“For black lives to matter, black history and black ownership must also matter.”

In Netflix’s latest original series, “Luke Cage,” the villain Mariah Dillard speaks this line with prophetic gravitas, underlining a central theme that permeates the superhero action-drama. Marvel’s recent foray into the street level hero tackles poignant issues regarding racial tension across the nation with confidence and purpose, and delivers a superhero that stands for the black community.

Released on Sept. 30, the third installment in a series of Netflix shows created by Marvel continues to ground the grandiose spectacle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by providing a hero that is not only more relatable to viewers, but also more relevant to modern society. Previous efforts like “Jessica Jones” and “Daredevil” brought a darker, more serious weight to the Marvel franchise, and they effectively set the bar for pertinent superhero character studies. In this vein, “Luke Cage” continues that tradition and succeeds admirably.

The show revolves around the titular superhero, a man with bulletproof skin, who realizes his great power comes with the responsibility of protecting the people of Harlem. The premise itself raises thought-provoking ideas: what happens when you remove the fear of being shot in an environment that sees racial tension and murder regularly? Cage rises to the forefront with his abilities and attempts to become a hero for Harlem while aiming to break down the senseless violence that plagues his community.

The show’s first season plays out over 13 episodes and gradually builds to a frantic pace. It begins with slow — yet important — insight into the central characters over a few episodes, all while revealing the motivations and conflicts that will threaten to break Harlem apart. Along with Cage, his foil Misty Knight, a detective who represents the law and order that shuns vigilante justice, emerges as a street-smart opposite force.

Of course, superheroes are only as good as their evil counterparts and the malevolent villains in “Luke Cage” do not disappoint. Criminal masterminds, Cottonmouth and Dillard seek to exploit Harlem’s community with ruthlessness and violence, while the shady character of Diamondback returns from Cage’s past aiming to destroy the hero’s world.

However, the show’s surprise standout character is the soundtrack itself. One of the many important aspects of black culture is music, specifically jazz, soul and hip-hop. All three distinct genres blend into a perfect mixtape that captures the essence of black America. Groups like the Wu-Tang Clan are referenced constantly, while soul singers including Charles Bradley and Nina Simone lend their evocative voices to highlight emotional moments in the show.

In one the show’s most brilliant moments, Cottonmouth interrogates one of his henchmen while a portrait of hip-hop legend Biggie Smalls wearing a crown looms in the background. As he walks closer into the camera’s focus, the perspective alters so that the character’s head perfectly lines up underneath the crown, which adds a subtle depth to the villain’s true motivations. Music in “Luke Cage” acts as an instrumental layer of feeling that simultaneously drives the story forward.

The show also takes large inspiration from Blaxploitation films made in the 70’s and stylistic elements characteristic of that genre can be found implemented throughout the season through the characters or the setting. Also, one thing that elevates “Luke Cage” above other shows is the level of detail that went into creating an environment that not only feels real, but alive as well. The streets actually look dirty. Graffiti art can be found splashed on buildings in the background of scenes. People walk down the streets quickly, as if the city itself could lash out at any given moment.

By the end of the season, two things are made clear: Marvel still has a monopoly on multimedia-driven entertainment and “Luke Cage” has finally given a symbolic hero for the black community. Viewers will find enough action and drama to enjoy in the latest superhero installment, and they may even close Netflix with new insight into the culture of black America.

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--Junior| Opinion Editor -- Communications

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