Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Sweet Christmas! It’s Luke Cage!

Note: today's blog post is about a comic book character whose comics I have not read (mostly) and whose TV show I have not watched (but who knows).


Image result for luke cage comics
Mike Colter as Luke Cage in the Netflix series
and Luke Cage from his comic book debut
This weekend, Luke Cage debuted on Netflix and promptly destroyed the internet.


OK, not quite but Netflix did go down for about 2 hours right after all 13 episodes of Marvel’s latest series was uploaded to the site and available for binge viewing. I don’t know if Luke Cage can be held accountable for Netflix going into a tailspin for a couple of hours but there has been a lot of interest around this particular series.


It’s the first TV or film project from Marvel with an African American in a lead role which is appropriate because the character of Luke Cage was the first black super hero to star in his own comic.


Luke Cage: Hero For Hire#1 debuted from Marvel Comics in the early 1970s. Later, Luke had adopted the more super hero friendly sobriquet of Power Man although people mostly still called him Luke. No secret identity shenanigans for this guy.

Luke's basic power set was super strength and invulnerability. How super strong and invulnerable? Like a lot of comic book super heroes, that depended on the needs of the plot. But basically, Luke could knock down a wall when needed and was pretty much bulletproof.


Being the first black super hero to have his own comic book was groundbreaking but it was a comic book not without some controversy. Luke Cage’s writers borrowed heavily from the dominant alternative film genre of the early 1970s known as “blacksploitation”. It was a genre that featured many standard movie plots and tropes but using a predominantly black cast and targeted to a predominantly black audience.  A famous example of the genre was the black version of Dracula known as… Blacula. Yes, it was silly and derivative but African American film goers were ready to see people who looked like them on the big screen in starring roles. And if Hollywood wasn’t going to make it happen, they would make their own movies.


The influence of blacksploitation on Luke Cage’s comic book series was powerful but often misguided at the hands of nearly all white writers. There’s an issue where Luke goes to Latveria to take on Doctor Doom because Doom owes him money. “Where’s my money, honey?” Luke demands of the armored ruler of Latveria. A lot of comics code approved black-like dialogue was used, in an effort to sound realistic but it sounded like the writing of white scripters trying to sound black… which was the case.


Most super heroes have an exclamatory catch phrase. Superman says “Great Krypton!” for example. For Luke Cage, it was “Sweet Christmas!” He said it a lot. That was pretty much the extent of characterization of Luke Cage for some writers: have him drop his G's and say "Sweet Christmas" often.


Luke Cage managed to survive the 1970s which few other creations of the era did. Mostly that owed to Luke teaming up with another Marvel character derived from another 1970s alternative film genre. Martial arts movies, typified by the films of Bruce Lee, inspired the creation of several martial arts themed series including Iron Fist. Iron Fist made the way over to Power Man and they shared Luke’s title until the early 1980s. It was a series that established a long term friendship in the Marvel Universe between Luke Cage and Danny Rand, the wielder of the Iron Fist*.

*I actually bought several issues of Power Man/Iron Mist during the late 1970s during the time of the DC Implosion. At that time, the book was written by Mary Jo Duffy (women writers were more of a rarity then) with some issues drawn by Trevor Von Eeden, an African American artist who made his mark as the co-creator and penciller for DC's Black Lightning.


Over the years since the end of Power Man/Iron Fist, Luke Cage has drifted from series to series, sometimes in the lead, sometimes as part of an ensemble. Occasionally he might dust off the Power Man moniker but mostly, he’s just Luke Cage. It was only within the last decade, however, that Luke has to come to renewed prominence when he became a member of the Avengers. It was also in this time frame that Luke Cage began a relationship with Jessica Jones which led to marriage and a child in the comics. Over on TV, Jessica Jones’ entry as a Netflix Marvel series introduced us to Luke Cage for the first time on TV which brings us to this new series that launched this weekend.

It's a series that has a lot riding on it. Yeah, it's gotta be good super hero adventure stuff like prior Netflix series, Daredevil and Jessica Jones. But it also has the added weight of being a symbol. Right now in America, it's hard to deny the appeal to the African American community of a bulletproof black man looking to do what's right by his fellow man.

So far, I've not seen any bad reviews of Marvel's Luke Cage so here's hoping the erstwhile Power Man crushes all expectations.

Just don't crash Netflix again, OK? 

That's that for today's post. Thanks for dropping by and I'll be back for another post tomorrow with a write up about something I have actually seen.

And if you're wondering where the political stuff is lately, it will be coming back. Sorry but these things can't be avoided forever, you know/

Until next time, remember to be good to one another.

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