A bulletproof black man. Now, that’s a superhero we could use in the Chi.
Enter Luke Cage. Impenetrable skin with a heart for social justice. An imperfect man with a love for humanity and community. A brother with swag. Goateed, coffee-bean-brown, bald and stout, he repels bad guys with flea-flicking ease, even if he doesn’t leap tall buildings in a single bound.
With a dark hoody and jeans — sans tights and a cape — he is the self-appointed protector of New York’s Harlem against gangbangers, drug dealers, rogue cops, corrupt politicians and two super bad dudes named Cottonmouth and Diamondback. He even shields a boy with his body during a guns-blazing attack on a barbershop.
A handsome fellow, his deep introspection and unflinching masculinity mixed with charm, wit and gentlemanly sensitivity make him the apple of the ladies’ eyes. He is John Shaft, Muhammad Ali, Jon “Bones” Jones and Marvin Gaye all rolled into one — a bad mother-shut-yo-mouth.
Luke Cage is a Marvel Comics hero born 44 years ago. Starring actor Mike Colter, the comic as television series debuted on Netflix last month.
It was my 14-year-old son Malik who discovered Cage, tossing bad guys through walls with one hand and knocking them out with a mere slap on the head.
“Malik said ‘Luke Cage looks like Dad,'” my wife told me.
“A bulletproof black man superhero,” she answered.
Superman, I knew. Batman, I knew. Spiderman. Captain America, the Incredible Hulk…
“But a bulletproof black man?” I thought to myself. “This I gotta see.”
I lay across my bed, turned on the boob tube and navigated to Netflix.
From the first episode, I was hooked — drawn in by the action, by the premise, by the diversity of the characters. By seeing black folks — our hope, heart, dreams and struggles reflected even in this fictionalized and yet, in so many ways, true-to-life city within a city. Drawn by the image of this cool, crime-fighting superhero who looked, well, uh, like me.
The Luke Cage character first appeared in 1972 — born Carl Lucas and raised in Harlem. I was 12 back then and a Marvel Comics reader. But somehow I missed Cage. Still, I had no shortage of caped crusaders to emulate and imagine coming to the rescue of Gotham City.
Heroes. As a child growing up on the West Side, heroes sometimes seemed in short supply, distant, or mostly imaginary. But in hindsight, I know we always had our share — real-life super men and women who shielded us, who often did the impossible.
In my intoxicating binge of watching all 13 episodes of Luke Cage, I couldn’t help imagining what I might do if I was, well, uh, bulletproof. How a small group of men endowed with superpowers might rid the South and West Sides of drugs, violence and murder.
I thought about some of the “super” men I know: Paul J. Adams; Rev. Michael Pfleger; Phillip Jackson of The Black Star Project; Bill Curry at Breakthrough Urban Ministries; Rev. Wayne Gordon of Lawndale Community Church; and countless others, like the dozens of men who answered my call to help me read to children on Thursday’s at south suburban Matteson Elementary School — in our effort to “be” the change we want to see.
That’s the moral of the Luke Cage story.
“I couldn’t just lay in the cut anymore. …Call it a vigilante or a superhero,” Cage explained to Detective Misty Knight. “Call it what you will. But, like it or not, I finally accepted that that someone had to be me.”
Whether bulletproof or not, me too. How about you?
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