SWEET CHRISTMAS! THE next installment in the Marvel-Netflix joint has arrived in the form of Luke Cage – also known as Power Man, because the 70s was a very different time. Never the less, the 70s origins are not overlooked throughout the modern day setting of the series.
One of the biggest strengths of the previous Netflix series (Jessica Jones, Daredevil) was the writer’s ability to incorporate the roots of the comic books into the show and make them work. The brutality and maturity of the comics has never been watered down in order to keep to a certain rating. I’m happy to report that they’ve done it again.
We see these roots in Cage’s catchphrase, his alias ‘Power Man’, and the ridiculous costume, featuring a tiara. No, really. All of these things are brought out, and parodied where necessary, but it shows the level of care and research that the creators of these series are putting in. More significantly, the turbulent era for the black community which the comic book emerged into is present in the dynamic between Cage, Harlem, and the NYPD.
Despite living in the same city in the same time, each of the series has retained its own distinctive atmosphere. Daredevil’s world is dim and dark, Jessica Jones lives in an ethereal purple world, and Luke Cage’s Harlem is a bustling living entity breathing hip hop. Cage’s Harlem may not have the visual distinctness of the other series, but the soundtrack blows the others away. From Cage’s running playlists, to the different acts of club Harlem’s Paradise, to a surprise guest’s rap towards the end of the series, the sound of Marvel’s Luke Cage is as integral to the series as sound is to the blind lawyer of Hell’s Kitchen (see: Daredevil). Don’t be surprised if you find yourself downloading a lot more Wu Tang Clan after experiencing this season.
While Mike Colter’s portrayal of Luke Cage is easily as impressive as Charlie Cox’s Daredevil or Kristen Ritter’s Jessica Jones, the main failing of the series is in the unfocused nature of the antagonist. As in season two of Daredevil, the main threat switches midway through the season, but in Luke Cage the villain who steps in is unfortunately lacklustre.
Diamondback (played by Eric LaRay Harvey) has some big shoes to fill. Jessica Jones’ antagonist Kilgrave (David Tennant) was built up throughout the season until his reveal – when he looked at Jones for the first time it was terrifying. Daredevil’s antagonist Kingpin, or William Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) was a consistently intimidating presence, a comic book villain portrayal to rival Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Like Kilgrave, Diamondback is a face from the hero’s past harbouring some serious mommy-daddy issues. This is where the similarities end, sadly. Diamondback fails to match up to Kilgrave’s mind games or Fisk’s powerful presence, relying on a convenient array of weapons in order to pose a threat to the bulletproof Luke Cage. Mariah Dillard, admirably played by Alfre Woodard, comes closest to becoming an interesting villain for Luke Cage, but just isn’t given the time to do so during this season of the show.
Luke Cage is worth your time. If you have enjoyed the previous Marvel-Netflix series, you will find something to enjoy here. Colter perfectly portrays one of the world’s first black superheroes, and out of the series released so far, Cage can most accurately be identified as a hero. He stands for Harlem, not just by fighting from the shadows a la Daredevil but by becoming a member of the community willing to listen and answer for his actions. While the portrayal of the main villain may be a let-down, it is this dynamic between Cage and the people of Harlem, along with that sweet soundtrack, that will see people coming back for more. Always.