Black Lighting Vs Luke Cage: Can’t we all just get along?



By: G-Man
Twitter: @gman902105

It’s evident that we are in a renaissance of sorts when it comes to television as more and more diverse projects are getting the green light for production especially in more niche genres. We’re slowly seeing more representation which usually brings forth a unique POV and although there have been some misses, there have been some monstrous successes, which inevitably begs the question “well which is the best?” As humans we categorize and compare and look for the one to rule them all, it rings as almost a primal instinct. Even TV shows, that fall under the “diverse” umbrella fall under the same primal microscope. Black Lighting and Luke cage are no exception. Both sport a black protagonist in a fictional world where superheroes exists to solve the modern problems that most minorities are in proximity to on the daily. Essentially both shows occupy the same space targeting the same core audience. The same but different. History will tell you that the competition isn’t something that is foreign between these two characters, so naturally you may be inclined to ask as I have which is better? Well in the words of a man name Rodney King “can we all just get along?”

I mentioned history earlier right? Ok let me fill you in. Both characters achieved first in their own respective companies. Luke Cage being the first black character to get his own series in 1972 in the Marvel Comic universe. Black lighting achieving the same in the DC universe in 1977. These characters appear during the era of cinema referred to as the Blaxploitation. Whether intentional or not both characters represent an important part of the genre, the rise and the decline.

Luke Cage was created as a literal representation of Blaxploitation Era. The low level villains dressed the part of pimps, and drug pushers, and he made disrupting their corrupt hustle his mission, while he himself had his own hustle that of being a “hero for hire,” something that the show thankfully subverts. The setup made Luke Cage on the surface instantly relatable but ultimately paper thin. As Blaxploitation waned so did Luke Cage’s popularity and thus in an attempt to save the character from the black hole of irrelevance he was paired with Iron Fist. We’ll pin this for an ironic twist later.

Black lighting’s creation was almost a response to the decline of the Blaxploitation Era. His creation was motivated by the exact opposite intentions while occupying the same space. Jefferson Pierce has a family and is an active member in his community as a teacher by day. He was a a hero who wanted to change the community of inner city metropolis which is basically manhattan which is basically Harlem (suicide slum). This distinction will come into play later. Black Lighting’s run in the comics was cut short by the “DC Implosion” which was basically when DC cancelled a bunch of comics in an attempt to rebrand.

Both characters had sported Harlem style and vernacular and were influenced by the same writer Tony Isabella. Isabella worked as a writer on Luke Cage and the Creator of Black lighting so if earlier versions of the characters seem more like characitures. That is probably why. (Quick tangent Black bomber) Both also found new life throughout the years via restarted publications, diverse writers, guest appearances, cartoons, and etc. then found their way onto our tv screens via live action shows on Netflix and the CW. Their original comic personas get reimagined and updated into their tv ones which ultimately translate to The man with nothing and The man who has it all.

The television shows share similar influences in relation to black history a prime example being the Tuskegee experiments. Luke cage constantly refers to gun violence via symbolism of Trayvon Martin, the show consistently gives tribute to the culture of Harlem via its set pieces and music which ranges from jazz, blues and classic hip hop. The story heavily involve perils of organized crime and local politics gone wrong.

Black Lighting creates a world mirroring the times of movements such as Black Lives Matter, spotlighting on community organizations, the importance of education, While effortlessly quoting the likes of James Baldwin in times of moral quandary. Often the show will opt for the sound of trap drums and current hip hop beats to keep cultural relevancy. In other words both shows embrace “blackness” unapologetically. Luke Cage in its cultural authenticity, I.E. Harlem. Black lighting in its political relevancy I.E Black lives matter.

While trying to figure out which show was superior I immediately felt my heart tug towards Luke Cage. Not only is the show a perfect power fantasy for a black male but in embracing its blackness it feels more authentic. You have a strong idea of where the culture of the show comes from. It’s very specifically and intentionally “Harlem.” In fact this is the case with most marvel shows, in which the show posit’s the question of what if insert fictional character/situation was happening in this real place. Jessica Jones and Daredevil in Hell’s Kitchen, Spider-man in Queens, Luke Cage in Harlem. Making the premises no matter how ridiculous have more potential for cultural authenticity.

CW shows do the exact opposite and instead ask what if insert fictional character/ situation was in this fictional place. Arrow in star city, flash in Central city, Black lighting in Freeland. Yes most people know that these fictional places are references for the real ones just mentioned a moment ago but nonetheless it still forces more work on the audiences end to suspend their disbelief. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in fact its pretty standard across the CW/DC brand. With all the similar heroes between Marvel and DC this is the main and consistent difference between the two, but even with that difference both comic book brands constantly refer to the real one we actually live in which puts the idea of genuine black culture front and center.

But with two comic book tv properties in which their main selling point is being authentically black one is going to have an unfair advantage over the other. Because Cage’s Harlem is actually Harlem, Black lighting’s Freeland is just insert fictional urban city here.” Fictionally Luke Cage has a stacked hand vs. Black lighting. Not only is Black Lightning Limited by the passive world building properties of a DC comic book universe, it’s also limited by the rules of CW network television. It’s not their fault the rest of the world just figured out that we’re allowed to imagine what a black society can look like in a fictional space free from stereotypes that are usually associated with it, case in point Black Panther.

This stacked hand affected my perception on other differences between the two shows. I’ll quickly go through 2, one being, secret identities. Luke Cage doesn’t bother because anyone can pick him out even amongst a crowd of Black People. Meanwhile Black lighting and Jefferson Pierce are the only 2 6’5 black men in the city of Freeland making it seem ridiculous for none of the other characters to figure him out. Black Lighting’s secret identity haunted me throughout the whole season. No one else is this tall, no one else has this perfect beard and number 2 fade. But then I thought wait... I accepted Superman/Clark Kent both existing.... ergo every other character that wears a flimsy mask or stands in shadows to hide their identity, hell I even dealt with diggle’s discount power ranger helmet. Why was Pierce/Lightning eating me up so bad? It’s cuz he was black lol. But more specifically Black in a world that took longer to convince me its world was black as well. Once it did though I was able to accept #2 which was....

How is Jefferson Pierce able to balance being a principal, a good parent, a respected community leader, a vigilante hero and a nice home owner all at once? No black guy has it that
good AND can be a vigilante hero. Once again I found Luke Cage more relatable because his economic and social status more easily reflected the black majority hence he was a more “believable” character. However once I remembered that considering the economic and social status of black characters as a barometer for relatability is a double standard. I instantly remembered that Superman is a successful reporter, Green Arrow is MAYOR, and Batman is a billionaire CEO and a bunch of other successful heroes with acceptable alter egos, then I quickly crossed that off of my list criticisms.

After considering the history and story of both shows, I was left with was the tone and pacing. Theres a slow burn pacing to Luke Cage that allows for deep character dives but often ends up emotionally shortchanging a few characters along the way. Black Lighting seems to use the fast paced monster of the week formula which admittedly scares me because of how that’s worked out for the other CW shows. The pace being super fast reveals itself in moments of clunky exposition.

As for the tone, Both are technically dark but also affected by the platforms they premiere on. in other words nigga/negro. Netflix has a little more room to be authentically dark than CW would normally allow. Causing some dialogue and moments in Black lightning to come off as cheesy. The Creators of Black Lighting are aware of this and rather than minimize “cheese” they actually use it to their advantage to create genuine moments that make you feel something different. Something welcome. Levity, hope, and a reason to smile. Black lightning family dynamic leans into the “cheese” to give us these moments more often than Luke Cage.

As the second season of both shows are underway I'm really excited for the potential of what these shows can offer. I know i have a lot of criticisms but I'm also understanding of what the shows runners Cheo ___ and the husband/wife team of Malkin aki___ have to work with. I'd like Luke Cage to keep diving into the cultural richness of harlem and other neigboring cities Brooklyn, Bronx etc. In Black Lightning I'd like to see the society of Freeland develop into something beyond the stereotypes black ppl are accustomed too. Basically I want to see LaLa become Mayor, and for the problems go beyond whats happening in the street. There are actually seeds placed to indicate that this and other things are possible, so I'm excited to discover what happens.

Netflix’s Luke Cage is the “cooler” but CW’s Black Lightning has a wider appeal. Which makes my conclusion on which is better actually surprising. I found that I wanted to be Luke Cage right now, but grow up to be like Jefferson Pierce. So to answer which is better? Why can’t we have both?
Black Lighting Vs Luke Cage: Can’t we all just get along? Black Lighting Vs Luke Cage: Can’t we all just get along? Reviewed by Blerds Online on Wednesday, July 25, 2018 Rating: 5

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.