WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Marvel's Luke Cage Season 2, streaming now on Netflix.
John "Bushmaster" McIver arrives in Luke Cage's Season 2 premiere as a newcomer to New York City intent on seizing control of Harlem -- his "birthright" -- and insistent that Mariah Dillard be called Stokes, hinting at his deeper connection to her family. A single-minded man with brutal tactics, near-bulletproof skin and lightning-fast fight moves. No one-dimensional antagonist, the true nature of his grievances, the meaning of his street name, and the wickedness of the Stokes come into focus as the season's story unfolds.
Introduced in 1977, Bushmaster's Marvel comics counterpart was born in the Caribbean, and worked his way up through the criminal underworld, and eventually set his sights on the United States, which brought him into conflict with Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Misty Knight. He eventually forced Noah Burstein to put him through the same process that gave Luke his powers, granting him superhuman strength and durability. But in a subsequent fight with Luke, Bushmaster was doused in chemicals that transformed his body into "unliving metal," a mutation that eventually led to his death.
Played by Mustafa Shakir, the Bushmaster of Luke Cage is a little more nuanced, even if his virtual mantra, "Mariah must burn," isn't exactly subtle. However, when the reason behind that becomes clear, late in the season, his demand is certainly understandable, and maybe even righteous. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, John McIver, in Luke's words, "murdered [his] way to the top of the Stylers," but that's not really his story.
He's the son of Quincy McIver, who once upon a time dreamed with fellow dishwasher Buggy Stokes of making rum and opening a nightclub. They memorialized their partnership on a cocktail napkin, with Quincy guaranteed half of the profits from Harlem's Paradise, which he helped to design and build, and from the sales of Bushmaster rum, whose recipe only he and Buggy knew. When outside interests wanted to buy their company, Buggy was told he could keep Harlem's Paradise and get a cut of rum sales, if only he'd kill Quincy, who refused their offers. Buggy murdered his partner, but was shot in the process, and died months later. All that remained of Bushmaster was a limited, private stock, and the name, adopted by John McIver. Harlem's Paradise remained in the hands of the Stokes, with Mama Mabel and Pistol Pete moving swiftly to erase any role Quincy had in the construction of their empire. But that wasn't enough.