Luke Cage was created in 1972.
Four years earlier, in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed.
Five years before that, in 1963, Medgar Evers was shot and killed.
Eight years before that, in 1955, a young Black man named Emmett Till was tortured, then shot and killed.
These events, and numerous others with frightening similarity, happened in a line, and in the early years of the first decade to reap the social benefits of the Civil Rights Movement, Marvel Comics gives the fans (and the world) a Black male superhero whose primary superhuman aspect… is that he’s bulletproof.
Not flight, or super speed, or a power ring.
The superhuman ability of being impervious to bullets.
Superheroes. Action heroes. Fantasy heroes.
Is there any doubt the power fantasy of the Black man in the years following multiple assassinations of his leaders and children by way of the gun would be superhuman resistance to bullets?
In American society, the Black man has come a long way from the terrors of the past handful of centuries, only to crash right into the terrors of the 21st century. Some of those terrors being the same exact ones their grandparents had to face and survive — or not.
There are Black men who are wealthy, powerful, formidable and/or dangerous. They can affect change undreamt of by their parents, and their parents’ parents. Their children will be able to change the world in ways we can intuit and others we can barely begin to try and predict.
But a bullet can rip through their flesh and their future with no effort whatsoever.
And so we look at Luke Cage, a man who gets shot on a regular basis, whose body language is such that he is expecting to be shot at, prepared for the impact — because he knows he can take it.
And maybe, in the subconscious of the uni-mind of Marvel Comics, is the understanding that Luke Cage may unfortunately always be a relevant fantasy idea for the Black man.
2012 – Trayvon Martin is shot and killed.
2013 – Jonathan Ferrell is shot and killed.
2014 – Michael Brown is shot and killed.
2015/2016 – Luke Cage premieres on Netflix.
I look forward to seeing if the Luke Cage of that show will have a true understanding of his power and what he symbolizes.