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The Bizarre History of Luke Cage’s Black Mariah

by  in Comics, Comic News Comment
The Bizarre History of Luke Cage’s Black Mariah

In Remember to Forget, we spotlight stories that I wish we could forget.

Today, we look at the bizarre comic book origins of Black Mariah, the character who Alfre Woodard played on Netflix’s “Luke Cage”.

On “Luke Cage”, Woodard gave an excellent performance as Mariah Dillard, the power-hungry politician who wants to create a positive change in her neighborhood, even if the means to her ends are criminal.

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The character’s name is that of one of Luke Cage’s earliest villains, “Black Mariah” Dillard, but, well, let’s just say that the original Black Mariah was a pretty embarrassing character.

Debuting in 1972’s “Hero for Hire” #5 by Steve Englehart, George Tuska and Billy Graham, Mariah was based on the popular slang term in British countries for police vans (most often called “Paddy wagons” in the United States), “Black Maria” because they were often painted black or dark blue (I have no idea where the name “Maria” came from). Black Mariah and her crew would use fake police vans and ambulances to rob dead people of their possessions and their keys (using them to then go to their homes and office to rob them again).

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They pulled the routine off on a guy right in front of Luke Cage, who was meeting that man in regards to a case. He then vowed to the man’s widow that he would pursue the disappearance of her husband’s corpse. He tracked the body down to Black Mariah and her crew…

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The basic plan was a clever one (one that the Netflix TV series cleverly adapts, to a certain extent, specifically the idea of using a mortuary to hide criminal activities), but come on, Black Mariah as a character was a ridiculous caricature.

She showed up a decade later in “Power Man and Iron Fist” #88 by Denny O’Neil and Denys Cowan in a slightly more dignified portrayal (just slightly)…

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She was gone for three decades until just earlier this year, when David Walker and Sanford Greene did an impressive re-imagination of the character in the pages of “Power Man and Iron Fist”…

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Walker and Greene cleverly keep the baaaaaaaaaasic look of the character (although obviously, while exaggerated, not nearly to the original extent by Tuska and Graham) but updated her personality…

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The original version of the character, though, was something that we are better off forgetting, especially now that Walker and Greene have successfully updated the comic book version of the character and Alfre Woodard and the writers of “Luke Cage” have completely re-invented the character as an outstanding villain for television. Although, it’s worthwhile to quickly re-visit how bad the character was in the beginning to show how far she has come today.

If you have a suggestion for another comic book plot that is probably best forgotten, drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com or at my new CBR e-mail, brianc@cbr.com

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