The Luke Cage stories of 1972 Marvel comics are not what you see in the new Netflix series. The new writers deliver a more mature story than their source material, Sam Knowles says, in many ways.
One clear improvement is apparent to anyone who happens to see cover art from the old comics. Luke was known as a ‘hero for hire.’ He used his abilities as a way to earn a living, which in the real world makes some sense, but what other superhero does this? The mercenaries are usually the bad guys. The good guys are heroes for the sake of justice. Knowles states,
Luke’s identity as a self-proclaimed ‘hero for hire’ sets him up in opposition to white superheroes, whose racial privilege enables the narrative of ‘superhero-ness’ to be about altruism. As a result, others look down on Luke’s attitude–most obviously Dr Noah Burstein [the scientist who gave Luke his power]: “I’ve heard how you’ve helped neighborhood merchants against Syndicate protection men. For a fee / Bit disillusioning from a so-called hero, isn’t it?”
The Netflix story explicitly drops this idea early on. In the beginning, Luke doesn’t want to get involved at all. His father figure, ‘Pop’ Hunter, urges him to use his gifts to help others and later suggests he hire himself out, but Luke refuses. Though he struggles with whether his efforts to help amount to kicking the criminal hornets’ nest, he continues to help those he can because it’s the right thing to do. He loves the people of Harlem.
I enjoyed the show overall. I wish they’d backed off the sex in episode one, but the story comes together well throughout. My main complaint may be a minor spoiler. When a background villain comes forward, he does so with all kinds of personal connections to Luke, particularly in the tech he uses. In the final battle, he uses a suit that he says has been designed especially to fight Luke Cage, but Luke has only been in action for a matter of days. Where was the time to develop this suit, unless what the villain says is just an exaggeration (which would fit his over-personalized style).
This suit figures into the one statement from the series that sounds a little off to me. It sounds like the moral of the story, and this is a spoiler. Luke defeats this villain by wearing him out first. I took a couple visual cues to mean the suit recharged its batteries with the force it received from outside, so the more Luke punched it, the longer it could maintain power. It’s more likely the suit does not recharge but has limited power, so Luke notices its power draining and believes he can outlast it. When he does, he explains himself by saying he just decided to stop feeding him the hate. Sure.
That’s good, I suppose, but why can’t the hero just take it to the bad guys directly? Would it ever make sense for the Dark Knight to say, “You aren’t going to get the better of me. I’ve decided to stop feeding you hate, because I’m Batman”?