'Luke Cage' Season 2 makes wacky comic book characters more grounded, plausible

Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

Netflix’s Luke Cage Season 2 features a gallery of fascinating characters, most of whom have appeared in the comics. Well, sort of. There have been some changes:



Cover art by Billy Graham. Copyright Marvel Entertainment Inc.

Black Mariah (right) debuted in Hero for Hire #5 in 1972, a character whose only resemblance to the TV version is the name.

Alfre Woodard has given us a nuanced character in Mariah Dillard – part politician, part gangster, a woman who sees herself as a civic hero as she drifts farther and farther into the dark side.

But in 1972 “Here for Hire” comics, we meet a different Mariah Dillard, a 400-pound woman who calls herself Black Mariah, British slang for a paddy wagon. (That nickname came up on the show, assigned for different reasons.) She and her gang play on her name with fake ambulances and paddy wagons, whisking away corpses from crime and accident scenes to take their valuables and keys, steal their cars and loot their offices and homes. Cage makes short work of her gang, but Mariah herself gives him more of a tussle.

“Sweet sister!” thinks Cage as Mariah trundles toward him. “I ain’t much on hittin’ women, but if that whale gets me down, she’ll do me dirt!”

Spoiler: Cage wins their bout. Mariah has appeared a few times since, and has been updated beyond the embarrassing stereotype of her early days to something less objectionable. IOW, she is no longer a supervillain whose power is being realllly fat.



On TV, Tilda Dillard (Gabrielle Dennis) is a brilliant woman who is both a medical doctor and an expert on homeopathic drugs, especially belladonna, aka “deadly nightshade.” Her personal journey leads her to adopt the surname Johnson at season’s end.

That’s really convenient, because a character named Tilda Johnson appears as the supervillain Nightshade in Captain America comics in 1973. An expert in genetics, biochemistry, cybernetics, robotics and physics, Nightshade has been all over the Marvel map, battling everyone from Power Man and Iron Fist (of course) to the Hulk.

Her most memorable appearance was when she used her knowledge of arcane science and biochemistry to turn people – including Captain America – into an army of obedient werewolves.

Heh. I love writing sentences like that.



On TV, Jamaican gangster John “Bushmaster” McIver (Mustafa Shakir) holds a grudge against the Stokes family, of which Mariah and Tilda Dillard are the surviving members. As a result of a mysterious vaccination – lethal to everyone else – McIver’s body responds to nightshade by becoming as strong and tough as Luke Cage. His battle to exact revenge on Mariah puts Cage in the position of wondering which crook to root for.

There’s no nuance in the comics. Bushmaster is a straight-up bad guy from an unidentified Caribbean island, and in “Power Man” #49 (1978) forces Dr. Noah Burstein to put him through the same process that turned Carl Lucas into Luke Cage, Power Man. He becomes both stronger and tougher than Cage, but eventually dies from the process.

And by “dies,” I mean “turns into metal and disintegrates.” Also, “later possesses his son Cruz McIver and becomes ‘Power Master,’ only to die again.”

And we’re not done with the crazy yet!

John McIver’s brother Quincy, also a Caribbean gangster, loses all four limbs to a boat propeller while trying to escape police. (In “Captain America Annual” #10, as if you didn’t know.) The Roxxon Corp. – Marvel’s go-to evil corporation – equips him with cybernetic arms and a mechanical snake tail for the lower half of his body. Calling himself Bushmaster after his twice-dead brother, Bushmaster II becomes a charter member of the Serpent Society and still serves with them today. (The Serpent Society is, of course, a cabal of villains with snake themes and powers, such as Sidewinder, Black Mamba and Puff Adder.)

David Lee/Netflix

John “Bushmaster” McIver (top, Mustafa Shakir) defeated Luke Cage (Mike Colter) more than once in Luke Cage Season 2.

Cover art by Ron Wilson. Copyright Marvel Entertainment Inc.

Bushmaster had a snazzy gold-and-white costume in Power Man #49.


Hernan “Shades” Alvarez and Darius “Comanche” Jones are high-ranking gangsters on the Netflix show. Played by Theo Rossi and Thomas Q. Jones, respectively, we first see them in Season 1 as thugs at Seagate Prison, working for corrupt guard Albert Rackham. In the second season, Shades is Mariah’s lover and partner, and Comanche works for Shades.

On TV, both characters show surprising depth, especially in reference to their time at Seagate. (I won’t spoil it for you.) Savor that, because “surprising depth” isn’t a phrase you’ll ever hear applied to their comic book inspirations.

Shades and Comanche appear in the very first issue of Hero for Hire in ’72, serving time in Seagate Prison at the same time as Carl Lucas. Once again, they act as enforcers for sadistic guard Albert Rackam, who went by the name “Billy Bob.” (Early Luke Cage comics weren’t exactly subtle.) After prison, the two become “hoodlums for hire,” and often run afowl of their old enemy Lucas, who had become Luke Cage, Hero for Hire.

This is comic books, so you know these two torpedoes won’t stay in street clothes forever. In 1983 Rand Meachum (yes, from Iron Fist) provides Shades with a visor that shoots force beams (like the X-Men’s Cyclops) and trick arrows for Comanche (like Hawkeye). They immediately hit the streets – and Power Man and Iron Fist – in colorful, yet hideous, supervillain duds. “We are the new and improved Shades and Comanche!” crows Hernan, whose visor clearly inhibits his fashion sense.

Don’t worry. They still weren’t much of a threat. Currently Shades is dead, and Comanche is such a minor character in the comics that he didn’t even get a civilian name until the TV show. He may or may not be alive, but frankly, nobody cares.



On TV, Raymond “Piranha” Jones is a self-made, Harlem-based Wall Street financier. Engagingly played by Chaz Lamar Shepherd, the irrepressible Jones is as ingratiating as he is irritating.

In the comics, Jones is currently dead. But when he was alive, he was a bit more … literal …  than his TV counterpart. Piranha first appeared in 1976 as a crimelord whose teeth had all been replaced with metal, triangular blades. He used these to (somehow) deflect bullets and, of course, bite people.



Played by Dorian Missick, Dontrell “Cockroach” Hamilton lives down to his name on TV by being a low-level thug who beats his girlfriend and son. He’s so vile he actually likes being called Cockroach.

He’s a bit more formidable in the comics. First appearing in 1975, Cockroach is a hitman who worked for Piranha Jones. He is known for his custom, six-barrel shotgun (named “Josh”), which in one issue he used to blow Luke Cage off a roof and dislocate his shoulder. (Something similar happened on TV, too!)

He is also quite fond of the fictional snack food “Cheese Snips.” This was considered characterization in 1975.



David Lee/Netflix

Colleen Wing (left, Jessica Henwick) and Misty Knight (Simone Missick) have been a team called “The Daughters of the Dragon” since 1977.

In the third episode of Luke Cage Season 2, Misty Knight (Simone Missick) and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) get into a bar fight, which they handily win. And this is before Misty gets her bionic arm.

If that pairing looks like a natural, keep your bionic fingers crossed that they will follow the path they do in the comics, where Misty quits the police force and joins Colleen in a private investigation firm, Knightwing Restorations. That partnership – informally known as “Daughters of the Dragon” – was formed in 1977,  long before “strong female lead” was a thing.



Ben Donovan is a high-priced, high-powered lawyer on Luke Cage, working for whomever can meet his price. Played by the imposing Danny Johnson, he never uses a $1 word when a $10 word will do.

“Big” Ben Donovan – yes, a play on the London clock tower, a nickname mentioned a few times on the show – is a lawyer in the comics, too, but that’s the least interesting thing about him. First appearing in 1973, Donovan is nearly eight feet tall and has super-strength. Unfortunately, he’s not mentally stable, so he spends more time as Luke Cage’s foe than friend.

Come to think of it, switching sides is a trademark of the TV barrister, too. Some things never change.

Find Captain Comics by email (capncomics@aol.com), on his website (captaincomics.ning.com), on Facebook (Captain Comics Round Table) or on Twitter (@CaptainComics).

Views: 395

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

…..British slang for a paddy wagon.

Unfortunately, "paddy wagon" is an old-time slur against Irish immigrants, implying that the jail wagon was mainly for them.  

It's more complicated than that. As this article indicates, "paddy" wasn't derogatory in the 1800s -- in fact, it was what they called themselves. It was only derogatory when used that way by others (like the English). And when it became widespread in the 1930s in America, when a lot of big-city cops were Irish, it was the Irish who were doing the arresting, not the ones being arrested. So it was THEIR "paddy wagon."

At this point, the term is so ingrained that it's weird to call a police van anything else. I"m not sure it remains derogatory, or that most people are even aware of the term's origin. Anybody know anyone of Irish descent to ask?

We don't seem to have a Luke Cage Season 2 thread, so this seems as good a place as any to talk about it.

The wife and I finished it Monday night. She says Luke Cage is her favorite Marvel Netflix show, whereas I lean toward Jessica Jones or first season Daredevil. At any rate, we both enjoyed it.

It was interesting to see Cage meet someone stronger than he was -- and a better fighter, too. And he was presented with a genuine dilemma in that the good guy/bad guy paradigm didn't exist: His two foes were fixated on each other, but innocents were getting caught in the crossfire.

I loved the Daughters of the Dragon scene.Jessica Henwick reminds me of a girl I used to date, so I'm pre-disposed to like her. And I do, I do.

I loved the Iron Fist episode. Danny was a lot less irritating this time around, and I think they're on to a way to make the character work: Make him a joyous presence who has occasional childlike reactions to things but is clearly an adult. A happy guy to offset Cage's dourness. An optimistic guy, to offset Cage's pessimism. But a bit of a goof, whose constant references to things nobody cares about (or don't believe), like dragons and Yu-Ti, the August Personage in Jade, makes people roll their eyes. Which he will be oblivious to.

Oh, and I liked the fight scenes, where Danny would do a sort of ballet around Cage. Or jump behind him when the bullets started flying. Or leap-frog over him, or run up his back and flip off, or otherwise use him as a very solid, portable wall. Plus, "pattycake" was awesome.

Plus, I was really impressed with how they took all those cheesy characters from Hero for Hire comics, and made them work. (See column above!) Black Mariah was a terrible idea, so the Luke Cage writers dropped everything about her except the name Mariah and made a compelling character out of her. And just to make comics fans happy, toward the end they allowed as to how "Black Mariah" was a cruel nickname given the woman as a child, for racial reasons. That's a touchdown.

The downsides for me were the slow pacing, and almost soap opera-like quality of the direction. (That's not a compliment.) Aside from some standouts, like Woodward and Missick -- the acting was largely poor. I think that's partially because they were doing a blaxploitation homage, which demands cheesy dialogue, not to mention the archaic soundrack (of the "chicka-chicka-bow-wow" variety). So I'm not ready to blame the actors. But then again, some of the actors -- like Woodard, and whoever played Shades -- were really outstanding, so they managed to do good work with weak material. So maybe it was the actors. (My wife complained about the actress playing Tilda Dillard/Johnson: "She only has one expression.")

And there way too many static, two-person-dialogue scenes with too many pauses between stiff dialogue that were obviously meant to be more engaging than they were. Again, like a soap opera -- filmed hastily, without rehearsals, where the actors weren't really sure of their lines. That's how it looked, anyway.

I sent Feargal a FB message to see if he wanted to weigh in.


The fight scenes were varied and not boring. There was a lot of detailed characterization and background on Bushmaster, Mariah and Shades. I was happy that they worked in the famous phrase "Where's my money, Honey?" and that "sweet Christmas" was said numerous times. Power Man and Iron Fist worked better for me in this than it ever did in the 70s comics.

Misty Knight got her new arm courtesy of Danny Rand and Colleen Wing. I was thrown when in the press conference she introduced herself as Detective Misty Knight instead of Mercedes Knight. Question: If her name is Mercedes, why isn't her nickname Mercy, since that's the translation?

Finally caught up with the Marvel Netflix shows. Now I have to tackle Iron Fist season 2.

It could be bad news. Or it could mean Power Man and Iron Fist on the Disney streaming service.

This list from July shows the many Netflix-originated shows that have been cancelled or renewed. The reasons for cancellation seem to be the same as traditional TV - low viewership. Longmire (a great show), for example, apparently had low ratings on A&E and was continued into seasons 4, 5 and 6 on Netflix, so the viewership standards probably are more flexible.


I see that Jessica Jones has been renewed for a third season. Yay!

The Punisher will get a second season, too. It and Jessica Jones 3 are already both in production. I suspect that's the only reason we'll see them -- I think Netflix is ending its association with Marvel, and Daredevil will be over with this third season, too.

It's hard to explain why I think so.

There are a lot of oddities here. One thing, Luke Cage was OK'd for Season 3 long ago, and  3/4 of the season had been written, when the plug was puled. That's rather abrupt.

And there's just a lot that's NOT being said which is curious. The way the announcements are phrased is very cautious -- doors aren't permanently closed, no one is saying goodbye, bridges aren't being burned. When something as carefully worded as these press releases says "this is the end of Iron Fist on Netflix," leaving the door open for Iron Fist on Disney Play, I don't think that's an accident, because they could have just ended that sentence at "Iron Fist."

Also, Netflix's official line on Luke Cage was that it was canceled for "creative differences" -- NOT ratings. If it was ratings, they would say so, because that would insulate them from a lot of criticism.

Of course, they could be lying. And I could be overthinking this.

Ratings are for networks. Netflix doesn't do ratings. It must have its own way of measuring how many people watch its shows, but it doesn't make those numbers public. , 

Also, ratings are no longer the last word on why any given show gets canceled -- or why it gets to stay. See this piece from The Washington Post"When Ratings Don’t Define Success, More TV Series are Staying On t...

I think, like Cap, this is about corporate dealmaking, not viewership.

I used "ratings" as a default. I don't know how Netflix measures viewership, and they don't tell us. But they didn't blame lack of viewers for canceling Luke Cage, which I think they would if that were the case.

Another element about today's ratings is deferred (or early) viewing. Everybody's running around with their hair on fair because the Season 9 Walking Dead premiere had half the ratings of the Season 8 premiere. But almost no one mentions that AMC has launched AMC Premiere, which allows subscribers to see Walking Dead episodes 24 hours early.

Who's going to do that? The hard-core fans, of course. So if you eliminate the hard-core fans from Season 8 Walking Dead premiere, I bet the numbers would suddenly look similar to Season 9. We don't know -- because AMC Premiere doesn't release its subscriber/viewer numbers. But I bet it's a lot.

Whether or not viewership is the only criterion involved in cancelling a show on Netflix, to me it's obvious how they track viewership.  Netflix and all of the other internet subscription services require one to sign in. Once signed in, they know what shows you've watched, which episode is next for you and if you watched part of a show and didn't finish watching it. They know which subscribers watched a show and when. They don't really know how many actual viewers are watching the same screen, but it doesn't matter to them. Only the paying subscribers matter to them. Since they are charging a flat fee for the service, popular shows will bring in more subscribers than less popular shows. Their number of active paying subscribers has to justify their production costs and/or fees paid for shows they don't own. 

Reply to Discussion



No flame wars. No trolls. But a lot of really smart people.The Captain Comics Round Table tries to be the friendliest and most accurate comics website on the Internet.









© 2020   Captain Comics, board content ©2013 Andrew Smith   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service