TV

Marvel meets the Wire: why everyone’s talking about Luke Cage

Between them, Marvel and Netflix seem dead-set on dominating all media, everywhere, forever, so when their latest team-up drops, it's an event.

Luke Cage saw so much demand from stream-thirsty viewers over the weekend that it might have crashed Netflix's presumably pretty robust servers.

So what's all the fuss about? Cage isn't exactly a first-tier character, although you may have savoured Mike Colter's robust supporting turn as him in last year's Jessica Jones. Here's a primer.

The politics

Let's put this front and centre. In an American programme made and set in 2016, when videos of African American mistreatment at the hands of police arriving seemingly weekly, Cage's superpower - bulletproof skin - has, it's fair to say, a certain resonance.

Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker has said that he pitched the series as an examination of Harlem "like Baltimore in The Wire," and he's achieved more for black representation in one show than most of Hollywood manages in a year. The opening credits are a series of images of the city projected on Cage's body - a very loaded image today - and his main costume is a hoodie - the garment Trayvon Martin was shot in. This is barely subtext - the character was originally created as Marvel's response to the Blaxploitation craze of the Seventies, has developed in dialogue with the civil rights movement in the US, and with the Black Lives Matter movement never far from the headlines today, the very idea of an indestuctible African American hero is a powerfully relevant one.

The music

Continuing the theme, hip hop is continuing its strong run on Netflix after The Get Down. From Cage freaking out over meeting Method Man to the in-universe performances included from people like Faith Evans and Raphael Saadiq, music is used to give Luke Cage texture far more than any other Marvel show. "We are in Harlem," says Colter, "so you want to feel like you are around that kind of culture. Harlem has a long, rich culture of music and we want to pay homage to that. We want to make sure that the artists that we use and the artists that we are emulating, the sound that we are using bring you into the feel that you're uptown"

The cast

As well as Colter in the lead, Luke Cage foregrounds a generous brace of African Americans and gives them a superb spotlight to shine in.  Mahershala Ali of House of Cards shines as a crime boss who's complex enough to sit at the same table as Stringer Bell, and the all but unknown Simone Missick is sensational as Misty Knight, an NYPD detective.

Leaving the principles aside, the show manages to create a convincingly broad-based look at an often-caricatured part of New York - considering it's a show about a man whose skin can't be broken, this is one of the most all-encompassing portraits of Harlem ever.

The crossover

It's no secret that Luke Cage takes place in the Marvel universe, leading to enjoyable nods to the films such as kids selling DVDs of the final battle from The Avengers. It's not really feasible to have the prime Avengers show up on Netflix, so they're instead pursuing their own mini-Avengers with The Defenders, a crossover with Daredevil, Jessica Jones and the forthcoming Iron Fist.

We'll see you on the sofa...