Friday, October 7, 2016

CAGE COMES TO HARLEM

Netflix and Marvel held the premiere of the new Luke Cage series on Wednesday, September 28 at the Magic Johnson Theater in Harlem. I was thrilled to be invited to the event. It was a magical evening in so many ways.

Some background. Detective Misty Knight, as played by the wonderful Simone Missick, is a main character in the series. With artist and dear friend Arvell Jones, I created Misty during the three issues of Marvel Premiere (starring Iron Fist) we did together. That’s why Arvell and I were invited to this Luke Cage premiere. His plus one was his wife Wanda. My plus one was my niece and goddaughter Kara, who currently lives and works in New York. Kara took the photos you'll be seeing in today's bloggy thing.

Some further background. I was a little nervous about attending the premiere. The only other premiere I have ever been to was the half-assed showing of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace during my truly unfortunate association with the Cleveland-based Neverending Battle Inc. The Cleveland premiere was an embarrassment, but you’ll have to wait for my memoirs of sorts for the details.

This Luke Cage premiere? It was a dream from start to finish. I’m so glad I went to it and even more glad that I shared the evening with Arvell, Wanda, and, of course. Kara.

Kara picked me up at my Times Square area hotel. We took an “uber” to the theater. I’m trading in my dumb phone for a smart phone in about a week so I can also “uber” like the cool kids.

Of the Magic Johnson Theaters chain, the Harlem theater is the only remaining original theater still open. In a Harlem that is vibrant and becoming more so all the time, it is an impressive and stylish three-floor multiplex. The Luke Cage premiere was held on the top floor.
                                                                                 

Kara and I got our reserved tickets, but didn’t go into the theater itself. We checked out the many photos on the walls. We watched as others who had been invited to the premiere arrived. The crowd was a melting pot of New York: men in tuxedos, women in evening gowns and dresses, folks in business and casual attire, and one fellow in a Kevin Smith outfit of backward baseball cap, t-shirt, knee-length jeans and sneakers.

Security was tight every step of the way. Just outside our theater, there were bags of popcorn and cold drinks. Inside the theater, our tickets brought us to absurdly comfortable seats in the center of a row midway from the screen. The seats were so comfortable that I was afraid I’d fall asleep during the premiere. I was so focused on staying awake I never realized Wanda and Arvell were sitting next to us until after the premiere. I am a silly man.

I was so dazzled by being at this event that I didn’t think to take any notes. Going by my starstruck memory (and really hoping someone  wrote a better report on the premiere), the presentation kicked off with someone from Netflix conveying the company’s excitement about Luke Cage and all their Marvel shows. He thanked a whole bunch of people, some of whom I’ll mention in a bit.

Cheo Hodari Coker, who created this Netflix series and was its show runner, and who wrote the first two episodes and co-wrote the thirteenth, talked about the show as well. But, like everyone in the movie house, he was eager to screen the first two episodes.

My initial reaction...WOW! This show is the real deal.

NO SPOILERS AHEAD
NO SPOILERS AHEAD
NO SPOILERS AHEAD


Set a few months after the Jessica Jones series and simultaneously with the second season of Daredevil, Luke Cage finds our title hero in Harlem. He’s keeping it quiet, working in Pop’s Barber Shop and as a dishwasher at Harlem’s Club Paradise. But a man with his power and sense of duty can’t sit down when he needs to stand up.

Comics note. In the opening credits, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, George Tuska and John Romita Sr are listed as having created the comic book the series is based on.

Mike Colter reprises his role of Luke from Jessica Jones. He looks like a hero, albeit a reluctant one. Colter plays Luke as haunted, moral, intellectually and physically strong. He’s searching for a purpose in his life. The only reason a viewer can ever take their eyes off Colter is because the other actors in these episodes were just as terrific. This is where I gush.

Simone Missick is brilliant as Detective Misty Knight. As the guy who co-created Misty with artist Arvell Jones, I’m proclaiming here and now that Missick’s Misty Knight is my favorite version of the character ever.

Mahershala Ali is riveting as the complicated Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes. I’ve loved this actor’s work in such shows as The 4400 and Alphas, but he hits a new high with this performance.

Alfre Woodard plays Councilwoman Mariah Dillard, Stokes’ cousin and secret ally. She is as complicated a character as Stokes. Someone who seems to believe noble ends justify the means, but who is not comfortable with some of what goes on. Woodard has never turned in a bad performance. This is one of her great ones.

Frankie Faison is outstanding as Pops, who ran with Cottonmouth in their youth and who, like Cage, did time in prison. He’s tried to make his barber shop a safe haven for young man in the hopes they won’t make the same mistakes he did.

Theo Rossi is downright chilling as Hernan “Shades” Alvarez, who works for Willis “Diamondback” Stryker and has been sent to Harlem to assist Stokes. He has history with Cage, though he doesn’t seem to realize it in the first episodes. His “Shades” is very different from the comic-book version of the character and that works better for the TV series.

Frank Whaley is Detective Rafael Scarfe, Misty Knight’s partner. I get the feeling Scarfe has seen too much, but he seems like a good and solid partner. Kudos to Whaley.

Rather than try to name everyone who appeared in these episodes, I will give one last shout-out to Warner Miller as Tone, a somewhat volatile henchman of Stokes. I chatted with this actor briefly and hope to see him in many other shows in the future.

Actually, there’s one more character/performer I should single out for praise...Harlem itself. Much of the show was filmed in Harlem and the community comes alive in scene after scene. It felt like we were there. Okay, we actually were there, but, even when I watched the episodes at home, it still felt like I was there.

There has been some rending of clothes and wailing that “Luke Cage” is too black. “Where are the white faces in the show” is asked by these ridiculous people who have never asked where the black faces were in the countless all-white movies and TV shows. “Why is this show so political” is another absurd query during an election when the Republican candidate is a racist calling for the return of the unconstitutional “stop and frisk” theory of police work and at a time when prejudiced police officers are gunning down innocent black men with rare consequences for the cops. What a steaming load of excrement!

Sidebar. “Excrement” is not the word I would normally use in this circumstance. However, in honor of Pop’s swear can, I am trying to watch my language while writing about this show.

Professor John Jennings, who is a creative, learned, smart man and also a friend of mine, posted this quote from an unknown source on his Facebook page: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

That explains almost every facet of right-wing politics in America. It has a bearing on why some folks are losing their...spit...over the rich blackness of the Luke Cage series.

I will caution viewers that the “N” word is used frequently in the two episodes I watched. It’s used honestly because that’s what the characters who use it would say in the circumstances in which they used it. The only use I might question is when Luke uses it at the end of the second episode. The “N” word seems wrong when Luke says it. Maybe because he is the hero of the series.

As mentioned above, Cheo Hodari Coker wrote all 13 episodes of the show. I’d describe these first two episodes as a slow burn. Coker is giving this story time to ignite. There is all sorts of action and drama and even some humor in these first two episodes, but we will have to wait for the bigger fires. This style worked because the writing is so sharp and the acting so amazing. High praise is also due director Paul McGuigan.

If Harlem is a character in “Luke Cage,” the same must be said for the series music. Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge. Coker has said the show music has “a 90s hip-hop vibe with a lot of different musical appearance.” Muhammad and Younge used a full orchestra for the score. Wikipedia says...

“The duo envisioned the series as if they were creating 13 albums, one for each episode, with the music inspired by Muhammad's group, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, and Ennio Morricone. Muhammed felt that the music was "about getting that hip-hop foundation and making sure those drums were as big as day."

“In July, Coker revealed plans for a vinyl soundtrack album for the series, to be produced by Younge and Muhammad. On September 30, 2016, "Bulletproof Love", composed by Young and Muhammad and featuring Method Man, was released digitally as a single, before the full soundtrack album is released digitally on October 7. The vinyl version of the soundtrack will be released from Mondo on an unspecified date, and features collectible artwork by Matthew Woodson.”


I hope the album is also released on as a CD because I want it and because I’m a technologically challenged old man.

At the end of the two episodes, I was excited and darn near tears when I saw the special thanks card on that big screen listing me, Arvell Jones, Steve Englehart, Len Wein, Chris Claremont and Pat Broderick. In the days since “Luke Cage” was released on Netflix, I have heard from hundreds of friends expressing their delight in seeing our names there. You can’t know how good that feels unless you have been personally affected by and involved in the struggle for creator recognition and rights. I applaud Marvel and Netflix. Both for the respect they have shown me and for inviting me to be a part of this astonishing event.
                                                                                 

Outside the viewing theater, Arvell and I did our unofficial turns on the red carper. I was still dazzled, but somehow ended up with Arvell and Simone. To have such a lovely young lady, whose acting brought such delight to me, thank us for creating the character she plays was little short of overwhelming.
                                                                                
From the theater, we went to the after-party at the nearby Cecil Restaurant. It was a swanky affair with delicious food. I wish I’d sampled more of it, but my heart was still aflutter with excitement and gratitude for the life that had brought me to this point in my life. I’m hoping this experience will be repeated in the very near future with Black Lightning.

The music was loud, so it was hard to have conversations with the folks at the party. I know I met some of the other actors in this series, some of the other creative people and comics artist Shawn Martinbrough. I probably won’t know everyone I met until somebody posts photos of them from the party.

I do remember that many people thanked Arvell and I are for what we have done in comics. Several told us they had read our comic books as kids, which made me feel both old and young. A surprising number of guests knew I had also created Black Lightning and were exciting about Fox giving the Black Lightning TV series a pilot commitment. It was a thrilling evening on many levels and, if I ever take this sort of thing for granted, feel free to slap the...spit...outta me.

The Luke Cage series is an incredible endeavor. I love it and can’t wait to watch the remaining episodes. Indeed, the only reason I’m waiting at all is I want to watch them with my son Eddie. I don’t have to tell you that makes all this even more special.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff. Maybe it’ll be a Luke Cage premiere photo gallery. Maybe it’ll be a report on the rest of my New York adventure. You never know with me. See you then.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

9 comments:

  1. Minor correction: Coker wrote the first two episodes, and also co-wrote the thirteenth, but other folks wrote the other ten. :)

    Wish we'd had a chance to get together when you were in town................

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    1. Me, too. I'm hoping to have a longer stay the next time I get to New York.

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  2. Kudos, to you and all involved, and I am eager to watch. Small typo: the actress is Alfre, not Alfie, Woodard. I am a fan of hers, too! Since, oh, the 1980s. Checking the internet real quick, here she is on this role, in an interview via New York magazine's Vulture:

    http://www.vulture.com/2016/10/luke-cages-alfre-woodard-on-mariah-episode-7.html

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  3. As of last night I have watched 12 of 13 episodes and I want it to go on forever. Coker and team have taken all of the great work by you and so many other comics creators and crystallized it for the 21st Century. Brilliant stuff, and I'm glad you were able to participate in the premier.

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  4. Replies
    1. Did Billy create any of the characters that appeared in these two episodes? Was he the first artist to draw any of the characters? If so, he should be in the credits. But working on a book doesn't mean he was a creator per se...and I say this as a huge fan of his work.

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  5. Great post, Tony.

    Thank you.

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  6. Sweet Christmas, I guess I know what I'll be doing on my two days off...

    Congratulations, Tony. We're all really proud of you!

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  7. You are fabulous. This has been a long time coming. Thanks so much!

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