Let’s get first things out of the way:
- I will not be pouring over each episode like many other magazines do in a 13-part review
- I will try not to put too many spoilers in this review but I promise nothing since you should have watched it by now.
Now, let’s get into this, shall we? Luke Cage, a hero with immense strength, bulletproof skin and a healing factor (he did it before Wolverine), brought to the pages of Marvel comics in 1972 has recently graced our TVs and caressed our ocular receptors for a fantastic 13 episode run. Mike Colter’s representation of the kind-hearted yet stoic Power Man is all but flawless, he looks as though he has been plucked from the pages of recent comic book lore and placed in a room for the casting call, which in the end, he received the role because why wouldn’t he?
To say that the release of this series is timely and topical would be an incredible understatement and possibly even an insult to the current state of the world. Far too often have we been living in a world where our heroes have been white with no one for any of our coloured comic compatriots to look up to within their own community. Not only does Luke Cage bring a very real side of what it means to be a Black man in New York but it puts the struggle in our face and makes us look at it with every second we absorb and digest the content. The reality is, as a white male I will never be able to fully understand the plight but after something like this, it’s not possible to be blind to it unless you’re a complete ignoramus. This is all what I adore about Luke Cage, it is honest and unafraid to face the issues and to ensure you know about them.
Luke Cage might not be as action packed or as enthralling as Daredevil, it might not be as gruesome or tense as Jessica Jones but it has its own style, its own flow and that thing that makes it special in its own way, some might call it heart. To try and compare it to either of its counterparts would be unfair and nearly impossible. Most notably, the characters have real chemistry, they flesh out the story and have real meaning behind their existence. Interestingly enough, Shades, while being of little note in the comics, played a pivotal role as villainous advisor and antagonist with his own agenda which persisted throughout the entirety of the series. Cornell Stokes (Cottonmouth) and his cousin Mariah Stokes play polarizing roles, with the same goal in mind. Cornell is the man behind the curtain of sorts who funds his cousin’s political endeavors, while she accepts the money regrettably at first, we see a serious attitude change half way through as she ends Cornell’s life and takes his place playing criminal Queen Pin and Harlem’s political protector. This attitude is further spurred by Shades involvement helping her become the criminal mogul we would expect from the family. Diamondback was a great addition to the list of fantastic and powerful characters, he looms unseen for a large portion of the series without so much of a peep, and even when he shows up you still aren’t quite sure who he is. Adding to this is his lack of involvement for much of the beginning of his screen time. It only makes him more mysterious and potential deadly. Misty Knight, a mainstay in the Heroes for Hire grouping, makes her appearance in the first episode and quickly solidifies her involvement in each and every aspect of the cities goings on. Her sharp intuition and keen eye, paired with her uncanny ability to place herself at the crime scene and see the whole thing play through make her a valuable asset to both the NYPD and in the future the heroes we that will become the Defenders. As protagonists go, she finds herself suspecting Luke for much of the time and eventually turns her eyes objectively, even favorably towards his actions.
Through all of this, Luke Cage ensures the balance of characters and their progression flows nicely through the show. Old characters who need no introduction show up, for appearances and make references to remind you of their existence in previous series. Returning for a 4th time is Claire, who this time around, has a much more investment in the scenario and solidifies her persona as the connection between the heroes. I keep referring to her as the Coulson of Netflix, which seems to be very much the case, considering the little Easter egg I’ll be commenting on later on.
This series did so many things right, and one of them would definitely have to be how they showed Luke’s origin. In the 4th episode while Luke lay under a building, we get to see his life in jail and how he became the Power Man, the name given to him in the 70’s, often used in TV shows but left out of comics, and used by Pop, the shop owner. Even the throwback to the iron bangles, tiara and decidedly ugly yellow shirt was a perfect touch, completed only by his line “You look like a damn fool.” Other perfect little Easter eggs would be the Stan Lee NYPD recruitment poster and the Diamondback’s costume which was a perfect replica of his original from the comics. The final and most telling of the Easter eggs would be when Claire looks at a self-defense class run by none other than Colleen Wing, someone who plays an integral role in Iron Fist’s story. Other small but fun cameos, like Method man definitely round out the whole experience and give real life to what could have easily been a missed opportunity had this been approached the wrong way.
As I keep going over what Luke Cage did wrong, it’s tough to overlook the slow dive the last few episodes of the season took as soon as Diamondback showed up. As villain transition goes, this wasn’t the smoothest, and to be fair he was a bit of a boring character to follow while Luke Cage and Cottonmouth really stood out. The realization of family connection near the end was a hard sell as well. Brothers at odds because one of them had an adoption grudge really fell flat to my sense of story. Lastly, Diamondbacks use of HAMMER tech seemed like a sure fire way to fail in his endeavors, when was the last time we saw a piece of HAMMER tech function properly or work well enough to help a villain anyways? I enjoyed the mysterious overshadow that he had going for him but once he showed up to take front stage, he just didn’t live up to the hype that was portrayed.
In the end, Luke Cage stands on its own two feet and manages to blast through the ceiling in its own way just like Daredevil and Jessica Jones did as well. Take the time to watch this, or binge it like I did. You’ll find that it is definitely worth the 13 hours to get through.