With the recent rumours that Marvel are close to choosing an actor to play Luke Cage in the forthcoming TV series adaptation, I thought it would be fun to take a closer look at the character and his startling transformation from ‘C-List’ character to a main stay of the Marvel universe, a one time leader of ‘The Avengers’ and a guy deemed important enough to have his own TV show.
‘Carl Lucas’, to use his alter ego was created by John Romita Sr. and Archie Goodwin, mainly as an attempt by Marvel Comics to cash in on the popular genre of ‘Blaxploitation’ that exploded into cinemas, music and popular culture in the early 1970’s. His initial popularity as a comic book character was short-lived. His dialogue largely consisted of trite catchphrases that really didn’t catch on (‘Sweet Christmas!’ anybody? No, didn’t think so).
His backstory was pretty much standard fare for a black character in popular culture at that time. He ‘ran’ with a street gang called The Rivals that would clash with another gang called the Diablos in Harlem, New York City. When he is betrayed by his best friend and ultimately sent to prison, he volunteers for an experimental program that attempts to recreate the ‘Super Soldier Serum’ that was given to Captain America many years ago. The experiment leaves Cage with Superhuman strength and durability, allowing Cage to escape from prison and the clutches of a racist, vindictive prison guard. Whilst on the run, Cage begins to discover that his new powers can be profitable, so he adopts the guise of a ‘Hero For Hire’ selling his services to whoever can meet his asking price. He has various skirmishes with a number of Marvel’s villains, including one memorable encounter with Dr Doom, but other then that, it’s pretty run of the mill stuff storyline wise.
Cage’s popularity as a character was short-lived in solo adventures, possibly due to the short-shelf life of ‘Blaxploitation’ as a genre as socio-political changes within America meant the character dated rather quickly. Marvel decided to pair him with another creation of theirs that was very much a product of the times, ‘Iron Fist’ the mystical martial arts master. The two had a run together in comics, confronting enemies on the crime ridden streets of ‘Hells Kitchen’, but again, there was little in the way of truly memorable story lines during this period. Surprisingly though, the series lasted for 8 years so there was a certain audience that enjoyed the tales of Luke Cage and Iron Fist, but neither character could be described as a ‘breakout’ star at that point. Cage, then got another solo series in the in the early 90’s that saw the character shed his trademark tiara and yellow shirt for something a little more contemporary. In one scene, Cage symbolically burns his old outfit to shed his older humours image to signify a darker and more adult tone in character’s story arc. However, these changes didn’t seem to go down well with comic book audiences either and the series met a relatively swift end.
By this point, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that he was hardly a character that was high up on Marvel’s list of priorities. The X-Men launch during this period drew in huge sales for Marvel, and the continued success of Spider Man and The Avengers meant characters like Cage were limited to extremely short solo runs or appearances in ‘crossover’ events such as ‘Onslaught’ and ‘Heroes Reborn’. These appearances seemed to be in place more for continuity purposes than any real level of importance placed on the character himself.
In 2000, he was ‘re-imaged’ again as part of Marvel’s ‘Max’ series, this time as a essentially a tough talking, hard hitting street thug by writer Brian Azzarello. The ‘Max’ series of comics were created to tell more adult stories, so perhaps unsurprisingly the Max storyline features Cage investigating the murder of a young girl and essentially playing two warring street gangs off against each other. The whole story is written as a homage to Luke Cage’s blaxploitation roots, but in my opinion it comes across as a tacky, cliched portrayal of the character. Cage next makes an appearance in the ‘Alias’ series that saw the introduction of Jessica Jones to the Marvel universe. Cage and Jones essential have a relationship of convenience, Jones uses Cage for sex, which Cage seems to be happy to oblige with. It’s revealed that Cage is a ‘Cape Chaser’, basically a guy who likes to sleep with female superheroes. However, as the series develops, a different side to Cage is revealed. Jones opens up to Cage about her horrific past and her terrible encounter with The Purple Man. Cage councils Jones through the trauma and seeks to help Jessica gain some form of closure. During the heartfelt exchange, Cage’s feelings for Jessica grow and when she reveals she is pregnant after their encounter, Cage moves in with Jones and prepares himself for the challenge of becoming a father. The whole scene is brilliantly handled by writer Brian Michael Bendis, and gives Cage a layer of depth his character had never previously displayed. As a result, fans seemed to respond to Cage in a completely different way. He was no long a gangsta-rap cliche or a jive-talking ‘Blaxploitation’ character, he was now a ‘normal’, well-rounded human being.
After they move in, Cage and Jones have a number of adventures together and Cage begins to become an integral part of the Marvel universe. Jones gives birth to their daughter Danielle, who the pair named after Cage’s long time friend Danny Rand. During the period of ‘Civil War’ in the Marvel Universe, Cage refuses to sign the ‘Superhero Registration Act’ aligning himself with Captain America instead, becoming Cap’s trusted lieutenant within the ‘Secret Avengers’. As Cage became more influential, his popularity rose sharply. His partial reinvention by Bendis was subtle and yet completely refreshing. Gone were the gangsta-rap cliches and ill-fitting catchphrases. Instead Cage became a wise, slightly world weary, but loveable rogue who was loyal to his friends and family and utterly fearless in the face of any enemy. His time as a father and relationship and eventual marriage to Jessica Jones changed him as a character as it would do with anyone of us. He finally begins to read like a fully realised comic book character, and to me it’s no coincidence that his popularity increased greatly after these changes.
So, where does Luke Cage fit into Marvel’s planned TV series ‘Universe’? Well, given what we do know about the plans for these shows so far, He should fit in very well. The first up for Marvel and Netflix is ‘Daredevil’. The Man Without Fear begins his story in the early summer of 2015 which will hopefully erase all memories of the failed film adaptation and should also begin to develop the wider plot elements that will make up the main storyline for the cross-over event, ‘The Defenders’. Daredevil as a character operates within a very similar sphere to Luke Cage and the characters paths cross many times throughout the comics, especially during Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack’s hugely successful and thoroughly enjoyable run on that comic. ‘Daredevil’ show-runner Steven De Knight says that the series will take it’s creative inspiration from Frank Miller’s ‘The Man Without Fear’ and Bendis’s work, so it would make sense that Luke Cage would be used in this environment given the background of the characters. We also know that ‘Jessica Jones’ and ‘Iron Fist’ will also be receiving their own TV shows with all the stories culminating in a 4-part crossover event called ‘The Defenders’. It’s difficult to speculate on what role Cage’s character will play in this series as we know little about how he will be portrayed, but given what we know about how his character has evolved, it’s likely that we won’t see his original 1970’s incarnation although I do hope there is a few ‘Easter egg’ references for old times sake, and I’m sure we will get them.
Marvel have today confirmed their chosen lead actor for the role, Mike Colter who featured in ‘The Good Wife’ and ‘Halo: Nightfall’ appears to have one the part. Rumours suggest that Colter had been approached sometime ago by Marvel regarding the role, and he seems to be a far more solid choice then some of the other names suggested by fans. Apparently, a key factor in their choice was his chemistry with actress Krysten Ritter, so perhaps the two characters will have the same relationship they have in the comics, which should make for great viewing as they make for one of my favourite husband and wife teams. Cage will make his 1st appearance in the ‘A.K.A Jessica Jones’ TV series, which will air on Netflix in 2015. You can read my thoughts about the Jessica Jones TV show here .
I’m of the opinion that things are coming together very nicely on Marvel’s Netflix projects, and I will be keeping a close eye on any developments with these shows. Come back soon to see what Richard thinks of a potential ‘Iron Fist’ TV show, and he and I will also discuss the ‘Daredevil’ TV show and the things we are looking forward to with that show. If we don’t speak to you before then. We wish you all a very merry Christmas and happy and prosperous new year!