When Cheo Hodari Coker went to pitch his idea for a Luke Cage television series to Marvel, he brought with him two items: an action figure of the comic-book superhero and a photo of his grandfather. Coker envisioned Cage as a man much like the latter, a decorated U.S. soldier who flew with the Tuskegee Airmen. He told the studio’s head of TV that he wanted his version of the character to be an African American hero who does his job not just for the benefit of other black people, but for everyone.
Needless to say, Marvel liked the idea, and Luke Cage’s eagerly anticipated first season premieres Friday on Netflix. The show comes at a time when comic-book adaptations are everywhere, but very few feature black superheroes. Cage, played by Mike Colter, first made his Netflix debut in the series Jessica Jones as a supporting character and love interest for Jones. As the initial trailers for the show made it clear, Luke Cage was going to be ambitious both in terms of the issues it explored and the ways in which it would update its protagonist. Coker and his creative team looked to current events to ground Cage in reality from a specifically African American perspective.
“I saw an opportunity with this to tell a black story … that was sophisticated and forward-looking and at the same time had a sense of history,” Coker said. He wanted the show to fulfill his “comic-book geek sensibilities” while also digging into subjects such as police brutality, the gentrification of Harlem (where the show takes place), and even the privatization of prisons. One of the most powerful images from the show has been that of the bulletproof Cage in a hoodie beating up the bad guys under a hail of gunfire. The 1972 comic Luke Cage: Hero for Hire also told a distinctly black story—but it was shaped by very different cultural and social pressures that reveal how the original Cage and Coker’s hero are different avatars for their times.