I’m a big, broad-shouldered black man from Uptown NYC who was raised on comic books. I liked certain heroes, but I couldn’t identify with any of them. They didn’t look like me. They didn’t come from where I came from, nor did they go to the places that I went to. It wasn’t until I found some Power Man comics in my uncle’s collection that I found my guy. Luke Cage has always been that dude.
Luke Cage is from Harlem (as close to the Bronx as comics will ever go). He’s Black. He has Black Villains and Black Allies, and has Black Things to deal with. Luke Cage was who I wanted to be when I grew up. I was okay with shaving my head after I lost most of it because I could look like Luke Cage. In a world where people barely knew who he was outside of his associations with the Avengers, Luke Cage was somewhat of an obsession for me.
When the announcement of his Netflix series came out, I was hyped beyond belief. I never wanted to watch something so badly. Netflix did good in rehabbing Daredevil. Luke Cage was the breakout character in Jessica Jones. They hired Black writers, curated a Black ass soundtrack, and titled each episode after a Gangstarr song. If Luke Cage was going to be anything, it was definitely going to be the Blackest Show on Netflix.
Luke Cage lived up to all of the hype. From my seven year-old self digging through my uncle’s comic book crates to my thirty year-old #BLM Woke self, Luke Cage is brilliant. A bulletproof, hoodie wearing, brollic Black Man that rocks a baldie is the best thing that ever happened to my eyes.
The main theme centers on power. I mean, it is Power Man that we’re dealing with! Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is bulletproof and super strong. He uses his powers for good. Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) uses money as his power. When it’s taken away from him, he becomes desperate to get it back. Black Mariah (Alfre Woodard) uses her political power. Shades (Theo Rossi) uses the power of persuasion to be the puppet master behind the scenes. Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey) tries to take Cage’s power away. Misty Knight (Simone Missick) struggles with her power of control. The police force abusing their power to get what they want. The entire series is a power struggle.
Mike Colter IS Luke Cage. His swag, the delivery of his lines, his on-screen presence, they were all great. The Trayvon Martin tribute with his eternal search for the perfect hoodie to get shot in was amazing. Simone Missick’s Detective Misty Knight is beautiful, strong, and confident. Rosario Dawson crosses over from Daredevil to play Claire again, and becomes Luke Cage’s love interest. Claire is already a strong character. Here in Luke Cage, she’s carries her own weight for the first time.
One thing that I really liked about Luke Cage was how it placed Women of Color in positions of power. Misty is definitely an alpha. The lieutenant and inspector of the precinct are both black women. Black Mariah is a councilwoman turned crime boss, whose mother was also a crime boss. Claire is intelligent and assertive, and is able to direct the superpowered Luke Cage in the right direction when he gets lost. The women on the show are not damsels in distress. Misty and Claire know that they have Luke Cage looking out for them, but they don’t rely on him to get shit done. They’re fully capable of handling themselves, as well as handling Cage when needed. The team of Luke Cage, Misty Knight, and Claire is evenly distributed, considering that only one of them is super strong.
The show takes place in Harlem, but you can see it as being its own character as well. It’s a love letter to Harlem’s rich cultural history. Mostly filmed on location, there were places that Luke Cage went to that I instantly recognized. Today’s Harlem looks nothing like the Harlem of ten years ago (thanks to gentrification), but Luke Cage made sure to give Harlem one last hurrah before it completely morphs into something unrecognizable.
Luke Cage is unapologetically black. It doesn’t hide from it’s Blaxploitation roots; it embraces them. Adrian Younge’s beats are all over this series. It gave it a 90s Wu-Tang Clan feel to it, which is welcome here in 2016’s lazy trap beat obsessed hip hop. The show made sure to get actual music acts to guest star (Raphael Saadiq, Faith Evans, The Delfonics) in the Harlem’s Paradise club, which was very New York Undercover of it. One thing about Harlem’s Paradise is how resilient it is. It gets shot up, the owner gets murdered, it becomes host to a hostage situation, and it’s always fully operational and packed to the gills in no time. That street team must never sleep.
I would have slowed down the story. I understand Cottonmouth being the catalyst for the rise of Black Mariah as a fully realized villain, but I wanted more Cottonmouth. He was approaching Fisk levels of awesome until he got GOT. His death was shocking, and I found myself missing him more as the series moved on. Diamondback was good, but he wasn’t Cottonmouth Good.
I loved the call-backs to the comic series. Luke Cage getting into the old Power Man outfit before calling it stupid was fun. Misty Knight rocking her comic book outfit and hair at the end was a nice touch. However, Diamondback’s Luke Cage-Buster throwback outfit looked stupid as hell in 2016. It came out of nowhere, there was no explanation for the tech, and he took an L way too easily. The final fight was weak. Daredevil knows how to do epic final showdowns. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage haven’t even come close.
The show’s true charm shines in its smaller details. I marked out at the Dapper Dan cameo. I fucking MELTED when Luke Cage met Method Man, who is one of my favorite rappers of all time. With the homage to Trayvon’s Hoodie, the commentary on police relations in black communities, the Hot Coffee innuendo (GTA: San Andreas reference), this show is certified Black As Fuck. It’s attention to detail is astounding. The love for Harlem is real. Luke Cage is real.
Ultimately, Luke Cage isn’t perfect, but it’s perfect for me. As a fan of the comic, its everything that I could have asked for. Luke Cage couldn’t have come at a better time. Black People needed Luke Cage to identify itself with just as badly as I did when I was seven years-old. We needed him so badly that we actually broke Netflix when we got him! I binge-watched this in a weekend, but best believe that I’m going to re-watch the shit out of this a billion times until Season 2 drops. Or the Defenders. Whichever comes first!
Five Black Power Fist Afro Picks out of Five.