Netflix has given the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU for short) a platform for some of its best live action outings. Daredevil was acclaimed by critics and fans alike, and the groundswell of nervous excitement for Jessica Jones is reaching an internet fever pitch. Lurking in the background of our joint anticipation is Luke Cage, a series based around one of the first black superheroes ever created, who also happens to be married to Jones in the Marvel comics. The series is currently filming and set to appear some months down the line, but Cage is set to appear first in Jessica Jones, piquing our interest before delving deeper into his life in his own show.
Luke Cage is another of Marvel’s street-level heroes, without the same level of name recognition or flashy dramatics of his superpowered movie colleagues. Telling his story seems like a natural next step in the MCU master plan, as each Netflix series takes a step deeper into the darkness, honing a dark and personal edge that the films have never fully embraced. Luke Cage has had a rough go of it in the comics but he is, in many ways, indestructible.
In case you’re planning to tune into Jessica Jones like many of us, here are 10 Facts You Should Know About Luke Cage.
The character was originally created due to the popularity of Blaxploitation films
Luke Cage first appeared in 1972 under the title Luke Cage, Hero for Hire. The cover image of the comic seems to call to mind the posters for Blaxploitation films: said hero in a badass outfit striking a fierce power pose, the background noir-ish with smoke, glowing bar signs and a sexy cigarette-smoking girl. It also features two violent cops, one struggling to control the other, as someone who might be our hero lies prone on the ground. Right away, from the very first image of the very first issue, we have Luke Cage primed as a formidable and furious figure fighting against very real threats. There are no skulking supervillains to be found – just very real, very bad men abusing their power.
Cage was the first African-American superhero to star in his own solo title (unlike Black Panther, who was not American, and Falcon, who shared billing with Captain America). His Blaxploitation roots are embedded in his history as an ex-con living in a traditionally black neighborhood, who used vernacular and even had a catchphrase (“Sweet Christmas!”). But Luke Cage is a lot more than his beginnings.
His alter ego was Power Man, a moniker he held on and off throughout the years
Cage’s name always came first in whatever comic title he held: first, he was Luke Cage, Hero for Hire and then he was Luke Cage, Power Man, showing that the real man had more importance than the job he performed. His silly costume (a bright yellow shirt open to the waist, a silver headband that you could probably find in Forever21 these days, and an actual silver chain for a belt) was silly on purpose; when Cage sets up his superhero business, he’s doing it as a business. He puts on the costume to appeal to his audience. He adopts the name Power Man to fit in with all the other caped crusaders and their alter egos. He conforms to the general superhero rules to give himself a niche with which to earn money, and therefore survive. It’s a lot more pragmatic than we’re used to seeing with our heroes.
His best friend is Iron Fist
Though Luke Cage was initially a popular character, after a few years his popularity began to wane and the comic was in danger of cancellation. The same was true for Iron Fist, a martial arts expert from another dimension who was originally inspired by kung fu movies. In an effort to save both titles and boost sales, the characters were paired together in Power Man and Iron Fist, setting off a partnership that would eventually grow into a deep friendship, one that still exists between the characters today.
Iron Fist is really Danny Rand, a character who couldn’t have a background more different from Luke Cage. Rand is the son of a wealthy businessman who lost his parents at a young age and subsequently grew up in a mystical city called K’un L’un, which is where he was taught martial arts and earned his powers. He and Cage had an antagonistic relationship from the outset after to a combination of blackmail and misunderstandings (it happens!) led to Cage kidnapping Rand’s girlfriend Misty Knight. However, things are quickly smoothed out and both characters briskly move past their issues, forming an unlikely friendship that has lasted almost forty years.
He was born and raised in Harlem
Though all of the Netflix series so far take place in and focus on Hell’s Kitchen (never has one single neighborhood needed so much superhero attention), Cage actually had his start in Harlem. He lived all over place in the intervening years (setting up an office in Times Square; moving for a while to Chicago), but his Harlem origins are important to who he was. This will be reflected in his upcoming series.
Actor Mike Colter, who will be portraying Luke Cage, confirmed in an interview (via ComicBook.com) that after the end of Jessica Jones, Luke will find himself returning to Harlem, trying to figure out his place in the world and confronting the ghosts of his past. Harlem is of great importance to Cage’s backstory specifically as a black hero, grounding him in a black neighborhood that was perhaps originally a stereotypical choice (along with Cage’s characterization as something of a “thug”) that has grown to bear real weight on his journey from the man he was to the hero he becomes.
He was a petty criminal as a young man before seeking to better himself
Growing up in a fairly rough neighborhood and trying to find a way to sustain himself led to a young Luke Cage (or, Carl Lucas, if you want to get technical) getting involved with some pretty seedy people. He joined a gang, along with his best friend Willis Stryker, but it wasn’t long before the two men found themselves on different paths. Cage saw how much his choices were hurting his family and made an effort to get out of that lifestyle, to go straight and seek honest, legal employment. However, he remained good friends with Stryker, who rose in the criminal underworld until he became something of a crime lord himself. (And, eventually, the villain Diamondback.)
This also gives Luke Cage that “edge” that makes a lot of the street-level Marvel superheroes fascinating. He started off on the wrong side, and could have easily turned into one of those minor criminals that superheroes dispatch of so easily. Instead, he found his way to the other side. Luke Cage isn’t the only hero with a dark past in existence, but it brings an interesting undercurrent to his desire to help people – he knows exactly what it’s like to be in a position to need that help. It gives his character a richness that isn’t always present in other characters of the genre. Thanks to where he came from, he knows what he’s fighting for and why he’s fighting.
He was unfairly imprisoned on false drug charges by his former best friend
Luke Cage is also an ex-con, though that came to be through no actual fault of his own. He was an innocent man imprisoned unjustly, and it was all thanks to his childhood friend’s betrayal. Though Willis Stryker and Luke had managed to remain friends, despite Stryker’s criminal associations, it had disastrous consequences when they finally did fall out.
Both men had fallen in love with a woman named Reva Connors. Connors had been Stryker’s girlfriend, but she broke it off with him due to her feelings about his line of work. She found comfort with Luke, which is what set off Stryker’s cruel act of revenge. He planted heroin in Luke’s apartment and then tipped off the cops; Luke was summarily arrested.
Anger is another big part of Luke Cage’s characterization, though it’s not anger of the Hulking out variety. Luke faces many unfair circumstances in his life and the resultant rage and bitterness is something he has to really work at coming to terms with – which he does, eventually. But he hadn’t yet during his time in jail, instead railing against his predicament and starting fights or trying to escape. Even after he is able to escape, Luke has to deal with living as a fugitive, despite knowing he is an innocent man.
His powers were the result of a failed attempt at recreating Captain America’s super soldier serum
While in prison, Cage draws the attention of two very different men: a sadistic and racist guard named Billy Bob Rackham, and a scientist named Dr. Noah Burstein. The guard targets him relentlessly, though Dr. Burstein goes on to be one of Cage’s good friends. He recruits Luke to take part in an experiment not unlike the one that turned scrawny Steve Rogers into Captain America, but it doesn’t go to plan. (Every scientist in the Marvel comics universe is trying to recreate the super soldier serum, and every one of them finds a way to mess it up royally – *cough* *cough* Bruce Banner.) Rackham intervenes with the intention of killing Luke, but instead the procedure leaves Luke with superhuman strength and impenetrable skin.
This plays into African-American history both in-universe and out. Around the time of Luke’s comic book conception, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments were coming to an end; this particularly awful time in our history involved hundreds of black men in Alabama being infected with syphilis, which was not disclosed to them and was not treated – even after the discovery of penicillin as a cure. Within the Marvel universe, black soldiers were experimented on after Captain America’s journey into the ice in an attempt to recreate the serum – most notably Isaiah Bradley, the first black character to bear the Captain America mantle.
He dated Claire Temple
After using his new skills to escape prison, Luke Cage sets up shop in New York City as a hero for hire. While there, he meets Claire Temple, a nurse who works for his doctor friend Noah Burstein, and the two quickly get together. Daredevil fans will recognize the character thanks to Rosario Dawson’s portrayal of her, but Dawson’s character combines Claire Temple with Linda Carter, the Night Nurse who cares for injured and ailing superheroes. Claire was one of Luke’s most notable love interests, they were eventually pulled apart due to the dangerous nature of his job.
Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple is set to appear in all of the currently announced Netflix shows, including Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. Whether she’ll simply be acting in her capacity as a nurse or whether she’ll be romantically involved with Cage remains to be seen.
His relationship with Jessica Jones
Perhaps Luke Cage’s most important relationship is with Jessica Jones – so it’s fitting that her series is where he’ll make his onscreen debut. In the comics, they first meet on the job, so to speak, before Jessica has retired from the superhero game and become a private eye. She and Luke begin a friendship with one another, calling on one another for the occasional favor and growing closer all the while. Their subsequent romance doesn’t follow normal conventions, instead much more closely resembling, well, the real world. They have a casual on and off relationship up until an intoxicated one night stand results in Jessica’s pregnancy. That’ll make things serious real fast.
After the birth of their daughter, Luke and Jessica get married, making them one of the one of the more stable and happy couples in the genre. It signified great personal growth for both characters, moving them fully beyond their dark pasts and into a settled present. Though danger still lurked around every corner for the pair, they were able to find a way to create balance together.
A movie was in the works for a decade before the Netflix show eventually materialized
An adaptation of Luke Cage, Hero for Hire has been in the cards for well over a decade now, though every previous potential incarnation was planned as a film. Quentin Tarantino expressed interest as early as the 90s, with Laurence Fishburne in the titular role, though he ended up passing on the project in favor of Pulp Fiction. Luke Cage certainly seems to be right up Tarantino’s alley, considering his love for Blaxploitation films, but the finished product would have likely been a less modern interpretation of the character.
Columbia Pictures was in possession of the rights for a long time after that, and they were angling for a John Singleton (of Boyz n the Hood fame) directed film starring anyone from Jamie Foxx to Tyrese Gibson, with Terrence Howard as the lead villain. Several other names were in contention over the years, including Isaiah Mustafa (the Old Spice Guy) and Idris Elba. For whatever reason none of those projects ever got off the ground and that may have been for the best – the Netflix series is incredibly promising, and Mike Colter certainly seems like the right man for the job.
Does Luke Cage hold any secrets that we haven’t discussed? Let us know in the comments!
Luke Cage is set to premiere on Netflix in 2016.