With the release of Netflix’s Luke Cage series, many casual fans of comics unfamiliar with the character may ask themselves, who is Luke Cage? Reviewers have heaped praise on the show for its stellar performances and award-winning cast. The show has taken relatively obscure characters, unknown to anyone who isn't a die-hard Marvel fan, and thrust them into the spotlight.
Luke Cage, aka Power Man, has been on Marvel's roster for more than 40 years, but has never been a household name like Wolverine, Iron Man or Captain America. Like predecessors Daredevil and Jessica Jones, Netflix’s Luke Cage takes place in a New York City not quite recovered from the events of the first Avengers movie and introduces characters in the Marvel Universe that mainstream audience may not know. Keep reading to understand how Luke Cage became Luke Cage. You'll find everything you need to truly understand who Luke Cage is below.
Luke Cage’s real name is Carl Lucas, and readers first met him in Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1, as he is coming out of “the hole” in a maximum security Georgia prison known as Seagate. Shortly after, the prison’s captain, Billy Bob Rackham (no lie), has one of his corrections officers, a brutal man named Quirt, beat Lucas viciously for refusing to inform on militant prisoners planning an uprising. The promise of further abuse at the hands of Captain Rackham prompts the wrongfully convicted Lucas to join the experiment that ultimately gives him his superpowers. Lucas uses his newfound powers to escape prison, and takes on the name of Luke Cage, as part of an attempt at keeping authorities from capturing him again.
Luke Cage was initially created to cash in on the wave of “blaxploitation” movie characters popular at the time; Marvel modeled his detective-for-hire persona directly after Black cinema mainstay, John Shaft. Cage’s character filled a void within a comics industry that had many readers of color, but few actual heroes of color. While his jive-talking dialogue was as cringe-worthy as that of the characters Marvel fashioned Cage after, he was still an attempt to show another side of a demographic that was one-dimensionally stereotypical. While Cage had the crime- and poverty-ridden past that was par for the course with Black characters at the time, he was also portrayed as a noble character, an innocent man who had been framed and caged, yet remained strong and honorable while suffering through extreme adversity.
Writers Archie Goodwin and Roy Thomas created Luke Cage. The late Archie Goodwin would also go on to create Jessica Drew and Spider Woman. Jessica Drew eventually forms the basis of the character Jessica Jones. Jessica Jones, in both the comic book and Netflix versions of Luke Cage, has developed a long-term romantic relationship with the protagonist.
In Luke Cage NOIR, by writers Adam Benson and Mike Glass, Luke Cage time shifts to the 1920s and gets re-cast as a Harlem ex-con nicknamed Power Man because of his rumored ability to resist bullet wounds. A socialite hires him to investigate the death of a wealthy associate and Cage ultimately ends up framed for her murder . Rather than endlessly punching people, Luke relies on his wits, smarts and street savvy to solve the murder and clear his name. In the end, the writers reveal that his supposed invulnerability was really a freak accident, and that he is most definitely NOT bulletproof. This four-issue story arc, published in 2012, underscores the fact that Luke Cage is a highly intelligent man, not just a gimmick or a cliché.