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Luke Cage – On and On (Review)

Bushmaster is a fascinating addition to the Luke Cage canon.

In some ways, the character is an interesting choice to add as the new antagonist of the second season, particularly the driving force for so much of the first two-thirds of the year. The comic book character was actually introduced in the pages of Iron Fist #15, as part of the run by writer Chris Claremont and John Byrne. A product of the same experiments that produced Luke Cage. He would later die in the pages of Power Man #67, before his son assumed the mantle. His back story was rather hazy and undefined, and he was certainly far removed from an a-list villain, even as far as Luke Cage villains go.

However, the second season of Luke Cage completely reinvents the character, while retaining the roughest of outlines from the four-colour source material. Jon McIver is still a bulletproof black man, making him an effective foil to Luke Cage. However, he no longer gained his power from the same experiments and his power does not work in exactly the same way. Similarly, while the comic books left his back story hazy, the television series devotes a considerable amount of time to fleshing it out. He gets a big monologue towards the end of On and On and a series of flashbacks in The Creator.

Indeed, the second season of Luke Cage radically reinvents Jon McIver in the style of the series, as another extended homage to blaxploitation cinema. This is a risky gambit, particularly given the challenges that the series faced with the consciously campy Willis Stryker in the second half of the first season. Indeed, much of the work with Bushmaster can be seen as a do-over on Willis Stryker. As with Stryker, the character is admittedly heightened, even in the context of a superhero crime show. McIver often seems like he might have wandered out of some forgotten seventies blaxploitation film.

However, there is more to it than that. The first season of Luke Cage failed to properly capture the familial melodrama that tethered Luke Cage and Willis Stryker, the two sons of one father by two different mothers. This absurd superpowered soap opera should have made for compelling television, with the characters wrestling with their histories as much as with each other. Instead, the execution was clumsy and lackluster. With Bushmaster, the second season makes a number of subtle corrections, but retains the basic idea. Luke and McIver are two sides of the same warped coin.

Although arguably more of a catalyst for the season than a central narrative agent, Bushmaster is an important part of why the second season of Luke Cage works as well as it does.

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Luke Cage – Step in the Arena (Review)

My name is Luke Cage.

Step in the Arena is the obligatory origin episode. It is also the strongest episode of the season.

One of the most striking aspects of Luke Cage is the thrill that the show takes in being a superhero story. It isn’t simply that showrunner takes an established set of plot and character beats and stretches them over thirteen episodes, much like the first season of Daredevil seemed to do with the structure of Batman Begins. After all, Luke Cage messes with the superhero story structure in a few interesting ways, particularly with regards to the character of Cornell Stokes.


Luke Cage adores the trappings of superhero storytelling. It thrives on comic book iconography. It revels in the familiar tropes. It embraces the goofy concepts. It latches on to the absurd coincidences. Step in the Arena is a very familiar superhero origin story, populated with familiar beats like the suspect human experimentation or the dead best friend or the fugitive status. However, the film executes those story beats with an incredible and infectious energy. There is no hesitation here, no deconstruction, no undermining.

However, the beauty of Step in the Arena lies in how it subtly shifts the emphasis of these familiar storytelling beats in a way that emphasises its status as a black superhero origin story. A lot of the charm of Luke Cage lies in realising that the writers do not have to choose between telling a story that speaks to the black experience in contemporary America or offering an archetypal superhero television series. Luke Cage never has to compromise, using broth threads to illuminate and inform one another.


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Non-Review Review: Scream Blacula Scream

I curse you with my name. You shall be… Blacula! Vampire!  

– the only thing worse than Dracula is racist!Dracula  

I have to concede, Scream Blacula Scream (what a title!) is actually pretty high end blaxploitation. Sure it’s cornier than my foot after a long hike, but it never truly descends into the realm of self-parody that we seem to have (at least retroactively) come to expect from such blaxploitation films. This is actually a sequel to the previous year’s Blacula. Although I wasn’t really going in expecting much, what I got was certainly better than a large portion of the generic Hammer Horror films of the era. This is certainly helped no end by the lead performance from William Marshall who – even in a silly cape – manages to lend proceedings a touch of class.  

Fangs for the memories...

Note: I have to concede that I am pretty ticked off with MGM HD. They’ve been running this as the UK High Definition Premiere of “Blacula”, but it’s actually the sequel. Not that I’m complaining too much, but it feels weird to see the sequel before the original.  

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Non-Review Review: I’m Gonna Git You, Sucka!

Wow. A Wayans’ movies that wasn’t completely terrible. Okay, it isn’t great, but there are some genuinely hilarious moments hidden in this blaxploitation spoof. There’s a fairly high miss-to-hits ratio, though – but it still hits the spot frequently enough.

Pretty fly...

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