Monday, November 7, 2016

Luke Cage Season 1, Episode 4, "Step in the Arena" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

Image Courtesy

A massive Cinematic Universe with over a dozen movies, two network TV series, a couple dozen tie-in comic books, and three (and counting) Netflix TV series is prone to a number of dangers.  For one thing, there is always the fear of oversaturation:  between Marvel Network, Marvel Netflix, DC Network, and the DCCWTVU, and other comic properties, there is an enormous number of comic book-based TV shows on the air today.  Then there is also the risk of continuity errors (such as Luke Cage name-dropping Obama, though that’s easy enough to explain away as Obama also existing as a popular politician in the MCU).  But the one I want to talk about in this review is the danger of repetition in storytelling.  Something I noticed in both seasons of Daredevil as well as Jessica Jones season 1 is that the flashback episode revealing the hero (or new hero)’s origin came in episode 7.  I was curious if that would continue into Luke Cage (not necessarily a problem, but it does make the show predictable), and fortunately it does not.  Instead, we get Luke’s origin a little sooner, in the fourth episode.

There is a good deal of parallel between Luke’s comic book origin and the origin given to him in the Netflix series.  Both involve Seagate Prison, both involve a guard named Rackham who despises Luke, and both involve a Dr. Burstein conducting experimentation on prisoners.  However, that’s about where the similarities end.  Rather than being a regular guy accused of stealing drugs, Luke is a police officer (though he is still framed for the crime).  In the comics, Luke agrees to the experiments willingly in exchange for a reduced sentence; in the series, Luke is grievously injured by Shades and Comanche, and Reva convinces Burstein to do the experiment.  Instead of Rackham practically running the prison before becoming a prisoner himself when the new, no-nonsense warden arrives, the leadership of the prison is actually in on everything Rackham is doing.

None of these changes are necessarily bad; there’s a definite case to be made for the need to update Luke’s origin to make it a little less “silly” (I mean, come on:  in the comics Rackham gets caught mouthing off while sitting at the warden’s desk and that gets him arrested and thrown in prison alongside Luke.  Seriously???).  I just point out these differences to acknowledge that it’s not the same.  There are some places where I question the decision to change it, such as Luke being an involuntary subject of the experiment and Burstein becoming such a dark and morally-ambiguous character when the comic book version was much closer to Abraham Erskine as a “good” person, but as a whole I can appreciate the reasoning for most of the changes.

Image Courtesy
The origin plays out very well in flashback form against the backdrop of Luke and Connie trapped in the rubble of Genghis Connie’s while Luke tries to rescue them.  There is an interesting parallel between Luke’s concern for Connie in this episode and his friendship with Squabbles in the flashbacks.  There is also a nice parallel between the two plots with Luke (in both cases) trapped by events outside his control and needing to fight to survive.  Luke’s slow and steady downward spiral in the prison is a good background for who he is now and how he eventually comes to be a hero to the people of Harlem.  Considering Luke’s reaction to seeing Shades at Harlem’s Paradise, I liked seeing the beginning of that “relationship,” with Shades serving as a major prison antagonist and Rackham supporter.

I really liked the nod to Luke’s comic book costume with the tiara, bracelets, jeans, chain belt, and open yellow shirt.  I remember hearing there it would be there as an Easter egg, but I didn’t know if they’d be able to pull it off.  At the same time, the way Luke creates his new name (“Luke Cage”) seems pretty forced.  I don’t have a suggestion for a better way to do it, but this way just felt forced.

I’m going to end this review here because I’m not feeling well and need to rest up before (hopefully) seeing Doctor Strange this afternoon/evening.  I really enjoy Luke Cage and can’t wait to get back to reviewing it.

What did you think of Luke’s origin in the series?  Do you think he should have kept the comic book outfit a little longer?  Let me know in the comments!

No comments:

Post a Comment