Television 22 October 2018 | 12:10

Someone must save ‘Luke Cage’

22 October 2018 12:10

As keen-eyed readers will have observed, at DRUGSTORE CULTURE we like to intersperse the frothy pieces on Brexit, pseudoscience and American politics with serious journalism on popular culture. So, it is my sombre duty to ask: what possessed Netflix when it decided to cancel Luke Cage?

Just in case this scandal has passed some of you by – and I find it hard to believe that it has – the streaming giant has chosen not to commission a third season of the gritty superhero series from Marvel TV. No more will we see the eponymous hero, formerly the convict Carl Lucas, bring justice to the streets of Harlem, fending off villains with the superhuman strength and near-unbreakable skin that (yes, you guessed it) he acquired in an ultra-secret scientific project gone slightly wrong.

The series was inspired by the Marvel comics character that first appeared in Luke Cage, Hero for Hire in 1972. The first black superhero to have his own comic, the original Cage was a child of the ‘blaxploitation’ era, larger than life, extravagant in temperament and clothing, and famous for his signature exclamation: ‘Sweet Christmas!’

But the Netflix series was altogether more subtle and more satisfying. The Cage legend was reframed as a parable of modern Harlem, its people, and its passions: at the story’s quiet heart was the brilliant Mike Colter playing the character as a conflicted introvert rather than a muscular showman. Alongside him was a no-less-stellar supporting cast: Rosario Dawson, Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Alfre Woodard and Theo Rossi. The music, script and plotting were all excellent.

Alongside The Punisher, it was Luke Cage that made the Netflix branch of the new Marvel universe so interesting. These two shows and their four counterparts – Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Daredevil and The Defenders – have existed in parallel with the 20 movies released since Iron Man burst on to our multiplex screens in 2008. But they have embodied an entirely different aesthetic, social realism and moral ambiguity.

The New York of Netflix Marvel is shabby, often indigent and unflinching its portrayal of urban despair. Which is not to say that its characters’ superpowers are any less pleasingly preposterous or its hallway fight scenes any less entertaining. Simply that the television offshoot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not just a cheap spin-off. It has its own ethos, honesty and street-level authenticity.

It appears that Luke Cage was not cancelled because of its audience numbers but because of our old friend, ‘creative differences’ – which is even more pathetic, and disappointing. But all is not lost. When Fox cancelled Lucifer (the devil-goes-to-LA-and-becomes-a-detective), a global social media campaign was mounted to save the series and – ironically – Netflix picked it up for a fourth season.

In this instance, sadly, it is Netflix that has let us down. Who will ride to the rescue of this great show? It’s time to #SaveLukeCage.