Sweet Christmas! Marvel’s Latest Television Series Packs a Relevant Punch
Luke Cage crashed Netflix. Luke freakin’ Cage. Netflix. That thing millions of people use. That thing with enough bandwidth and servers and super streaming whatever to handle an almost unholy amount of traffic, and the influx of viewers and streams from the release of their newest Netflix original series tanked it.
Netflix has rolled out some quality stuff since rebranding themselves as a network of their own, but hardly anything has ever caused that level of technical difficulties across the board. Marvel’s Jessica Jones was unbelievable and brought some serious players on board for casting. But holy smokes… Luke “Power Man” Cage.
Why? Because the world is ready and willing to accept a bulletproof black man as their hero. Whether the motivation to expedite the release of this series – Netflix/Marvel back-burnered Iron Fist to push this – was capitalizing on the very real racial tensions our country is facing or was genuinely because this is a hero people want to see right now, this matters. It shows that in spite of all the bad we’re seeing in our country right now, when it comes to race relations, police brutality and stigmatization, everyone is willing to give this story a shot. And apparently everyone does in fact mean everyone.
Here’s the magic of comic book stories: As soon as you open up that world, be it on paper or on a screen, you are willing to believe. And believe in almost anything. There is a willingness to believe and a suspension of disbelief with these stories that just does not happen in other mediums. When you read a comic book or watch a movie or a television show rooted in those worlds, you are probing the edges of primordial imagination. Men who shoot fire from their eyes and freeze the ocean with a word, Norse gods and Amazonian goddesses literally rupturing barriers between reality and fiction, battleships strung like harpsichords that sing through dimensional phases, a billionaire with a fetish for bats, leather, and justice.
And we just say, “Okay, sure.”
Am I saying the premises of Marvel’s Luke Cage are on par with those? No way. The concept behind Luke Cage is so unbelievably reasonable and realistic that it translates off of the page and onto the screen seamlessly. If you compare Luke Cage to Batman, all the stories of the Dark Knight seem like a weird experimental film fueled by an acid trip in the sewers. The Power Man story is the epitome of reasonable by comparison to almost everything else in the world of comics.
This is a hero people want to see right now, this matters. It shows that in spite of all the bad we’re seeing in our country right now, when it comes to race relations, police brutality and stigmatization, everyone is willing to give this story a shot. And apparently everyone does in fact mean everyone.
But then you get that reasonable story, the story of the bulletproof black man, and you touch that with the magic of comic books, and something fantastic happens: Everybody watches Marvel’s Luke Cage. Why? Because suddenly, all the angry cops and all the blatant racists and all the closet racists and all the people who want to help but also have internalized prejudiced… they ALL get behind the story.
This is the magic of comic books. In leading us to suspend all disbelief, we unwittingly let go of all of our preconceived notions about everything. We just embrace what is being offered to us and we take it at face value. We let go of skepticism. We let go of cynicism. We let go of our need to explain everything and have reason and logic there to justify it all. And as we let go of all of this, something happens that we don’t even notice– our prejudice and bias starts to slip through our fingers.
As we accept a world where anything is possible– the world of comic books, because they’re “just comic books”, our ideas of what should or shouldn’t be in this very world start to slip a little. They start to shift. These stories and their world are subconsciously teaching all of us to look at, accept, and ultimately love a world dramatically different from our own personal experience.
To paraphrase Grant Morrison, comic books are dangerous because they can sneak ideas into our minds that change the way we perceive our lives. In this “anything goes” world of storytelling, this medium without rules, creativity and empathy are to be found in excess.
And utilizing that medium– a medium where people are so willing to suspend disbelief that preconceived bias begins to fall away as well– to challenge people, foster empathy, and subtly shift what they are willing to believe in and accept? That right there is the whole reason for art.
Millions of people watched Marvel’s Luke Cage and the traffic overwhelmed Netflix as a streaming service. In a survey of a few million people, I can guarantee we could find a couple of racists. But that’s not the point.
The point is that for at least an hour, people were willing to believe the black guy in the hoodie was the hero.