This isn’t a review of the Luke Cage, the latest Marvel/Netflix show. This wonderful magazine has already provided a comprehensive review here.
That review hits all the important points but leaves out perhaps the strangest part of the whole series: the wedged in fan-service for long-time readers of the source comics. And I do mean long-time; some of this stuff is drawn from the first comics in the 70s, and was never revisited.
“Fan service” is a loose term that refers to pretty much anything introduced specifically to please fans, but is not explained to the casual reader or viewer. Since, presumably, the show/book/etc. is supposed to be already amusing, fan service normally refers to aspects which are not strongly connected to the main narrative. Traditionally, fan service (especially in manga) meant gratuitous nudity. And it’s worth pointing out that there is precious little of that sort of fan service in the MCU generally. There is no shortage of beautiful women in the MCU but we never see them in bikinis slowly exiting the sea à la James Bond, the latest Fast and Furious and a hundred other action movies.
Instead, in the increasingly interconnected/complicated cross-over world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fan service has manifested in two main forms: (1) references to events in other parts of the MCU; and (2) references to the original source material.
It’s great, we get it, you guys made a couple of billions dollars making comic book movies. We didn’t think it was possible either! Let’s all go get drunk and tell everyone how we convinced millions of people to watch a movie about Thor.
The second type of fan service — the comic book references — are somewhat different. They feel out of place for reasons I couldn’t at the time of watching quite specify. But now that I have a terribly clever answer, let’s consider three examples of comic book fan service in Luke Cage (which is not worse than any other of the shows, it just happens to be the one I watched most recently) and then we’ll work through why I think they don’t belong.
1. Luke’s original costume. Luke’s costume of yellow shirt open to the waist, tight jeans and silver tiara is just basic-level comic book costume absurdity. It is no better or worse than Cyclops’ blue jumpsuit or Wolverine’s blue and yellow jumpsuit (I’m sensing a theme). When Luke escapes Seagate prison in the show, he pulls some clothes off a line which – amazingly – are exactly what 70s comics Luke used to wear. Not only is it surprising that such clothes can be found on a line in Georgia in the 21st century, it is even more surprising that Luke neglects to button up the shirt at all.
2. Misty’ costume. The show’s last look st Misty is her with a huge Afro and a top with cutout shoulders. This doesn’t look anything like what she’s worn for the entire show or like anything anybody has worn in a long time. Again, it’s her iconic comic costume.
3. Misty losing her arm. Readers of the comics will know that Misty Knight has a bionic arm. When she gets shot in the show by Cottonmouth, Claire tells her: “You’re lucky you didn’t lose your arm.” All the comic book readers must have been thinking, “oh my god this is when she’s gonna lose her arm and get a cool new one made by Tony Stark.” But it didn’t happen and we are all the poorer for it.
4. Heroes for Hire. Luke Cage is perhaps most famous for running an agency with Misty Knight and Iron Fist called Heroes for Hire. And dear god did they harp on about this in the show. People repeatedly tell Luke, “we’d hire you for that sort of protection.” Luke repeatedly says, “I’m no hero,” often in response to people suggesting he become a hero for hire.
So why do these somewhat innocuous examples annoy me? I think it’s because the world of the Marvel movies in general, and the Marvel/Netflix shows in particular, is much more closely grounded in reality than the comic books are and whenever elements of the comics creep in they break with the realism and remind us of the completely crazy comic world.
Before everyone goes all, “the MCU is not even remotely grounded in reality,” let’s consider how much more fantastic the comics are. Like that time the Hulk got shot into space, landed on a weird planet, became a hero to the slaves, led them in a revolt against the king, fought and killed the king, became the new king, fell in love, had a baby and then the whole planet exploded and he went back the Earth.
Or the time Aunt May got shot and Peter did a deal with the devil to bring her back to life and had to sacrifice his marriage with Mary Jane to do so and consequently he went back in time but the timelines still matched up later on with the other comics once everyone got bored of Spider-Man being in the 60s.
And let’s not even talk about Secret Invasion.
The MCU doesn’t have to be realistic but it does have a consistency to its reality which diverges less from daily life than the comics do. And the costumes are particularly a part of that. The gritty costumes of the Luke Cage show have nothing in common with their garish comic counterparts.
So maybe Marvel could stick with the jeans, hoodies and generally normal clothes without always trying to appease the hardcore fans who must by now be vastly outnumbered by the casuals.