Words: Desmond Childs
What a time to be a fan of comic books, right? Artists and writers have long been the scribes of the human condition; a reflection of the way things are or should be. The way things are of late–with the numerous protests over a number of issues–A show like LUKE CAGE fits comfortably into the zeitgeist.
The actual series, Luke Cage is about a black man living in Harlem with a shaky past. He’s got a history of love lost, violence, trust and betrayal–but most importantly–his past has literally transformed him into a sort of demigod. He’s not invincible, but being bulletproof in Harlem is as close as you can get in Marvel’s Luke Cage. For those familiar with the series; you’ll understand the nature of my being so vague–I want viewers to watch with fresh eyes. In other words, Luke Cage is a series that stands on it’s own two feet. No need to watch Marvel’s acclaimed Daredevil series or Jessica Jones. No need to have seen the dozen or so Marvel movies that have raked in billions of dollars–no need at all. What you should be prepared for–is a very prescient, incredibly remarkable look at one man’s acceptance of his role; as well as a visceral look into the universe this hero-in-the-making exists.
In many ways, the Harlem portrayed in this series is the Harlem we know today–the art, culture, and legacy the city holds is living breathing; with it’s citizens exuding what makes this space so astonishing. The show has a few celebrity appearances, mostly in Harlem’s Paradise; which serves as a hub for many of the major criminal business dealings that go on throughout the series. We also see a lot of historic buildings, and legendary figures in the community such as Dapper Dan. The universe–the people, the language, the music, the style–all go into what makes this particular space so captivating; especially while our hero’s story unfolds.
Let me take the time to acknowledge the stellar acting from leads Mike Coulter (as Cage), Simone Missick (as Misty Knight), Theo Rossi (as Shades), and Alfre Woodard (as Mariah Dillard). Also, two more actors I wanted to single out–Mahershala Ali (as Cottonmouth) and Erik LaRay Harvey (as Diamondback). Rosario Dawson does well too, as mostly the conscious of Coulter’s fledging heroism and serves as a fairly smooth bridge between Marvel’s trio of super-powered shows. Coulter does not move mountains or chew scenery but he is the heart beat of his picture–he’s contents under pressure, but doesn’t want to be anything but left alone. Missick plays a detective who displays a spectrum of emotions throughout a series full of both political intrigue as well as old fashioned, gritty-realism. The stable of villains for the show are what really make it all worth watching in my opinion; as the writers did a superb job of making them more than their devices. Cottonmouth and Mariah are cousins hoping to build a family empire upon the back of a broken city. Shades is a messenger with a chilling past linked to Luke Cage; he begins the series as the mouthpiece for menacing presence known simply as Diamondback. We are eventually introduced to Diamondback himself too; a man fueled by revenge. The cast of this series –top to bottom–are what makes this show a remarkable one, and so binge-worthy.
I do want to address some issues I had with the series as a whole–nothing I think will necessarily keep you from wanting to see it; but some criticisms nonetheless. As Luke Cage enters it’s final third of episodes (give or take), it becomes a tad bit predictable. Is it because we know that Luke Cage is in fact bullet-proof and destined for super-hero stardom? Maybe. Actually, my biggest gripe stems with the show’s last serious threat to be introduced: Diamondback. The tricky thing about revenge-motivated plot lines is that you have to get the audience to by in that the character seeking revenge is somewhat justified. Without spoiling too much, I’ll say once Diamondback’s motives for all the horrible things he’s done have been revealed–he kind of comes of as hyper-petty. Hyper-petty is a term I like to use to describe someone who let’s something bother them so much that they are willing to commit heinous acts to either rectify the wrongdoing or feel better about themselves. Diamondback’s issue is one I’m sure many people can relate too. I can understand his growing up bitter. However, I was a bit confused when it came to the reason he decided that instead of confronting the source of his anguish when he had the opportunity; he sort of just attacks the person he seems to think benefitted the most from it: Luke Cage. My point being that Diamondback was not the most compelling villain in this series by a long shot. While Cottonmouth and Mariah Dillard pumped the story full of mystery, murder, and intrigue–Diamondback was all about power, control and being an embittered kind of crybaby. A ruthless, cold-blooded killer crybaby-but a crybaby.
All things considered, this series was nothing short of outstanding, and it’s themes so masterfully displayed. The villains all feel Harlem needs someone to control it and build it back up. The citizens want the rampant gang wars and drug trafficking to stop poisoning the community. Luke Cage–a man who has unbreakable skin–just wants to be left alone; but his mentor continues t0 push him toward heroism. Cage doesn’t feel like a super-hero story, and Cage himself wouldn’t have it any other way. He simply wants the ones he cares about to be safe, and his city to be free.
Luke Cage is now available on Netflix instant watch. It’s rated TV-MA; and although the language is closer to a hard PG-13 rating, the violence is a red, capital ‘R’. Check out the trailer below: