Note: This article is referring exclusively to the Netflix TV version of Luke Cage, as portrayed by Mike Colter.
There’s a few big takeaways one can get from binge-watching The Defenders, the giant Marvel team up show that just came out on Netflix. Jessica Jones is the coolest person alive. Matt Murdock is kind of an idiot sometimes, Danny Rand is kind of an idiot all the time. And Luke Cage, Luke Cage is Superman. I’m very surprised it didn’t click for me throughout his own show, or even through his appearances on the Defenders, but Luke is more than the moral compass of this Netflix teamup. He’s the moral compass the world needs today. He’s what Superman is supposed to be.
Credit for this goes to the writing of the show, and the way Luke is portrayed by Mike Colter. He’s quietly confident, and you believe in every moment of his convictions. When he says he wants to help people, you believe him. He mourns his losses, and he gets angry when people are in danger, but he never broods. He moves forwards. It’s a refreshing take in a world where even the CW’s Flash and Supergirl are getting lost in typical superhero drama. Terrible things happen to and around Luke, but he’s always looking for the good in people, he’s always looking to help.
Hell, even the way he flirts is how I imagine Superman would do it. Gail Simone wrote a twitter post ages ago about how Superman should be sexy as hell, and I agreed with it but couldn’t see how. When I started putting this article together, I realized it. Superman should be the kind of guy who can casually ask you if you want to get coffee, and still come off like a good person. And that’s something Mike Colter does in every episode. Luke Cage is sexy, but he’s never predatory like James Bond or staker-ish like Superman in Superman Returns. It’s a breath of fresh air.
It’d be very easy to just say “Superman probably shouldn’t be a white guy in this day and age,” and watch the hate mail flow in. But it’s true, and I want to try and break it down a little for you. The original narrative of Superman is, as many people have pointed out over the years, the ultimate immigrant story. Superman comes to our planet from another world, and learns how to be a good person because of how he was raised. While Luke didn’t get his powers until much later in life, he got his moral compass the same way Superman did, from how he was brought up. Pops was his Ma and Pa Kent, and his driving motivation throughout his own show and The Defenders is living up to the lessons Pops taught him. But there’s another part to Luke’s upbringing that makes him different from our favorite Kansas farmboy. Luke was raised in Harlem, and experienced every day the hardships that our society puts on minorities. He cares about people not just because his parental figure said he should, but because he’s seen how hard life can be and he wants to change it. He needs to make the world a better place.
In our modern era, Luke Cage is the perfect Superman. He comes from the opposite of a place of privilege, and he has a perspective that a lot of modern media sorely lacks, but Luke prefers to lead by example. He makes real change in the world by doing the right thing, not only in punching the evil ninjas of the world but in helping to save the kids of Harlem. He’s one of the truest heroes we’ve had on TV in years, and maybe the best example of what Superman was always supposed to be. In the modern world, we need Mike Colter and Luke Cage far more than we need another film about Superman punching a monster through a building.