Marvel's Luke Cage And Why We Need A Hip Hop Hercules

Netflix will soon premiere it’s new series, Luke Cage. To say I’m excited is an understatement. I think that comic books are the hip hop of literature.

Alright… calm down now, how the hell do you make that comparison?

It always seemed to be a medium in favor of the common man. In the words of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, it’s “for the children.” It can be great at airing out tensions against injustice, which seems like a no brainer since you can probably rattle off hundreds of superheroes whose main focus is to restore justice in the world. 

 

Black Panther kicking the Klan's ass.

Black Panther kicking the Klan's ass.

I mean the main focus of the police is supposed to be to restore justice, but there ain’t nothing hip hop about that institution.

But there’s a rebelliousness in the way comics are made, and how they have succeeded even though they have long been considered “low” culture or just kid's stuff. And now here we are and it’s a multi-billion dollar industry, primarily due to Marvel movies and merchandise. Much like the ascent of hip hop. 

Okay, it still feels like you’re reaching.

Aside from the philosophical reaches though, the crossover has always been there. Marvel Comics still remains king mostly due to their marketability and their ability to keep churning out decent to great films. But I think there’s more to it than that… they really seem to have their finger on the pulse of the culture pretty well. Last year we saw a constant string of comic book covers inspired by famous hip hop albums. The crossovers were often clever and some were down right masterpieces artistically. But the crossover capabilities have always been there. 

 

 

Of course we all know about Ghostface Killah’s alter Ego “Tony Starks” named after… yeah do I really need to explain the namesake? 

 

Okay okay, go on.

Then you have MF Doom, named after one of the most formidable villains in Marvel’s history (yet we can’t seem to get a good movie version of him anytme soon.)

 

So why is this all so important to you? I can make analogies between art forms all day long.

See but the thing is... It all goes back to Greek myths. We as people act like we’ve progressed in so many ways, but to be honest, there’s so many things we cling to like a little kid clutching his first Hershey’s bar. We need heroes in our lives, and we find them anywhere we can. We listen to Jay Z talk about going from coke to a mic and that uplifts people who have never seen a single kilo of cocaine in their whole lives. It’s the myth that makes the man in hip hop. He says it himself “All the hustler’s, they love it just to see one of us make it.”

 

So you’re saying that we all just wanna live through somebody.

Yeah! Somebody bigger than us. 2Pac is practically superman for the culture. Go anywhere in the world and you can find that man’s face plastered on some God-forsaken decrepit building like he’s the symbol of coming redemption, but in all actuality, he was just a mortal man gunned down like a dog on the Las Vegas Strip. But nah, we never focus on that... why would we? It’s about believing that anything can be overcome even if the whole world is telling us that it can’t. 

On the flip side, we feel pain when we see the opposite. When we hear that Afrika Baambataa most likely molested kids, it hurts our hearts to see that the one we thought was the hero all along, was really the villain.

Word. 

Kanye screams out “Yeezy Yeezy Yeezy just jumped over jump man” and every fan screams that along like they partnered with Adidas too. There’s catharsis in living vicariously. We want to believe in another’s strength so that we may have some too.

Luke Cage came out of the blaxploitation era, his first appearance being in “Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #1”

And wasn’t he just relegated to that time period?

Yeah, pretty much and he most likely would’ve stayed there if it wasn’t for the resurgence of the Marvel Universe in film and TV. To be fair he was nothing more than a C-list character for most of his existence. But the over saturation of the market when it comes to superhero territory has worked in his favor.

 

 

Because we don’t see any black people being super?

Yes and no. You gotta remember that we’ve had Black Panther for a while. 

Stan Lee just re-appropriating the black man’s real life struggles.. smh.

No no! Funny enough, the character was created just months before the real Black Panther party was formed.

That’s damn near prophetic…

Like I’ve been saying, they’ve had their pulse on the culture for a minute. After a while you just get tired of the same old yarns of superhero origin stories… Parents got shot in front of you? That sucks. Came from an alien planet… can’t relate. 

Why you gotta do Batman/Superman like that?

Oh, you got bit by a radioactive sider? That’s cute… The stories are fine and forced and ridiculous, just the way we love them, but the media has done a good job of just forcing them down our throats like a mama bird to her young. 

I just gagged.

But the thing is, Luke Cage’s origin story isn’t quite so spectacular. It’s actually strangely grounded. He's imprisoned for possession of heroin that was planted on his person, all because the homie who did it thought Luke Cage stole his chick.

Bruh…

In prison, he’s full of rage, and is brutally beaten by a sadistic guard. Along the way a scientist recruits him to experiment on him and turn him into some sort of Captain America type dude. But of course, our baton happy guard doesn’t think Black Lives Matter and messes with the experiment hoping to kill Luke.

Of course…

Dude is zapped to hell and instead becomes basically a black superman, but his clothes are fresher and he can’t fly. 

Yo, better to be fresh than fly.

Very funny… But the most interesting part comes afterwards, when he decides to use his powers for profit, turning his life completely around in his favor. You gotta hand it to the guy, he’s got the hustle and you can’t knock it. If that ain’t the most hip hop comic book story this side of an Ed Piskor book, then I don’t know what is. 

They got the homie playing the system and winning… I like that.

 

Whether intentional or not, Luke Cage is the comic embodiment of the broken down black man refusing to take one more blow, one more hit and in the midst of suffering, becoming indestructible. 

Bruh, don’t you think that’s just a bit much? Luke Cage ain’t saving no kids in Chicago... or sending dirty cops to prison. Not in real life. 

I know I know… I would never claim something so disrespectful. But culture is important, and stories help to reinforce culture. The pride and self esteem of people groups are reinforced by economics, community, tradition and myth. 

I guess when you put it that way…

So to hear the fact that every episode of this series is going to be named after a Gang Starr song and feature a hip hop laden soundtrack and be full of black characters isn’t just about fitting some type of diversity quota. This is about presenting a surviving culture as a courageous one, one that fights back in the midst of oppression and persecution. Both a villainous oppression and a systemic one.

 

Which kind of goes back to my Hercules example. Black people in America often feel like life has been this one big test. And it’s true, we haven’t had it easy, with every mountain conquered there seems to be a higher one to climb. In the mythology of Hercules, there are 12 labors that he had to endure under the service of King Eurystheus. 

King Who?

Just go along with it. The story goes that some wicked Queen made Hercules go mad and kills his wife and kid

Damn…

Yeah I know, it’s heavy… sorry to ruin your day. And in order to atone for this, he sought an Oracle and was given 10 labors to perform (slaying a Lion, slaying a Hydra and many more.) Once he did these things, he would be granted immortality…

Hercules vs the Hydra. Basically an ancient comic when you really think about it. 

Hercules vs the Hydra. Basically an ancient comic when you really think about it. 

Bro, black and brown people ain’t been having it hard because we killed our woman and our kids. What’s your point?

I agree, I’m not making the connection to the fictitious crime. Systematically, black people haven’t done anything to deserve the labors that they must go through in order to achieve freedom and equal opportunity, but the labors are and have been real. From just trying to drink at the right fountain back in the 60s, to trying to simply not get killed by the police today, there are still many labors to fight. But the interesting thing about Hercules, is we don’t really remember him for winning these labors and achieving immortality… Can you name for me all of the labors he fought and won?

Nah, I didn’t show up to those lectures, I just had my roommate sign me in to my ancient Greek history class.

Exactly… We don’t remember Hercules for the obstacles he overcame.. We simply remember him for being strong. And sometimes, in these days, that’s all we can ask of ourselves. Is to be strong. And sometimes all we need is to hear a song, or read a book that tells a story of strength. It doesn’t matter that Luke Cage wins, in so much that it matters that he’s strong and refuses to back down. We're seeing our kids get gunned down by cops... Seeing our fantasy hero get lit up by bullets and not shed one drop of blood... I'm sorry it means something to us, because we wish that was us. We wish that was possible... but it's not... it's all just a fantasy.

"You might hate my hoodie, but you can't bring me down. You keep shooting but I stand my ground."

"You might hate my hoodie, but you can't bring me down. You keep shooting but I stand my ground."

When the real world won't grant us real justice, we entertain fantasies of immortality. But in fictional symbolism, we can find ideals to strive for. Maybe our kids will never be bulletproof, but we can fight for a bulletproof community. And it matters to the culture to see strength in all colors, classes and forms. Strength is contagious in numbers and is grown when tested, so long live the myths, long live the culture, and make sure you watch this thing on Netflix once it comes out! 

Rant over