Comic books were once viewed as a fictional realm for children and nerds, but as of late, comic books have become highly influential, with choice stories making their way to the big and small screen. The most recent superhero brought to life is Marvel’s Luke Cage, a former convict with superhuman strength and impenetrable skin who fights crime in Harlem, NYC in the new Netflix series Luke Cage. The character made his onscreen debut in Netflix’s Jessica Jones earlier this year; and the Luke Cage series debuted to rave reviews. Created for Netflix by former hip-hop journalist, Cheo Hodari Coker, Luke Cage is one of the more talked-about adaptions of a comic book hero, specifically by hip-hop junkies and lovers of urban culture.
The first season features popular characters from the comic book like Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali), Misty Knight (Simone Missick), and Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey), and finds Luke Cage in the pursuit of justice and balancing intimate relationships while coming to terms with his past. Luke Cage includes strong hip-hop undertones; a plethora of references tie into hip-hop culture, with nods to The Notorious B.I.G., Big L, and other rap legends, and episode titles taken from classic Gang Starr songs. Throw in true-school innovators like Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad providing the score, which utilized a full orchestra, and its evident that hip-hop was on the mind of all of the players involved with the series behind the scenes.
After tuning into the first season, we’ve compiled a list of the ten most entertaining and pivotal characters on Luke Cage that you’re going to want to watch for (if you haven’t already.)
Fish is Pop’s right-hand man and has been the resident chess champion at Pop’s Barbershop. Bespectacled and with a distinct old-school flair, Fish steps up as Luke Cage’s adviser, of sorts, and helps him to re-open Pop’s Barbershop, which is destroyed after being the target of a drive-by shooting. While not a central character, Bobby Fish’s humor, wit, and sage advice is indispensable and is sure to leave a lasting impression on viewers.
Shades is one of the more mysterious characters on Luke Cage, despite being present for much of the storyline. Aside from being a fellow inmate of Luke Cage during his incarceration, and his association with Diamondback, little is revealed about Shades, who ingratiates himself to Cottonmouth as an ally, before deciding to move up the ranks through a series of calculated alliances. Often the voice of reason and a problem solver for Cottonmouth and his cohorts, Shades is one of the more resourceful characters on Luke Cage, and one of its most nefarious.
Detective Rafael Scarfe
Law enforcement is usually tasked with taking down the villain, but in the case of Detective Scarfe, he lives a double-life–with the responsibility of keeping his secret benefactor out of reach of the long arm of the law. Although crooked and deceptive, Detective Scarfe possesses a charm that is endearing, even in light of his devious acts. While he never gets to fully enjoy the fruits of his labor and is revealed to be a prisoner of his past, Detective Scarfe is one of the more entertaining and integral characters on Luke Cage.
When The Notorious B.I.G. spat the line “it’s my nigga Pop, from the barbershop,” he might as well have been talking about Pop, the proprietor of Pop’s Barbershop, where Luke Cage found employment following his escape from imprisonment. A former hard-rock himself, who earned his moniker from the sound of his fists pounding someone’s face, after doing time for a robbery, Pop decided to change his life. Determined to provide a safe haven for Harlem, Pop would become a beacon of the community. Pop’s father-figure relationship with Luke Cage is one that’s sure to warm the heart, and is the catalyst for the superhuman barber to begin his crusade against Cottonmouth and crime in Harlem.
Having already showcased her skills in Daredevil and Jessica Jones, Claire Temple arrives in Harlem during Luke Cage’s quest of vengeance and war with Cottonmouth. A practicing nurse from Hell’s Kitchen, Claire becomes a sidekick of Luke Cage, and remains by his side throughout the duration of the series. Part sidekick, part love interest, Claire’s fearlessness and loyalty to Luke Cage is evident and is put on display during his weakest moments, as she goes to extreme lengths to preserve his life and joins him in his fight for justice against Diamondback’s and his new regime.
Before making his debut in episode 8 of Luke Cage, Diamondback’s name was already ingrained in the minds of viewers due to being spoken with an air of fear and foreboding by Cottonmouth and Shades. Diamondback, formerly known as Willis Striker, comes to sweep up the chess pieces of Harlem with the intent of controlling the board, as well as settling the score with his arch-nemesis, Luke Cage. Diamondback’s relationship with and hatred of Luke Cage runs deep, deep enough for him to manufacture a specialized bullet invented to murder him. With sinister bargains like “you buy or you die,” and a disregard for human life, Diamondback is the ultimate super-villain: cruel and vengeful, with a penchant for humor.
Taking a bite out of crime is Detective Misty Knight’s favorite past-time, next to getting her proper serving of “coffee.” A native of the Harlem stomping grounds she now patrols, the former street-ball legend-turned-crime fighter is well-versed in the lay of the land and all of its players, making her an invaluable asset in the NYPD’s mission to take down Cottonmouth and his rival Domingo’s crews. After meeting Luke Cage while undercover at Cottonmouth’s club, Harlem’s Paradise, the two become intimate, which makes her investigation more personal, as she attempts to reconcile her feeling for Luke Cage with the murkiness of his past. Fiery and feisty, with the attitude of an around the way girl, it’s safe to say that Misty Knight stole more than a few hearts this season and reminds us of the greater good.
Councilwoman Mariah Dillard
Politics and crime have gone hand-in-hand for eons, and Councilwoman Mariah Dillard is as crooked as they come. The daughter of Moms Mable, a notorious figure in Harlem’s underworld, the Councilwoman’s political aspirations is conflicted with her families propensity for illicit activity, ranging from pimping to homicide. Although her position as Councilwoman has put her in position to present new initiatives to enrich Harlem, which she views with sense of ownership, her affiliation with her cousin,. Cottonmouth, in addition to battling the demons of her past, causes Mariah to ultimately become what she detested. Shedding whatever of her innocence was left in her pursuit for power, the Councilwoman’s ways only becomes more sinister with each episode, making her one of the more ruthless characters on Luke Cage.
We all need a hero to believe in, and Luke Cage is one with whom much of the black community can truly identify. A native of Alabama and an ex-con, Luke Cage was the subject of a prison experiment gone awry, resulting in his bulletproof skin and supernatural capabilities. After escaping captivity and finding refuge in New York City, Cage becomes a menial laborer in Pop’s Barbershop until he is put in the unexpected position of using his powers to bring peace to the Harlem streets. While Luke Cage’s swagger, witty one-liners, and references makes him appealing to the hip-hop generation, his morals mirror that more of the old school, where respectability and values were of style, making the substance of what he represents as a black man, aside from his abilities, something to admire. As well as someone to root for.
Luke Cage may be the prototypical hero and leading man, and Diamondback may be the big bad boss, but Cottonmouth is the series’ most entertaining character. The man born Cornell Stokes (he hates the name “Cottonmouth”), is the owner of Harlem’s Paradise, an upscale club that is uptown’s ultimate hot spot, and an undisputed crime boss with half of the NYPD on payroll. After an inside-job involving one of his underlings goes sour, Cottonmouth’s intention to murder those responsible for the heist spirals out of control, leading to a bloody war between his crew and Luke Cage. A gangster with a heart, Cottonmouth’s nightmarish childhood groomed him for the street life, but the mental scars sustained have left him spiritually wounded. A complex figure with a violent streak and a distinguishable swagger, Cottonmouth’s only concern is donning the crown as Harlem’s king.