Dargolla: A Kaiju Nightmare — My Debut Novel and A New Universe Rises

To quote the highly inspirational song “Faith of the Heart” by Russell Watson (yes, it’s the theme song for Star Trek: Enterprise, my fellow Trekkies!): “It’s been a long road, getting from there to here; it’s been a long time, but my time is finally near.” Or, in this case, actually here!

Yes, my first novel has now been published, after a long time working up to this with several short stories published in anthologies and eZines from great indie presses such as Black Coat Press, Sirens Call Publications, Pro Se Press, Pulp Empire, Horrified Press, Grinning Skull Press, and a few others who have since slipped into oblivion. I was greatly honored to have stories deemed worthy of professional publication from all of the above, and it was a lot of fun taking the many arduous steps necessary to develop the reputation necessary to getting a novel accepted.

I’m particularly thankful to Jean-Marc Lofficier, co-publisher and editor of Black Coat Press, for giving me my first professional break in Volume 8 of his terrific annual anthology Tales of the Shadowmen, devoted to yarns of heroes and villains culled from French pulp fiction of the 1920s-1940s. I’ve endeavored to get a short short story published in every subsequent volume (with Vol. 14 due next, in December of 2017), and you can bet I have many more plans for projects with Black Coat.

I am also very thankful to the great writers and creative mythographers who comprise the Wold Newton publishers that have continued and expanded upon the great shared pulp and sci-fi universe built by the late, great Philip Jose’ Farmer, in particular Win Scott Eckert and Chuck Loridans for first welcoming me into their circle of influence, which enabled me to meet many great friends and colleagues, many of whom I have collaborated with for many years now. The inspiration which they and other creative mythographers provided to me was immense, and it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be a published author today if not for the friendships and networking I acquired as part of their creative circle. Thank you, guys, for everything!

So needless to say, I was thrilled to the gills to have my first submission to Severed Press accepted, as this great publishing label is undoubtedly the biggest force in kaiju prose today (as well as other horror and sci-fi sub-genres, such as books devoted to sea monsters, zombies, dinosaur mayhem, post-apocalyptic scenarios, and space military action). I was quite familiar with them and a fan of many of their publications, including Eric S. Brown’s awesomely horrific, high-selling, and long-running apocalyptic Bigfoot War series; and my friend and colleague Matthew Dennion’s kaiju novels, including gems such as Atomic Rex, Polar Yeti and the Beasts of Prehistory, Operation R.O.C., Chimera: Scourge of the Godsand Kaiju Corps

I’m especially grateful to Matt Dennion, as my first published work that truly belongs to the kaiju genre is “The Criminal and the Kaiju,” and it appeared in Matt’s anthology Attack of the Kaiju: Age of Monsters Vol. 1. I met a lot of talented friends and colleagues by working on that and other projects of Matt’s, and I was as proud to share a byline with them in that anthology as I was with the many great authors (which also includes Matt) in the Tales of the Shadowmen volumes. Most importantly, the above-mentioned short story was also the first published entry into the shared kaiju/sentai universe I’m building.

Attack of the Kaiju v1_cover

Cover to Attack of the Kaiju: Age of Monsters Vol. 1, where a new universe started with Blue King and Mokkadon. Thanks, Matt! 

For those who may not be fully in the know, “kaiju” is a Japanese term roughly translating into English as “monster” or “mysterious beast,” and the context in which most English-speaking fans of the genre use it is an abbreviated form of “daikaiju” (sometimes spelled as two separate words) which means “giant monster.” Think Godzilla, King Kong (at least the larger versions of the size-fluctuating giant ape, i.e., the Toho version and the current Legendary MonsterVerse iteration), and Gamera. The term “sentai” is a Japanese word that roughly translates as “monster-fighting super-hero” (well, not literally, but in concept), particularly those who can achieve kaiju-level size to get the job done, either by dramatic size-and-mass accruing themselves, or as pilots of giant robots which rival kaiju in size and power. Think Ultraman, the jaeger (giant robots) from Pacific Rim, and the Power Rangers’ giant polyglot robot the Mega-Zord.

Which brings us to my first novel, and the latest entry into my shared and (hopefully) exponentially expanding kaiju/sentai universe, Dargolla: A Kaiju Nightmare.

 

Dargolla-ebook-cover (final)

One giant step for me; and numerous giant steps for Dargolla.

Though I have every intention of pitting kaiju against each other in city-smashing battles, as well as sentai vs. kaiju battles — as I did between Blue King and Mokkadon in “The Criminal and the Kaiju” — in my future work, this first novel gives the podium to Dargolla alone. What is the basic skinny of this tale?

For one thing, I extenuate the horror aspects of the kaiju genre. Rather than depicting these gigantic monsters as being in any way funny or goofy, I pay homage to the antiquarian roots of kaiju from world mythology (e.g., Jormangand the Midgard Serpent and Tiamat) and the Biblical beasts Leviathan and Behemoth, where they were destructive, overpowering, and living forces of nature that even the gods respected (and often used for their own destructive tendencies).

I also strive to pay homage to the wondrous kaiju-films I grew up watching, which fascinated me and piqued my creative impulse on a deep psychic level. They certainly constitute great childhood viewing memories, albeit of a decidedly different sort than the type I got from watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island or The Brady Bunch.

Which brings us to Dargolla. As the sub-title of the novel makes clear, this is not a kaiju you want visiting your home town, or even co-existing on the same planet with you. This creature doesn’t simply smash buildings and flatten automobiles that happen to be directly in his path. Like most kaiju in this universe, he views the tiny humans in his midst as rivals for global food chain hegemony, so he makes literal food out of them at every opportunity. When he isn’t devouring humans, he’s deliberately smashing their buildings and kicking their vehicles about, which his bestial but far from simplistic mind correctly identifies as constructs that harbor his miniature competition for dominion of the planet. People in this world live in mortal terror of kaiju, as humanity’s best military weaponry often has minimal effects on them.

Which brings us to the military of this nightmarish world, who are frequently engaged in the development of weapons specifically designed to deal with these living WMDs, and often pose as much of a threat to the civilization they are hoping to preserve as the kaiju themselves. This becomes evident in the novel when the fleeing hordes of hapless residents of the city of Metroville find themselves besieged by a military attack on Dargolla, as cluster bombs and building debris blasted loose by the weapons rain down on them and claims as many of their lives and limbs as the monster himself.

Which next brings us to the main human protagonist, Colin Wilson. He’s a young boy that finds Dargolla’s attack on his home city to be anything but cool or exciting. The story focuses on Colin and the rest of his nuclear family as they desperately try to escape from the city while a skyscraper-sized beast and the additional obstacles of attacking military forces and stampeding crowds of terrified people present additional obstacles.

With this novel, I endeavored to answer a series of disturbing questions I have always harbored in the darkest recesses of my mind: What would it actually be like, from the point of view of an average family, to have to deal with a kaiju attacking their city? What would be their realistic chances for survival, or even of simply getting out of such a disaster zone intact? Could every member of the family be expected to make it? What would their interactions with their panic-ridden fellow residents be like as everyone desperately attempted to flee for their very lives? How would they deal with the psychological trauma of seeing people crushed, eaten, and blown to bits all around them? How would they act and react knowing that this was their own likely fate at any moment? What would be the thoughts of the military aircraft pilots as they faced almost certain death, but were determined to do their best to carry out their orders anyway? How would these soldiers feel about the destruction they would inevitably wreak upon the very city and citizenry they were trying to save, and how would this effect them psychologically? And what about the military brass safely ensconced in distant military bases who had to issue the orders, if for no other reason than to make them appear to be “doing something” about the kaiju incursion? How would they feel about authorizing the use of an untested doomsday weapon on the kaiju, which could have far-reaching consequences for millions of people and the biosphere itself?

I endeavored to answer all of these unsettling questions as best I could, or at least to confront them head on. This particular novel has no true heroes, just an average family doing their best to flee the only home they ever knew and retain both their sanity and their lives as horrific death and destruction constantly ensue all around them. Besides that, we have soldiers who engage in heroic actions, but are first and foremost soldiers who must obey orders and make sacrifices no matter what the possible consequences to both themselves or the people caught in their crossfire (I personally consider soldiers to be a category of warrior, but not necessarily a category of hero — just like mercenaries — but I’ll deal with that in depth in a future blog when I discuss character concepts and categorizations).

Time and reader reaction will ultimately tell if I effectively addressed these questions and successfully provided a scenario to do them some type of justice with this novel and subsequent publications, but it was a lot of fun to make the effort, and it’s a dream come true to be given the opportunity to make this nightmare happen. I’m now at work on my next kaiju novel occurring in this universe, Megadrak: Beast of the Apocalypse, and I look forward to inflicting that upon the world as well!

For all my fellow kaiju-fans who may be interested in purchasing this debut novel, you can buy it for your Kindle or rent it for free if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, or purchase it in paperback. Your choice, as the nightmare and mass destruction will unfold in either format 🙂  Thank you to all who have already purchased, and those who will do so in the future, as your contribution to making this book a success is appreciated more than I can possibly say.

Message to President Donald J Trump — Orange Street News

The Orange Street News is requesting an interview with President Donald J Trump on Saturday when he comes to Harrisburg to discuss the issues facing the people of Selinsgrove. The OSN has been unable to reach President Trump through his website or by emailing his advisors. The OSN is hoping you see this video, Mr. […]

via Message to President Donald J Trump — Orange Street News

The Hilarious Perils of Online Dating: Men’s Side of the Story

Hot Date

Which gender is worse when it comes to this? The conservatives would say it’s women, the liberals would insist it’s men, but I say it’s BOTH! Ha ha!

I love the College Humor site! It’s funny and gives you good insights into everyday aspects of life that we’ve all noticed and lived through. It’s an entertaining alternative to dry scholarly examinations of how people behave in our present day consumerist society that are penned by psychologists and sociologists. The article lists that use sequential art-based scenarios to provide side-splitting examples of the topic at hand are among the best of what this site’s content scribed by wryly observant authors has to offer.

Recently as of this writing, we got a nice little gem entitled “Pros and Cons: Online Dating” by Amelia B and Paul Westover. Really great and hilariously informative stuff, especially this part:

Online Dating from College HumorOnline Dating - Pros and Cons02

LMFAO!!! Yes, all ladies who have frequented dating sites or apps have dealt with the typical sleazebag, one-track-mind type of guy with deceptive advertising on sites like OKCupid, Tinder, etc. No argument there.

Creeper01

“Geez, it sure doesn’t help my image to share a nom du guerre  with guys like that!”

So what is the “problem” with the above, if any? Well, just a minor little one: the total lack of balance. Yes, heterosexual women go through lots of shit with the “creepers” from these sites who advertise themselves as stand-up guys, but turn out to be… well, something different. But what we don’t see here, or in too many other places in our PC-conscious world, is the type of female creeps that heterosexual men routinely meet on such dating sites/apps. These female “creepettes” (did I just coin some new slang here? Go me!) also have their atrocious share of issues and one-track-mindedness, albeit most often in different or opposite directions to those of their male counterparts.

Let’s add some balance to the “social atrocity” scale by giving some typical message responses heterosexual men all too often get from the creepettes when they contact women who advertise themselves on these dating sites:

1. Man: Hi, I’m Chris, how are you doing?

Creepette response: Hey babe! Would you like to watch me get busy with myself on cam? Only $30.00 for 30 minutes, and I’ll do some rilly rilly naughty shit for you!

2. Man: Hi, I’m Chris, how are you doing?

Creepette response: Will u plz rate my pics? Go to http://www.iamsohot.com. Plz give me 5 rating and share with ur friends!

3. Man: Hi, I’m Chris, how are you doing?

Creepette response: WTF!!?? I don’t know you, asshole! Are you some sorta creeper?!

4. Man: Hi, I’m Chris, how are you doing?

Creepette response: *Sigh* That is sooooo unoriginal! Fuk offf!

5. Man: Hi, I’m Chris, how are you doing?

Creepette response: Hi.

Man: It’s nice to meet you. Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

Creepette response: [no further response, even if she initiated the conversation]

6. Man: Hi, I’m Chris, how are you doing?

Creepette response: Can you plz do me a favor? Can you send me 1 thou amerikan dollars so I can gett a plain ride out of my kountry and can come and meet you? I look so forward to meeting u are such my knight!

[Yes, some of the above swindlers are men pretending to be women, but some have proven to be women by actually encouraging their male victims to travel to meet them first, or actually showing up in this country if they successfully bilk some naive lonely fool schmuck, and then continue to bilk him in a faux “relationship” until they get their green card. On other occasions, such common false advertising on dating sites that target lonely heterosexual men are the work of a man and woman working together — a lethal creeper and creepette team-up!]

7. Man: Hi, I’m Chris, how are you doing?

Creepette response: Um… fine? Can I help you?

8. Man: Hi, I’m Chris, how are you doing?

Creepette response: Just so you know, I’m only looking for friends here.

Man: Alright, nothing wrong with just wanting friends, but if that’s what you’re looking for, then why put up a profile on the Dating section of the site instead of the Just Friends section that is specifically designed for people looking for something platonic rather than romantic?

Creepette response #1: Oh, I see, so you’re only looking for a girlfriend! You can’t accept just a friend! No wonder you don’t have anyone, you’re a self-centered dick!

Creepette response #2: Fuk off, asshole! No one uses any section of this site to look for more than just friends cause yer a total loser if you need a website to find romance and can’t do it in person!

Man: As opposed to needing a website like this to find platonic friends in the era of Facebook, Twitter, Google Groups, Tumblr, Reddit, etc., etc.?

Creepette response: Shut up and fuk off!! [ends conversation]

9. Man: Hi, I’m Chris, how are you doing?

Creepette response: No, I don’t want to cyber with u asshole!

Man: I wasn’t looking for cyber, I was looking for romance, and I’m trying to meet someone and get to know them since this is, you know, a Dating site?

Creepette response: Bullshit no man ever messages for anything other than 2 cyber ur obvously a creeper fukk off and die!!

10. Man: Hi, I’m Chris, how are you doing?

Creepette response: That makes you sound like a misogynist who is trying to disempower me! And don’t try to mansplain your way out of it, it’s obvious you’re an oppressive beneficiary of the patriarchy!

female Joker

“Message me… I DARE you! *evil Joker laugh*”

Yup, guys have quite the experience on these dating sites and apps too. I just wish I was exaggerating the above! You just gotta love the mutually competitive, as opposed to reciprocally conciliatory,  nature of the genders under a system that encourages competition and one-upmanship in all aspects of life, huh?

A Brief Interview With Elijah D. Manley on The Democratic Party, Centrists, and Neoliberalism

elijah_manley_spusa_convention

This is the second of an ongoing series of brief, generally five-question interviews with Elijah D. Manley, who made history as the youngest person to ever run for President of the United States, at age 17, which he did as a candidate on the Green ticket in 2016. I was proud to be his campaign manager, especially after he managed to make the ballot on the Green primaries in two states and the District of Columbia, and acquired 41% of the votes among the Greens in his home state of Florida, along with three of his state’s seven Green delegates (the rest of the votes and delegates in Florida went to Green powerhouse Jill Stein). He also received strong support from fellow Green presidential candidates Sedinam Curry, William Krempl, and Darryl Cherney, with the first two giving up their allotted minutes to speak at the 2016 Green National Convention to allow Elijah to speak. He was thus able to take the podium and speak to his fellow Greens against the insistence of one of the ageist national committee members that this would never come to pass. Boo-yahh!

Elijah speaking at the Green National Convention, Houston, Texas, 8/16/16 (Elijah comes in at roughly the 12:26 time stamp, and unfortunately the sound quality of this video is poor, so turn up your speakers on max, mute the volume of your TV in the background, and listen carefully!)

Elijah has recently announced he will be running again in 2020, and I’m honored to be his campaign manager once again. As a result, this young man will soon be more relevant than ever, and this leads to our second interview, where he discusses his reasons for not supporting the Democratic Party and why true progressives and socialists cannot find a lot of common ground with centrist neoliberals.

Without further ado, let’s start:

1: Do you feel that social democrats and socialists, and the centrists/neoliberals who dominate the framework of the Democratic Party, have enough common ground to work together as allies towards mutually desired goals?
No. I don’t believe that they can work in the framework of the Democratic Party. Democrats still believe in capitalism, which is a failed system. Anyone who believes in the failed and oppressive system of capitalism are enemies of the working class/proletariat. Democrats and socialists are polar opposites. On certain issues they can work together, but on dismantling the oppressive system that enables these issues to thrive, they won’t.
2: You will often hear Democrats and their centrist constituents talk about the importance of being “pragmatic” and reminding us not to expect “miracles.” Do you think their “play it safe” strategy on both certain social and (largely) economic issues is a problem rather than a better alternative to more radical policies to completely overhaul the system?
Their approach is bullshit, just like their policies for the last 8 years, and the last 20 years. A fascist was just sworn in as President a month ago, and we can’t afford “pragmatic” solutions. We need more radical solutions to the rise of the alt right and fascists. The Democrats and their failed “resistance” got us Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, in as Secretary of State, it got us do-do Betsy Devos in as Secretary of State, Goldman Sachs in 3 cabinet positions, and many more disappointments to come.

3: So do you think that the 99% should seek a radical third party alternative outside of the Duopoly rather than continuing to support and attempt to reform the Democratic Party to make it more labor-friendly?
Yes. As long as we feed the Democratic Party, they will continue to bite our hands. They will continue to crush unions, bail out banks, deregulate the banks, the media, the [big corporations], and take millions from Wall Street while destroying the Earth.
4: What do you feel about the Bernie Sanders campaign overall? Do you think he accomplished something despite — or maybe even because — he ran on the Democratic ticket instead of as an Independent or for a truly pro-labor class party like the Greens?
I admire Bernie Sanders. I really do. He did endorse Hillary, which was terrible, and he didn’t live up to the expectations on many issues that I am passionate about. I am grateful that he did awaken many people and spread the word of socialism. But I will always disapprove of his stance on Palestine and on other issues that I am passionate about. He must denounce the Democrats, or risk human existence.
5: One policy you and your campaign have stood behind is to repudiate rather than embrace capitalism. This puts you at odds not only with the neoliberals, as noted above, but also against the economic policies of the Libertarians, who have a notable number in the youth liberation movement that you advocate. What made you ultimately decide that capitalism is a system that needs to be rejected and overhauled rather than supported and fully deregulated, as American capitalists and Libertarians favor?
Seeing millions suffer on a daily basis despite claims for change. On the campaign trail, I met hundreds, maybe thousands, of young people like myself that had stories of how they suffered at the hands of this system. One young man, who is undocumented, is forced to work in the shadows for $3.17/hr to support his mother and family. His father was deported. Some have had to turn to crime just to feed their families. And the judges would punish them, rather than addressing the socioeconomic system that enables their suffering. Watching the environment be destroyed. Watching parents work 2 or 3 jobs just to support their families while politicians live comfortably and crush unions. And the thing that got me was: it was all for profit.
5.5: So basically, your personal experience and research has not convinced you that a system based upon the profit motive; competition between workers for limited jobs; access to required services and products based solely on the individual ability to pay; extreme degrees of disparity regarding access to our plethora of resources; the inevitable crime and oppressive punitive law enforcement system that comes into being to deal with said crime; and frequent wars based on competition between separate nations run by different ruling classes who vie for control over the biggest pieces of the global pie; and virtually no product or service being provided unless someone can make a profit off of it, etc., et al., does not have some sort of benefits to the world that outweigh the above problems?
I believe that this system has to go, and so does the ruling class. They have cooperated on how to keep what I like to call the “parasiteousioue” in power while crushing workers worldwide. This must be an inter-sectional movement where we stand in solidarity with workers and non-workers internationally, and with all oppressed groups.
Thank you to Elijah for giving his time to this latest interview!

A Brief Interview With Elijah D. Manley on Education in America

elijah-manley-at-green-party-national-convention-2016

 


This blog is the first of a planned series of brief interviews where I will discuss various youth rights and other assorted political issues with Elijah D. Manley, the first underager to run for President of the United States, which he did as a nominee in the 2016 Green Party primaries at the “mere” age of 17. The interviews in this series are intended to be short enough that most people can consume them in a single sitting. As a few examples of his political exploits over the past year, here is Elijah speaking at the 2016 Green Party National Convention in Houston, Texas (Elijah’s speech starts around the 12:44 time stamp; unfortunately, this video has a poor and inconsistent audio quality, so listen carefully on a device with a good sound system!); and here is his interview on The Young Turks.

 


Though the nomination went to Jill Stein, Elijah did quite well for a campaign that was radical even by the progressive standards of the Greens. He managed to get on the ballot of two states and the District of Columbia, and gained an impressive 41% of the votes and 3 of the 7 Green delegates in his home state of Florida, with the rest of the votes and the state’s other 4 delegates going to Jill Stein; and this despite all 6 Green primary candidates being on the Florida ballot. As an additional surprise, he was given a quarter of a delegate from among the District of Columbia’s 2 delegates (with another quarter going to Bill Kreml, and the rest going to Jill Stein).

 


I was honored beyond words when I was asked by Elijah to be campaign manager for his historic run, and needless to say, it was quite a ride! As expected, Elijah is far from done with politics, and I thank him for graciously giving his time to my blog for this series of interviews. Let us now begin! The interview was conducted via instant messaging, and is edited only for grammar and clarity, with no change or modification in content or context.

 

CN: As a major participant in the youth liberation movement who also happens to be legally “underage” and still in high school, do you think the American schooling system teaches students to be good critical and independent thinkers, or is it more about encouraging a conformity of thought?
 I believe that the education system in America does not encourage free thinking. It instead encourages conformity. This education system is undemocratic, particularly because it is hierarchical. Instead of helping students think for themselves, it discourages thinking.
CN:  Based on your personal observations and discussions with many other students across the U.S., do you feel that the small number of students who are naturally critical and independent thinkers are treated well by the adult staff at the schools?
 —
 No. I believe that students who are independent and free thinkers are seen as a threat in schools. These students are likely disrespected, disciplined for not conforming, and/or watched.
 —
CN:  There are some who believe that the hierarchical, top-down nature of the contemporary schooling environment in America — where older adults are treated as always knowing best, having full control over the school curriculum, etc. — has a lot to recommend it as long as there is mutual respect between the adult staff and students. Do you believe that the hierarchical, adult-controlled structure of the current schooling system allows for or encourages much mutual respect between the adult staff and students?
No. I believe that in order for there to be a successful schooling system, students must have a full say in all decision-making. It must be what I call a “vertical structure of power.”
CN: Would you describe the vertical structure of power as a bottom-to-top command structure where students share decision-making power with teachers and other staff, including participating in team teaching efforts?
 —
 Yes, exactly. This requires a say in the formulation of curriculum.
CN: Do you believe that equal say should include the rules of the school related to attire, which programs funding is allocated to, etc.?
 —
 Yes. All decisions made by school administrations and boards should be approved or rejected by student bodies.
CN: Many have complained that contemporary youths are very vapid in terms of their interests, i.e., only interested in modern fashions, the latest trendy movies (or trends in general), an over-interest in consuming all the latest technology (useful or otherwise), and almost sole interest in modern movies, books, and music with little interest in the classics in each of these mediums. Do you believe that what passes for “youth culture” today has anything to do with how the schooling system is formulated and conducted?
No. I believe that youth culture is developed as time goes by, and if it has anything to do with school, maybe it is the social setting in school. Attacking youth culture is what I consider to be “gentrification of youth.”
CN: How would you personally define “gentrification of youth” if asked to elaborate?
 Outside groups or age demographics attacking, targeting or trying to influence or change youth culture.
 —
CN:  Having been in the contemporary schooling system for at least 12 years now, do you feel that it gives you and other students a positive attitude towards learning and education?
 —
 No. It honestly makes us hate school and the education system even more. Most of us do not feel like we really learned valuable information to prepare us for life after HS. We also feel that the info we have learned is in part irrelevant. I doubt that many students are enthusiastic about the schooling system.
CN: Any last things you would like to add about your experiences in the American schooling system for those outside the nation who may be wondering about it?
 The biggest problems I have evaluated about the American schooling system is that it is run like a big corporation, and not a school. There is too much standardized testing, and not enough learning time. Failure should not even be a way to refer to children who have not succeeded in acquiring a certain level of knowledge. The biggest problem of them all is that the students’ concerns and voices are ignored.
 —
CN: I think the video you put up that recorded your experience with the school board may well attest to that.
Yep [laughter] there are a lot!
CN: Cases in point are here and here.

 —

My thanks to Elijah for his time!


elijah-manley-and-jill-stein

Moving forward against all odds!

“Marvel’s Luke Cage” Lives Up to the Hype — A TV Series Review

luke-cage-tv-show-poster
I just finished watching the entirety of Marvel’s Luke Cage on Netflix, and I must say it was an amazing experience that this life-long comic book fan will not soon forget! It was not without its faults (I’ll get to them), and I never expected it to be perfect. I was, however, hoping it would be awesome, and it truly was despite the imperfections. Marvel Studios, ABC, Disney, and Netflix have thus far consistently worked together to keep our expectations high, so my confidence in a good show and respectful depiction of one of my all-time fav super-heroes was well-founded.
Like all of Marvel’s Netflix series, the 13-episode script is highly intellectual, with a lot of meaningful expository dialogue, so if all you’re looking for is 45-60 minutes of nearly non-stop action and fight scenes, then these are not the shows for you. They are designed to entertain and provide a good amount of spectacle, and they certainly deliver on that; but they are also designed to appeal to the thinking part of the brain, and hence may not appeal to viewers who dislike thinking and only want the spectacle. Admittedly, these types of scripts do result in pacing problems for Marvel’s Netflix shows, with the expository scenes sometimes taking up too much time even for people like me, who appreciates meaningful dialogue. If you can overlook them long enough to get to the true gold of these shows, then you’ll always be rewarded. If you can’t then, well, as I said… you may want to look elsewhere for your entertainment, especially if you consider anything that makes you think to be too “preachy” for your tastes. In that case, I recommend a marathon of football and boxing matches for such individuals.
I. Ah, the ’70s…
 —
What is special about Luke Cage is how well it preserves the core essence of a series that was born and nurtured in the early 1970s, when the effects of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was still in its relatively early stages, and black culture had just recently begun to make major inroads into mainstream American society. This was after decades of black culture and entertainment being all but ignored outside of its own racial niche audience. The ’70s decade was thus a glorious era when black super-heroes began appearing within comic books in respectable numbers for the first time, with many headlining their own series. Arguably the greatest of these heroes was Luke Cage, and I’ll get to the why of that in a few moments (or perhaps several, give or take a few).
Most pulp culture buffs who are not comic book fans but nevertheless had the privilege of living their childhood during the decade of the ’70s will remember the many ground-breaking TV series which each had an all or predominantly black cast, even if they were mostly sitcoms: shows like Sanford and Son; Good Times; The Jeffersons; and What’s Happening? were extremely popular and garnered a large chunk of the Nielson ratings, when just a decade prior the tiny number of quality black-led shows like Julia struggled to remain on the air (and usually didn’t). Most of the popular shows of the 1960s had few black characters make even so much as a cameo appearance, let alone featuring a major black character as part of the regular cast (a rare exception being Bill Cosby in I Spy ). In fact, popular sitcoms of the era like The Dick Van Dyke Show, Leave it to Beaver, and Father Knows Best appeared to take place in realities where everyone lived in idyllic suburbs and no black people seemed to exist at all.
Just one decade later, that all changed, and it was an incredible era to live through. It must have been particularly amazing for black citizens of America, since for the first time in the history of the nation they saw fellow people of color duly represented in all aspects of popular entertainment, including the burgeoning medium of TV and its long-time parent medium of cinema, even if some of these depictions still left much to be desired. Nevertheless, they were considerably more respectful of black culture and individuals than the scant number of black-led shows which actually made it to the airwaves in the past, like the entirely-a-product-of-its-time but now utterly forgettable Amos and Andy. Even the Saturday morning cartoon craze of the ’70s gave culturally significant representation to black people with the long-running Fat Albert, which was charmingly respectful and entirely acknowledging of inner city life rather than some fanciful suburban existence that few blacks knew or enjoyed at the time. Interestingly, Fat Albert — which was second only to Scooby Doo as the longest running and most popular cartoon series of classic American Saturday morning fare — also gave us a super-hero in its later seasons in the persona of the star-faring, comical Brown Hornet.
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He may not have eclipsed Luke Cage in popularity, but you can’t fault a brother for trying.
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Most importantly of all in the ’70s decade was the full emergence of the “blaxploitation” film genre, featuring low budget films that had predominantly (if not entirely) black casts led by black stars, even if they were usually minor stars, and often helmed by black producers, screenwriters, and directors. These films could be a mixed bag in terms of quality, but many memorable characters emerged and really did speak to black culture and delivered to black audiences heroes and other iconic characters they could relate to. This includes the likes of the Shaft franchise; Dolemite; Super Fly; and the variety of strong female characters portrayed by uber-gorgeous blaxploitation queen Pam Grier (e.g., Coffy, Foxy Brown); as well as the black female cop protagonist of the film Get Christie Love and its short-lived but memorable TV spin-off series.

Of interesting note, Pam Grier made a major comeback during the 2000s specifically in the super-hero genre on the TV medium in the role of DC Comics’ cagey and formidable Task Force X director Amanda Waller for Smallville, the longest-running super-hero TV series to date. In fact, Grier originated the newer, sexy slim version of the previously uber-corpulent Waller, played most recently by Viola Davis on the big screen version of Suicide Squad.

In popular sports during the ’70s, black professional athletes garnered more respect and earning power than ever before. This was particularly the case for the sports of football and boxing (respectfully mentioned above, ha!). And of course, black music went fully mainstream during that era, with Motown having a major influence on American culture in a broad and general sense, rather than simply black culture or niche markets. My interest in sports was limited to boxing, but Muhammad Ali was one of my major heroes, and I couldn’t help but notice my family’s love of O.J. Simpson during the heyday of his career, long before his later tragic fall from grace. And in terms of black music, I grew up totally loving the likes of Marvin Gaye; the Stylistics; Earth, Wind and Fire; Sister Sledge; Donna Summers; the Commodores; and Diana Ross, all of which I have to thank my mother for introducing me to. I passed many days in a very difficult childhood listening to the work of these artists, and they did wonders to ameliorate the doldrums of life for the kid I once was (and in many ways, still am).
For those of us pop culture buffs who happened to be comic book fans (during an era when being a fan of that medium was considered ultra-fringe and far from cool), things were even more glorious. That’s because, as noted above, black super-heroes finally became a major force to be reckoned with in the fantastical universes depicted within the four-color pages. That included those who debuted in their own titles, and one of those who led the way was a Harlem-born gentleman of color named Luke Cage.

His title started as LUKE CAGE, HERO FOR FIRE, and would change to the more super-heroey LUKE CAGE, POWER MAN with issue #17. The book, and the character, scored very high with readers during the first decade that Marvel overtook DC as Number One amongst the Big Two of comic book companies. By the end of the decade — specifically with issue #50 of his mag — Luke Cage teamed up with white martial arts hero Danny Rand, a.k.a., Iron Fist, whose own comic merged with his to create the fan favorite duo POWER MAN AND IRON FIST. It continued into the mid-’80s under that title, and has re-emerged in different volumes since then with a present day incarnation ongoing at this writing. Nowadays, Luke Cage detests the name of Power Man, and is only referred to as that in an ironic manner; he has also passed the code name on to a teen hero of color he mentored, who is proud to carry it.

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Cover to LUKE CAGE, HERO FOR HIRE #1, where it all began, circa 1972. Both beauty pageant contestants and Wonder Woman now had to deal with the fact that they weren’t the only ones famous for looking good in a tiara. 
Of course, Luke Cage proliferated on his own both before and after he hooked up with Iron Fist. During the ’70s he went on to be perhaps Marvel’s most popular black super-hero, if not the most popular black super-hero in general. He had a lengthy stint as a member of Marvel’s super-team the Defenders in their eponymous comic, and even had a brief stint as a replacement for Ben Grimm (a.k.a., the Thing) in the Fantastic Four. He got around, and he worked hard to cement his status as one of the greatest super-heroes Marvel ever produced, superseding the “color barrier” in short order.

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This is the cover to LUKE CAGE, POWER MAN #17, when Marvel first gave the character an outlandish code name to make him seem more like a super-hero and less like a blaxploitation character.

Luke Cage was heavily influenced by blaxploitation cinema of the time, and has been rightly described as a super-powered version of Super Fly. His back story had much to say to the black experience of the era, and remains timely even now, which is why I was less than happy to see his past somewhat modified for the TV series in a way that wasn’t really necessary or desirable IMO (more on that below). The earliest incarnation of the character was hokey in many ways, something respectfully acknowledged by the much less hokey version seen in the TV series. These hokey elements included his choice of what passed for a costume: a yellow open-chested top with blue spandex pants and matching yellow boots, formerly belonging to an escape artist; metal cuffs around his wrists, a chain around his waist in place of a proper belt, and a metal tiara around his forehead and temples — and unique slang exclamatory catchphrases like “Sweet Christmas!” and variations thereof. It was corny, but it was also charming and in no way detracted from the inherent coolness of the character and the awesomeness of what he represented. These elements also in no way detracted from the gritty drama and hard core action and situations that the character often encountered in the mean streets of Harlem.
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You said it long before I did, Luke. I just agreed with you here 🙂

Luke Cage was a game-changer in the world of heroic fiction, and I’m glad the costume and previous rather silly code names — Hero for Hire and Power Man — though wisely dispensed with since the 1990s, were nevertheless given respectful mention and token representation in the TV series. They were an integral part of his history that deserve to be gone but not forgotten, if such makes sense. And best of all, not only was his exclamatory catchphrases fully retained in the TV series, but a logical explanation for their retention was provided: his minister father and later barber role model and surrogate father figure Pops Hunter were both averse to profanity, so Luke came up with alternative exclamations to those which utilized expletives or obscenities. And they just so happened to stick!

 

II. Who is Luke Cage, and From Whence Does He Hail?
So who, exactly, is Luke Cage? That moniker is not his real name, which is Carl Lucas (though only his last name was revealed during his initial appearance, and his first remained unknown to readers for a long time). In the comic book version, Lucas grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Harlem. The reason was simple and applicable to real life:  the lack of viable opportunities on the right side of the law available for black people and pretty much everyone who grew up in an impoverished ghetto environment. This made the temptation of “easy” money made via illicit means an all too tempting aspect of life for too many young black men who grew up in the economically depressed inner city regions of our lovely capitalist system (I’m sure Ayn Rand would have been proud!). Lucas was such an example, and he and his close childhood friend Willis Stryker quickly began climbing the criminal ladder by pooling their exceptional talents: Lucas was unmatched as an unarmed street fighter and boxer (despite not having superhuman strength at the time), while Stryker was a master of the throwing blade (don’t ask me where he picked up that particular skill on the streets of Harlem, even the Harlem of the Marvel Universe! Most thugs I’m aware of prefer stabbing or slashing with knives, not throwing them!).
As time passed, however, it became clear that Lucas had too strong a conscience and sense of inner scruples to continue on that path. Further, the love of a good woman named Reva Connors cemented his determination to leave a life of crime and turn straight, even if it meant dispensing with the ill-gotten wealth his BFF Stryker was still rapidly accumulating. Unfortunately, Stryker’s conscience and loyalty to his good friend had been eaten away by a combination of the brutal power he acquired and his bitter jealousy over Lucas’s success with Reva, whom he also coveted. Thus, Stryker arranged to have Lucas framed for drug-dealing, and the young man was consigned to the infamous Seagate Prison, whose inmates and staff alike went out of its way to earn that place the not exactly creative but nevertheless apt nickname “Hell”.
This freed Stryker to woo Reva at his leisure, who ended up getting killed in a drive-by shooting that was intended for Stryker. The combination of this horrid betrayal and his culpability in Reva’s murder left Lucas filled with determination to exact just retribution on Stryker… if only the inconvenience of being incarcerated in New York State’s most stringent hardcore prison wasn’t preventing that from happening.
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One can only hope future seasons of Luke Cage  bring us TV adaptations of some of the totally weird ass villains he faced during the ’70s run of his mag. These cats were often equal parts comical and horrific! Examples include the Piscean felon Mr. Fish from issue #29 (and if you think he’s creepy weird, you should see that sycophantic midget who hangs around him)…
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… the other Piscean felon Piranha Jones, from issues 30-31, a guy you definitely don’t want nibbling on your ear if you want to keep it…
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… and this muscle-bound hairy guy called Mangler. Imagine these two getting into a slug-fest on the next bus you ride. 

 

Not only that, but Lucas was subjected to repeated nasty treatment, including periodic beatings, from the cruel racist security guard named Quirt (very appropriate name for some reason!), and enabled by an equally nasty captain of the guards and acting warden named Rackham. This unfortunate situation lasted until a degree of comic book justice came along when a more scrupulous warden named Stuart took over; this guy not only stripped Rackham of his captaincy and demoted him to a regular security guard when he stumbled upon what was going on, but he also graciously locked Quirt alone and unarmed in a cell block with a very angry Lucas. I need not mention the next hour was a very bad one for Mr. Quirt, as his former victims’ fists reduced him to something resembling what his last name sounds like. Lucky for Quirt Lucas was a man of conscience, or he could have more formally made Quirt his “bitch,” if you know what I mean. But if you prefer to imagine that he did anyway, and the creative crew simply didn’t want to show it in order to meet the Comics Code requirements of the day, don’t let me stop you from fantasizing.

However, Warden Stuart was still not about to release Lucas from his sentence, or be convinced he was framed without ample evidence provided, so the matter of the man’s continued incarceration remained a plot obstacle to be overcome.

Up to this point, we have the perfect plot for a classic blaxploitation crime/revenge thriller. But this being the Marvel Universe, things were now about to take a turn for the fantastic, as a truly super hero was about to be born out of this mess.

III. Exit Carl Lucas… enter Luke Cage, Power Man

As is the case often enough for the denizens of a reality like the Marvel Universe, some rather fantastic opportunity was about to come Mr. Lucas’s way. This was in the person of medical researcher and only slightly-less-than-mad scientist Dr. Noah Berstein, who was looking for physically able candidates to participate in an experimental cell regenerative procedure for the benefit of all humankind that his brilliant but wacky mind had concocted. Lucas wouldn’t be the feature character of this comic if he wasn’t the one who proved the most qualified, and though he initially refused to be Berstein’s guinea pig, the death of Reva convinced him that the significant time off his sentence he would earn for stepping into that loony contraption was worth it.

As luck would have it (for the readers, if arguably not Lucas), Rackham was determined to exact vengeance on the man for… his getting caught while beating Lucas up, I guess? So when Lucas was skinny dipping in the water-filled tank of Berstein’s elaborate contraption, the ex-warden snuck into the makeshift medical lab and began operating the controls in haphazard fashion, hoping Lucas would be scalded, or turned blue, or something equally nasty. This being the Marvel Universe, however, that’s not the way it worked, and instead Rackham accidentally elevated the contraption’s energy levels to a point far beyond anything intended. The result: Lucas was enhanced beyond his wildest dreams, including gaining enough superhuman strength to slug it out with Spider-Man, but in his case with steel-hard skin that was bullet and knife proof. Lucas then proceeded to bitch slap Rackham into oblivion and, fearing he accidentally killed the man and would thus be denied the parole promised for his participation in Berstein’s nutty experiment, he decided to use his newly acquired super-strength to pummel  his way clear through the prison walls. He then headed for the sandy shore where miles of ocean separated Seagate Prison from New York City (the prison had to get its name from something!) as security guards pursued the escapee and fired on him mercilessly.

Only Lucas’s bullet-riddled prison shirt was found on the rocky shores near the water, so it was presumed he was mortally wounded and his body washed out to sea. No one knew he had gained superhuman strength save for Berstein (who stayed mum on the matter to avoid explaining his complicity in things), so no one realized he successfully made the swim back to New York. The escapee was therefore believed to have died in an attempted prison escape (don’t ask me how that hole in the wall of Berstein’s makeshift prison lab was interpreted; maybe they figured it was the result of Berstein’s contraption exploding when Rackham made it go haywire). It was quickly revealed to the readers that Lucas succeeded in surviving the repeated shots he received and successfully used his superhuman strength and endurance to swim those many miles to shore. He then spent about a year performing odd jobs wherever he could find them, until he was gradually able to afford enough to return to Harlem to exact just-tribution (I just made that up!) on his ex-BFF Stryker.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been a good story if things would have been quite that easy. After all, need I remind you again this was the Marvel Universe? Stryker had gone on to take the identity of Diamondback, where he became a very powerful crime lord and absolute plutocratic dictator of Harlem (I guess Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, wasn’t overly concerned who claimed to be top dog over there, as long as he had Manhattan). As for Lucas, upon arriving back in the Big Apple, he decided to maintain the fiction he had died to keep the law off his back, so he took on the alias of Luke Cage. He also came upon a new idea on how to make a living when he happened upon a robbery at a diner, and acting on his own inner good will, put paid to the criminals. The owner of the diner was so filled with gratitude that he put paid to the newly christened Luke Cage in an entirely different manner by… paying him a reward.

It was then that Cage realized his superhuman powers could be used to find honest work by his becoming a mercenary! Or, as he called it, a “hero for hire” (I guess “soldier of fortune” didn’t cut it on the streets). Using the reward money to purchase wares from a costume shop, the man on a mission acquired those funky yellow and blue tights, along with the tiara and chain around his waist, printed up some business cards, rented an office — above the Gem Theater on the horrid pre-Disneyfied Times Square, no less — and Luke Cage, Hero for Hire was officially in business.

Not only that, but the story was on! This story, it should be mentioned was written by the late, great Archie Goodwin, one of the comic mediums greatest scripters and editors, and a highly competent artist named George Tuska, whose work gave some perfect gritty detail to the world Luke Cage stomped about and kicked arse within.
IV. What Made Luke Cage a Winner Among the Masses of Characters Introduced in the ’70s?
Okay, the TV series brought to us by Cheo Hodari Coker for Netflix did give have some deviations from the comic book saga of Luke Cage, which I certainly expected. Yes, I fully understand that the TV medium is much different than the four-color pages of the illustrated story medium (or “comic books,” if you prefer), and some things play better on the latter than the former. I’m also well aware that this is the late 2010s, not the early 1970s, so some updating of the cast and situations needed to be made. My main concern is thus always this: was the core essence of what made the character work, and basic details of his origin story and what it represented, retained? Despite some changes I disagreed with (be patient, I’ll get to that), the answer is a resounding yes!

This is because many of the issues facing black america and the working/labor class in general during the early ’70s have found revived popular interest in a strong progressive spirit over the past few years thanks to the Great Recession beginning in 2008. A group like Black Lives Matter would have been just as much at home in 1972 Harlem, or anywhere else in America, as they are across the cyber-roadways of Twitter and Facebook in 2016 America. The issues of how the system denies opportunities to make a decent living off of honest work, and the temptations of crime as a result, are just as relevant during the Great Recession of this decade as they were during the recessions of the early ’70s, when nations in Asia and Europe (particularly Japan and Germany) began recovering from the industrial devastation wreaked upon them in World War II, and thus started giving America major competition in the global market again. How this disproportionately impacted upon people who had gotten a slower start on the capitalist system of wage labor in America was of major importance to the readers who became fans of LUKE CAGE in the early ’70s, and not all of them were black. That type of hard core progressive thinking has been further accelerated in America since the latest failed Democratic presidency, with the promise of another such failed Democratic presidency beginning in 2017 as yet another neoliberal hardliner takes office.

 


Cue one of my uncomfortable but relevant interlude segues: My preemptive response to my centrist friends and followers who read this and are tempted to say, “There you go again, Chris! Can you please leave the Democrats and politics in general alone and stay on topic here? Just for once, dude? Geez!”: In all seriousness, your request that I give respect to your stubborn loyalty to capitalism and the mainstream Democratic politicians who support its continued global hegemony would carry far more weight if so many of you weren’t struggling to pay your bills or even with keeping a roof over your head; or at least contemplating bankruptcy; or dealing with mounting hospital bills and/or inability to pay for needed medication; or drowning in college debt and/or credit card debt; or recovering from a housing foreclosure due to subprime mortgages being inflicted upon you by the “too big to fail” predatory bankers who literally gambled with your livelihood (which heaps of our taxpayer money went to bail out while you were left licking your losses); or keeping a job despite being very hard workers and most certainly not the lazy bums so many conservatives insist you all must be if you’re in such a predicament (even though so many of them are, as well!). Until you’re all thriving in this system and being justly compensated for your hard work more often than not, then I’ll consider your contention that the worst thing I can say about the system is that “it’s not perfect.” Until then, please do not expect me to respect your misguided loyalty more than what is really going on right in front of all of our eyes.

Further, and perhaps more importantly, these issues have much to do with the fictional world Luke Cage inhabits, and the factors that not only made him into the man he became, and which also made the various adversaries and supporting characters he interacted with the people they ultimately became. Hence, these issues are not off-topic; hence, I will not ignore them or pretend they’re irrelevant; hence, I will not foolishly try to pretend the saga of Luke Cage — both in the comics or on the small screen — is somehow non-political or that I’m “reading too much into what was always supposed to be just popcorn entertainment.” To the contrary, it’s the saga’s relevance to problems in the world outside our window mirrored in the fictional locale of the Marvel Universe (or whatever iteration thereof) that heavily contributed to Mr. Cage’s popularity and continued relevance in the modern world. Luke Cage has always been an angry mo’ fo’ against the injustices of the system, and while he may not explicitly point out capitalism and its chief policies as the problem for obvious reasons, I think anyone with half an intellect and the honesty to match it know precisely what the main source of most of Mr. Cage’s challenges happen to be.


End another of my uncomfortable but important interlude segues and back to our regularly scheduled review.


V. Let’s Get to the TV Series, Already!
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MAN IN DA HOODIE
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Let’s start my analysis with the one major change to the saga that I wish Marvel Studios, ABC, and Netflix had not made. In the comic book storyline, the man who became Luke Cage started out as the fairly hard core but small time criminal I mentioned above, but with clear scruples that prevented him from taking things too far. These redeeming character traits allowed the love of a decent woman to pull him out of the escalating chaos that his BFF Willis Stryker — the future Diamondback — was descending into. The younger Carl Lucas could readily be identified with by many struggling members of the working class, including the disproportionate number of young black men who were not bad people at heart but nevertheless got pulled into the temptation to try and find their fortune on the wrong side of the law. Nothing about this history as written in any way condoned those early disreputable actions of his, and he paid dearly for them. However, rather than becoming a slave to bitterness, upon escaping prison he ultimately ended up becoming a hero by working his way up to that status.

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The fact that Cage was taking money to help others as a way to make his living added an important element of controversy to the book. He literally started a one-man company called Hero For Hire, Inc. (until years later when Iron Fist joined him, and it was pluralized to Heroes For Hire, Inc.). He then coincidentally ran across Dr.  Noah Berstein (you can always count on coincidences of this sort in the Marvel Universe), who by this point a year after the prison incident was running a clinic for the poor in Harlem alongside a young and (also not coincidentally) attractive female doctor named Claire Temple. Claire would become Luke’s newest love interest, and would further pull him towards the side of the angels, much as Reva Connors did prior to his framing and unjust imprisonment.
This element of controversy, with the question of whether or not Cage could be considered a mercenary who did not have the interests of others as his first priority was a major philosophical issue driving the series, at least in its earlier years. It became clear from this early point, however, that Cage’s heart was always in the right place, and the well-being of the clients and others in his life always came before the money that the system required him to accumulate in order to both make a living and to keep his business operating. The message that sent meant a lot to readers, and went a long way towards making Cage a full-fledged hero and nothing like the truly ruthless mercenary characters of the comic book world like DC’s Deathstroke, arch-enemy of the Teen Titans and later star of his own series, despite any nuances his character may have (depending on who is writing him, which book he appears in, and what any given story plot requires, that is).
This element was not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) version of Luke Cage, however. In this variant of the story, Carl Lucas used to be a cop who was framed by his former BFF. The MCU version of Willis Stryker, however, is also Cage’s half-brother by Minister Lucas’s secretary, which is why their father refused to acknowledge Stryker. This, not a competing love for a woman, is what ultimately fueled Stryker’s resentment and ended their previous close relationship. Still, because Stryker was a tough natural street fighter who excelled at boxing, he taught his younger brother everything he knew about both of these skills when they were still close. Carl Lucas was an avid learner who put these abilities to good use at surviving in the harsh streets of Harlem, gaining a lot of experience along the way, and they later served him well both as a cop and after he was railroaded into prison by the very trusted individual who taught him these skills.
After this, the onscreen story proceeded similarly to how it was depicted in the comics. I cry foul to that particular change because in this version, despite a difficult childhood and a neglectful father who didn’t like him very much due to his high and mighty, holy-rolling, and hypocritical ways, Carl Lucas was never a young man who fell onto the wrong side of the tracks and had to work his way out of it after paying for these mistakes and ultimately having to summon the hero within to move himself out of it, with a little help and support from his friends. Here, he was a hero from the get-go, and was simply mistaken for a villain after being wrongly incarcerated. He paid for mistakes that weren’t his own (unless you consider trusting a half-brother you loved and respected to be a mistake one should ever rightly have to pay for).
Hence, I think it was a mistake to eliminate this element from the onscreen Luke Cage saga, even if perhaps it was done so in an attempt to make him more immediately “likable” to audiences. Nevertheless, IMO it was far from a deal-breaker for the overall quality and faithfulness to the core of the character, as I’ll now explain.
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The next big change in the series came with its depiction of Reva Connors. She was indeed part of the Netflix series, but this time she was a doctor who assisted Dr. Noah Berstein within the prison, and the future Luke Cage didn’t meet her until he was an inmate. He still developed strong feelings for her, and she seemed to feel the same for him despite grooming him as the ideal candidate for Berstein’s experiment. Cage was similarly devastated by her death in a manner similar to what went down in the comics, only it was not yet made clear exactly what ultimate fate befell this version of Reva as of Season 1. All we know is that it was bad, and Cage never seems up to talking about it with anyone.

How does Claire Temple fit into the TV version? She was actually fit into the saga in a rather interesting and pre-meditated manner. The character, played onscreen by actress Rosario Dawson, had previously appeared in Season 1 and 2 of Daredevil, Season 1 of Jessica Jones, and is slated to have a big role in the upcoming first season of Iron Fist (due to be released March 17, 2017). She is, in other words, the proverbial glue that cements the initial quartet of series featuring Marvel’s street-level heroes on Netflix together into a shared universe. As such, she can reasonably be expected to play a big role, and major force, in the upcoming Defenders series that unites these four heroes into a team. Of course, other supporting characters have appeared in more than one of the Netflix series, and references have been made to events and characters between one and another, but Ms. Temple as the emergency room nurse who ends up getting her fate mixed up with several metahuman heroes which results in a unique career of discretely patching up their cuts, bruises, gunshot wounds, etc., is the true connection between them all.

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It should be mentioned that Mike Colter originated the role of Luke Cage on Jessica Jones Season 1, and had a fairly big role on it, so that is further cement on the firmament uniting this shared universe. I should also mention that the sexual relationship he shared with the titular character of that previous series mirrors one they shared in Jones’s comic book series ALIAS (do not confuse with the unrelated TV series of the same name!), and the two eventually united at a later point in the comics to get married, run an Avengers team together, and have a baby girl named Danielle. It remains to be seen if anything like this occurs after Luke and Jessica re-unite in The Defenders Season 1, especially since Temple is in the picture and she and Cage expressed feelings for each other via a parting kiss at the end of Luke Cage Season 1. Could an interesting love triangle be in the future of these three characters? Gotta love drama!
It should also be noted that Claire Temple is an interesting character for an entirely different reason: her MCU version is actually an amalgamation of two entirely separate comic book characters published by Marvel, one of them with a truly unique point of origination.
It’s been well-established in the media that Claire Temple is based on Marvel’s Night Nurse character, who briefly had her own series around the same time LUKE CAGE was first published. NIGHT NURSE was a very experimental series that had nothing to do with super-heroes, but was about college-aged nurse Linda Carter (she was created before the similarly named actress came on the scene to gain popularity in the role of the Wonder Woman TV series of the ’70s) and her two friends, Georgia Jenkins and Christine Palmer, three young ladies from very different backgrounds who struggled to both become friends and make it in the medical profession at New York City’s Metro General Hospital.
The series was clearly a hybrid of romance comics and some of the popular soap operas at the time (including General Hospital on ABC’s line-up), which gave a big nod to the popular theme of hospital work (medical dramas had been popular on TV for a decade, including Dr. Kildare; The Nurses; and the then-ongoing Marcus Welby, M.D. ), relevant social issues, and added elements of dramatic danger — such as a sub-plot in the first issue of a criminal plot to blow up the hospital generator, a scheme Georgia’s brother ended up mixed up in — that was clearly designed to appeal to college-aged readers of a female persuasion. The book was a surprisingly entertaining experiment that didn’t succeed,  cancelled after four issues. Its main featured protagonist was not to be seen again (to my knowledge) until she turned up in Marvel Comics a decade ago in her role of secretly patching the wounds of street-level heroes in various comics, where for this reason she truly gained the epithet of “Night Nurse.”
The reasons NIGHT NURSE failed, and what a truly offbeat experiment from Marvel it was, warrants a separate blog entry for the future. For now, however, I can say that I think it was a brilliant move for Marvel Studios and Cheo Hadari Coker to combine Claire Temple with the purpose and identity of Night Nurse. The comic book version of Temple was black, and Rosario Dawson’s portrayal of a Hispanic version is much better suited as a contemporary role model of inner city people than the blonde and blue-eyed Linda Carter was, even if I must admit the likelihood of meeting a woman of Hispanic heritage with the surname of “Temple,” or even the first name of “Claire,” in the world outside our window is almost as unlikely as meeting a person with Luke Cage’s powers. But it’s a disparity one can easily live with, because Dawson is so great in the role, and you quickly fall in love with her in each of the series she appears in. She does an adept job of combining the comic book Claire Temple’s compassion, street toughness, and impressive medical skills with Linda Carter’s overall saga, even if most of that saga has just been implied on the TV series thus far. Is it possible Marvel Studios and Netflix will bring us a Night Nurse series starring Rosario Dawson in the future? Since anything seems possible these days, let’s keep our digitals crossed!
No discussion of the “glue factor” would be complete without mentioning Rob Morgan’s reliable role as Turk Barrett, the sleazy street thug who migrates from one crime boss’s employ to another, and is based on a comic book character who has appeared in the many volumes of DAREDEVIL since the 1970s, and has occasionally appeared elsewhere. He has appeared in all of the Netflix shows that occur within the MCU, and will doubtless find some other crime boss to do his small time business with in the upcoming Iron Fist. This is a small but recurrent character role that Morgan plays quite well, and does his small but rather significant part in holding the shared universe encompassing all of these shows together.
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It was a shame that Luke Cage’s long-time supporting character, his likable and loyal friend and employee Dave “D.W.” Griffith, who was popular enough with the fans to carry over into the title when it morphed into POWER MAN AND IRON FIST, didn’t get a part in Season 1 of the series. Oh well, maybe in Season 2, which I’m confident we’ll end up seeing.

Let’s now get to the show’s main antagonist, adapted from Luke Cage’s debut storyline in the comic books: Willis Stryker, a.k.a., Diamondback. The comic book version of this debut story arc played out in the first two issues of LUKE CAGE, HERO FOR FIRE, as written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by George Tuska. The comic book version of Diamondback was interesting enough, and the strong personal connection to Luke Cage described above lent more pathos to their antipathy, even though it wasn’t necessary to make a good story. The villain’s stock in trade outside of his sheer brutality was his skill with throwing blades, for which he had a weaselly little mechanical genius called Gadget design trick throwing knives that released various sprays from the hilt; or exploded; or emitted brain-crunching sonic waves whenever the tip of the weapon struck or embedded in a surface. Only the one that emitted sound waves proved problematic for Luke Cage when the inevitable battle went down, however, and the Diamondback of the comics was defeated in a fairly prompt fashion, not to mention in a rather ignominious manner, as Cage’s first story arc concluded.

If this character was to be adapted into the scripts for the 13 episodes of Coker’s Netflix series, he would have to be made far more menacing and formidable than his comic book counterpart. And I’m happy to say that the scripts fully delivered on that, as did the truly bone-chilling and empathic performance by Erik LaRay Harvey. This cat totally owned the role, and this utterly remorseless version completely saved the character from the obscurity that the Archie Goodwin-created version incurred and frankly deserved.
Harvey’s Diamondback was every bit as lethal and compellingly disturbing to behold as Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin in the Daredevil series and David Tennant’s Kilgrave the Purple Man from the Jessica Jones series. Though he retained his skill with throwing blades, these took an understandable back seat to his preference for firearms, and the trick knives were replaced by the horribly deadly Judas Bullets, which could penetrate even Luke’s steel-hard skin and deliver horrifically life-threatening wounds to him. Later in the series, Diamondback wore another weapon of a much different sort culled from the inventory of Justin Hammer (an Iron Man villain from the comics who had a MCU version in Iron Man 2): a strength-enhancing exo-suit modeled after the snake-like costume his comic book version always wore since taking on the Diamondback mantle. This suit allowed him to throw down with his hated half-brother in a no-holds barred mono-a-mono battle where their fighting skills and sheer determination counted more than physical strength. The fate this version of Stryker met was serious but not final, and we were given a strong indication we may see him again in a new and improved form, possibly in The Defenders Season 1 if not Luke Cage Season 2.
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Willis Stryker, a.k.a., Diamondback, as he appeared during his initial comic book appearance in LUKE CAGE, HERO FOR HIRE #1.
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This is Diamondback in  the TV series, where his garish snake-like outfit was actually a functional exo-suit, and not just for looks.  I’m guessing the visor on the helmet must have been to keep the glare of the street lights out of his eyes, right? 
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Another popular character from the comics who was given a fine adaptation in this series was Mercedes “Misty” Knight, a strong female African-American cop turned cyborg adventurer and martial arts hero who debuted in the IRON FIST comic (well, fully debuted, at least, since she first appeared with Spider-Man in an issue of MARVEL TEAM-UP Vol. 1, but we didn’t know it at the time; long story for another time). Knight has been a long-time supporting character of Iron Fist’s alter-ego Danny Rand, and was his lover for a long time, perhaps one of the first passionate interracial relationships in mainstream comic book land, as it goes all the way back to the 1970s. In short, her story in the comics was this: she was a cop who thwarted an attempted bombing by a terrorist at an airport, saving the lives of many innocents but tragically losing an arm from the ensuing explosion. Being a resident of the Marvel Universe, that arm was replaced by a super-strong, fully articulated bionic limb similar to the one given to Colonel Steve Austin on the then-popular TV series The Six Million Dollar Man (and possibly inspired by it).
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Knight then left the force to become a freelance adventurer. She became BFFs with Danny Rand’s friend and ally, the female samurai Colleen Wing, and Knight proved one of those incredibly fast and adept learners of martial arts skills who are so popular in fiction. The dynamic duo of Knight and Wing then billed themselves as the Daughters of the Dragon when working together, and not only did they remain supporting characters and allies throughout the runs of IRON FIST and POWER MAN AND IRON FIST, but also appeared in a few stories of their own, mostly as a recurring series in Marvel’s black and white 1970s mag THE DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU (where Iron First also had a recurring series, as did the comic world’s first Puerto Rican super-hero, Hector Ayala, the original White Tiger, who debuted in the mag… which may also be a whole other future blog entry).

Though it can be argued that Knight should have waited until the upcoming Iron Fist series to debut, her role as a determined and honest police officer who is nevertheless not afraid to break the rules if the situation absolutely depends on it, and if she honestly feels it’s the right thing to do, was an integral factor in this series.

The character was well played by Simone Missick, even if to be totally honest here, I really wish the role had gone to the truly beautiful Nigerian but London-born actress Deborah Ayorinde, who was relegated to playing the minor if semi-significant character of the beleaguered, ill-fated nightclub worker Candace Miller, a relatively thankless role that in no way allowed this talented and awesome actress to shine. I wasn’t one of the show’s three casting directors, and I do not mean to sling aspersions on Missick, who gave the role of Misty Knight her all to good effect, but this is how I feel about this particular casting decision. I think Ayorinde not only has the acting chops, but also the right look for  Misty Knight, and as attractive as Missick certainly is, she just doesn’t hold a candle in that department to Ayorinde. I know looks shouldn’t mean everything in a casting decision, but this is one of those cases where it should have IMHO. Ayorinde’s beauty totally stole attention from Missick in the several scenes they had together, and since both actresses are graduates of Howard University — which Ayorinde walked out of with honors —  I stand by my decision who the roll of Misty Knight should have gone to.

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Deborah Ayorinde — the amazing woman who should  have been Misty Knight.
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That being said, I again mention that Missick certainly didn’t suck as Misty Knight, so I hope no one perusing this review misreads my words and accuses me of saying otherwise. It should be noted that in this season of the series, Misty Knight receives an injury that may or may not presage her receiving a bionic arm by the time The Defenders rolls around… it may have simply been an homage to this distinct feature of the comic book version rather than a true presaging of things to come, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

As for Colleen Wing, she didn’t appear in this series, but will appear in Iron Fist. We received a nice little Easter Egg in episode 13 of Season 1 presaging both her appearance, and explaining how Claire Temple will end up treating the injuries of Danny Rand in his own upcoming series. I’m really hoping Misty Knight will be brought into that show too, so that the Daughters of the Dragon can receive the MCU treatment on Netflix, and Iron Fist will receive the love interest he had for so long in the comics.
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The character of Hernan “Shades” Alvarez, portrayed as an even better weasel henchman than Turk Barrett who knows how to work things to his advantage so as to move up in a crime lord’s employment hierarchy, was played to entertaining perfection by Theo Rossi. Shades happens to be another example of a character who was African-American in the comic book version that became Hispanic in the TV series. Not only that, but in the comic book Shades was a very minor character whom Carl Lucas knew in prison, and didn’t have much to do in the first story arc other than talking shit and to the future Mr. Cage and getting his ass whupped in a prison court yard throw down as a result. In the TV show, he starts out as a less than friendly acquaintance of Cage in prison, but goes on to become something far more than that his comic book counterpart afterwards.
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Afterwards, he  pops up from time to time in the series working for various criminals, until he finally acquires some goggles (okay, “shades”) that allowed him to fire optic beams that was given to him by the criminal mastermind he most commonly came to serve, the genius Tilda Johnson, otherwise known as the scantily-clad African-American female super-villain called Deadly Nightshade. Retroactive continuity eventually decided Shades and his frequent partner, the bow-and-arrow-wielding Commanche, were part of a four-member street gang with Striker and Lucas in their younger years called The Rivals.

 

 

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Only in the Marvel Universe could you expect to run into these guys while taking a stroll through Harlem. 

He also later turned out to be the father to Victor Alvarez, a teen super-hero who acquired the power to absorb the chi energy of his surroundings and channeling it into physical power, where he took on the moniker of the new Power Man and teamed up with Iron Fist in a memorable POWER MAN AND IRON FIST mini-series from the 2000s. It would be really cool to see a version of the younger Alvarez

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Shades in the TV series (on left), and his comic book counterpart after he began wearing a costume and force beam-firing visor that made him into a Cyclops wannabe (on the right). Too bad the X-Men weren’t recruiting at the time. They may be a mutants-only club, but if they were liberal enough to accept Longshot at the time, I’m sure they would make an exception for Shades, especially since their leader would be flattered by his shtick. 

The role of Dr. Noah Berstein (not “Burstein,” as spelled on the IMDb) was played in realistically nervous manner by Michael Kostroff, who did a fine job of portraying the somewhat morally gray, conflicted nature of a scientist who wants to benefit humankind with his revolutionary though experimental technology, but is sometimes willing to go a bit too far to achieve that goal. He has a crucial role in Season 1 of the series, and will clearly have a similarly important role in Season 2, although the implication is that he’ll have a markedly different one than he played as a regular supporting character in the comic book series. In the latter, he was a doctor trying to make up for his past mistakes — a common theme for the book — and acted as Luke Cage’s sometimes unwanted conscience, keeping an eye on the mercenary to make sure he didn’t stray off the path of the angels.

In the TV show, Berstein also regrets his mistakes, but not so much that he isn’t willing to make them again if there’s the chance of advancing medical science, and not so much that he could ever be the conscience of anyone. The MCU version of Luke Cage needed no help in that department other than the support and faith of Claire Temple, the memory of his mentor Henry “Pop” Hunter, and the appraisal of the people of Harlem to keep him on the straight and narrow path.

Other roles of note in the series, not reflected in the comic book’s initial story arc, were the always talented Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard, the corrupt politician hoping to go legit, but emotionally incapable of doing so; and Maharshala Ali as her younger cousin Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (but don’t call him that nickname to his face!), the criminal owner of the Harlem’s Paradise nightclub, and initial crime lord of Harlem as the show begins.

In the comic book, the character of Mariah Dillard was quite a bit different from the small screen version, and she first appeared in issue #4 of the series. Woodard played an articulate, fairly shapely, and cunning Clintonesque politician with a veritable graveyard of skeletons in her proverbial family closet. This was in marked contrast to the comic book version of the character, a well-known criminal boss called “Black Mariah,” who spoke in awful ghetto slang, was literally 400 lbs. and over six and a half feet tall — her weight and mass making her more than strong enough to knock the average man across the room with a single swipe of her hand, and even to engage in physical combat with Luke Cage — with an M.O. consisting of the disrespectfully ghastly practice of picking up recently killed bodies in fake ambulances and robbing them of whatever valuables may have been on their carcasses before dumping them in the river. Not to mention blowing out the brains of those who crossed her in traditional fashion via use of firearms when necessary.

It appears the MCU version of Mariah Dillard was fused with the character of hefty female crime lord Mama Mabel, who was played with gusto by  LaTanya Richardson Jackson. Mama Mabel was the viciously awesome female crime lord of Harlem’s past who was the aunt and mother, respectively, of Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes and Mariah Dillard. Unsurprisingly, her criminal ways provided the evil influence behind both their moves down the path of the dark side, as shown in the series’ obligatory flash back sequences (you can’t have a Marvel series without those).
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Mariah Dillard on the TV show (right) and her considerably more, erm, “big-boned” variation from the comic books (left).
As for the role of Cottonmouth, Ali played that role with deadly efficiency, and he provided the main villainy of the first half of the series before Diamondback stepped in and took over. I’ll say this much, as well, in deference to those who haven’t yet seen the series: Cottonmouth did not step aside as owner of Harlem’s Paradise and de facto owner of that part of the Big Apple  because of anything Diamondback did; the reason was much more terrifyingly close to home than that. Binge the series and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Needless to say, the comic book version of Cottonmouth — he was simply called “Cornell Cottonmouth” with no aversion to his nickname — was markedly different and less formidable than the comic book version. It was a shame that a version closer to the one we got in the comic book, co-created by writer Steve Engelheart, didn’t make it to the TV series. In the comic, Cottonmouth was an older villain with a bald head who had his natural teeth replaced by razor sharp molars composed of a tool steel alloy, and he didn’t appear in the saga until the story arc featured in issue #’s 19-20. At first, he possessed superhuman strength equal to that of Cage (source unknown, but possibly related to the glowing red jewel on his lapel), and was able to fight him head-to-toe (it was never revealed where he acquired that power. The comic and TV story, however, shared the fact that Cottonmouth had possession of the paper files that could exonerate Carl Lucas, since they had proof Willis Striker  was the one who stole the heroin from Cottonmouth, and framed the crime on his former BFF.
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After being defeated in unarmed combat he wasn’t seen again until three decades later, where he seemed to have lost all of his superhuman strength, had his steel shark-like teeth plated in gold, and took on the role of a repulsive and brutal pimp to cash in on the sex trafficking hysteria in the media. In this guise, he worked for Deadly Nightshade and plagued the son of Hernan “Shades” Alvarez, a student of Iron Fist who became the teen super-hero that took the moniker of Power Man after Cage had long since abandoned it.
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LUKE CAGE, POWER MAN #19, where the comic book version of Cottonmouth first bore his teeth. This was well after Luke Cage’s initial story arc, and we were treated to a monstrous version of the criminal who had more differences than similarities to the TV variant. 
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Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, the dangerous enough human criminal seen in the TV version (right), and the far more scary and dangerous version seen in the comic book (left). 
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Even after losing his superhuman strength, the comic book iteration of Cottonmouth was one dangerous mo’ fo’ who enjoyed sinking his teeth where they didn’t belong. He’s shown here in the pimp persona he took on during the POWER MAN AND IRON FIST mini-series published during the 2000s. 
Rounding that out we had the small but extremely important role of Frankie Faison as Henry “Pop” Hunter, a former boxer and now barber whose persona and shop served as the heart and soul of Harlem, who also happened to be the mentor and conscience-nurturer of Luke Cage and many others in the MCU’s version of Harlem. The man didn’t last long, but his influence certainly did, and it’s a role no one will ever forget. His final fate will impact viewers as strongly as it did Cage and the rest of Harlem, including as vile a man as Cottonmouth himself.
Some final nods should go to the great performances of Jaiden Kaine as the wily henchman punk Zip; Karen Pittman as the upright but sometimes overly hard-as-nails Inspector Priscilla Ridley; Ron Cephas Jones as Bobby Fish, the manager of Pops’ Barber Shop who provides continual friendship and moral support for Luke Cage, along with a good dose of always welcome good-natured humor and pity philosphy; and Jacob Vargas as the Mexican crime lord Domingo Colon, who decides to take on Diamondback.
VI. What About the Main Man? (And I’m Not Talking About Lobo!)
Now we get to the main star of the show: Michael Colter as the titular hero himself. In my humble opinion, no actor could have done the role better. Colter not only proved his merits for the role previously in Jessica Jones Season 1, but he totally cemented them here on his own. His now patented use of bullet-ridden hoodies in place of a formal costume became an important plot thread in the show, and is evocative of the more conventional attire the character has used in the comics since the 1990s, when he dispensed with the yellow escape artist suit and the metal tiara.
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No sooner did ripped jeans go out of style than Luke Cage went and popularized this  look. 
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Cage dispenses his classic attire for a new, updated look in the ’90s.
His old yellow shirt had so many bullet holes in it by that time he figured he might as well tear what was left of it apart and break the chain belt just to show how bad ass he was.
Despite the changes in the TV version that removed the character’s full struggle against the temptations of the dark side of inner city ghetto life, Colter nevertheless instilled the character with a massive amount of “everyman” appeal and working class power and pride, becoming the type of icon the common person can relate to considerably more than Captain America — still the greatest hero of them all as far as I’m concerned, but not nearly as relatable as the likes of Luke Cage. Not only that, but Luke Cage as portrayed by Michael Colter was as inspirational as he was relatable, with numerous nods to the black culture  he grew up in.
Harlem was depicted as a character in its own right, and its centrality and importance to the development of black culture in post-Civil War America was evident in every single scene, almost every line of dialogue, and the entire atmosphere exuded by the script and cast performances.
VII. So, in Conclusion…

If Luke Cage had been made by the mavens of blaxploitation production in the early ’70s when the character first debuted, the resulting film and/or TV series would no doubt have been considerably different than what Coker and his cast brought us here in 2016. Would it have been good? There is absolutely no way to tell, as it never came to pass. I’ll let individual readers decide for themselves if that’s a fortunate or unfortunate fact of celluloid history as we know it. What I can give an opinion on, however, is that what Coker and his cast gave us in 2016 was a great interpretation of the character, keeping intact every theme he represents, and respecting the culture he exemplifies. Thus, I conclude that the show we finally got after waiting so many years for it does Goodwin’s and Tuska’s character proud, with its positive points far outweighing the mistakes. As another comic book legend, writer and editor supreme Roy Thomas, served as the editor of that comic book, it would be interesting to see what he thinks of the TV series and how well it held up the standards of a character and saga he was once in charge of.

If nothing else, this show makes it completely clear why Luke Cage has endured for four and a half decades at this writing, and why he is one of the greatest heroes ever created in the comic book medium. What he represents and the world he came from are as relevant today as they were in the glorious era of the 1970s that spawned him, and the great success of this TV series since the weekend it was released on Netflix offers proof of that. As I said in the beginning, this show — like all produced by Marvel Studios for Netflix — is not for every sensibility, but it should be appreciated by everyone with a flare for a character who represents something pivotal to the society we live in, a script that makes you think, exploration of the history of a major aspect of American culture, an inspirational hero the common person can relate to, and strong character development sharing equal space with super-hero action and fight scenes.
I eagerly await both The Defenders Season 1 and Luke Cage Season 2, where the interrupted saga of this character will continue on the small screen. I hate having to wait an entire year for it, but here’s betting it will be well worth that wait!
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This Is The Modern Publishing Business

David Gaughran’s latest post is a quick and insightful read on how the legitimate publishing industry often supports illegitimate publishing scams. All new, indie, and aspiring authors need to read this!

David Gaughran

asandfriendsnewScammers used to operate at the edges of the publishing business, but have wormed their way into its heart. And the entire industry is in denial.

An unintentionally revealing aspect of the tiresome Amazon-Hachette dispute was a series of statements from an organization purporting to advocate for authors’ rights. One of the heinous crimes Amazon was said to have committed was treating books like toasters.

With such a claim, Authors United was attempting to tap into a current of feeling about the commoditization of literature – as if Amazon was the first company to put a price tag on a book, and writers around the country were hitherto living off laurels and kudos. It’s tempting to suggest that other entities in the publishing business might be doing as well as Amazon if they also treated books like toasters and attempted to sell the bloody things, but I digress.

What this…

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