Spoilers for Luke Cage season one
Luke Cage came with a lot to live up to, the third defender and the fifty millionth thing to come from Marvel. Luke had to find it’s place within the Marvel universe while not ignoring the current climate. Showing a fully-fledged hero without a mask, the defender of Harlem,a bullet-proof black man. Luke Cage while not without it’s problems manages to contain a complex story with thirteen episodes.
Marvel has been outstripping it’s rival DC when it comes to movie and TV success but it’s never managed to create a compelling villain. Often we have an interesting hero going against faceless armies but the stakes never felt particularly high when we knew another twelve movies are coming after.
Coming close with Loki and Kilgrave although they both draw on the same character tropes in different settings. While DC let it’s villains sit in reality and occasionally get one up on the hero and it makes infinitely more compelling viewing.
Luke Cage knows it’s hero is nearly invincible but that doesn’t mean he get’s an easier ride for it.
Cornell ‘CottonMouth’ Stokes is ruining his life and Harelm at the moment. Willis ‘DiamondBack’ Striker is his past and all the people he’s faced coming up to the moment
Jessica Jones’ story is internal, a woman dealing with past sexual abuse, she never takes the role of hero in a public setting. Luke Cage struggles with his internal story and his need to protect the place he loves are reflected back at him through the people on the other side.
The origin of Mariah Dillard sits in the background of the first half of the series. We see her through the eyes of her cousin, a politician, someone he can use and someone he resents. Cornell became the gangster and she takes her place as the councilwoman for Harlem. We get to see how both Mariah and Cornell grew up, Cornell could have been an amazing musician and Mariah was supposed to be a lawyer, her life blighted by her uncle’s sexual abuse. Mariah isn’t billed originally as a villain while Cottonmouth is highly publicised only to be murdered before the final six episodes, Mariah’s internal battle is engrossing and the haunting words she screams as she bashes her cousin’s head in.
Willis Stryker as Luke Cage’s long lost brother allows the show to address Luke’s past and his unresolved issues about growing up with a father who was kind of a dickhead.Willis is positively spine tingling in his unrelenting hatred for Luke. Watching Luke’s story unfold with Willis’ makes it all the more compelling tv.
There are so many unresolved issues at the end of season one but the metamorphosis Mariah Dillard and her ability to get out of any situation and now armed with Shades as her partner in crime means that Luke is going to have to deal with a whole different animal when he returns for season two. Alfre Woodard balances the two forces within Mariah and the fact she wants Harlem to succeed and be a successful council woman the idea she might be a better gangster than the rest of her family.
Che Hodari Coker, the creator and writer for Luke Cage has created adversaries for a man who could solidly take on an army. Luke Cage’s villains are written for his past, present and future and it makes interesting viewing.