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Luke Cage – Wig Out (Review)

The second season of Luke Cage engages with the idea of masculinity in a number of interesting ways.

This is an interesting choice on a number of levels. Most obviously, the idea of exploring masculinity within the framework of a Marvel Netflix show should (in theory) belong to Jessica Jones. With the character of Kilgrave, it was the streaming service’s first female-led superhero series that marked out the idea of masculinity as a concept worth exploring within the framework of a superhero narrative. However, the second season of Jessica Jones is very engaged with the idea of female relationships, whether friendly or familial.

In doing so, Jessica Jones may have passed the theme on to the second season of Luke Cage. This makes sense on a number of levels. Most superficially, Luke Cage was actually introduced as a recurring guest star on the first season of Jessica Jones, and so ideas about masculinity are clearly woven into the character’s core identity. Beyond that, there is some value in Luke Cage in exploring the idea from a different perspective. After all, Luke Cage is a series with a male heroic lead. Its approach to the theme of masculine identity would be radically different.

As such, the second season of Luke Cage is perfectly positioned to explore notions of masculine identity.

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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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Netflix and Marvel’s Luke Cage – Season 2 (Review)

The second season of Luke Cage is a fascinating piece of work.

It is far more cohesive than the first season when taken as a whole, and harks back to the sturdy consistency of earlier seasons like the first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. It is a show with a very clear idea of what it is trying to do and say, and with a much stronger sense of structure than its stablemates like Iron Fist, The Defenders and The Punisher. It also avoids the surplus of ambitions and lack of structure that undercut the second seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones.

It is fair to describe Luke Cage as the first Marvel Netflix series to tangibly improve in the transition from its first season to its second season, to learn from some of the mistakes that the production made in their initial thirteen episodes and to render a more satisfying and cohesive whole. Indeed, there’s a reasonable argument to be made that the second season of Luke Cage does what a lot of really great sequels should do, in that it deepens the themes of the original while also refining what works and expelling what doesn’t.

This is not to say that the second season of Luke Cage is perfect. The season suffers from the now-familiar “Netflix bloat”, the sense that the writers are effectively padding the series to reach a preordained episode count that is tied to outdated notions of what television is or should be. There is no reason for the second season of Luke Cage to be a loose thirteen episodes, when it could easily work as a tighter eight. There are points in the season where the show enters a conscious holding pattern, like a song that keeps looping its bridge to stall before the crescendo.

However, even allowing for these problems, there is a sense that the production team are trying to find a way to make these thirteen episodes work. There are several points in the season in which the show allows its characters room to breath in sequences that could have been shortened or rendered more efficient, allowing the audience to spend extended amount of time with these individuals between the big dramatic beats to capture a sense of humanity that might be lost in a tighter or more efficient version of the series.

The second season of Luke Cage is a fascinating and engaging piece of work, even if it suffers a bit in terms of padding and pacing. Nevertheless, it represents a significant improvement on most of the recent collaborations between Netflix and Marvel Studios, having a strong sense of identity that was sorely lacking from most of the material produced since the end of its first season.

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The Defenders – Worst Behaviour (Review)

One of the big issues with The Defenders is that it works a lot better as a weird cross-cutting fusion of four different television series than it does as a single cohesive narrative.

The H Word and Mean Right Hook feature a few small crossover between primary and supporting characters; Foggy and Luke, Misty and Jessica, a fight between Luke and Danny, a quick tease of Matt and Jessica. Otherwise, the four lead characters seem to operate in isolation from one another, continuing threads and themes from their own shows, even as they inch closer and closer together. Worst Behaviour and Royal Dragon finally bring the big four characters together, while still trading on the incongruity of this team-up.

Privileged information.

This tension provides the first half of The Defenders with a compelling narrative hook, an interesting set of internal conflicts between various genres and styles and conventions. In contrast, a lot of this tension evaporates in the second half of the season, as The Defenders figures out exactly what it wants to be in Take Shelter and Ashes, Ashes, before devolving into a familiar and distracting chaos with Fish in the Jailhouse and The Defenders. The first half of the season is compelling, because it seems to be about more than wave-after-wave of generic ninja.

As the team begins to cohere in Worst Behaviour, worlds begin to collide. There is something sublime and ridiculous, as the audience comes to realise that a blind vigilante might coexist alongside a super-strong alcoholic private investigator, a bulletproof social crusader and a billionaire martial arts expert. It is weird, wonderful and jarring. The Defenders manages an interesting frisson in Worst Behaviour.

Lift off.

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The Defenders – The H Word (Review)

It’s a hell of a town.

One of the most striking aspects of The Defenders is its emphasis on New York City. Of course, the Marvel Universe has always been centred on the Big Apple. Decades before Fantastic Four #1 laid the foundation stone for that elaborate shared continuity, Marvel Comics #1 established New York City as a hub for characters like Namor, the Angel and the Human Torch. The city has a long and rich shared history with the comic book publisher, allowing visitors to take tours of iconic comic book locations and even lighting the Empire State Building in the colours of The Amazing Spider-Man.

Matt’s got the devil off his back.

Of course, this long-standing association between New York and the Marvel universe has inevitably bled over into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most obviously, The Avengers places its iconic long pan around the eponymous heroes right in front of Grand Central Station. Spider-Man: Homecoming features its hero swinging through Queens and the suburbs. However, most of these scenes are shot on location outside New York; Atlanta and Toronto frequently double for New York.

In contrast, the Netflix Marvel series have all shot in and around New York. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist all went to the bother of filming Manhattan, rather than trying to recreate the city using another location. In many ways, it feels like these series unfold in a more authentic and grounded version of New York than the corresponding feature films, right down to the fact that their skylines all feature the real-life MetLife Building instead of the fictional “Avengers Tower.”

Trish Talk.

The Netflix shows did not always engage with a particular vision of New York. Iron Fist was so confused about its own identity that it never engaged with the city around it. Jessica Jones never invested in Jessica’s surroundings, but it still found time to include the city itself in the title character’s goodbye tour in AKA Top Shelf Perverts. However, both Daredevil and Luke Cage were very firmly rooted in their own versions of the Big Apple. Daredevil imagined a pre-gentrification eighties urban hellscape, while Luke Cage celebrated the history and culture of Harlem.

Given that The Defenders is being overseen by showrunners Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie, it makes sense that the series would have a very strong sense of place. Ramirez and Petrie were previously in charge of the second season of Daredevil, which imagined a version of New York that seemed trapped in the urban decay of the late seventies and early eighties, Bang even evoking the Summer of Sam in its introduction of the Punisher while the ninjas that populate the second half of the film look to have escaped a particularly dodgy seventies exploitation film.

Cage re-match.

However, The Defenders is not particularly interested in one individual version of New York. It is not a show that is firmly rooted in one single idea of the Big Apple, not a story that unfolds against the backdrop of one individual conception of the urban space. Instead, The Defenders is particularly interested in the capacity for these various iterations of New York to overlap with one another. The opening credits offer a visual expression of this approach, suggesting the series serves as a point of intersection.

The Defenders is a series built around the infinite potential of New York, this idea of the city as a space in which narratives collide and coalesce, where separate stories might come together and where people on their own journeys might find common cause with one another. The Defenders seems to accept that nightmarish cityscape of Daredevil is hard to reconcile with the uncaring urban environment of Jessica Jones or the vibrant community of Luke Cage. However, The Defenders also insists that they are are all facets of the same city.

Oh, and Danny is there too.

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Luke Cage – You Know My Steez (Review)

You Know My Steez draws down the curtain on the first season of Luke Cage.

In many ways, the season finale encapsulates the best and worst of the season before it. The episode is strongest when it focuses on the characters and their performers, allowing space for actors like Alfre Woodard and Simone Missick to breath. It underscores the core themes of the season, from the importance of having a black superhero show through to the cultural significance of Harlem. Indeed, You Know My Steez does an excellent job bringing the show around a full circle from Moment of Truth and Code of the Streets.


At the same time, there is an awkwardness and a clumsiness to the storytelling, from the decision to open with an underwhelming fifteen-minute brawl in the centre of Harlem to the choice to spend the rest of the episode setting up threads to be divided between an inevitable second season and the launch of The Defenders. Pacing and structure have never been a strength for Luke Cage, and that is particularly obvious with You Know My Steez. It is an episode that seems stitched together from a selection of dangling threads leading into and flowing out of the season.

Still, You Know My Steez has a winning charm to it, one that almost excuses the strange pacing and the contrived plotting. If anything, the decision to wrap up the inevitable climactic throw down a full half-hour before the end of the episode ensures that Luke Cage never loses sight of its characters and its world.


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Luke Cage – Soliloquy of Chaos (Review)

However complicated (and contradictory) its politics might be, Luke Cage has its heart in the right place.

What is most striking about the series, watching it from beginning to end, is the enthusiasm with which the series embraces its superhero roots. In many ways, Luke Cage is a much more traditional and conventional superhero story than Daredevil or Jessica Jones. In fact, it is a much more conventional superhero story than Captain America: Civil War or Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice or Deadpool. It is almost certainly the most old-fashioned live action superhero story since Thor.


Luke Cage is a television series that understands the iconic power of superhero narratives, the appeal and resonance that such stories hold. It is a show that recognises the way that such stories elevate essential aspects of the American experience to mythic status. This is true of the genre in general, with its emphasis on rugged individualism outside conventional power structures. However, it is also true of specific heroes. What is Superman by a mythic tale of the immigrant experience? What is Spider-Man but the oft-referenced “little guy” filtered through teen life?

More than any other superhero adaptation in recent memory, Luke Cage fundamentally understands that and pitches its story squarely at mythologising certain aspects of the African American experience.


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Luke Cage – Now You’re Mine (Review)

Now You’re Mine represents the action climax of Luke Cage.

It is very much a stock action episode. Stryker has taken a bunch of hostages at Harlem’s Paradise, and is holding them at gunpoint. Meanwhile, the police are massing outside, contemplating whether to breach and believing that Luke Cage is responsible. At the same time, Luke is trapped inside the club with Misty, who was wounded in the shootout. The characters are all locked in a confined space together with lots of automatic weapons, and the inevitable results.


It is quite thrilling in execution. Luke and Misty are forced to hide in the basement as Stryker stalls the cops. Shades worries that his boss has gone off the deep end, while Claire tries to improvise her way out of the crisis. Meanwhile, Ridley is managing the crisis from the outside in with the assistance of Assistant District Attorney Blake Tower, watching the sort of political manoeuvring that unfolds as the crisis builds towards a massive firefight and a confrontation between all of the major players involved in the show.

The only problem is that there are two more episodes left in the season.


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Luke Cage – Take It Personal (Review)

The politics of Luke Cage are kind of tricky.

To be fair, a lot of this has very little to do with the show itself. Luke Cage is the first Marvel Studios project headlined by a black character. It is also the most high-profile black superhero project since Catwoman and Blade: Trinity in 2004. More than that, it is the first major African American superhero story of the modern franchise age, arriving on Netflix two years before the scheduled release of Ryan Coolger’s Black Panther adaptation. This means that Luke Cage carries a phenomenal burden of representation.


More than that, Luke Cage arrives at a time when racial politics are more overt than they have been in a very long time. The politics of race have long been an essential part of American political discourse, but they have seldom been placed front and centre in the way that they have been over the past couple of years; the shooting of Trayvon Martin by vigilante George Zimmerman, the high-profile deaths of young black men at the hands of law enforcement, the protests in Ferguson, scandals like the poisoned water in Flint.

When Luke Cage was released to stream, the United States was in the middle of a particularly heated (and racially charged) election cycle. The Republican Presidential nominee, Donald Trump, was threatening to deport Mexican immigrants and build a wall along the border. A cornerstone of the Republican primaries had been a debate about limiting immigration of Muslims. Trump described African American communities in apocalyptic terms, while also arguing that talk of racism was more damaging than racism itself. Trump appealed to resurgent white nationalism.


This was the climate in which Luke Cage was released. As such, the show was always going to be political, whether it chose to engage with those politics in a literal manner or otherwise. As showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker argued at Comic Con in 2015 and as Method Man explicitly states in Soliloquy of Chaos, the world is ready for a bulletproof black man. No matter what story Coker and his team chose to tell, there would always be a raw political element to the story.

At the same time, there is also a certain clumsiness to the show’s politics that become clear in the way that Take it Personal deals with some of that baggage.


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