Now to be fair, no matter the comic-inspired film or series, I am not a huge fan of origin stories. So bare that in mind as we delve into the 4th episode of Luke Cage entitled ‘Step In The Arena’.
The rescue team of firefighters and police go searching through the rubble of Luke’s leveled apartment block caused by a missile fired by Cottonmouth. Luke Cage, unconscious stuck under all that rubble with his injured landlady. And the episodes takes us to numerous flashbacks intercut with Cage trying to come from under the rubble that was his apartment block. Flashbacks that take us to a time before Luke Cage was Luke Cage. Before the incredible powers he possesses. Back when his government name was Carl Lucas and was ex-police. Back to a time where he sported a glorious afro and beard. Where incarceration was his only reality at Seagate Prison.
Luke is a broken man, framed for murder is faced only with solid hits to the gut from a corrections officer with a hard-on for Cage. That and iron bars. And his frustration isn’t helped by the fact he is innocent of the crimes laid against him.
And Carl Lucas aka Luke Cage does his best to deal witht the harsh reality of prison the exoskeletal way. Drawing into himself, trusting no one, carrying his own onus of guilt, hardship and anger. Afterall:
“Trust in a place like this sets you up for failure”
But there is a ray of hope in this bleak environment that comes in the form of a soft, passionate prison councillor of sorts, Riva Connors. She does her best to open him up in group sessions via talking out his emotions. It takes a while but Cage inevitably begins talking and opening up. There’s also a group talk about some peculiar inmate disappearances and clandestine science experiments taking place in the prison. A bit jarring, but hey.
Corrections Officer Rackham who has made it his duty to give Carl Lucas hell upon arrival tries to draft him in an illegal fight club made up of other prisoners and streamed online for money. You know, the type of film you’d see starring Stratham or Stallone. The first test came when the prison guard Albert Rackham sends to inmates to his cell to see just how good a fighter cage is. One of these inmates is Shades. Lucas holds his own, getting shanked in the process. In solitary Rackham proposes he join his little fight club to live like a king. To which Luke Cage makes a mic-dropping response:
Slavery was always a good offer to a master
First Cage line of the series that hit home hard.
His refusal doesnt go well. Rackham forces his hand when he gets one of his lacky inmates to kill another and place the shank by Squabbles, an inmate Luke has befriended. The correction officers proceed to beet Squabbles with no intention of stopping until Luke submits and begins fighting.
But within this underworld of knuckle-biting fights, Carl Lucas slowly begins to distance himself from people and losing his way. And Riva seems genuinely concerned for Carl. And Carl is very fond of her as well. Which in an ugly place like prison, those connections make you vulnerable. And Rackham sees this and feels no way to exploit it. Carl Lucas reveals he has been forced into a fight ring to Riva and seeing Rackham is exploiting the people Luke cares about, pleads with her to leave Seagate.
But the guards soon catch on to Lucas’ growing dissent, and use inmates including Shades to beat Squabbles into talking about Carl Lucas’ plans. Squabbles dies and Carl Lucas also gets beaten near death by Shades and another inmate.
And this is where things get sci-fi-ey. Riva sees a brutally beaten Carl and pleads with the Doctor, who spent most of his time lurking around the prison and not in the infirmary, to save him. And the procedure isn’t your typical pop-a-Percesets and feel better.
Now the procedure that creates Power Man is what one would expect, a horizontal tank and with a succinct nod to the first visualisations of Powerman from the comics, places an upside down tiara and bracelets apparatus on Lucas in the tank as he begins the procedure to induce rapid healing and rejuvenation. Rackham is not at all pleased that the good Doctor is trying to save the man who was looking to break up his fight ring and expose his dirty laundry. Rackham tries to shut down the process, but instead accelerates it through era, causing a great malfunction that sends the lab into mad-scientist grade 5 destruction.
And in the wake of the lab meltdown, a new man rises from the ashes, miraculously healed, still baring the remnants of the machine on his head and wrists. Looking like a damn runaway. Rackham is dead from the explosion. Damn explosion taking away all the fun. With prison alarms sounding off and knowing the corrections officers were only seconds away from busting down the door and putting Lucas back in a cell, he did what did the first night trapped in hell. He punched the wall. But this time the wall knew it’s place and caved under his fist. And a nice montage between past and present has Luke Cage punching his way out of hell, whether it be through the walls of Seagate or a rubble heap.
After his breakout he rips a shirt off A clothes line that would make complete the Power Man costume of yester-years. But this is not comic-con, Luke, and we agree you did look like a damned fool. Cage meets up with Riva at a motel (for coffee we bet) where Cage loses the beard and has a heart-to-heart with her. Damn Lucas, make it look easy. But being a convict on the run, he needed a name change.
What follows is a recital of a bible verse (Luke) and a quote that references a Cage.
Nah. We’ll work on the name a bit more.
In the end Luke escapes the rubble for all to see from Misty to rescue and news crews.
Luke tells the rescued landlady to keep his heroic mouscle bound antics to herslef, but soon after decides to reveal to all the news camera who he is. Story’s out, bub.
Now origin stories tend to be a bit, “oo, that’s familiar” and “hey, that was in a comic I once read”. So ‘cornball’ moments tend to surface more times than not. Maybe a scene in the infirmary with space age induction / probing tools would have made appearance of this tank that was to create Power Man would have went towards making that scene a little less jarring in my opinion. But that criticism could just be chalked up to our pure jealousy of how easy Luke Cage makes it look getting the hearts of these dames.