Marvel’s Luke Cage – Does Power Man bring the pain?

Let’s get first things out of the way:

  1. I will not be pouring over each episode like many other magazines do in a 13-part review
  2. 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.

Marvel's Luke Cage
Marvel’s Luke Cage

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.

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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.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 23: Mike Colter, Erik LaRay Harvey as "Diamondback" filming big fight scene in Marvel Studios "Luke Cage" on May 23, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Steve Sands/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY – MAY 23: Mike Colter, Erik LaRay Harvey as “Diamondback” filming big fight scene in Marvel Studios “Luke Cage” on May 23, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Steve Sands/GC Images)

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.

RadioPress Reads – Comics – Let’s talk Civil War II

Let’s talk Civil War II, what do we know? Currently, Iron Man and Captain Marvel are at odds over how to use the power of a new InHuman by the name of Ulysses. He is a pre-cog of types, we still aren’t completely sure how his power works but it is slowly coming to light as the series moves on.
If you need something to compare the division between heroes to, think Minority Report meets Marvel comics. Iron Man doesn’t believe the world is fated to run as Ulysses sees it and it working to get to the bottom of the situation, Captain Marvel feels his power is a boon and save many lives, in the end neither are wrong but neither are right. To be honest, this issue, #5 was the first time that I felt uncomfortable reading a final page.
Be warned, if you haven’t read this issue, spoilers are ahead.

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So, as we are aware a huge battle started between both sides on the Triskelion at the end of issue 4. This pitted Captain Marvel and her crew against Iron Man and his crew, and as much as I love Captain Marvel as a character, her position in this whole thing I do not agree with. As the battle rages on, we see so many heroes we know and love once again duking it out to the seeming death.
As the battle rages on Ulysses, safe back home, has another premonition which draws in the warring heroes. This one shows disaster, a ravaged and decimated Capitol hill and at the foot of the stairs, Spider-Man (Miles Morales) holding a dead impaled Captain America. It is assumed by everyone, including Spider-Man himself that he is responsible for the death of the Star Spangled Sentry. So before one can say anything, Carol moves in to arrest him for the future crime of murder. This is where the issue ends and where I, as a reader, am left infuriated and feeling like the situation is unfair. This is also exactly what the writers want, they want for us to take a side, to feel to be invested in the story and god damn it am I invested!

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I like to err on the side of logic, does a vision mean that everything will come to be? What about the girl who was thought to be a Hydra operative and it turned out she wasn’t? Doesn’t that give the believers some cause for pause, for reflection? Does the fact that we saw Spider-Man standing over Cap’s dead body really mean that he dealt the final blow? We are humans, these heroes are humans and they have free will, the right to choose and the idea that fate has its course set for them seems ludicrous. When I look back at the original Civil War, I think I might have been less invested in the story than I am now. That doesn’t mean to say that the story was lacking, but maybe this time around it speaks to me more than the last one did. Either way, in the end, I am seriously uncomfortable and I can’t wait until the next issue comes out, there needs to be some kind of finality, a conclusion to this craziness and I feel like I won’t like it but I want it.
If you’ve been watching these reviews over time and haven’t taken even an iota of your day to pick this up, you should probably reevaluate your priorities and get on this. You might find yourself loving it, hating it, or relatively neutral, but I can guarantee you’ll be drawn into the struggle.

RadioPress Reads – Comics – Time to Alter your life?

We got an opportunity to review a new comic this week called Alterlife which will be covered below, but along with that we were able to pick up more Gwenpool and Gods of War.  Enjoy RPG Reads September 14.

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AlterLife

Reading AlterLife was an interesting treat as I’ve been finding myself watching and reading more media which involves alternate timelines or changing history, think Stein’s Gate if you delve into the anime realm.  When we start off we find Jake, our protagonist, waiting for the train reminiscing about his past, the death of his family and living without them.  Soon he finds himself in a situation where he is dying saving the life of someone else.  This scene facilitates our first transition where Jake jumps to his AlterLife, his consciousness is sent to another reality or timeline where he hasn’t died and so begins the real story.  As someone who has seen plenty of styles of art, I feel this works with the style of story and lends itself to a visualization that is often not utilized.  The story itself felt off the first time through, but after a second read through, the placement of events started to make much more sense.  As you approach the end of the first issue things start to get weirder and weirder but this also results in drawing you farther into the story.  The final few scenes really solidify the idea that each death moves Jake into an alternate life with a twist that even I didn’t expect.  This is my kind of story, and for those who like the weird and wonderful, you might want to think of taking a look when it is available.

 

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Gwenpool #6

With Gwen currently chumming around with Spider-Man we further the adventure of her distraction from the job at hand.  Gwen, while hanging out with Miles remembers a comic she reads about the highschool bomber in the Ultimate Universe.  It turns out the bomber was also transported to the current universe because he was an “important character”.  Using this information, both Spider-Man and Gwen make their way over to the bombers house to investigate and find that Gwen’s knowledge is indeed correct.  In the end after some interesting and extreme events Gwen is taken in by the police and saved from jail by her lawyer eventually returning to the mercs to try to fix her missed appointment.  This story continues to amuse and entertain, while still managing to be heartfelt and full of fun.  Only 6 issues in and I’ll likely not stop reading for the foreseeable future.  Gwenpool to plenty of people was seen as a faddish character much like Spider-Gwen, but it seems that her time in the Marvel universe is set to continue, and I for one am all for it.

 

 

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Civil War 2: Gods Of War #3/4

Our last encounter with Hercules and his merry troupe of gods, ended in Hercules going berserk because of a mark places upon him by the Storm.  The third issue revolves around the avengers and the old gods working to subdue Hercules’s rage.  Captain America seemed to hold the power to that, as our rampaging old god seemed to be in despair due to the fact that he is shunned in the superhero community and never asked to help with the more pressing matters.  After Captain America confirms that they do indeed need Herc’s powers and utters the “Avengers Assemble” call, Hercules is jogged from his trance.  In the end, Cap asks Hercules to help but is turned down as he is looking to finish the quarrel he started with the new gods, the Storm.  The 4th issue revolves around the Old God’s plan to crush the storm and their impending battle.  The events of this issue hit a climax that feels all too soon, but in the end the conclusion seems fake, or maybe rushed?  I can’t tell especially with the way the final outro message is handled.  I guess, I’ll let you know how it goes in the next issue, and if you’ve been following this as well, you should probably continue to take the time to find out with me.

RadioPress Reads – Comics – You never go full Supervillain!

With a small list of comics released this week we take a look back into the past two weeks to check some of the notable releases while pulling one particularly special Civil War II comic from Wednesday’s pull list.  Enjoy RPG Reads September 2.

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Gwenpool #5

When we left Gwenpool and her hairy band of unsuspecting mercs last time, Gwen had just sent MODOK into space and somehow solidified herself as a part of the team while free them from MODOK.  This little instance resulted in MODOK’s client reaching out to Gwen as they new head of the mercenary band, as if things couldn’t get any worse, right?  A meeting is scheduled for the client and Gwen to meet to renegotiate the terms of their current arrangement and see to it that there is still a steady flow of income for the team while MODOK is away floating in space.  Reluctantly, she heads out to the meet, but along the way runs into Miles Morales (Spider-Man).  Star struck and wanting to help in his heroic efforts she completely forgets her meeting and starts to run around helping.  Meanwhile, the client calls back to headquarters and asks where Gwen is leaving the team in the lurch and also trying to figure out why she didn’t show to the meeting.  Interestingly enough, the client seems not so worried, he figures he will just sit and wait until Gwen gets to him as he is very interested and excited regardless.  In the end, this issue feels like it took a total left turn, Gwen was going to help her team, get something good going and then suddenly “OMG SPIDER-MAN!”, star struck, she veers from the path and task at hand.  It was a pretty hilarious and interesting way for them to disrupt the story and cause problems for her and the team.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I’m pretty excited to see how she ends up rectifying the situation if she can at all in the coming issues.

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Captain America: Steve Rogers #4

Have you ever seen Tropic Thunder?  Remember what you never do?  Seriously!  The same thing applies to going full Super Villain, but I guess that is just what Cap has done.  This whole memory altering thing that Kubik has done to Steve is awesome!  Early in the comic, Captain America finds the secret lair of Ghost, a super intelligent villain who uses genetically altered gorillas as his henchmen, and commandeer it for the special kind of tech that is being developed.  Now, instantly Ghost’s most fearsome apes attack Cap, but he dispatches them with ease, and when I say dispatch, I don’t mean he just knocks them out because that would be old Cap, not Hydra Cap.  There is blood on his shield and severed heads, Steve isn’t playing around anymore and its all for the glory of Hydra.  When we thought it couldn’t get worse, Captain America takes Ghost’s arm and uses him to transfer over control of the whole base, then kills Ghost as his presence is both no longer needed and a liability.  Oh, did I also mention that Cap wants to kill Red Skull?  That’s his master plan, and its amazing!  What I love about this turn of events is that I’ve always felt Hydra was something different to all of its leaders, not just world domination, not just purism, not just Nazism as many see it.  Baron Zemo had his vision, Wolfgang Von Strucker has his, and Red Skull had his roots in Nazism which is the most prominent facet of the group.  Now we see Steve with his vision, his ideology bleeding through and his want and need for Hydra to evolve and conquer, but with Red Skull his vision can not be seen.  As much as this change has been controversial, I’ve loved every second of the story and am looking forward to the next issues to come.

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Choosing Sides #5

So what happens when Civil War erupts again in the superhero world and a Canadian group of heroes gets caught in the fray?  Well, they seek advice from the one person they trust the most, their Prime Minister, our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.  It’s weird to say that, I never thought I would see our PM in the pages of my favorite comics, but I guess his father was also in Uncanny X-men #120 back in ’79, so it’s kind of like continuing a tradition… maybe?  Either way, Justin grills the team and lets them know that a pre-cognitive vision does not mean for certain that an event will happen be it an invasion, a crime or otherwise.  He encourages his team to really think about the consequences of this whole interaction because in the end, imprisoning people before they have committed a crime just isn’t Canadian, not is it humane in the first place, it goes against the most basic of civil rights.  After his chat with Alpha Flight, he has his “weekly” sparring session with tony Stark, and gives him similar advice, he tells Tony that he doesn’t think either side is doing the right thing, that there is a middle ground no one has explored yet because everyone’s egos are too big to see the whole picture.  After landing a decisive blow and flooring Stark, he apologizes in true Canadian fashion, helps the man up and says “No more fighting tonight, Tony. You fight enough.  You all fight too much, with the wrong opponents.”  It’s a real statement to the fact that, in the end the superhero community has an issue with finding solid ground to work together on and avoid catastrophes like the current situation that everyone has been enveloped in.  Choosing Sides is a great bit of story telling, so I definitely recommend picking it up.

RadioPress Reads – Manga – The End of an Era, Bleach finale

Thursday marked a sad day in the long history of Manga, the ending of Bleach.  It’s always a little weird to see something end that you’ve enjoyed for so long, kind of like reading the final page of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and realizing that your favorite wizards aren’t going to be returning to magic faces and go on adventures, actually this is exactly like that. Let me explain what I mean.

With the release of Bleach Chapter 386, it marks the official end of the series, a series whose journey started 15 years ago on printed page in 2001 and grew with many of us over the years.  In 2004 the TV show adaptation was released in Japan and localized in 2006.  This is where myself and many others would pick up and start a 10-year long sojourn into what we thought was infinity, reading and watching these characters presented to us in spectacular fashion.  The story started out with a young man, Ichigo, as we know him, coming home from school one day and witnessing what would later be called a “Hollow” attack a school friend.  This Hollow was dispatched shortly after by a visiting Shinigami (Dead God).  As the story progresses we find out that Ichigo has the ability to use Shinigami powers and is promoted to Substitute Shinigami since resources are low and they can’t seem to send people to his area to patrol, this always seemed like a weird plot point to me.

As time went on, we find out more about Ichigo and his troupe, as well as we get to see him grow more powerful by facing even more harrowing odds.  This sounds pretty typical of any anime style story in Japanese culture, Naruto, Dragon Ball you name it, its what these things are all about.  The great thing about Bleach is that throughout all of its story arcs, regardless of what happened, the writer always had so much passion for character development and giving us new, exciting, and lovable characters to remember throughout the series.  Each story built up to an exciting climax and a relatively interesting resolution.

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Step back to the beginning of the last story arc which was the last we fans were able to rest our eyes on.  The story started fantastically, we find out the reason behind some of Ichigo’s weirder power transformations, we find out why his Bankai looks the way it does, the reason for his “dark” form and the reasoning behind his Hollowfied form as well.  It was a story of revelation and again, of new confrontation and growth, it was also the beginning of the end, an unfortunately lazy end as many of us would put it.  Four weeks ago, we read what would be the final chapter of action that Bleach had to offer, but since the story usually had a habit of the good ol’ Billy Mays “but wait! There’s more!”, we just inherently expected more.  We were incredibly disappointed as the next weeks chapter was a 10 year time skip where the characters were celebrating peace.  Jump two weeks later and the final chapter had most of the main characters all gathered at Ichigo’s home, jabbering about their life and Ichigo’s kid out meeting one of his Shinigami friend’s kid and then that ended the story.

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To say that after even 10 years, that this is an acceptable end to a high adrenaline, engaging, and widely adored story by people across the world would be an insult to all of us, more of a slap in the face.  We aren’t sure by which route this terrible ending came to pass but previous interviews with the story creator Tite Kubo showed that he was still very involved and passionate about the story and how he wanted to end their journey.  It makes one wonder, if after 15 years of running that certain executives might just want the series to be over to make room for newer and fresher ideas.  It feels like the only explanation for the utter lackluster and uninspired ending that many of us felt so blindsided by.  In the end, if you haven’t had the time to read Bleach over the years, or you felt that it was getting too much of the same and you dropped off of the band wagon, you might not want to bother with the final story arc, just pretend that Ichigo and friends lived happily ever after in your own story ending that seems much more badass and less contrived.