tv Comic-Con Proves That Luke Cage Might Be the Most Important Thing Marvel Has Done
Unlike some other San Diego Comic-Con stalwarts like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Netflix’s new series—Luke Cage— didn’t land either the most popular day or the biggest venue of the convention. Tucked away upstairs in Ballroom 20 (okay, the second biggest venue of the convention), the cast of the latest installment in Marvel’s Defenders series gathered to show off the first bits of footage and, perhaps because Luke Cage conflicted with the popular Mr. Robot panel, the room wasn’t exactly full. And that’s too bad, because the show that Marvel’s TV arm put on blew the roof off the venue, laying a path towards an exciting and progressive future for the comic-book giant.
Following up on his hugely popular debut in last year’s Jessica Jones, Mike Colter’s Luke Cage—an imposing and invulnerable figure—will get 13 Netflix episodes of his own starting on September 30th. In a clip of a boxing-gym brawl, a pair of (we can presume) white bad guys unload several clips of bullets into the unfazed Cage. “You must not have heard about me,” Cage says before they start firing and, once they’ve finished, dryly remarks, ”I’m about sick of always having to buy new clothes.”
“There aren’t that many black superheroes,” Luke Cage show-runner Cheo Coker said by way of explaining why he was so excited about this Harlem-set show. Then, making reference to the extremely tense and divisive status of race relations in America, Coker declared, “The world is ready for a bulletproof black man.” It’s true that the most fantastical element of this installment in Marvel’s gritty, down-to-earth Defenders series is that a black man could be shot and have his only concern be where to find a new sweatshirt.
Even that sweatshirt is part of the political statement woven into the fabric of Luke Cage. In the official teaser for the show, Cage dons a hoodie just as Batman would put on a cowl or Thor would don a cape. But in a post-Trayvon Martin world, that image—of Cage pulling the hood tight around his face—is a loaded one. And all of this imagery comes in a series that centers on Luke Cage’s wrongful imprisonment.
There were a number of other elements on display in the panel that gave Luke Cage a very for us, by us feel. Actor Frank Whaley—who plays Detective Scarfe—was the lone white actor on a panel that included Alfre Woodard, Theo Rossi, Simone Missick, Mahershala Ali and Colter. And with Coker at the helm, the show is fluent in black culture in a way that feels wholly authentic without a trace of pandering.
The soundtrack is loaded with 90s hip-hop, and the Comic-Con footage alone made references to Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Biggie Smalls. Coker proudly called Luke Cage the “Wu-Tang-ification” of the Marvel Universe, a reference to the Wu-Tang Clan and their deep, deep roots with Marvel culture. Each episode of Luke Cage, Coker added, was named for a Gang Starr song. In other words: Marvel’s Black Panther and his fictional African nation of Wakanda is one thing, but this black superhero is very much rooted in America. But, as Woodard pointed out, just because the show reflects what’s happening now, ”don’t expect a brother to be blocking bullets when you walk into [the real] Harlem.”
If the raucously appreciative reception from Comic-Con attendees of every background is any indication, there is no doubt that—like the staunchly feminist Jessica Jones before it—Cage will find an audience with comic-book lovers. But like Jessica Jones, Luke Cage has also put its finger on the pulse of a very important social issue. Which means that between all the punching, the sultry, badass female lead, and the evil villain, there’s a story built to resonate even with people who think comic-book TV isn’t for them.
Luke Cage is only one part of an entire Netflix Defenders empire that threatens to dominate the pop-culture conversation for years to come. Eager to give Comic-Con attendees as much information as possible (not that case with Mr. Robot!), Netflix announced Daredevil Season 3, debuted footage from its new 2017 series Iron Fist, hinted at the Punisher series in the works, and screened a teaser for a 2017 Defenders event that promises to bring together all of their superheroes in one massive crossover event. There’s plenty coming on the calendar for Marvel and Netflix, but there couldn’t be a better time than now for Luke Cage.