The first image I ever saw of Luke Cage was on a trading card. He was punching a wall with his bare fists.He didn’t have a cool ass costume or a code name, and 7 year-old me thought to myself “Who the hell is this?”. Fast forward to my teen years when I stumbled upon the very first New Avengers book, which finally introduced Spider-Man and Wolverine as official Avengers. Then I saw that same character from the trading card; no costume again, just a big dude in civilian clothes. I was probably 15 and still wondered how the hell did this plain looking dude got a spot on the Avengers. It wasn’t until my 20s that I finally understood what made Luke Cage so great.
Luke Cage was created in the 70’s by Archie Goodwin and the legendary John Romita Sr. Like his fellow Hero for Hire Iron Fist – who was created during the martial arts boom in the US – Luke Cage was created in response to a growing pop culture film trend that is now referred to as the Blaxploitation genre. He has the distinction of being the first African-American comic book character to star in his own comic. In 2014, it was announced that Mike Colter was cast as Luke Cage, making him the first actor to portray one of the most underrated and important characters in comic book history.
Straight Outta Harlem
His story goes like this: Carl Lucas (Luke) was a kid from Harlem who grew up into a life of crime. At a young age, he formed a gang with his BFF Willis Stryker (not that Stryker) and they do all kinds of crazy shit as they slowly grow more ambitious as criminals. Luke eventually has a change of heart and the two part ways. As Luke makes an attempt to finally better his life, Stryker continues to make a name for himself as a criminal.
Now here’s where it gets all Gossip Girl. A love triangle of sorts ensues between Cage, Stryker and Reva (Stryker’s girl), after Reva leaves Stryker after he gets into some serious shit with the notorious crime syndicate The Maggia. Reva runs to Cage for comfort and Stryker thinks that Cage intentionally stole his girl. In Gossip Girl fashion, Stryker frames Cage by planting a stash of heroin on him and tips the authorities off. Cage is eventually sent to Seagate Prison.
While locked up, an innocent and embittered Luke Cage makes a few enemies, in particular a guard named Albert Rackham. During an experiment – which is another one of those akin to Super Soldier serum recreations – Rackham deliberately sabotages the process in an attempt to kill Luke Cage. The experiment goes haywire and gives Luke Cage his abilities, specifically superhuman strength, near-indestructible skin and the courage to wear a tiara. He escapes, returns to New York and realizes his abilities could be used for good and more importantly, for profit.
His stint as a Hero for Hire begins and works solo until tagging along with his buddy Iron Fist. They do the whole world-saving thing for several years, until Luke decides to go back to his roots – protecting his own neighborhood. It is at this point in time where he meets a girl named Jessica Jones, which completely changes his life. Unfortunately this is also happens to be the narrative period that Luke Cage as a character quietly fades into mainstream oblivion.
It was only during Brian Michael Bendis’ run on New Avengers where we see a resurgence for obscure characters such as Luke Cage and Jessica Drew (Spider-Woman). In the newly formed New Avengers, Luke Cage and Jessica Drew are handpicked by Captain America and Iron Man to join the new line-up. A reluctant Luke Cage accepts but nevertheless proves himself an excellent team player and the rest is Luke Cage history.
Existing Ties to the MCU
As of this writing, we’ve already encountered two places in the Luke Cage mythology: Harlem and Seagate Prison. The final battle between Hulk and Abomination was set in Harlem, and Seagate Prison was where Trevor Slattery was sent to in the One-Shot All Hail The King.
Knowing Marvel and their love of connectivity, there’s a good chance that these two incidents will be acknowledged on Luke Cage’s show, particularly the Hulk incident. That Hulk/Abomination fight was extremely intense and destroyed a good portion of Harlem. Bruce Banner even mentions it in Avengers. Could all the damage Harlem has sustained – from Hulk and even the Chituari invasion – play a part in Luke Cage’s journey to his reform?
The Friends and Enemies of Luke Cage
The casual fan might not know this but Luke Cage works best as a supporting player. That’s not to say that he isn’t interesting as a stand alone character, it’s just that the supporting role is where he shines the most. He’s everybody’s buddy, which makes for a potentially interesting supporting cast and makes him the most connected Defender. Let’s take a quick look on which characters will surely make the cut.
Around late 2014, Rosario Dawson was confirmed to be playing the role of Claire Temple, who is the MCU analogue of the Night Nurse character from the comics. We’ve elaborated on her in detail before, but in case you missed it, Claire Temple in the comics starts off as one of Luke Cage’s first love interests.
Assuming Cage has a similar with Temple in the show as he does in the comics, Temples’s involvement in the Daredevil show instantly links these Cage and Daredevil, regardless whether or not they have yet met within continuity. Even a small easter egg in Daredevil could hint at Temple’s
previous relationship with Cage. This relationship angle with Temple could lead to an interesting dynamic once Jessica Jones, his main love interest, enters the picture.
During the course of an investigation in New York City, private investigator Jessica Jones encounters the enigmatic Luke Cage – a man whose past has secrets that will dramatically alter Jessica in ways she could never have imagined.
Mike Colter is set to make his MCU debut as Luke Cage in AKA Jessica Jones. He’s slated to appear in 8 of the 13 episodes. If Alias and that press release is any indication, we can assume that Luke Cage may have already begun his life of cracking skulls when they meet for the first time.
Aside from getting his powers and becoming a hero, meeting Jessica Jones is probably the most important thing to happen to Luke Cage. She is no doubt the most important character in the Luke Cage lore aside from the man himself. The story of how their relationship begins makes any Nicholas Sparks relationship look like puppy love.
After a night of drunken sex, Jessica and Luke begin flirting (sort of?) with each other. This runs for a good amount of time in Alias while Luke Cage makes an appearance here and there. The two get closer over Jessica’s Purple Man incident, and Luke declares his attraction to her after realizing how much alike they are and how much they understand each other.
Jessica becomes pregnant with Luke’s child and one of the greatest relationships in the Marvel Universe is born. Jessica Jones’ inclusion in the story of Luke Cage is a total game changer for the character. Cage matures into something that goes beyond his resident-badass trope. He transitions into a conflicted hero, torn by his domestic responsibilities as a father and husband and his role as a super hero.
Heroes for Hire
In case you aren’t aware, Heroes for Hire is a crimefighting-for-profit business established by Luke Cage himself after he leaves prison. Initially started by himself, the brand eventually takes on many shapes and sizes when characters like Iron Fist, Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, Victor Alvarez, Shang-Chi and so on join.
You can’t have Luke Cage without any hint of Danny Rand (Iron Fist). It’s like having Cheech without Chong or Kenan without Kel – it’s just not the same. Back in the late 70’s/early 80s, Luke and Danny were paired due their books being on the verge of cancellation. The result is one of comicdom’s greatest bromance stories. The two go on many adventures, forming different incarnations of Heroes for Hire and despite eventually disbanding that brand, they two still get to team up very frequently.
The Iron Fist show comes first and will be followed by the Luke Cage show, meaning those two characters may be ripe for a team up right before the Defenders show hits. Or even better, a Heroes for Hire series for the next batch of Netflix shows would be insanely cool.Supporting Iron Fist characters such as Misty Knight and Colleen Wing may very well much appear here. Personally, I’m hoping that Shang-Chi makes his debut in the Netflix shows to further the kung-fu element sorely lacking in the MCU.
Luke Cage is one of the more established Marvel characters with a surprisingly small roster of villains, at least ones that can be considered relevant to his overall mythology. A good bunch of his villains have faded into obscurity just as Cage did and almost none of them managed to resurface during the modern era, quite possibly due to a few of them being racial caricatures straight out of that era. Kingpin in all his glory could make an appearance here. He is after all the Kingpin of Crime in New York and his influence is bound to be felt throughout the series. The crime bosses that Willis Stryker works for could maybe be linked to Wilson Fisk himself.
A lot of these villains have your typical super-powered flair to them but also retain that street-themed realism that is a distinguishing element for Luke Cage. Characters like Diamondback, Big Ben Donovan, Bushmaster or Hammerhead could work excellently in the grounded crime element in these shows.
It’s probably too late for Luke Cage to make an appearance in the Daredevil show unfortunately. And while a Daredevil appearance in Luke Cage might seem too much if both Iron Fist and Jessica Jones already appear there, I still think a Luke Cage-Daredevil meeting (before The Defenders) like this needs to happen if at all possible.
What makes Luke Cage and his story so great?
Luke Cage is a survivor driven by his own faults. Faults dealt by his own hand for being a casualty of a broken system. He represents the ideals and aspirations of the unsung and continues to inspire with each simple act of heroism. It’s not typically him against ninjas, dragons, or larger-than-life bad guys. He deals with problems he related to growing up: neighborhood crime, gang violence, drug dealers and whatnot.
Much like Daredevil, Cage holds his home close to his heart and Harlem is where his heart is. He’s an everyman we all can relate to, considering how prevalent and relevant these issues still are. Racial tension in particular is at an all-time high, with incidents like the Ferguson/Trayvon Martin shootings and Eric Garner’s death sparking nationwide protests and rallies.
A modern interpretation of Luke Cage could do very well in the middle of all that chaos and I’m hoping the Netflix show does their take on it. This could be Marvel’s very own version of The Wire: a crime drama depicting the realism of urban life with a strong social message and a Marvel superhero twist on it.
It isn’t widely known but the guy is a great leader, which is interesting because even Cage himself is unaware of this. In the comics, he is eventually asked by Captain America to lead his own team of Avengers and Thunderbolts. While he is a far cry from Captain America’s vigorous inspiration, Luke Cage proves himself just as capable of inspiring and leading, just like Cap amidst his self-doubt. Is there a possibility that he ends up leading the Defenders? Fuck yes!
On top of all that, he has that quippy smart-ass charm that could stand up against characters like Peter Quill or Tony Stark. He’s witty, wacky and carries that charisma as if he’s defined by it. Well, maybe he is. Point being, he really is a fun character at the end of the day.
Beneath that indestructible exterior is an everyman with ideals of change and aspirations for the greater good of his community. A charming badass with the determination of a true hero. An average joe turned Defender which will make him one of the most compelling characters to ever grace the MCU.