Luke Cage on Netflix

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I’ve begun to make peace with the fact that these modern comic book adaptations, be they for film or television, are never going to be perfect. By “perfect” I mean fairly straight adaptations of the original source material. Sometimes this is because the different formats make it impossible; sometimes the effects budgets won’t allow it; other times it’s because of conflicts with modern sensibilities (or, less politely, the tyranny of political correctness demands changes). With this in mind, Luke Cage is a perfectly fun and entertaining TV show, much in keeping with Daredevil and Jessica Jones.

 

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Let’s start with some positives (for a change). In addition to the show being a very entertaining enterprise overall, there are a whole lot of nods to the original comic series. Many of the smaller details of the source material have been altered, but in the larger strokes it’s remarkably faithful. We’ve got Seagate Prison, Dr. Noah Burstein’s experiments there, Rackham, Shades, Comanche, and Willis Stryker/Diamondback framing Luke. We’ve also got some altered versions of Reva Conners, Misty Knight, Black Mariah, and Cottonmouth.

This is a hell of a lot. Honestly, when the names of Shades and Comanche were dropped is Episode 1, my eyes went wide. These characters went back to the very first issue—I was impressed. I hadn’t expected them to go that deep into the character closet.

In certain areas, there were changes that could even be considered improvements. Diamondback, for example, didn’t have any special powers in the original comics, he was just a thug that was good with a knife—hardly a real threat to Luke Cage’s steel-hard skin. In this Netflix series, however, he can (and does) do real damage to Cage. They also added an Empire Strikes Back-style twist on the character at the end of Episode 8 that landed for me.

Some other good things: The actors are fairly well cast, we get some fine performances, and the soundtrack is aces.

…Now the crusty and curmudgeonly complaining.

My biggest complaint is Misty sleeping with Cage. This brought back ugly memories of the early to mid-90s when they did that Legion of Super-Heroes relaunch and paired Saturn Girl with Cosmic Boy (instead of Lightning Lad) for no discernible reason except to break from tradition and shock readers. Seeing the two characters hook up (when before they had a more brother-sister relationship), while Lightning Lad looked on helplessly felt like I was watching incest porn. It scarred me so bad that I still haven’t completely recovered.

Anyway, same deal here: just like Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad belong together, so do Misty and Danny/Iron Fist. Misty’s relationship with Luke was always more friendly/familial (like Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy). If they wind up connecting Cage to Iron Fist in the future and the relationships then play out as expected, it’s going to be weird and discomforting. It will also damage all the tangential relationships going forward. The Matt-Claire dalliance in Daredevil felt similarly wrong (because Claire belongs with Luke)—and all they did was kiss. Here, they got Luke and Misty knocking boots hard!

I know what they were going for. They knew Misty (as a cop) would come into conflict with Luke Cage (the vigilante and framed man), so they figured they’d spice up the conflict with a hook-up. But was that added spice worth it? Did said spice actually add anything at all? Not really.

They also turned Rafe into a corrupt cop, which I hated. Rafe was always Misty’s rock, beginning with when she lost her arm in that explosion. Why did they have to go and ruin this for Misty (and us)? Why veer so far off track from the source material? Then I laughed to myself and speculated that they probably got the idea for this from some garbage storyline from the 90s or early aughts that I never read. So just for giggles I do some Web searching and sure enough, it appears to come from a 2010 storyline titled “Shadowland.” Ugh.

Along similar lines, they made some changes to Noah Burstein (and to a lesser extent Reva), leaving room for him to be potentially more sinister, when in the original comics he was one of Luke’s most steadfast allies and supporters. Again, I playfully wondered if this might have come from some crappy, latter-day comics story and was about to do a Web search… then realized that if such were the case, I’d rather not know.

Then there is Cage’s socio-economic background. As I described back in my black history post some time back, one of the things I liked about Luke Cage/Power Man was that he was a no-nonsense, working-class hero. When Mike Colter speaks, however, he sounds like a college dean or something. But alright, I guess we just can’t portray him as blue collar without offending some people. So I’ll let this one go, though I can’t promise to cease grumbling about it.

Then there’s the wardrobe. Anyone who’s seen the series knows we get a moment where we see Cage in some attire resembling his original comic-book threads. When he sees a reflection of himself in said threads, he observes, “I look ridiculous.” But personally, I squealed with delight when I saw this:

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This doesn’t look ridiculous to me; in fact it looks damn awesome. That’s the REAL Luke Cage there, the one I grew up reading about and loving. Why couldn’t they just put him in those duds as a gesture toward tradition and refrain from editorializing?

Also: This Luke Cage is from GEORGIA? It feels like sacrilege for Luke to hail from anywhere but Harlem—seriously, this change hurt my heart—but turning off my emotions, I guess I can kinda understand it. The plot required that he be a stranger to Harlem, hence the change. Still… GEORGIA??

And one last nitpick: While I was thrilled by the inclusion of Shades & Comanche, I found it odd that Comanche was confined to the flashbacks and never showed up again in the present day alongside Shades. Shades & Comanche go together like subpoenas & the Nixon Administration, so why did they drop Comanche and go with just Shades?

But putting aside my comics orthodoxy, this was a fun show. Not a perfect show—there were some issues with the plotting and pacing—but still well done.

 

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