Marvel’s Luke Cage picks up where Jessica Jones left off, dropping our indestructible superhero on the streets of Harlem. But even if you already watched Luke’s first television appearance, there’s a few things you might not know about the man known as Carl Lucas, Power Man, and Hero for Hire.
Shaft and Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song helped launch the blaxploitation genre in 1971 and one year later, Luke Cage, Hero for Hire debuted, cashing in on the genre’s popularity. Blaxploitation films were the first to feature funk and soul soundtracks with all-black casts: The films were often set in poor inner cities and focused heavily on crime, martial arts, and horror stories. Set in Harlem, Carl Lucas was a man who grew up on the neighborhood’s rough streets and eventually fell in love with Reva Connors, the ex-girlfriend of his best friend, Willis Stryker. A jealous Stryker planted drugs in Lucas’s apartment and set him up to go to prison, but unfortunately, the owners of the drugs killed Reva while trying to reclaim their property.
In the continuity of the television series, Luke Cage went to prison for a different crime, yet still one he’s framed for. As we learned in Jessica Jones, Reva was killed by Jessica when she was under the mind control of the villain Kilgrave (Daredevil foe Purple Man in the comics). Luke Cage changes his name from Carl Lucas after a stint in prison where he also gains the powers of super strength and indestructible skin thanks to being experimented on by prison doctors. The experiment in the series isn’t specified as a Super Soldier experiment, but in the comics, it’s a variant on the same program that created Captain America. Upon leaving prison, Luke moves to Harlem (he’s not a native in the series). And through encountering several criminals who seek to keep the city mired in crime and bloodshed, Luke becomes their hero. In the original comic series, Luke worked as a literal Hero for Hire, for anyone who could meet his price. But in the series, Luke is more reluctant to take on the role of hero.
Cornell Stokes, a.k.a. Cottonmouth, is the main villain in Luke Cage. In the comics and in the television series, he’s a crime kingpin who attempts to recruit Luke to join his syndicate. He first appeared in Power Man #18 in 1974 as Cornell Cottonmouth. For the series, Cottonmouth is merely an unwanted nickname given to Stokes, who is played by Mahershala Ali.
Mariah Dillard, a.k.a. Black Mariah, first appeared in Hero for Hire #5 in 1973. Her criminal enterprise involved stealing valuables from the bodies of dead people, which ran her afoul of Luke Cage when a widow because suspicious of her husband’s disappearance and hired him. Mariah, who came across like Linda Taylor drawn as Fat Albert, was one of the more embarrassing creations during Luke Cage’s “blaxploitation” era. In the television series, she’s portrayed by Alfre Woodard and is named Mariah Stokes, making her Cottonmouth’s cousin. She’s no longer stealing dead bodies from ambulances, however. In Luke Cage, Black Mariah is a shady politician who hates the nickname Black Mariah.
Diamondback, mostly in the shadows during the early episodes of Luke Cage, is the first villain Luke ever faced in the comics — he’s his childhood friend Willis Stryker and the one who framed Luke and sent him to prison. In the television series, he’s still a friend from Luke Cage’s past who set him up, and he still uses exploding bullets to best his victims.
Shades, who appeared in the first issue of Hero for Hire, grew up in Harlem alongside Luke Cage. In the series, played by Theo Rossi, he’s a cohort of Diamondback’s who is sent to keep Cottonmouth and Black Mariah under control.
Misty Knight is one of Marvel’s most popular superheroes. Debuting in the mid-’70s, Misty was a police officer with the NYPD and partnered with Rafael Scarfe (portrayed by Frank Whaley in the television series). In the comics, she becomes a superhero when she loses her right arm in a bomb blast. Gifted a bionic arm by Tony Stark, she became a superhero and often fought alongside Luke Cage and his partner Danny Rand, a.k.a. Iron Fist. Iron Fist, created due to the martial arts genre craze, eventually became Luke Cage’s partner and both of their series were merged into Power Man and Iron Fist in 1978. Misty would go on to become romantically involved with Iron Fist.
In the Netflix series, Misty (portrayed by Simone Missick) is not yet a superhero and still a police detective. But who knows what will be in store for her romantic future once the Iron Fist series debuts on Netflix, followed by The Defenders, where all of the Netflix heroes will team up to take on an even greater threat than Cottonmouth, Kilgrave, and the Kingpin.