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“The world is ready for a bulletproof black man.”
The words that Luke Cage executive producer Cheo Coker said during the Netflix series’ Comic-Con panel this past summer ring all the more true months later, as more and more reports of unarmed black citizens being shot by police surface. Although Coker admits to The Hollywood Reporter that he first began developing Netflix’s third Marvel show about an indestructible black superhero long before this disturbing issue became a national epidemic, he is still all the more proud to be able to give a voice to those who may be afraid to stand up in protest of these injustices.
“The show is really about what happens when, in this world where people are afraid to speak out because if you look at what’s happening in real life in any community of color that are facing these issues, when you have people that break the law and the whole thing of not snitching which is true of any community that deals with this, how does that change when you introduce a bulletproof element?” Coker says. “How do both police enforcement and criminal enforcement change when you introduce a character who can’t be swayed by normal means? How does that affect everything and what is the ripple effect of that?”
And that’s why Luke Cage is must-see TV, even for those who haven’t read the comic books, or even for those who haven’t tuned in to watch Netflix’s first two Marvel shows, Daredevil (seasons one and two) and Jessica Jones. Although Netflix is creating their own shared Marvel Universe on TV with connected stories and characters crossing over between all the series, Luke Cage stands out on its own and can be viewed without watching the previous Netflix series.
To make that a more digestible possibility, The Hollywood Reporter rounded up everything you need to know before streaming Luke Cage so you don’t have to consult the comic books or spend roughly 40 hours binge-watching the other Marvel series.
Who is Luke Cage?
Luke (Mike Colter) first appeared in the first season of Jessica Jones. Introduced as merely a love interest for Jessica (Krysten Ritter), the super-strong and indestructible Luke is the owner of eponymous bar Luke’s. One night he sees Jessica looking through the window of the bar and invites her in. Although the two are both cagey about their pasts, they end up sleeping together that same night. Since Luke has superhuman strength, he worries about hurting Jessica, but she tells him she’s fine.
After getting questioned by the police (which Luke always tries to avoid by keeping himself out of trouble) about Jessica, Luke confronts her and find out she had been hired as a private investigator by the jealous husband of a woman he had slept with. That husband then comes to his bar later that night with a group of friends and tries to attack Luke, and Jessica intervenes, believing that he needs her help. During the (really unfair) fight, they both realize that the other has superhuman strength, and Jessica sees a blade shatter against Luke’s neck. Afterwards, they continue to test each other’s strength sexually, excited to find another enhanced human out in the world.
Jessica later finds a photo of Luke’s late wife, Reva Connors (Parisa Fitz-Henley), in his medicine cabinet, and he tells her she died in a bus crash years ago, but Jessica gets upset and leaves. She comes back to his bar the next day, and they sleep together again. Afterwards, they discuss the case that Luke had been questioned about by the police, and Jessica confesses that she’s investigating another enhanced human, a man with mind-control powers. But then she breaks things off with him, claiming he has already suffered enough because of her. Luke assumes she can’t deal with his dead wife, and so he lets her go.
While investigating his wife’s death, Luke hires Jessica to help find someone who has information about it. Luke also finds out from someone else that Jessica has spent months under the influence of a man named Kilgrave (David Tennant), the same enhanced human Jessica had told him about. After learning she had been continuously raped and psychologically tortured, Luke confronts Jessica and apologizes. They then find the person Luke is looking for, and he learns that the bus driver who hit his wife was drunk during the accident buts is nonetheless still working as a bus driver.
Furious, Luke tracks down the driver and angrily throws him through the windshield of a bus. Jessica shows up to stop him, and as Luke is about to kill the driver she confesses she was the one who killed his wife. Kilgrave had forced her to. Luke tries to confront Jessica the next day, but instead finds Kilgrave. He tries to kill the man who ordered his wife’s death, but Kilgrave uses his mind-control powers to stop Luke and instead gets answers about why he’s being attacked by a stranger.
While under Kilgrave’s control, Luke learns that his wife had actually discovered the origins of Kilgrave’s power and obtained video footage of him as a child being experimented on by his own parents, and that’s why he had her killed. When Kilgrave learns that Luke and Jessica have been in a relationship, he grows jealous and orders Luke to blow up his bar while inside of it. Since he’s indestructible, he survives the explosion, and Jessica helps him escape. She tells him to move away, open a new bar and forget all about her now that Kilgrave knows who he is, but he tells her that he needs to help her stop Kilgrave for what he did to both of them and his wife. However, unbeknownst to Jessica, Luke is still under Kilgrave’s control. He follows orders to tell Jessica that he gorgives her for killing his wife, and the two keep searching for Kilgrave.
They track Kilgrave to an empty venue, onstage, calling for Jessica. That’s when Kilgrave gleefully tells Jessica that Luke is still under his control, and he makes the two fight in front of him. During the fight, Luke tells Jessica the truth: He could never forgive her for killing his wife. During the fight, Luke knocks out two police officers before Jessica can knock him out with a shotgun blast to his chin. She takes him to the hospital where Daredevil doctor Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) agrees to help him while protecting his secret.
While Jessica deals with and eventually kills Kilgrave, Claire waits by Luke’s side until he wakes up. She informs him that Jessica is being arrested for Kilgrave’s murder. Although Luke wants to turn himself in, Claire tells him that would only result in his own arrest. He disappears when she goes to get him a glass of water. And that’s where Luke’s story will pick up in Luke Cage.
Jessica Jones ends, Luke Cage begins
Now it’s time to get to know the man behind the strength and bulletproof skin. Luke Cage will delve into who Luke is as a man, his values, his past (including how he became a convict) and his potential to become a hero to his community in his own right. But it will also explore the question of what it means to become a hero, and if he has an obligation to become one for Harlem or if he has a right to keep his head down and live his life for himself.
The show will pick up months after Jessica Jones ends, with Luke finding himself up against political corruption and the criminal underworld in Harlem as well as “his own demons.” The drama also stars Mahershala Ali as crime boss Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, Alfre Woodard as his politician cousin Mariah Dillard, Simone Missick as Harlem police Det. Misty Knight, Frank Whaley as Misty’s partner Scarfe, and Theo Rossi as “Shades” Alvarez, a smart and manipulative criminal with ties to Luke’s past.
Luke’s comic book history
So where does Luke come from in the comics? Also known as Power Man, the character was first introduced in 1972’s Luke Cage, Hero for Hire No. 1. Created by Archie Goodwin, John Romita Sr. and George Tuska, Luke was strongly inspired by the Blaxpoitation film trend of the ‘70s. While Luke wasn’t the first black superhero published in comic books (that honor goes to Black Panther), he was the first one of his kind: a street-level hero who showed that superheroes can also be flawed, suffering from the same human issues as those without powers. He also paved the way for more relatable black comic book characters to come onto the scene, like Misty Knight and Storm, the first two black female superheroes.
When the Blaxpoitation trend faded, Luke was then paired up with Marvel character (and Netflix’s next major series star) Iron Fist (although the martial arts trend that influenced that character’s creator was also fading). In an effort to keep Luke Cage from cancellation, the character was moved away from his Blaxpoitation roots by saying his catchphrase “Sweet Christmas” less, expanding his vocabulary and having the character destroy his own superhero costume for an upgraded version.
In the comics, Luke Cage’s real name is Carl Lucas and he spents his youth running with a gang. He dreams of becoming a crime boss when he’s older until he realizes how much his crimes were hurting his family. He goes legitimate, but his continued friendship with Willis Stryker drags him down. When Willis’ girlfriend, Reva Connors, breaks up with him, he believes Carl is to blame and plants heroin in his apartment, leading Carl to get arrested and sent to prison. Sentenced to Seagate Prison in Georgia, Carl becomes a target for a sadistic guard.
When Carl is recruited for an experimental program by a doctor in the prison, the guard sabotages the experiment, hoping to kill Carl in the process. Instead, Carl becomes super-strong and indestructible. He escapes prison and returns to his hometown of Harlem to use his newfound powers for financial gain. He adopts the name Luke Cage and goes up against his former friend Willis who has become a crime boss named Diamondback.
In addition to Iron Fist, Luke has also worked with other superheroes like Black Panther, the Defenders team-up, the Thunderbolts, the Avengers, and even Jessica Jones, with whom he has a daughter.
Luke Cage season one begins streaming on Friday, Sept. 30, on Netflix.
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