There has been a lot of fanfare recently surrounding Luke Cage, the most recent collaborative offering to the small screen from Netflix and Marvel. For the uninitiated, Luke Cage is a comic book character first released in 1972’s Marvel comic Hero for Hire #1. In the comics his superhero powers were fairly standard: he was inhumanly strong and impervious to bullets. He began his superhero career as a hired hand, helping anyone that could pay his fee. His character, clad in a yellow blouse and blue bell-bottom jeans was one of the few black superheroes featured in comic books when it was released. Luke Cage’s character has always been complex. His origin story began with a life of crime, and even after he was released from prison, he continued to walk that fine line until he developed closer relationships with other superheroes and grew to his full potential. His character arc in the comics was a story of redemption. He began his tale nearly dead from a mafia beating, and we watch him progress as he becomes not only a respected superhero, but a leader as well.
The new series takes a somewhat different approach, understanding the market demand for more heroes of colour in entertainment; Luke Cage’s character was given further nuance. He was made into an avid reader of African American literature, a student of African American history, and a pacifist with fists that could crack mountains. These positive qualities were juxtaposed with this criminal past interwoven with his history as a member of law enforcement, both of which are parts of himself that he has to hide from the people closest to him.
There have been numerous think pieces on this show since season one was released on September 30th. Many of them were exaltations of the “unapologetic Blackness” of the show’s lead and enthralling cast of characters. Bloggers aplenty have sung the praises of the show because of its fair and nuanced portrayal of African American culture in all of its glory. The soundtrack, the dialogue, the wardrobe, the good looking cast (*cough* Ninja Devoe *cough*), and even the celebration of the African American woman’s natural hair are all things that make the show beautiful to watch.
Detractors of the show have decried its not so subtle political imagery. One such example is the invocation of the image of Trayvon Martin as the hero of the show is a bulletproof Black man walking in a hoodie. There have been numerous complaints from boorish types. Some argue that the show is too “Black” and even ventured so far as to call it racist (OK sure buddy, good luck with that). Others have referred to him as thug and argued that the show glorifies violence in the Black community (I guess Breaking Bad was just a story about a cancer patient).
I have also seen a few lazy articles that have focused too much attention on the negative comments in what seems to me like cheap attempt at getting post clicks. My social media news feed is packed with article after article of pseudo-critics focusing on the negative comments that we all knew were coming and probably should have ignored…but then again, no publicity is bad publicity I suppose.
There is, however one aspect of the show that everyone seems to be overlooking in the unending torrent of rehashed blogs and think pieces on the blackness of the show and who does and does not like it. WHAT ABOUT THE STORY???
Luke Cage is not just some Black superhero thrown up on our screens to make us jump for joy or to rub uncultured bigots the wrong way. Luke Cage is all of us. He is a simple, humble man that only wants to live a quietly, free of the parts of his life that he would rather forget, and away from the dangers that stalk us every day. He is a man that is stronger than he may ever know. Still, he is forced by loss and circumstance to rise to the occasion and realize his true potential. He is invincible. He is invincible in the same way we wish we could be when life is at its hardest. Luke Cage is a great character because he represents human resilience. We are as strong as Luke Cage every time we get up in the morning and go to that job we hate. We are as brave as Luke Cage when we dare to be different and chase our dreams. We are as invincible and unstoppable as Luke Cage when we push ourselves through what we think are the limits of what we can humanly endure.
Luke Cage is an allegory for the hero’s journey that is our lives. He loses, he wins, his heart breaks, he fights, he makes love, he hopes, he fears, he loves, and above all, he is human. As his story arc continues to develop, we will see him wrestle with his past traumas, come to terms with his present mistakes, and steel himself for the yet unknown tribulations of his future. As beautiful and unapologetically Black as Luke Cage is, what makes the show great is the story about ourselves that it is trying to tell us. Until next time, be good to yourselves and each other.
Adam H.C. Myrie
(P.S. Ninja Devoe is fine, I don’t even care, judge me.)
More on the original Comic Book: http://marvel.com/universe/Cage,_Luke
More on the show: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3322314/
Image Credit: http://collider.com/best-luke-cage-comics/