I tried to pace myself, but last weekend I still plowed through Marvel's new "Luke Cage" series like its titular hero through a hail of gunfire.
Sure enough, there were many compelling genre moments to be found in this third Netflix series leading to the formation of Marvel's New York City street team, the Defenders. When Mike Colter's indestructible Cage is hit with his first punch, we see his attacker's wrist fracture in the kind of gruesome slow motion that resembles replays of Kevin Ware or Anderson Silva's leg breaks. Like "Daredevil," "Cage" also delivers a showstopper brawl early in the series, cranking up Wu-Tang Clan's "Bring Da Ruckus" as we witness the brute, room-clearing power of Harlem's hero. And Cage KO-ing people with a pat on the head, same as he'd swat a fly, is always a guaranteed punchline, literally.
Cage's blackness also gives his heroism real-world resonance, and not just the post-9/11 kind that's long been at the heart of Marvel's live-action output. As the subject of a brilliant late-series cameo points out, Cage is a black man who can't be cut down by bullets. In an age of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Terence Crutcher and too many others to list, the sight of Cage continuing forward as holes bloom from his hoodie is superhero storytelling at its most timely. It is today what Captain America punching Adolf Hitler was 75 years ago: Heroes doing what we most impossibly yearn to.
As purely funny as it is tragic, and packed with maybe the best comic-book action ever put t…
But "Cage" — like "Daredevil" and "Jessica Jones" before it, and probably like "Iron Fist" after — has unsung heroes, too. Just as I roared for Cage throwing Cottonmouth's goons through windows and shrugging off assault weapons fire, something else in the new series made me smile: Seeing Turk (Rob Morgan) in Harlem seeking reprieve from his Hell's Kitchen beatings at the hands of Daredevil.
That a comic-relief street criminal like Turk could show up in a superhero's world with such cache speaks to the unique power TV offers Marvel storytelling. At 13 hour-long episodes apiece, Marvel's Netflix series are afforded the time to not only flesh out their heroes' worlds with human characters, but give them their own mundane arcs. Foggy Nelson, Trish Walker and now Misty Knight (Simone Missick) have dimensionalized "Daredevil," "Jessica Jones" and "Luke Cage" in a way the Marvel Cinematic Universe's one-note normals haven't — especially the ones whose first name isn't "Agent."
Knight's long, piercing interrogation in the second half of "Luke Cage" is the kind of scene that builds not just characters but, by proxy, their worlds. More than any other Marvel movie or even its fellow Netflix shows, "Cage" fashions a sense of place in its proud but fragile Harlem, where the golden hues of neon nightclub signage color the puddles in Malcom X Boulevard. But even the most richly shot places don't work if they don't have richly developed characters like Knight, or even just familiar everyday heavies like Turk, to populate it. Otherwise, what's there for heroes like Luke Cage to save?