Marvel’s latest Netflix star Luke Cage is TV’s first black superhero in over 20 years. And he’s bulletproof
Marvel’s latest Netflix star Luke Cage is TV’s first black superhero in over 20 years. And he’s bulletproof. Here’s why that matters.
When Marvel’s Luke Cage brings the ruckus, it’s unstoppable, like a bulletproof black man, hoodie up, striding through gunfire untouched.
There are shades of Shaft in that walk, and a bit of John Wayne, too. But make no mistake, the Luke Cage now starring in his own Netflix show, 44 years after his comic-book debut, is unmistakably a superhero for today.
This is a black hero from Harlem with soulful eyes and a tragic past, who was thrown in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, then tortured and bestowed with the power to hurl men through walls. He’s built like a mountain, immovable and vast. He’s indestructible; bullets pierce his clothes, but not his skin. His only “costume” is a hoodie; when it’s up, he wears it like a cape.
Four years and too many hashtags after the killing of Trayvon Martin, the significance of that hoodie, and of Marvel TV’s first black, bulletproof superhero is undeniable.
“All black art is always judged to illuminate our experience and prove that our stories and our history and our lives matter,” says Cheo Hodari Coker, executive producer and showrunner of Luke Cage. “And that goes back to Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, take your pick. Telling this kind of story is no different.
“It was important to me that we have a hero that was black—and he didn’t justhappen to be black,” he continues. “His identity is a part of him.”
Harlem, black history, and the traditions of Westerns, hip-hop, blaxploitation, and superhero comic books run deep through Luke Cage’s veins, influencing a hyperliterate superhero drama unlike anything else on TV. There are villains, like Mahershala Ali’s rising crime lord Cottonmouthand his scheming politician cousin Mariah (Alfre Woodard). And there are good cops like popular Marvel heroine Misty Knight (Simone Missick), here making her onscreen debut.
And there are boisterous action scenes of righteous destruction, soundtracked with hip-hop deep cuts and ’70s soul and funk. (Coker is a former music journalist). There are bitter references to slavery, gentrification, and racism. There are flashes of doomed romance, as we meet Luke’s ex-wife while witnessing his prison origin story. And, not long into the first episode, there is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first-ever mention of the N-word—the first of many times it’s used throughout the show.
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