The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

Marvel’s new hero fights social issues

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So you’ve finally moved off campus and you’re broke as hell. Why waste non-existent disposable income when you can stay in, just you and an obscene amount of television?

My recommendation: binge-watching is free, so spend the night getting to know Netflix’s newest superhero and my new boyfriend. Watch “Luke Cage.”

The latest of Marvel’s critically acclaimed Netflix ventures, “Luke Cage” follows the story of its title character, an innocent ex-con with bulletproof skin.

After getting too close to the public eye for comfort in Marvel’s last Netflix series, “Jessica Jones,” in which he is introduced, we find Luke laying low in Harlem.

He’s working at a family barbershop and trying to keep his powers a secret. After a gun-deal-gone-wrong puts the barbershop in danger, Luke is forced to act, putting himself at odds with a Harlem crimelord, a corrupt politician and a mysterious supplier.

This show functions on two levels: pure popcorn fun and a self-aware look at urban blackness. “Luke Cage” plays like a juiced-up urban crime series, pulling cast from acclaimed shows like “House of Cards” and “The Wire,” and focusing far more on street-level crimes than any greater, superpowered problem.

Rather than fighting aliens, the show is left to contend with far more terrifying, empathetic and nuanced enemies. The main villains of the show are Cottonmouth and Mariah Stokes a crime-lord club owner and a dirty — though well-intentioned — politician.

The two cousins may be Marvel’s most compelling and entertaining villains yet. Both The two command power over fellow characters and the scene in a way that is unnervingly calm, but always ready to explode.

Cottonmouth’s club, The Harlem Paradise, facilitates the show’s other great strength; its music.

Soul and R&B legends drop by nearly every episode in cameos as themselves, either rehearsing or performing in the club, while the camera cuts between these live performances and scenes of violence, murder, shootouts.

Raphael Saadiq, Faith Evans and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are just a few artists to make appearances.

Now, telling you about this show, its Harlem setting and its musical guests, you may have picked up on a theme.

This show is black. And its blackness, especially in today’s climate, is one of its greatest strengths. “Luke Cage” is entirely aware of the connotations a bulletproof black man in a hoodie has, both to black and white audiences.

The show never shies away from race, tackling questions of gentrification, the use of the n-word and racism in prisons, among others. The characters are aware of their blackness, and it affects nearly every decision they make in a way that is more realistic than many viewers might think.

Obviously, no show is perfect. The ‘70s era blaxploitation genre that “Luke Cage” heavily borrows from is full of earnest, but is sometimes overdramatic.

The show somewhat struggles to find its footing in the first half of the season, unfortunately hitting its low in a flashback episode actually meant to explain Luke’s origin.

However, even as “Luke Cage” struggled to find a consistent tone and pacing, the epic moments from villains and musicians keep it engaging. And once the show hits its stride, “Luke Cage” takes off and never looks back.

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The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883
Marvel’s new hero fights social issues