Coulter’s Cage is the Power Man for a New Millennium
When Marvel comics had its second renaissance in the seventies, new and vibrant characters came to the forefront. Of the most popular was Luke Cage: Hero for Hire.
Luke Cage, aka Power Man, was a hero for the times. He was Harlem’s local avenger representing both the good and the bad of growing up in those streets.
His comic book origin is a simple Cain and Abel story with a twist. Two men as close as brothers go against one another. One frames the other for a crime he didn’t commit. Then Abel gets super powers, escapes from jail, and puts his new powers and abilities to fight the good fight.
That’s the general idea anyway.
Netflix’s version of Luke Cage: Hero for Hire #1 is a vast improvement from the original story written by Archie Goodwin. The new take on Cage’s origin story ties up many loose ends and makes more sense from a character’s motivation.
In this series, we see the protagonist as a man who’s already done his penance and wants to move his life forward.
We find new dimensions to minor characters like Shades and Captain Rackham – no longer an inept bully of a guard but now the greedy architect of an underground internet prison fight club sensation.
The origin story also deviates from Reva Connors role in Cage’s life. She is no longer a woman who was merely the object of Cage’s affection but a woman looking to use Cage for something else. Her hidden agendas go back to much of what was not told in the flash drive we saw in Jessica Jones.
The series has every element of the reluctant hero’s journey.
From the moment Cage made it his mission to fight against the forces of Harlem’s corruption, he had to fight his personal demons as much as the criminal empire that wanted him dead and disgraced.
While I truly enjoyed Michael Colter’s portrayal of Luke Cage, the character strayed from his comic book counterpart. The best comparison I can think of is to compare Muhammad Ali to Joe Frazier. The Netflix version of Luke Cage was like Joe Frazier. He was all business. When the fight came, he did a lot of damage and then just walked away.
Colter, in both the Jessica Jones series as well as in Luke Cage, has a quiet strength. Colter’s Luke Cage knows he can beat anyone in a room full of bad guys and never worry about injury. Before the accident that gave him his powers, Colter plays Luke Cage as a man who is reluctant to get into a fight and does his best to avoid confrontation – especially in prison.
The original Luke Cage is far from that. In the comic book version, Luke Cage was like Muhammad Ali – he was the show. I can see Cage saying, “I am so pretty!”
He takes great pride in his strength and that he’s a self-made street brawler. Luke Cage, as written by Archie Goodwin, knows that his reputation in Harlem was made from using his fists. He wants everyone to know he’s a badass. His petty criminal past was part of what made him the way he is. The comic book version he was never a cop – nor would he have ever wanted to be one.
Luke Cage is a big proud black man. One of the best lines I’ve ever read from Luke in the comics was during Brian Michael Bendis’ Secret War when he got to Latveria and said that he just increased the black population by a hundred and fifty per cent.
He’s the guy you want on your side in a fight – because if you’re fighting him, he will fight you, break you, and then laugh at you.
The comic book Luke Cage is more of an opportunist.
When he got powers, he saw it as an opportunity to make some good money as a hero for hire. When he found people would pay him money for catching bad guys, he took whatever money he had and bought the ugliest yellow costume in the Marvel Universe – complete with tiara, steel wristbands, and chain belt. Then he bought business cards and spread the word around Harlem.
That’s the thing. He promotes himself constantly. Whenever he’s been in a fight, if the media arrives, he’ll be the first one in front of a camera pushing his business and asking for an interview.
While both Colter’s portrayal of Cage and the comic book version definitely have a need to clean up the streets of Harlem – or stop crime when they see it, the comic book version is a man on a mission. If some punk was to sell drugs near where he lives, the comic Cage would be sure to not only scare him to death but also confiscate his drugs and drug money.
Cage wants to clean up his neighborhood one block at a time and he doesn’t care if he uses the Avengers to do it.
Why the Netflix Series Shines
The Netflix series is obviously dealing with the early days of Cage. Power Man has a lot of growing to do. There’s still a world that needs a Hero for Hire.
The series has one thing the comics don’t. It has a feel for the streets of Harlem. Peppered throughout the shows are bits of jazz, blues, hip-hop, and funk. Viewers knew it was Harlem. It had a different vibe than Daredevil’s Hell’s Kitchen and Jessica Jones’ midtown stomping ground. That music, more than anything else, gave the proper feel to the series. Despite taking place in 2016, there was a seventies feel that so underlined the character of Luke Cage in both the series and the comic book.
It was so well done.
Marvel’s strategy for success will continue with Daredevil (season 3), Jessica Jones (season 2), the premier of Iron Fist, and ultimately, their crossover series The Defenders. Right now, they are building the same firm foundation as they had with their Avengers franchise. These four series will be the backbone to what Marvel Comics built its mythology on – superhero crime fighting in New York City.
That’s where Marvel’s storytelling comes home – not in the frontiers of the Kree Empire like the Guardians of the Galaxy – not in the wastelands of a parallel dimension like the Fantastic Four – not in the Adamantium rich secret base of Canada like Wolverine – not in Westchester like the X-men – but in a knockdown drag out fight in the streets of Harlem, Midtown, and Hells Kitchen.