Before we begin, let’s all just take a moment to focus on how momentous this show is. From its mostly black cast and crew, to the numerous references to black social and cultural figures, to the fact that it’s a comic book show and it’s mentioning Black Lives Matter, this is something historic. It’s a rarity for a television show as it is, but it stands alone as a comic book show. There’s absolutely no way to discuss or watch this show without regularly reflecting on the black experience in America, and for us to be able to do that through the lens of a superhero narrative is something truly unique. That said, there are many articles out there that have masterfully delved deep into this subject and there are plenty of writers talking about this show that are in a far better position to effectively discuss the meaning and impact of these moments than I am. This Salon piece is a particularly good one that does a great job of linking Luke (Mike Colter) and his story to that of Trayvon Martin and the sickeningly and seemingly endless list of other black lives that have been lost in recent years. Because of that, I’m going to focus my reviews on discussing this show the same way I do with my other reviews, as a TV and comic book fan who enjoys genre shows that focus storytelling through the lens of social issues and who’s keenly aware of the lack of representation in media for non-straight, -white, and -male characters.

So then, how was the premiere episode of Marvel’s Luke Cage? Well, let’s talk about the titular “Moment Of Truth.” This is a common idea in hero stories, especially when the protagonist is reluctant to take action or get involved. In fact, Luke’s progress over this episode follows a similar, though far more grounded and real-world, version of Peter Parker’s origin. He’s definitely got great power, but he doesn’t feel any responsibility other than to keep his head down. So despite Pop’s encouragement, he still ignores Chico’s gun. And while Pop luckily doesn’t end up dead at the end of said gun, some other folks do. Luke confronting Chico and Shameek wouldn’t necessarily prevent them from doing what they did like Peter stopping the thief at the wrestling match would have kept him away from Uncle Ben, but it’s a similar parallel and provides the final moment that pushes Luke towards his truth, and that’s the key to this concept. While we often talk about a “moment” of truth as the turning point for a reluctant hero, it’s usually more complicated than that. Peter didn’t immediately become Spider-Man after Uncle Ben died, and Luke didn’t become “Power Man” the moment he heard what two of Pop’s kids did. Peter had to confront his Uncle’s killer to finally understand what Ben’s advice truly meant, and Luke, who’s been shirking heroism for a lot longer, had to slowly come to grips with the way his community was falling apart at the seams because the only people with power were all using it to harm others. Luke doesn’t want the spotlight, and he doesn’t want a revolution, but he knows that all around him, great power is becoming great corruption. In the face of that, his choice to not use his abilities for good becomes irresponsible, and he bares at least some of the blame for the things transpiring in his community that he could stop, but chooses not to.


“Moments” is also a great word to describe the tone of this show. So far, it doesn’t beg binging like some of the other Netflix series do, but that could likely change. For now, it’s content setting a mood and establishing an atmosphere. The shot above of Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) and Shades (Theo Rossi) in the office of Harlem’s Paradise is a great example of this. Creator Cheo Hodari Coker (who also wrote the pilot) and director Paul McGuigan take their time establishing Marvel’s version of Harlem. There’s a lot of history here and many of the characters share it, but we the audience are learning things in a slow drip. They’re wise to not throw us straight into a bunch of gangland drama or superhero action while we get to know the surroundings, much as Luke does. He’s familiar with some of the players and locales, but he’s not from around here, and there’s a lot that goes on that he isn’t aware of or doesn’t seem bothered to learn about. That, of course, changes by episode’s end when he sends some of Cottonmouth’s goons packing after they try and get some politically-motivated protection money from Luke’s landlord, Genghis Connie (Jade Wu).

See, Cottonmouth may be a fairly typical gangster, though one with a preference for the arts, but his cousin and accomplice is Councilwoman Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard channeling some Amanda Waller vibes and very much distancing herself from her Civil War cameo), and she’s got a more socially-motivated plan. She’s using some of her cousin’s dirty money to fund her civic projects under the banner of a “New Harlem Renaissance.” This is a show that could almost use some footnotes at the bottom of the screen to properly detail the many moments of black history that the series and its characters are built upon (more on these in the One-Shots below). It provides a nice twist on the typical gangsters versus the community narrative. Marvel has always excelled at taking familiar tropes and genres and giving them a unique spin, but it usually relies on the superhero narrative to provide the novelty. While we’ve seen some of Luke’s powers at play, they don’t define the narrative. The series falls into a recognizable genre, then makes it feel fresh with its focus on black culture and history, from the people referenced to the music of the show, both diegetic and non-diegetic (soul singer Raphael Saadiq shares a chunk of the spotlight in this episode). The superhero elements are almost incidental. Yeah, Luke is bulletproof and can lift up a washing machine with one hand, and those traits are certainly gonna help in his fight against crime, but they don’t define the story like they do in Daredevil. But that’s what’s been so fantastic about the Netflix/Marvel shows: you can’t really call one better than the other as they’re all so different. Luke Cage isn’t going to give us what we got from Daredevil or Jessica Jones, but it’ll be fascinating and entertaining in its own right. That said, we’ll definitely be getting shades of Daredevil‘s hero and villain fight for the heart of their community and Jessica Jones‘ social commentary filtered through a detective/superhero lens. Eventually, they’ll join up with Iron Fist and form the Defenders, but for now, Luke has his own problems and his own community to save, and he and the show are just getting started.


4 Swear Jars out of 5. A slow start, but one that left me excited and intrigued to explore this unique corner of the MCU.


  • Many of the historical/cultural references define the characters that they come from. There’s lots of talk about Malcolm X, including from Mariah Dillard who also references Nelson Mandela, Crispus Attucks, and Shirley Chisholm. The people who don’t have to pay at Pop’s are Muhammed Ali, Mandela, Richard Roundtree (aka Shaft), Michael Jordan, Al Pacino, and the much-discussed Pat Riley. Luke has the books Black Folktales, Attica, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (of which Luke would be one), and the very apt Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I highly suggest you Googling any of those you’re not familiar with.

  • For MCU easter eggs, we have our first Justin Hammer reference since Iron Man 2 as he’s the manufacturer of the guns Cottonmouth is selling.

  • As a lover of puns, “Genghis Connie” is transcendent.

  • “I’m not for hire, but you’ve got my word ma’am: I’ve got you.” This should go down with Bale’s line at the end of Batman Begins and Maguire’s at the end of Spider-Man as one of those classic superhero ending lines. It also explicitly tells us we’re not gonna see Heroes For Hire anytime soon. It’s a smart move as it would take away from the story’s focus on community action, but it certainly doesn’t rule it out for the future once this story is concluded.

  • Another nice detail is Luke hiding from his landlord and working two jobs. The Netflix heroes truly are street-level, as all of them have jobs to work and struggle with money. They all have crummy jobs and apartments (well, Daredevil’s place is pretty swanky if you’re blind), unlike the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. who are flush with cash.

  • Bobby Fish (Ron Cephas Jones), the chess player at Pop’s, also plays Mr. Robot‘s Romero.

  • Line of the night goes to Cottonmouth: “UPS ain’t the only brown that delivers.” The best reference to this slogan since Das Racist.

  • Thanks for joining us for our Luke Cage reviews. We’ll be doing one a day and I’ll be writing the first five. Let me know what you thought in the comments and if you wanna discuss anything from episode 2 and beyond, please mark it with a spoiler warning.