scene. The underlying feeling that it develops is a thirst for action – action that appears slowly and is thoughtfully dispersed at various connection points in the show linking one character to the other. You just want Luke to kick every bad guy’s behind real bad, but our hero suffers badly at their hands as they create new innovative ways to bring him down and forge a complex network of convenient alliances spanning a vast network that permeates into the bureaucratic and criminal underworld structure.
The Underlying Themes
The story unravels superbly surprising the viewer with its multiple plot twists and its expertise in creating an experience of life in a neighborhood afflicted by poverty, crime and immense police corruption. You will be surprised at how the characters that seem to be the worst are revealed to be not so bad after all. Circumstances and the ill doings of society lead them to become criminals and it is not as much their doing as is the doing of those around them that causes them to follow a life of crime. In this manner, the taboos of society are thoroughly delved into and covers almost the entirety of all the consequences that result due to the prevalence of crime and the existence of archaic legal structures that make life harder for the good citizen. Furthermore, the issues that are faced by the Black community as a result of the racism that has survived over the past century and embedded itself into the system through a hard to detect form are conveyed with the delicacy and thoroughness that is not present in any other TV series on air today. The world of Luke Cage is more or less our world.
The show also tackles the subject of the private prison system that is a hotly debated topic among people of all social segments. Mixing a sort of conspiratorial nature to the idea of these prison system that are growing in power and size unchecked each day the show discusses the concept of human testing being allowed on prison subjects by the powerful owners of these establishments. In fact, Luke Cage gains his powers as a result of such experimentation on his body gone wrong. A bad accident saves him from death and grants him the powers that make him who he is.
The rest of the season features the same characters that appear in the comic book series with Misty Knight as the know-it-all system loving detective that has a romantic affinity towards Cage, Cottonmouth as the Gangster king that rules Harlem with the help of his cousin the soon to be ‘Black Mariah’ played by Alfre Woodard, ‘Shades’ the slow talking self declared gangster expert and the mysterious Diamondback who happens to be the puppet master behind each of the gangs terrorizing Harlem. Again, the characters – besides Misty Knight are different to their comic book counterparts and don’t have any superpowers although it is not clear whether they will develop them in the future. What the characters do have is an undying lust for power – whether it is Mariah who is obsessed with maintaining her bureaucratic superiority over the Harlem neighborhood utilizing every possible method or whether it’s ‘Shades’ , the backstabbing right hand man of the mysterious Diamondback conspiring to take over the Harlem mafia by pitching the big wigs of the underworld against each other each of the characters is surprising and appears mentally deranged to say the least. Having said that, it should also be stated that the characters have immense depth and each of them has a detailed story which makes them who they are. They don’t just end up that way due to no particular reason.
The Drill Down
So far, the first season of the show has streamed to the screen. The second season will reveal further what happens in the saga and build on from the cliffhangers in the first season. In conclusion, it can be said that Luke Cage is a positive addition to the Netflix titles and is more than just a comic book franchise that is brought to the TV screen. It is a work of art that speaks of the issues that trample society everyday. It broadly displays the circumstances that make a man (or a woman) a criminal and lets the viewer get into the head of the character to the point that it becomes easy to sympathize with even the most morally bankrupt character of the show. More such shows should definitely be added to the lineup and Marvel should continue in this direction with its productions.
- The Characters
- The themes
- The focus on taboo
- The reality
- The placement of some scenes
- The irritating Diamondback
- The annoyingly lengthy music sequences