As Marvel Studios television and film departments have proved ad nauseam over the past decade, everyone loves a good superhero.
Whether it’s Tony Stark, Jessica Jones or Ant-Man, the idea of a flawed, often quippy super-charged human being tugs at our desire to exceed our circumstances in ways few other genres can. Marvel’s latest reminder of how much we love superheroes comes in the form of Luke Cage.
Luke Cage, played by Mike Colter, is an unassuming Harlemite with impregnable skin, super-strength and healing abilities that render medical aid pointless. His powers stem from experiments conducted on him for a crime he didn’t commit and he now finds himself on the run after busting out of jail.
If his name seems familiar it’s probably because you’ve seen Netflix’s other superhero series, Jessica Jones, in which he cameos.
When we meet Cage, he’s a janitor at a barbershop, with a fondness for saying “sweet Christmas” in lieu of bluer phrases and a past he is trying to run away from.
Unlike most other superheroes, he doesn’t hide behind a mask. His most inventive disguise is a black hoodie, which means he doesn’t get the luxury of anonymity. Instead he gets anger or praise depending on how cranky the public is feeling.
What makes Luke Cage different from other Marvel superhero fare is its navigation and investigation of blackness. While not as subtle as that hint of vanilla in your sauvignon blanc, the show gives viewers an idea of the complexities of being poor and black and American.
It has none of the buffoonery of Empire nor any of Tyler Perry’s obsession with shallow stereotypes. Cage exudes an unostentatious pride in being black that seeps into the community he serves.
It’s hard to remember the last time a black superhero was the centrepiece of a big-budget television production, but it speaks to Marvel’s apparent realisation that its audiences don’t only consist of speckled white males. What’s even better about Luke Cage is that it isn’t a “black” show, it’s just a good one set in a black neighbourhood.