Cage match: Does the comics’ ‘Luke Cage’ jibe with TV’s?

L.A. WILLIAMS and GEORGE CARMONA III | 10/6/2016, 10:47 a.m.
Artist/designer L.A. Williams and George Carmona III, contributing writer for BlackSci-Fi.com sit down for a conversation.
Mike Colter as "Luke Cage" on Netflix Contributed

L.A. WILLIAMS: Superman and Spider-Man are amongst many superheroes known by people who’ve never picked up an actual comic book. But, if you haven’t watched Netflix’ “Jessica Jones” series and you’re not already a serious comic book fan, you probably don’t know who Luke Cage is, even though his Netflix TV series recently debuted. Here’s our take on the character’s long comic history that preceded it.

GEORGE CARMONA III: Luke Cage. Wrongfully convicted and gains superpowers in prison.

Williams: Uses superpowers to do what most innocent and sensible brothers would. Break out of prison and live under an alias.

Carmona: Becomes a “hero for hire” called “Power Man.” I never cared for him. He was Marvel Comics’ grab at the Blaxploitation era of film trending then. He was at best a D-list character with a corny catchphrase, a wack costume and a really silly tiara. What grown man wears a tiara?

Williams: When his comic debuted in 1972, Luke Cage was essentially Shaft with superpowers.

Carmona: But at least Shaft looked cool! When sales slumped, publisher Marvel Comics teamed Cage up with Iron Fist, a character from the 70s Kung Fu craze, to try something new. This so-so incarnation is what I am most familiar with but again, didn’t really care. What followed in the 80s and 90s were more halfhearted runs—and that damned tiara.

Williams: Marvel would have a good writer or artist on the series, then change that team and bring on a wack creative team, repeatedly. And—not counting having him utter outdated, inauthentic and cringe-inducing slang—too many of the 60 or so writers over the decades who wrote Cage ignored the main thing distinguishing Cage from the thousands of other characters with super strength and/or invulnerability: his race. I didn’t want race addressed every issue, but good writers make their characters realistic and relatable. But while sporadic quality contributed (mightily) to Luke Cage not being a household name, every lengthy comic series has quality dips and spikes and Cage had some terrific runs done by talent who “fleshed him out” (forgive the pun).

Carmona: For me, Cage didn’t come into his own until writer Brian Michael Bendis’ take on him in “Alias” and the “New Avengers,” when he became a character of note and not a holdover from the days of Blaxploitation. Once he dropped the Power Man name, the puffy yellow shirt, and the tiara, Luke Cage went from being a hero for hire to an Avenger, a father, husband and a leader. He works to create a better life for his family and, by extension, the world and all the little people that the Avengers miss while fighting cosmic threats. Cage is now a character I care about.

Williams: We both like his “save the hood, then the world” approach. I never minded and don’t think the problem was his costume or his Power Man title. Some fun stuff was done in his 70s costume, some garbage stuff happened in his superior 90s outfit and some brilliant stuff’s been with him in jeans and a tee. Written poorly, Cage is a stereotypical buck or buffoon. Written well, Cage is one of comics’ most honorable, most lovable and funniest characters. He’s also, to paraphrase Ice Cube, “th’ wrong [one] to [expletive] with” and knows it.

We differ on Cage’s comic past but agree you should check out the new Netflix series where Luke, his supporting characters and the best aspects of the comic have found their way to the screen (albeit with tweaks) via Mike Colter, Alfre Woodard, Sônia Braga and Rosario Dawson. There are plenty of references to real heroes like Percy Sutton and Jackie Robinson and topics like the “N” word and gentrification. But note, while comics with Cage are usually PG, this TV show would get an R movie rating.

Carmona: And you’ll get the show’s in-jokes and references better with this original source material we recommend:

“Alias” (Carmona/Williams)

“Black Panther: Bad Mutha TPB” (Carmona/Williams)

“Mighty Avengers” (Bendis run) (Carmona/Williams)

“New Avengers” (Bendis run) (Carmona/Williams)

“Power Man & Iron Fist Epic Collection” (Williams)

“Power Man & Iron Fist” (Priest & Bright run) (Williams)

“Power Man & Iron Fist” (Walker & Greene run) (Carmona/Williams)

George Carmona III is an artist/designer operating FistFullofArt.com and a contributing writer for BlackSci-Fi.com. L.A. Williams is a former comic editor running the AquaBabyBooks.com online bookstore.