‘Luke Cage’ is buoyed by its complex side characters and fleshed out atmosphere


Mike Colter stars in the new Netflix superhero series ‘Luke Cage’. Courtesy of Netflix

Jessica Xing

Marvel’s Luke Cage premiered on Netflix on Sept. 30 and became the newest addition to the Marvel universe. It features Luke Cage (Mike Colter), a character first introduced in “Jessica Jones” as Jessica Jones’ (Krysten Ritter) boyfriend, in his own TV series as he begins a new life in Harlem, NY trying to escape the pain of his past.

And really, at first, Cage didn’t seem like the kind of character who could hold up his own TV show. Sure, Mike Colter is a powerhouse of an actor who showcases how Cage’s power doesn’t just come from his bulletproof skin, but rather from the quiet willpower he carries with him in every scene. Crack a boulder over Colter’s head and it probably wouldn’t even hurt him; Colter did an amazing job showing the sheer invincibility of Cage as a character. But there are TV shows defined by the gravitas of the main character, and this show isn’t it. Stripped down to its fundamentals, Luke Cage really isn’t anything groundbreaking. It follows the same beats every superhero story does: he is a tried and true “superhero”, a man thrown into a life of extraordinary by a freak accident, a charming guy who gets all the girls, a guy who is told repeatedly he is the kind of guy the “city needs.” The villains, though well acted, are not anything the Marvel universe hasn’t seen before, following the same crime boss archetype seen in Daredevil and Jessica Jones.

Mike Colter stars in the new Netflix superhero series 'Luke Cage'. Courtesy of Netflix
Mike Colter stars in the new Netflix superhero series ‘Luke Cage’. Courtesy of Netflix

Instead, it’s the energy of the show. It’s the messages that pound you hard in the chest. It’s the brilliantly complex side characters that really separate Luke Cage from getting lost in the sea of Marvel titles. The female characters in the show are phenomenal; at first set up to be just Luke Cage’s throw away love interests, they ended up stealing every scene, starting with Misty Knight Simone Missick). While she starts off just being Cage’s enigmatic one night stand, Missick’s role as the police detective is incredible to watch because of how intelligent her character is. While a big problem with the show is how it struggles trying to be a family drama, a cop procedural andor a superhero show,( not particularly succeeding at any of them) Misty’s story, though sometimes not well handled, is compelling because she is arguably the smartest person in the room, yet struggles to work within the confines of a corrupt police system. She steals audiences’ hearts the second she proclaims herself the queen of the basketball court to a group of teenagers who have yet to be introduced to the powerhouse that is Misty Knight.

Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) is the former nurse who has come back to her hometown in Harlem since her stint on Daredevil, another Marvel TV show. She is funny and relatable in a TV show full of murderers, crime bosses and superheroes — cracking well timed jokes yet showing a certain kind of courage and gut that makes her admirable to the everyday viewer. She’s charming and sweet and plays off well with Luke’s stoic yet humoring demeanor.

Out of everything, the most notable aspect of the show is how Luke Cage is a love letter to black culture. Harlem, known as the black capital of the world, serves as a setting so real and grounded; the show is chock full of references to significant black figures like Tupac, Jackie Robinson and  Lebron James. Mariah Dillard, councilwoman and one of the show’s main antagonists, launches a political campaign to “Keep Harlem Black”, commenting on the gentrification of poorer, urban areas. Cage goes on an impassioned speech about Crispus Attucks, the icon for the anti-slavery movement in the 19th century. Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali) skillfully showcases multiple incredibly talented musical acts, paying homage to the music genre’s started by black artists, from early jazz to R&B and hip hop. It is empowering, especially with the recent black deaths due to police brutality. Luke Cage is a bulletproof black man: he is cloaked in a black hoodie yet  is completely invincible. The lasting shot of Cage peppered with bullet holes but unharmed is a haunting image. As a character on the show says, “There’s something powerful about seeing a black man, who’s bulletproof, and unafraid.” Diversity has become seen as a buzzword, a crusade for political correctness, yet this show illustrates that no matter what, diversity matters. People deserve to see their stories told on screen, and Cage, no matter how typical of a hero, is a hero nonetheless to people who’ve been ignored by mainstream media.

The show should be unremarkable because it follows the same Marvel formula seen so far. Yet, there is so much care taken in this show to make it unique, to make it stand out, that Luke Cage becomes Marvel’s most daring title so far.