Whatever you make of their feature film and network television output, Marvel have hardly put a foot wrong with their foray into various adult-oriented Netflix series, with both Daredevil and Jessica Jones being warmly received for their gritty depictions and darker action.
Luke Cage, an adaptation of the blaxploitation-inspired superhero created in the 1970s is the next offering from Netflix and Marvel. Cage will be the first black superhero since Blade to headline his own movie or TV series, so expectations are high for the character, perhaps unfairly so. Some have even pondered whether or not Mike Colter’s depiction of Cage in Jessica Jones really made him seem complex enough to carry his own series.
While all our fears might be proved groundless once the series is released (and let’s be honest, they probably will be), here is What We Want to See in Marvel’s Luke Cage.
A Different Kind of Villain
Both Marvel Netflix series have followed a similar pattern: a super-powered individual with a colorful grab-bag of friends works tirelessly to take down an enigmatic, enormously powerful and manipulative man who wreaks a path of destruction through various innocent lives. This man will at times make you want to punch and/or hug them. After approximately 13 episodes, justice is served.
That’s not to say that Jessica Jones is a carbon copy of Daredevil; the two are leagues apart in so many ways it makes their similarities easy to ignore. Still, it’s time to see something different. The series still needs a villain, but this is the time to take things in a different direction. Kingpin was an untouchable crime boss, Kilgrave was a manipulative stalker with terrifying abilities, but both journeys thus far have revolved around bringing this person to justice. Luke Cage has the chance to tell a different story.
Make no mistake: we’re still getting all the grit of the previous stories. There’s still going to be a scene where Luke sits in a darkened room and has some super-angst about his super-powers and things he did in his super-past. In fact, we’re probably getting entire episodes of this. Still, the entire focus of the series has to be on something other than Cage being tormented by a villain who he’ll eventually end up curb-stomping in the finale.
More Ties to the Defenders
More on this in a moment, but Marvel has kept its TV and movie properties mostly separate…and that’s okay. For now. What’s even more inexplicable is how so far, even the characters inhabiting the TV universe have been kept locked in their own little cages and not allowed out to play with each other. We see ratings take a massive spike whenever Oliver Queen takes a jaunt over to Central City to have oodles of fun trading banter with The Flash, so it’s not hard to imagine the fandom reaction if they pulled a similar stunt on even a smaller scale.
There’s also the fact that these four Netflix series are supposed to be setting up the Defenders miniseries, which we’ve known about from the start. Jessica Jones laid the groundwork of introducing Cage, even if it had people furiously discussing the timeline and whether people should’ve been mentioning that whole “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” business from the preceding Daredevil. As the third series, Luke Cage needs to step it up and carry on the torch, perhaps even introducing the spark of what causes these characters to come together in the first place.
Actual References to the Movies
It’s been said before, it’ll be said again a thousand times over. But hey, let’s just say it once more: when are we going to get some real movie references? We get it, you don’t want to alienate a casual viewing audience, or make the true fans have to whisper to them in the movie theater why the guy in the red suit is beating up bad guys in New York. You want to make it so we can enjoy our series without scrutinizing which Marvel Phase they take place in. And we appreciate that, really. We can even sort of appreciate why you’d keep all that colorful Avengers silliness away from your ultra-gritty, ground-level sagas, what with all the naughty words, raunchy scenes and people getting violently decapitated by car doors. No parent wants to buy their kid a Jessica vs. Kilgrave play-set, given the very dark tone of the series.
But the Netflix series writers do need to stop acting like dropping a big name is going to ruin their precious, perfect, gritty snowflake of a standalone series. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has more of a handle on this, with its events being directly tied in with and influenced by the movies. It wasn’t considered a problem to have actual Winter Soldier footage playing on the TV, because of course a bunch of helicarriers smashing into a building are going to make the news. Of course an entire city being invaded by aliens and saved by superheroes (or alternatively, lifted into the air and obliterated by superheroes) is going to be a hot topic. Jessica Jones might have avoided name-dropping like the plague because it didn’t fit the tone, but when this is set in a universe where these things happen in public, and the entire show is about people with special powers, an off-hand mention of ‘the flag-waver’ just makes them sound like overly protective parents who won’t let their kids out to play in the big bad world. That’s the world these character live in. Luke Cage doesn’t have to bump into Tony Stark in the street, but just saying the name “Iron Man” isn’t going to make people hurl their laptops out the window because the series has stopped being edgy.
A More Complex Luke Cage
The version of Luke Cage we saw in Jessica Jones has left many wondering if he really warrants getting his own show. The argument seems pretty sound at this point, particularly since Cage appeared in quite a few episodes as a major player, got his own character arc, had his past revealed in terms of how he got his powers and his deceased wife and it generally gave us a light version of everything we’re supposedly seeing in his standalone series. There have also been accusations that the character was either too bland or simply unlike his comic book counterpart, who never had a wife and was less of a soulful lone wolf (depending on the writer).
The character is pretty well established, and even has a strong connection with one of the future Defenders (and Claire Temple, the snarky, unobtrusive glue holding all these angst-ridden superpowered types together). So where does Luke Cage go from here? That’s what we’re hoping to find out. We know Luke had a wife and he gained his powers in an experiment, but those who felt that he was either bland or misrepresented in his first appearance will be watching for more nuance. Getting a show all to himself means that we get the chance to know Luke Cage through more than just a few conversations and barroom brawls. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of skepticism, but Luke Cage has thirteen episodes of character development to deliver. The onus is on the writers to give us a more complex Cage than we saw in his role as supporting character.
Speaking of Jessica Jones, it’s been confirmed that Luke Cage will be taking place after her series, meaning that the last time we saw him he was sleeping off the effects of a point-blank shotgun blast to the skull. Luke and Jessica went from acquaintances to lovers to enemies to partners in crime to being forced to fight each other, all over the space of a few days. It’s safe to say they have an interesting relationship.
While Luke Cage definitely doesn’t need Jessica Jones invading the show and pulling away attention from the main character, it’d be nice to see where their story goes next. The upcoming Iron Fist might not find itself with enough room to sort out Luke and Jessica’s muddled relations, and shoehorning it all in at the start of Defenders might just seem rushed when the team are all supposed to be getting to know each other. Cage and Jones have an established history in both the comics and live action, and it’d be a shame to waste Kristen Ritter’s character by reducing her to a vague mention. Not to mention the fact that the two of them bonded over their shared powers of bending steel and punching people so hard they perform an unwilling aerial somersault; they found solace in shared uniqueness. Jessica doesn’t need to be as involved in Cage’s series as much as he was in hers, but it’s a relationship that deserves some extra screen time. Plus we’re not going to say no to any extra Marvel characters making an appearance, especially ones we’ve grown to like.
A Different Tone
No, we’re not asking for things to be more light and fluffy. If that’s what you’re after, you can either watch an actual Marvel movie (Ant-Man, probably) or something completely unrelated. Maybe Supergirl.
Luke Cage is going to be gritty, because the Defenders-adjacent Netflix series are dealing with street-level happenings and the Marvel underworld has never been a pretty place. Still, both Daredevil and Jessica Jones have had their own separate focus; “dark action” and “noir,” as described by Mike Colter. This is easy to spot when switching from one show to another, as Daredevil’s adventures are more superhero-esque with a dark twist (lots of blood, basically) while Jessica Jones was darker still, a seedy gumshoe story that forced us to support unsympathetic characters. Meanwhile, Luke Cage’s story has been described as having “soul.”
Exactly what that means is unknown at this point, but if the series wants to stand out, it needs to have something more than angst and intrigue. Those have been done, and done well; Luke Cage is a chance to take not just the story in a different direction, but the sense of drama. This may be helped by the change of location from Hell’s Kitchen to Harlem, as well as a developing MCU that forces the ordinary folk to start accepting all the heroes popping up everywhere. And if things turn out to be just that little bit lighter – Luke is supposed to be a “hero for hire” after all – maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
The Power Man Costume
This one is set to go the same way as the Jewel costume, dredged up like a ghost of comic books past for a mocking cameo.
Still… just look at it.
Something New to the MCU
One thing we don’t need more of in the Marvel universe is super-strong people with troubled pasts. There’s only so much drama that can be squeezed out of the sad story of a person gifted with superhuman abilities, struggling with the ramifications of their responsibilities to humanity. It’s perhaps the oldest story in comic books, and even the MCU has already given us plenty of it.
So what does Luke Cage have to bring to the table? Whatever it is, it has to be something new. Every series or movie from the MCU so far has introduced either a dramatically different character or something we haven’t seen before. Jessica Jones might have trodden some familiar ground, but it darkened the universe and gave us an utterly depraved villain. Daredevil was the first to show us the grittier side of the MCU, even if most of its main characters were genuinely good people. Luke Cage can’t just be more of the same, otherwise it’ll be a forgettable rehash.
All it needs to do at this point is advance the story in some way. We might not necessarily get an entirely new angle on the MCU, but a solid story mixed with some of that aforementioned Defenders groundwork won’t exactly go awry.
We won’t be seeing too much of this, since the lack of it is what caused Mike Colter to sign up as Luke Cage in the first place. Still, the character has his roots in the Blaxploitation craze of the 1970s, and it’d be interesting to have this referenced in some way.
The world might have moved on, but even things as simple as Cage’s catchphrase (“Sweet Christmas”) were born from the Blaxploitation genre, as well as the supposed ‘soulful’ series that Luke Cage is meant to be. We definitely don’t need to see Cage dealing exclusively with pimps and street gangs, solving problems with extreme violence and spouting zany “black” catchphrases (the version we saw in Jessica Jones is far from this). What wouldn’t go so awry are references to the more positive sides of the genre; a bit of soul and funk music alongside a realistic depiction of social conditions in downtown Harlem, where Luke will be based.
Danny Rand/Iron Fist
There’s been no word so far on the casting of Danny Rand/Iron Fist, though if he’s going to make an early appearance, Luke Cage is the perfect time. The two have frequently teamed up in the past, to the point where their comics have been merged into Luke Cage and Iron Fist on occasion. Whether this friendship is developed in the series, similarly to how Cage was represented on Jessica Jones, or simply referenced through cameos and Easter Eggs, there’s no better time to be laying the foundations for Cage and Iron Fist to have a pre-established relationship.
That’s not to say that Danny Rand should be eclipsing Cage’s role in any way; with a shift in location and people still left wondering if Colter can carry his own series, it’s best to keep things simple, at least to begin with. Still, we’ll be getting an MCU version of Heroes for Hire, which might just be the perfect excuse for Iron Fist to show up. Their friendship from the comics is too prominent to not be carried over in some way… and with Iron Fist coming up straight after Luke Cage, glimpsing the character of Danny Rand might be just what his series needs to drum up interest. Not that a Marvel series about a mystical kung fu expert really needs much help.
Anything else you’re looking for from Luke Cage? Let us know in the comments…