Luke Cage has many connections across the Marvel Universe: He’s best friends with Iron Fist and married to Jessica Jones; he’s been a member of Heroes for Hire, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and the Defenders (and he’ll soon be part of the latter’s new roster). But as old-school Marvel Comics readers and Netflix newcomers alike well know, he’s every bit as compelling on his own.
In May, the one-time Power Man goes back to his roots with a new “Luke Cage” solo ongoing series by writer David Walker (“Power Man & Iron Fist”) and artist Nelson Blake II (“The Magdalena”).
CBR spoke exclusively with Walker about his plans for the series, balancing expectations of longtime fans and new ones coming to the book from the hit Netflix drama, and the title’s opening arc, which sends Luke to New Orleans to investigate the death of a man who was like a second father to him.
CBR: You have some good news and bad news for fans of Luke Cage: The bad news is your run on “Power Man & Iron Fist” comes to a close in April, but the good news is this May you’re kicking off an all-new “Luke Cage” series focusing on your title character’s solo adventures. It’s designed to appeal to longtime fans and serve as a jumping-on point for readers who recently discovered the character, correct?
David Walker: That is correct. I’m no longer going to be writing the adventures of Luke and Danny, but I am writing the adventures of Luke, which is pretty exciting. I’m especially excited by all the story opportunities that come from delving into this character in a solo setting.
In the aftermath of Netflix’s “Luke Cage” series and with your title character’s star once again on the rise in the Marvel Universe, what’s your sense of what a Luke Cage solo book needs to be?
With this book I’m trying to build off the shoulders of everything that has come before. Just as he was in the “Power Man & Iron Fist” run, he’s a bit wiser. He’s still very street-smart, but he’s also a father, a husband, and he’s been through a lot more. I’m writing him in a much more contemplative way. He’s the sort of person who’d like to figure out how to get out of a bad spot without having to resort to just throwing punches. It always seems like he has to throw punches, though, before he can figure out how to get out of a bad situation.
I’m writing him as a little more mature, and I’m not going to say that the television show was a huge influence on me, but it did show me a lot of ideas and ways Luke could be handled; a lot of them were in conjunction with ideas I had been developing in the first place or had been thinking about. I really want to give the readers the best Luke possible, and I think that’s a Luke who does more than just fight all the time. I think the best superheroes are ones who aren’t just beating the crap out of something or someone.
In the Netflix series, actor Mike Colter brought this sort of quiet wisdom and experience to the character, and it sounds like with this ongoing you’re looking to add some of that based on Luke’s experiences over the past several years both as a hero and family man.
Yeah, it definitely is interesting trying to find that balance because the moment a character makes an appearance in a live-action medium, whether it’s television or film, suddenly a million more eyes are on that character, aware of that character, and have these ideas about the character. That’s what they come to expect. Then you have the readers, some of whom have been fans for decades, and while they love that character, they have different expectations and different desires.
You definitely saw it with “Daredevil.” People who missed that first Daredevil movie and had never seen the character before saw the first season of the Netflix show and everything was new to them. Then there were readers, like myself, who had been reading “Daredevil” since they were little kids. I have a 40-year relationship with the character.
It’s interesting now because you find yourself having to find that balance between the two. You certainly don’t want the fans who have just discovered this character to go into a comic book shop, pick up the comic, and go, “This is nothing like the show!” You don’t want to be exactly like the show or movie, though, because there’s a reason why there’s a movie or TV show, and there’s a reason why there’s a comic. I firmly believe that neither should be exactly the same otherwise it gets really boring.
Will this new “Luke Cage” series have the feel of street-level crime intersecting with the more fantastic world of the Marvel Universe?
There’s always going to be some level of the fantastic, and it is a street-level book. I’m looking to make this a little more grounded than my “Power Man & Iron Fist” run was, though. We deal with the magic and the supernatural there, and some of that might turn up here, but I’ve been watching a lot of noir movies from the ’40s and the ’50s and reading some detective novels. I’m really immersing myself in that genre more. Luke still has that Hero for Hire sensibility, but I think the notion of what a hero is is so much more complex in this day and age. Luke is essentially a private detective.
He’s a private detective who also happens to be a superhero. Maybe he’s more of a superhero first than he is a private detective, as opposed to his wife who is more of a detective than she is a superhero.
So you’ll be stretching some of the same muscles you used while writing “Shaft” for Dynamite?
To a certain extent, but definitely not that heavy. I went super-dark with Shaft in terms of some of the stuff that I was dealing with.
I love this character, so I’ve gone back and read a ton of Luke Cage comics, and again, a lot of times he’d have these cases that would be solved by him beating someone up. That’s great, but let’s have him use his brain a little bit more and have him get involved in conflicts that are a little more in a moral gray zone as opposed to the black and white.
Because I love the notion that as a street hero Luke commands respect from both sides of the law. He was a member of the Avengers, he’s going to be a member of the Defenders, and he was even a member of the Fantastic Four for a little while. He also has a criminal background; he’s been to prison. Everybody on the streets knows him and those that don’t respect him at least fear him. I want to play with some of that too.
You’ll be kicking off your series by looking at the relationship between Luke and the man who gave him his super-abilities, Dr. Noah Burstein. What’s your sense of what Burstein meant to Luke?
Luke has a very high and strong opinion of him. That doesn’t come across in the show, but in the comics that’s always been there. They’ve always had this strong bond and relationship. In the comics, Noah is always referring to Luke as being just like a son. And Luke tends to think of Dr. Burstein as a second father.
I’m playing with that, and part of the story is Luke really understanding that his feelings for Dr. Burstein don’t necessarily line up with what Dr. Burstein thought about him. It’s a lot like when someone says, “I love you.” That means something different to every single person, and there comes a point in every single relationship where you realize, “When I say I love you, I mean A, B and C. When you say I love you, you mean one, two and three.” Those things don’t always necessarily line up, and that’s up for exploration.
This is Luke really discovering a lot about himself as well as investigating what was going on around Burstein.
Luke’s investigation into Burstein begins when he heads to New Orleans for his father-figure’s funeral and decides to look into what happened to him. What made you want to send Luke to the Big Easy, a city that, to my knowledge, has not appeared that much in the Marvel Universe?
The fact that it hasn’t appeared a lot in the Marvel Universe was part of it. I also wanted to pick a place that was removed from New York City. I wanted Luke to be removed from his comfort zone.
I knew I wanted to set the story near a fairly large city, but then I looked at places that had fairly high crime rates and had really significant disparity between wealth and poverty. New Orleans, and what it’s become post-Katrina, offered some really interesting stuff as a backdrop. Plus, I wanted to get Luke in a place that felt really foreign to him, and New Orleans really does feel like you’re in a completely different world. Even though it’s been more than 10 years since Katrina a lot of times it still feels like there’s an uncertainty to New Orleans and what’s going on there. I read these stories about crime and organized crime in the wake of the city being rebuilt and I thought, “This is where we’re going.”
What hints and teases can you offer up about the antagonists that will oppose Luke’s investigation into what happened to Burstein?
We’ll have an antagonist that’s brand new to the Marvel Universe and there’s an older character that shows up who will always be in question. Is this character an ally, or an antagonist?
The new antagonist is someone who at least thinks he can give Luke a run for his money. We’ll see if he can. I don’t think there’s ever been a Marvel title where the lead character truly lost the fight, but maybe this will be the first time. You never know.
Luke being in New Orleans suggests to me that he’ll be without his extended network of friends and family. So what else can you tell us about the supporting cast of this first arc?
I can’t say much, but we will see some characters that play into our larger story as it develops beyond this first arc.
Editorial and I discussed how we really want to let this be Luke’s solo book. It’s funny, when we started “Power Man & Iron Fist” everybody was asking if people like Misty Knight and Colleen Wing were going to be in the book. People are inevitably going to ask if Iron Fist will show up in this book. He will show up at some point, but the book is called “Luke Cage.” [Laughs] Luke and Danny will be running around together in “Defenders.”
Plus, Luke is going to be quite busy in the coming months. Not only does he have the solo book, but he’s also in “Defenders” and “Black Panther & the Crew.” Half the time I don’t ask what’s going on in those other books because I’ll feel confused. What I do is write my stuff, I turn it in and I wait for editorial to go, “You can’t do this. Yes, you can do this. You might be able to do that.” That’s how I begin to piece together what’s going on.
Do you have a little more knowledge about what’s going on in “Defenders” since it’s written by your friend and teaching colleague, Brian Michael Bendis?
We’ve been talking a little bit about “Defenders.” So I do know what’s going on in the first story arc of that book. I’m definitely very excited for that. Moving forward there will definitely be more wrangling of, “Where’s Luke at this point? And how does he break away to do this?” But how many titles do characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man, or Captain America show up in? And I’m happy that for the first time in a long while Luke is getting a lot of love and attention that it seems like he hadn’t been getting for many, many years.
You’re working with artist Nelson Blake II on “Luke Cage.” I’m not super-familiar with his stuff, but he appears to be best known for his work with Top Cow, and he’s got an interesting and striking visual style. What’s it like working with Nelson?
So far it’s been really good. We’ve had some interesting conversations and we’ve talked about storytelling. We really hit it off on sort of a philosophical level. I don’t know how many other creators do this, but to me it’s really important whenever possible to get some communication going with your artist to understand where they’re coming from, what their influences are, what it is they love to draw, and what they might be sick of drawing. We talked about a lot of that stuff; everything from panel grids to the comics we loved as kids. Our conversations have been really good. I think he brings an interesting style and look to the book.
I try to go into every project I have with no expectations visually of what the book should look like, especially if there isn’t an artist attached. Because if you go in with expectations about how the book should look, you’ll inevitably end up disappointed. Once you get to know the artist that you’re working with you begin to tailor your scripts for them and you begin to work more with them. Then stuff begins to flow.
It’s all about the collaboration for me. I love that, and I’m looking forward to working with Nelson and seeing what he brings to the table because right now what he brings is really fun.
Can you leave us with any hints and teases about where you’re taking Luke after this opening arc of his new solo series? Will the focus continue to be on New Orleans? Or will he head back to New York?
Our next story arc will find him back in New York. Then we might get him out of his element again. I’m trying to plan some stuff out and knowing how much running around Luke is going to be doing in “The Defenders” and assuming how much running around he’s going to be doing in “The Crew” I’m thinking it might be good to have him close to home or a couple subway rides away from home for a few issues. We’ll see where things go.
In terms of Luke taking any trips or going on any journeys this is more of a personal journey. Every series I work on, I want to see how I can make a character grow. How can I get them to the next phase of their persona? For a “Luke Cage” solo series that’s the best way to do it. So that’s what I’m going to do.
My love for Luke Cage is no secret. I’m really excited to still be working on the character and working with him. I hope people who loved “Power Man & Iron Fist” aren’t too broken up about the book ending because I’ve got some really fun stuff in store for Luke.