Netflix's new Marvel Cinematic Universe show Luke Cage landed last week, and most of us have already marathoned our way through it and come out the other side feeling pretty pleased with the TV side of the MCU once again. From Daredevil to Jessica Jones, the Marvel Netflix shows have gone from strength to strength, and now Luke Cage brings both a celebration and critique of what it means to be black in Harlem, both historically and today.
There's a lot to unpack in Luke Cage, and a lot to love. But it might have ruined one of the best romances of Marvel Comics, and maybe, given the context, that's actually a good thing. If you haven't finished Luke Cage then please, for the love of Stan Lee, stop reading here. Because there are spoilers ahead.
Luke Cage Takes A Surprising Turn
So, for those of us who are still here. Luke Cage's finale episode, fueled by many of the preceding episodes, pretty strongly set up a romance between Luke (Mike Coulter) and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), following his ill-fated romp with Misty Knight (Simone Cook) in the premiere.
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Comic book readers amongst us may not be all that surprised by this, as the MCU Claire Temple is a fusion of two Marvel Comics characters — Night Nurse/Linda Carter, and Doctor Claire Temple, an early love interest of Luke Cage from back in the 1970s.
Now, let's fast-forward to the Marvel Comics of the past decade or so.
Luke And Jessica In Marvel Comics
We're all pretty aware of the intense romance that is Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. Meeting and sometimes working together during Brian Michael Bendis's excellent series Alias, Luke and Jessica start out in a purely sexual relationship, as they do in Jessica Jones.
And, as in the TV show, Jessica's neuroses and Luke's non-monogamous tendencies tear a rift between them, and Jessica later begins dating Scott Lang/Ant-Man. When Zebediah Killgrave/Purple Man returns, Luke becomes an unexpected confidant for Jessica when she drunkenly crashes through his window one night. He offers her help, which she declines. Later, once Killgrave is defeated, Jessica reveals that she is pregnant, and the baby is not Scott's.
Luke and Jessica meet again, where he confesses that he has developed genuine feelings for her and she confesses that she is pregnant with his child. From there they go on from unexpected pregnancies to unexpected Civil Wars, unexpected Secret Invasions and unexpected choices made to save their family and protect their daughter, Danielle Cage.
In a world where so many characters end up in doomed romances or trapped in a repeating cycle, the fact that Luke and Jessica have fought so hard to stay together has been a refreshing thing to see. Especially when everything else often looks so bleak.
Can They Work Together In The MCU?
But here's the rub. The comics and the MCU are two very different pieces of media, and in Luke Cage, Luke is a better fit with Claire, not with Jessica (Krysten Ritter). At least, he is right now, because there's a laundry list of past sins between Luke and Jessica that make a relationship between the two difficult.
Unlike their comic book counterparts, Jessica was responsible (albeit however much mind control was involved) for the death of Luke's wife, Reva Connors (Parisa Fitz-Henley). Not only that, she lied about her involvement in Reva's death, only telling Luke the truth in order to save the life of bus driver Charles Wallace (Sean Weil).
While there was a redemption scene of sorts between them in Jessica Jones Episode 12 — "AKA Take a Bloody Number" — we later discover that Luke's words to her, absolving her of responsibility in Reva's death, were in fact the words of Kilgrave (David Tennant). And we all know how that scenario ends, with a shotgun to Luke's face and Jessica unable to trust his words and actions again.
Jessica leaves to face Kilgrave before Luke awakens — confessing to him in a state of unconsciousness how she thought she could move forward with him — and he awakes after she's done the deed and killed Kilgave. As far as we know, the two have never met again since.
Jessica doesn't appear in Luke Cage, only mentioned in passing a few times, most notably by Henry "Pop" Hunter (Frankie Faison) who refers to her as Luke's "rebound chick" in the first episode. For Netflix show watchers this is a not an all that inaccurate description of her, but for the comic readers amongst us, it felt a little too on the nose.
Do Claire And Luke Work Better Together?
On the other side of the coin, Luke and Claire have a friendship/relationship based upon a much more traditional shared narrative, as she saves his life (again) and is there every step of the way as he works toward clearing his name. If we weren't also aware of the Jessica/Luke relationship of the source material, it would be a nice bow to tie the series up with.
But it's also a little saddening to see, as Jessica Jones and Luke Cage in the comics are perhaps the pinnacle of recent Marvel romances. They didn't start out that way, but it's the manner in which the relationship between them has blossomed, developed and remained intact despite of the typical roadblocks thrown in the way of the hero with a family that gives us hope.
Their continued survival is made even more remarkable by the fact that they're both superheroes, usually just having one in the mix causes enough trouble. And they show us that even superheroes still have to deal with nitty-gritty relationship stuff.
Of course, we still have The Defenders to go, and anything can happen in the world of superhero romance. From Claire and Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), to Matt and Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), to Karen and Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), to Luke and Jessica, Luke and Misty and now Luke and Claire, it's a convoluted web of sex and lies that has been woven so far, and with no Black Widow in sight.
Perhaps the future that Jessica envisioned will somehow come to pass after all, but we'll have to wait until The Defenders to find out for sure.
What was your favorite moment from Luke Cage? Tell us in the comments, and check out the amazing new Iron Fist teaser trailer below!