As a self-admitted comic book geek and fan of all things bombastic and over the top (Superheroes, Robots, ALIENS!!!), I was giddy (yes, giddy) with excitement at the prospect of a television show based on any comic book character. But to have one based on Luke Cage was pretty awesome.
For those of you not in the know, Power Man, as Luke Cage was known when his comic came out in 1972, was one of the few black superheroes starring in his own major comic. He was also an amazing anomaly because he didn’t have the word “black” in his name to describe him (score one for equality!). But while his name might not have been the norm for a black superhero in the 70s, his fashion was. He cut quite the dashing figure with his billowing yellow shirt, yellow boots, metal tiara, metal wrist cuffs and my favorite…the belt that was actually a huge chain. Now tell me what child growing up in the 70s wouldn’t be intrigued by that image! So, when Marvel Entertainment decided that after the Netflix series Daredevil and Jessica Jones (where Luke Cage made his first appearances) that Luke Cage was going to be the next sort of obscure Marvel character that would get his very own Netflix series, you could hear my screams of excited joy from space…SPACE!!!
As a fan of Luke Cage way before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a thing, I always thought he had pretty impressive powers. Falsely accused of a crime and sent to prison, Luke was subjected to a failed prison experiment that left him incredibly strong and with impenetrable skin. Reading through the Luke Cage: Hero for Hire comics as a young girl I felt that the vernacular was ridiculous (it had Blaxploitation all over it, but Luke Cage was created during that era, so it fit). But it was still very satisfying to see a black superhero star in his own comic, even one wearing a billowing yellow shirt. Of course, the character grows and changes in the comics and the current comic version of Luke Cage is the one we get in the Netflix series.
After losing someone very close to him Luke is now a man who is trying to hide from his past by not allowing anyone to know who he really is or what he can do. By working at Pop’s barbershop (a neutral local gathering place) and the club Harlem’s Paradise (run by the local crime boss Cornel “Cottonmouth” Stokes) he’s barely able to make ends meet, but he does get by and that’s all he does, get by. He goes through his days keeping his head down, trying desperately not to make any deep connections with anyone (he fails and makes a few) and trying to keep what he is and what he can do a secret (another failure). Once he realizes that he has to make a choice and take a stand he goes all in and it is a glorious mix of action, violence and poetry. The poetry comes from the amazing soundtrack that includes Raphael Saadiq, Faith Evans and Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. Seriously it’s one of the best soundtracks I have ever heard. With everything that is going on around the US, I have to say it is very profound that Luke Cage, a black man with bullet-proof skin, wearing a hoodie, is a super-hero.
So, if you’re wondering what show to binge next and you have Netflix, give Luke Cage a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, great acting, great action and a great soundtrack. A Luke Cage post would not be complete with his signature phrase “Sweet Christmas!”
There are a number of literary reference in the show. I've picked out my favorites from the library collection and listed them below but check out the reading list on our catalog as well!
Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: A Personal History of Violence by Geoffrey Canada
Relating growing up as one of the sidewalk boys in the South Bronx, Geoffrey Canada creates a timeline of how, as a child, he and others on his block would learn the code of the block from their elders through fighting. These rituals of fighting and being “taught” lessons through violence were a way for their block elders to not only teach them how to fight but also protect them. The violence in Luke Cage can seem gratuitous and over the top, but in the end you can view them as lessons learned. Don’t steal from this criminal, don’t hurt that person and especially don’t try to beat up the guy with bullet-proof skin - you will only break bones.
Crime Partners by Donald Goines
Criminal partnerships are everywhere you look in Luke Cage, from Cornel “Cottonmouth” Stokes and his cousin Mariah Dillard to Cottonmouth and Shades. But those partnerships don’t always end well. In Donald Goines’ first novel he depicts the bloody, brutal world of crime in the ghetto as told through the shocking actions of prison buddies, Jackie and Billy, as well through the partnership of cop buddies Benson and Ryan.
48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
For those who want power or want to arm themselves against power, this is the book for you. This amoral, cunning, ruthless, and instructive book synthesizes the philosophies of Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, and Carl Von Clausewitz with the historical legacies of statesmen, warriors, seducers, and con men throughout the ages. The more successful criminals in Luke Cage embodied so many of the 48 Laws from this book, that I’m sure it must have been required reading for being a crime boss in Harlem. You can even apply specific laws to the criminal, such as: “So much depends on Reputation – Guard it with your life” for Mariah Dillard and “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy” for Detective Rafael Scarfe, “Play the perfect Courtier” for Shades and my favorite law “Keep others in suspended terror: Cultivate an air of unpredictability” for Cottonmouth.
Cutting Along the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America by Quincy T. Mills
In many movies and television series that depict barbershops in black neighborhoods, it’s always portrayed as social gathering place with various rules for behavior and conduct as well as a place to talk about whatever civil unrest is going on in the country. That’s no different in Luke Cage where Pop’s Barbershop is seen a neutral gathering place and safe haven for the neighborhood. In Cutting Along the Color Line, author Quincy T. Mills chronicles the cultural history of black barbershops as businesses and civic institutions. As Mills examines the transition from slavery to freedom, the expansion of black consumerism, and the challenges of professionalization, licensing laws, and competition from white barbers, finds that the profession played a significant though complicated role in 20th century racial politics.
Lush Life by Richard Price
A vividly written novel about the two sides of the Lower East Side in New York City: a high-priced bohemia and one rife with disappointments, hardships and desperation. When one side collides with the other in a shooting, finding out the truth is hard to come by. Everything about this novel is raw and in your face, from the language used by the detectives investigating the case to the weary desperation of Eric Cash, the lone witness to the shooting.
Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane
When Luke Cage begins we see a man, who doesn’t want to be a hero, he just want to live his life without anyone noticing him and no drama. Eventually, he realizes that doing the right thing is sometimes the only choice you have. In Gone, Baby, Gone private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro don’t want to take the case of the child who went missing in the Dorchester neighborhood in Boston. With no clues and an unsympathetic mother, they don’t see what more they can do than the police, but with the desperate pleas from the child’s aunt, they take the case and put everything on the line to find one little girl.
Oh and if you want to read an alternate universe version of Luke Cage there is:
Luke Cage Noir by Mike Benson
Between 2009 and 2010 Marvel comics put out a series of titles that re-imagined various comic characters/teams with 1930s stylized versions, mixing film noir and pulp fiction. The noir storylines stayed close to the originals but there were variations and unforeseen twists.
A lot can change in ten years, and rarely for the better. Local legend Luke Cage, invincible, unstoppable, unflappable, finds that out the hard way when he returns to the mean streets of Prohibition-era Harlem after a ten-year stretch in Ryker's Island. All he wants is to be back in the loving arms of his woman, but certain powerful men have different plans for Cage. Willis Stryker, Cage's childhood friend turned Godfather of Harlem, wants him on his crew and under his thumb. And wealthy white socialite Randall Banticoff, whose wife is now very dead, murdered in a Harlem alley, wants Cage to investigate her death. Cage is about to learn that coming home is never easy, and to survive he might just have to kill a whole lot of people.