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Harlem’s New Defender

A bulletproof black man in a hoodie out to do the right thing – that’s the logline of Netflix’s newest original Marvel series “Luke Cage.”

Cage invites viewers to a world many people don’t see: a world of crime and injustice and of unity and hope. Introduced last year in Season 1 of “Jessica Jones,” Mike Colter reprises his role as the quiet protector of Harlem.

The characters are the strongest facet of the show, from Misty Knight, a hard-as-nails cop born and raised in Harlem, to Cornell Stokes and Mariah Dillard, gangster and dirty politician. All add flavor to an already hearty cast. Another high note is the return of Claire Temple, a recurring character amongst all the Marvel shows.

However, it’s the characterization of the city, Harlem that has the biggest impact. The city is alive; the community is vibrant with colorful characters. None of them stand out on their own but each adds a needed essence. Aisha running her baseball shop inspired by her father’s glory days, Bobby Fisher playing chess in the shop and dolling out quips and especially Pop, the man who strove to give back to his community and give all the young people a safe place away from the crime on the streets.

Despite the strength of the characters, the show doesn’t spend quite enough time with them. Cottonmouth is played up to be this gang leader who’s bad for Harlem, but rarely do we directly see him do things that are bad for Harlem. Likewise, the show talks about Mariah being sexually assaulted, but the execution is both clumsy and out of nowhere. When handled right, this can be a powerful moment, but “Luke Cage” does not do this.

For the first half of the season, crime is the most intriguing aspect of the show. The show comes off as a gangland crime series, and every scene where Cornell Stokes, a.k.a. Cottonmouth, is on screen you know something’s going down. Sadly, it doesn’t last, because “Luke Cage” suffers from the same problem as “Daredevil” season two.

In the last half of the season, a new villain, Diamondback, is introduced, and his introduction is without a doubt the weakest aspect of the show. It’s another revenge plot that doesn’t bring anything distinctive to the story. In certain episodes, the story actually drags as exposition is forced into the plot.

Something “Luke Cage” does well is portraying not just a black superhero, but also a black community in such a light. Over 90 percent of the cast of “Luke Cage” is POC. The show doesn’t do anything crazy special storytelling wise. It’s gangland-meets-superheroes, and that’s cool. What’s even cooler is seeing a show with this type of cast deal with issues like police brutality and crime in a familiar and positive way.

As a whole, “Luke Cage” has a solid first season. It stars a very strong cast and rather than do something brand new, it does something familiar very strongly. “Luke Cage” hammers home the same message over and over: Black people and our culture is important, it’s deep, it’s inspiring and this is a welcome addition. “Luke Cage” is available now on Netflix.

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