The most impactful image in Marvel’s Luke Cage — the shot that lingers afterward, cutting straight to the core of what the series is trying to say — isn’t an explosion, an alien invasion, nor even a scene of super-powered fisticuffs. No, it’s something much less fantastic, but far more important.
This scene comes near the end of its first season, the entirety of which has been on Netflix for a few weeks now. As comic fans know, Luke’s primary superpower is his rock hard skin, an epidermis so powerful that it can repels bullets; however, since his cotton and denim clothing doesn’t possess the same magical properties, his many confrontations with Harlem’s criminals tend to leave all his hoodies, jackets, and t-shirts riddled with bullet holes. So when the police go out in search of Luke, they hunt the streets for a tall black man with a bullet-holed hoodie — only to find that many people in the Harlem community have begun wearing hoodies riddled with holes, as a sign of solidarity toward their misunderstood hero. One man, as the police drive by, even holds open his holey hoodie to them, to show that he’s not afraid. It’s a brief moment, but an unforgettable one.
Method Man, who has a brief guest role in the series, says shortly afterward that, “Bulletproof always gonna come second to being black…there’s something powerful about seeing a black man, who’s bulletproof, and unafraid.”
There’s no question about how much Luke Cage resonates in today’s world. The fact that the main character wears a hoodie is a direct reference to Trayvon Martin, and the show’s star, Mike Colter, has stated on a few occasions that this is due to “the idea that a black man in a hoodie isn’t necessarily a threat. He might just be a hero.” It’s clear just how much the showrunners deeply care about the issues they’re confronting, and they aren’t afraid to make powerful statements about the racial tensions, systemic racism, and inequality that exists within the United States today, and has always existed since the country’s inception.
Luke Cage is an amazing series, due to its combination of bold themes, fantastic writing, and great direction. A lot of what really makes it work, though, comes down to the title character. As played by Mike Colter, Luke is smart, confident, and charming, but also subtle, reserved, and soft spoken. He’s a good guy who doesn’t want the glory of being a hero, but nonetheless ends up being the big brother that Harlem wants him to be.
There’s a truly honest connection that Luke has to the show’s depiction of Harlem, in a way that goes beyond the other heroes in the Marvel Universe, who are more like celebrities than next door neighbors. While Daredevil foiling Fisk might land his name in the papers, and Jessica Jones’s heroic exploits might earn her more business as a private investigator, Luke has no superhero identity, no cape, no mask — especially not by the end of the series, when his old life as Carl Lucas, escaped prisoner of Seagate Penitentiary, is brought back into the public eye. Luke is who he is. He must actively deal with his increasingly important role in the day-to-day life of Harlem, whether he’s helping a neighbor out of a jam, giving a eulogy for a friend, or getting blamed for somebody’s busted window. All of it feels astoundingly real, grounded, and relatable. If there was a superhero in the real world, he or she would probably be a lot like Luke Cage, and we’d be lucky to have someone like him around.
Openly political, cerebral, featuring an almost entirely black cast and centered around a black hero, Luke Cage is one of the boldest shows of the year, and possibly the boldest project that Marvel Studios has ever done.