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Luke Cage – For Pete’s Sake (Review)

Maybe we don’t all become our parents, but we do live in their shadows.

The second season of Luke Cage engages with the idea of parents and children as a consistent thematic arc across the length and breadth of the season. In Soul Brother #1, Luke is thrown off his game by the arrival of his long-absent father in Harlem, seeking to reconnect. In Straighten It Out, Mariah is informed that one of better chances at going legitimate would be to cultivate a relationship with her own long-estranged daughter. From his introduction, even before his story is articulated in On and On, Jon McIver is clearly seeking justice for his parents.

This is not something that the second season conjures out of thin air. The first season had also hinted at generational tension. The battle between Luke Cage and Willis Stryker in the second half of the first season was largely fought in the shadow of the as-yet-unseen Reverend James Lucas, with Luke even taking Claire home to Georgia in Take It Personal to provide a sense of his history and back story. Similarly, both Cornell and Mariah wrestled with the obligations and the wounds that the Stokes family had inflicted upon them, seen in flashback in Manifest.

However, as all successful sequels and follow-ups tend to do, the second season of Luke Cage works from those small kernels and develops them into a strong central thematic arc for the various characters. Reverend James Lucas actually appears, force Luke to work through his anger and his rage towards his emotionally distant father. Similarly, Mariah is forced by political necessity to reach out to the daughter who has largely been absent from her life, which serves as a catalyst for confronting all of these deep-set issues.

This parental anxiety simmers through the season in interesting ways. The Jamaican restaurant that serves as Bushmaster’s base of operations is called “Gwen’s”, implicitly named for his long-deceased mother and a reminder of what motivates him. At the climax of On and On, the story of the loss of Bushmaster’s mother is cut against Luke remembering the last time that he saw his own mother. Similarly, Tilda’s store is named “Mother’s Touch.” In For Pete’s Sake, she assures Reverend Lucas that she meant “Mother Nature’s Touch”, but it seems a telling choice.

The second season of Luke Cage is all about family. Those that are there, and those that are not.

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Luke Cage – Straighten It Out (Review)

The black experience is not monolithic.

This should be obvious. Dark-skinned Americans are not a single political or cultural entity with one easily defined ethnic identity, much like light-skinned Americans have their own diverse heritages and experiences. The Irish American experience is different from the Dutch American experience or the Italian American experience or the German American experience. As such, it makes sense that the ethnic group that might be casually classed as “African American” is itself a composite of a wide array of backgrounds and histories.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the second season of Luke Cage is the ease and willingness with which the series looks outside of the culture and history of Harlem to broaden and deepen its exploration of a variety of black perspectives and experiences. The second season of Luke Cage builds on the first season in establishing a world populated by black characters and black voices, but has the luxury of extending its focus into exploring how those experiences and individuals differ from one another.

For a broad comic book television series about a superhero with bulletproof skin, that is quite the accomplishment.

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Luke Cage – Soul Brother #1 (Review)

The Netflix Marvel shows benefit greatly from a sense of place, a firm geography.

Part of this is down to the simple logistics of their production. DaredevilJessica JonesLuke CageIron FistThe Defenders and The Punisher actually shoot on location in New York City, especially in Manhattan. Film and television often use other locations for filming purposes, often to capitalise on tax incentives. For its first fives seasons, The X-Files used Vancouver to double for all of the New United States. Spider-Man might be an iconic New York fixture, but Spider-Man: Homecoming was shot primarily in Atlanta to capitalise on filming incentives.

This lends the portrayal of New York an authenticity that is often lacking in other productions, a real sense of existing in a real space. After all, The Incredible Hulk filmed its climactic Harlem battle in Toronto of all places. At least You Know My Steez was able to shoot Harlem for Harlem. Of course, there have been points where this location shooting has been an issue, such as attempts to use New York to double for China in The Blessing of Many Fractures, but it mostly works. (The Jamaican scenes in The Creator work much better. In part because they were filmed there.)

More than that, each of the Marvel Netflix series unfolds in a particular version of New York City, distinct in time and space. Jessica Jones unfolds in an archetypal disconnected beautiful city version of New York, with Jessica standing atop the Brooklyn Bridge to bid farewell to the city in AKA Top Shelf Perverts. In contrast, Daredevil and The Punisher unfold in a version of the city that is perpetually stuck in the late seventies and early eighties, perhaps typified by the mood and tone of Bang. In contrast, Luke Cage is firmly anchored in the mood and the tone of Harlem.

However, the second season of Luke Cage does something very interesting with its Harlem setting. The second season develops a parallel version of Harlem that seems to branch off its real-life counterpart. In keeping with the pulpy comic book aesthetic of Luke Cage, there is a consciously heightened quality to the Harlem inhabited by its central characters, defined by its own geography and its own spaces. The second season of Luke Cage suggests a version of Harlem with its own archetypal environments and settings, its own iconography and geography.

The production team infuse Luke Cage with an authentic Harlem aesthetic, but they also understand that the power of superhero stories is rooted in iconography and symbolism. The version of Harlem created in the first season of Luke Cage and developed in the second season is very much a point of intersection between the real world and the more stylised realm of comic book superheroics.

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