Created in 1972, Cage deserves his place in the pantheon of superheroes: he was the first black hero to be given his own comic book, and his racial identity has always been an important aspect of the character. Cage is a bad-ass alternative Superman – he’s basically invincible; a hoodie-wearing, six foot plus slab of muscle, who can withstand gunfire, knife-attacks and the rest without injury. In Netflix’s new series, Mike Colter’s Cage finds himself in the midst of a gang war between Stokes (also known as Cottonmouth), played by Mahershala Ali.
As with JESSICA JONES (and maybe DAREDEVIL too), the superhero aspects are initially very much played down, and it’s only as the series develops that these elements begin to take centre stage. Sure, there are little nods to the wider Marvel Universe but these are done carefully and subtlety. Take for instance the street vendor selling his superhero-linked wares: just a small nod to the Avengers, but nothing overwhelming.
In much the same way as other Marvel Universe series, like DAREDEVIL, JESSICA JONES and even to an extent WOLVERINE, LUKE CAGE has a real sense of geography. It isn’t just set in a generic New York: it’s a product of time and place, as tied to Harlem as Batman is to Gotham.
But make no mistake, this is not a typical Marvel offering. It’s dark and relentlessly gritty. This is a world of street gangs, random shootings and drug war. Mid-series there is some comic-book action (I’m thinking specifically of Stokes’ bazooka-wielding attack on Cage), but even this is well-handled (that particular scene feels like a panel direct from a Golden Age comic: the leering villain taking care of his own dirty work!).
There is also an origin story embedded in there, complete with a very satisfying character moment (“Sweet Christmas!” exclaims Cage; his catchphrase from the original comic books!), but its placement mid-series works very well. By now, we’re already invested in the character, and the moment that the producers decide to explain Cage’s transformation into a superhero feels like a natural part of the narrative.
The superhero market is pretty choked, but CAGE does a great job of justifying itself. I’m glad to say that LUKE CAGE isn’t just another superhero series. This is something special and different, and for anyone who enjoyed DAREDEVIL or JESSICA JONES I’d pretty much guarantee that you’ll like LUKE CAGE too.
I couldn’t leave this review without also mentioning the brilliant soundtrack. It plays the fine line between classic ‘60s exploitation and post-modern rap; never becoming too twee or overwhelming. It’s the perfect complement to the series.