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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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