The Netflix series of the Marvel character Luke Cage has been somewhat patchy til now with a focus on a (compared with previous Marvel Netflix villains) weak central villain Cottonmouth, but around halfway through the season things shift so the central villain is killed off, and a number of opponents who’ve been bubbling under come to the fore. It’s a nice bit of plotting, and as well as giving Luke a physical opponent to fight in terms of his half-brother, Diamondback who ends up providing Luke with a fistfight in the last episode thanks to some Justin Hammer technology (the baddie from Iron Man 2) he’s stolen.
What does raise the series up a level is Afre Goddard’s corrupt politician Mariah Dillard. We’re shown how she’s struggling to shake off the criminal upbringing she and her cousin Cottonmouth had before she finally comes to accept it, but in a series where racism is front and centre, Mariah is an essential character as she’s also a racist. It isn’t made obvious, but subtle little things give it away; the scene in an early episode where after shaking the hand on a white child she’s handed wipes to clean her hands, or little snippets of dialogue.
This is important because Luke Cage takes on the racism in the heart of American society not quite head on; it sort of pulls punches at times but when it does make a point it does it well such as the scene where black men in Harlem show solidarity with Luke by wearing hoodies with bullet holes in it. That’s a pretty powerful bit of imagery that the producers of the series should be applauded for, as is the fact they’ve made the Marvel Cinematic Universe a little less white, as well as a little less middle class. Also by making Luke a sympathetic, strong, intelligent and articulate black hero who does the right thing when he needs to and will fight to protect the innocent, they’ve given people disenfranchised by the superhero genre’s inbuilt racism (Alan Moore and others have talked about this over the decades) someone to root for.
Luke Cage is however weak in places. There’s a diversion to meet the scientist who gave Luke his powers which results in scenes where characters stand around spouting large chunks of exposition, something the Netflix Marvel series are guilty of, as well as padding out episodes. It’s not quite at 1970’s Doctor Who levels where characters would be captured and recaptured endlessly, but 13 episodes does feel a bit too much. Daredevil season two felt the same, but with a few tweaks the second season of Luke Cage should be better which isn’t to say its bad, it isn’t. Luke Cage does stuff with the superhero genre that hasn’t been done in live action superheroes so far. An empowering black central hero who happens to be bulletproof; a strong central black supporting character who happens to be a policewoman, not to mention tackling topics like gentrification in a digestible way for viewers.
It isn’t as good as the first season of Daredevil or Jessica Jones. It’s better than the second season of Daredevil, and does suffer from trying to set up 2018’s The Defenders, not to mention that it’s possibly to fully enjoy Luke Cage if you’ve not seen Iron Man 2, The Avengers or Captain America: Civil War of which the series takes themes and ideas from in the latter few episodes, but it’s essential to watch Jessica Jones before this as it really is a continuation from that series. This both strengthens the Netflix Marvel Universe and weakens it, as a viewer can’t watch Luke Cage blind without thinking they’re missing something. Overall though Luke Cage is good solid stuff, and the soundtrack for the series is spectacular.
Next up for Marvel on Netflix is Iron Fist, another character who like Luke Cage was created at the height of a craze in the 1970’s. That’s apparently spring of next year, and then The Punisher this time next year.