We’ve recently watched Luke Cage, and I thought I’d jot down some thoughts on it. The first thing to say is that although we’ve watched Daredevil we haven’t seen Jessica Jones. Reason? If you’ve worked for a homelessness charity for the last thirteen years or so then a series that’s primarily focused on emotional abuse of a female character just seems a bit too much like work. I applaud that it’s been made, and that it’s brought up conversation about domestic abuse and gaslighting, but I don’t want to watch it. Luckily, not having seen the preceding series doesn’t matter that much. You get something of a cold open with Luke Cage, but it quickly establishes who he is and what he can do, even if it takes a little why to get to the “why” of it.
One thing I loved about the series was the feel of the setting. As should be fairly obvious to anyone who’s seen a picture of me or read my bio, I am not a black American, and especially not one from Harlem. As a result I can’t comment on whether the portrayal of Harlem and the culture within it in this series is accurate, but what I can comment on is the fact that it felt real and natural. It’s also a big departure from the tone of Daredevil: Matt Murdock is a Hell’s Kitchen boy “made good”, if you like, now working as an attorney (albeit one in near-constant money trouble). By day, he helps people in his community by doing things that they don’t have the legal knowledge to do, and by night he helps his community by skulking through shadows and knocking seven bells out of people who possibly deserve it.
Luke Cage isn’t a Harlem native: he’s from Georgia. However, he’s definitely part of his community. Everyone knows his name, and it’s not long before at least some people find out what he can do. What’s more, unlike in Daredevil, the antagonists we meet at the start of Luke Cage are from the same community. It’s no spoiler to say that Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes is presented as the main antagonist at the start of the series: it’s only about twenty minutes in that you realise he’s definitely up to no good. Also, Luke Cage works at his nightclub washing dishes. Another main character, Detective Misty Knight, recognises a young dead man at the site of a shootout because she knows his mother. This level of closeness is something far removed from Daredevil, where the heroes spent most of the first series trying to piece together who it was they were actually working against.
Some people have criticised Luke Cage as starting slowly, but I would disagree. I think the pacing works very well throughout, and it certainly held my interest. If I had a criticism at all, it would be that about halfway through the series there is a major TWIST~! that sets it on a new course, and it was a course I enjoyed less. I can’t really comment much on that without spoiling it for those that haven’t seen it, but a new character gets a lot of focus and while they are an interesting character, it damages the balance of the series for me. I think I enjoy things less when heroes are set against some sort of personal vendetta, unless that vendetta has been accrued by the actions of the hero that we’ve already seen. In Daredevil, for example, Wilson Fisk absolutely hates Matt Murdock, and that’s entirely valid and compelling because we’ve seen exactly why he should. The reasoning for the personal vendetta in Luke Cage feels somewhat shallow in comparison.
Overall, I can highly recommend Luke Cage. It has a strong performance from the lead and compelling secondary and background characters: no-one really feels like a stereotype, pretty much everyone has nuance and detail. I especially enjoyed Shades, who in some ways was the most intriguing character going. One thing I can say, though, is don’t expect a clean-cut ending: there are certainly some threads left dangling…