Photo: Still from Netflix’s Youtube Channel Photo: Still from Netflix’s Youtube Channel

A close up at Marvel’s Netflix series ‘Luke Cage’

Wed, Nov. 15, 2017
CAIRO – 15 November 2017: Marvel’s characters range from Norse Gods, radioactive spider bite victims, cosmic beings, angry green giants and much more, but amidst the fantastical roster include heroes of a more urban sort, who take to dealing with issues the police cannot or will not handle.

Marvel’s Netflix series ‘Luke Cage’, which premiered on the online streaming service on September 30, 2016, adapts a little-known comic book hero into an urban icon, with a strong portrayal by actor Mike Colter, who previously portrayed the character in the Marvel series ‘Jessica Jones’. Since its premiere the show has attracted an estimated 3.52 million viewers, according to SymphonyAM.

To understand the character and his importance, one needs to dive back into the 1970s, at the height of America’s Blaxploitation movement. This label referred to films that featured an African-American actor in the lead role as an action hero, with themes of anti-establishment that brought both praise and criticism from the African-American community, with some feeling this outrageous genre glorified violence and racist stereotypes, while others felt it gave them heroes on the screen who could be honest about the harshness of urban life.

[Vintage poster of Luke Cage via Andres Juarez's Flickr]

Enter Marvel. At around this time, Marvel was the dominant force in comics, and had been eyeing more diverse audiences for some time. With Blaxploitation at its highest, Marvel sought to capitalize by creating a hero of its own that would appeal to African-American comic book fans or introduce more diverse audiences into comics. Luke Cage would thus mark comic book history for being the first African-American character to lead his own book; 1972’s ‘Luke Cage, Hero For Hire’.

While his creators were not African-American, Cage still proved to be popular among them; in part because he was a character that wasn’t defined by the fact that he was black, at least not in his name, and also for his outrageous personality. The victim of a government that granted him superpowers, Cage uses his powers to fight corruption and crime like most heroes, but with a focus on the issues plaguing African-Americans. At heart, Cage is an average Joe, a working-class man in Harlem, New York who struggles with the issues of how his race was treated and seeks to do better for his community.

Another element of Cage’s lasting appeal is his loner nature, rarely interacting with the other heroes of the Marvel universe so that he can do his own thing, tackling problems both urban and out there, mostly relating to issues of race and corruption. His colorful outfit gradually changed to something more realistic, though elements of his old look still make their way into the new series.

The show’s creator, music journalist turned writer Cheo Hodari Coker does the character justice by his intimate knowledge of Marvel’s comics, while also bringing to the table a more gritty, realistic and urban spin, incorporating his experience on the Showtime crime show 'Ray Donovan'.

While most Marvel properties don’t shy in introducing colorful action and fantastic powers as soon as they’re able, Netflix’s Luke Cage incarnation uses full advantage of the binge-watch medium to provide a slow look both into the man himself and Harlem around him. Before we get to see his powers, we get to know who Luke Cage is. The series opens with Cage laying low in a barbershop, keeping his powers a secret.

His efforts to do good when he can soon draw the attention of the corrupt kingpins ruling the crime world, and Cage is thus forced to take matter into his own hands as he deals out the law his own super-powered way. Dubbed a ‘hip-hop western’ by Coker, this series swaps salons with night clubs and deserts with the concrete jungle of New York, with Cage as the lone hero whose moral code is every bit strong as his superhuman skin.

Luke Cage will be returning for a second season within 2018, and the character has already expanded out of his own show to star in Marvel’s mini-series ‘The Defenders’, which finally sees the loner Cage working alongside heroes Jessica Jones and the Iron Fist to defend the NYC streets.

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