Listen, before you decide you want to argue on why I’m comparing two good Black TV shows just understand my comparisons are based on plot development, characters and how the seasons concluded. In all fairness, both shows have contributed much to the culture and are both deserving of praises. I’m just excited to be able to even make comparisons of good TV shows that feature Black superheroes in the first place.
Both shows are good but in different ways. Luke Cage gave us a trip down memory lane with its New York Undercover nostalgia scenes while adapting the Netflix’s Marvel Universe. Luke Cage is and will always remind people that it’s core lore is to present itself as a blaxploitation-style comic first and foremost. That’s one of the most positive things about Luke Cage; they never tried to change its roots. Luke Cage is supposed to be dated and not modern and that was one of the strengths of the show. But Black Lightning, on the other hand, is a different superhero show. While Luke Cage incorporated a dated story theme, Black Lightning is giving us a future look at ourselves but it’s not too futuristic where we can’t grasp the concept of the storyline.
So here, I’m going to list five things that make Black Lightning a better TV show all around compared to Luke Cage. Perhaps if Luke Cage would have had a third season it would have played out differently but here’s what I have so far.
Tobias Whale. Lady Eve. Gravedigger. Odell. Tobias Whale is perhaps the best TV villain right now and for a long time, I felt Daredevil’s King Pin was the best TV villain. Tobias Whale and his evil don’t seem to have any limits. He is hard to contain and even harder to break, just like Kingpin. The only difference is, Kingpin was able to buy everyone; judges, police, politicians, and people you thought were good. Tobias Whale has a different approach; he uses fear of course, but he enjoys killing. To me, well at least on the TV show, Kingpin only killed when he had to but Tobias Whale kills because he wants to and he shows no loyalty to anyone but himself and maybe his dead sister. Even Odell makes for a great villain just based on his resources alone. Lady Eve easily rivals Madame Gao but is even more sinister because of the things she is capable of with dark magic and science. While Luke Cage gave us an epic Cottonmouth and Mariah, there just weren’t enough villains to keep Harlem on its toes in the first two seasons.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get an opportunity to see Luke Cage grow and evolve as a person. With Jefferson Pierce, we see a man who doesn’t always want to be a superhero but is forced to because he wants to keep his family safe. Similarly, Luke Cage wants to keep Harlem safe, too which is like his family. The difference here is a sense of urgency between the two. Whereas Jefferson Pierce is willing to take an L and lose his career and ruin his reputation to protect his family, Luke Cage at times has to be convinced by his friends or have some sort of revelation and epiphany. That isn’t to say Luke Cage doesn’t care but the stakes aren’t the same for him as it is for Jefferson Pierce.
No Damsel In Distress
Misty Knight is far from a damsel in distress and neither is Jessica Jones but in season two of Luke Cage and his relationship with Claire Temple was sort of toxic. She couldn’t reason with him and his anger resulted in him punching a hole in a wall. Black Lightning gives most of the Black women cast agency (except for the pod kids) and for the most part, are heroines. Jen saved her dad, almost killed Tobias and helped rescued her mom. Anissa is a total badass who has been saving the people of Freeland as a superhero and as a medical professional. Lynn, despite all her mishaps, is still smart and sharp and was able to find a way to escape Gravedigger. Overall the women on the show are just as strong and in some cases stronger than their male counterparts.
Surface Black vs Internal Black
Make no mistake, both shows are Black but Luke Cage is more surface-level than Black Lightning. Luke Cage always reminded you with not-so-subtle clues that you are watching a Black TV show while Black Lightning feels more authentic with how the characters resonate with the viewers. Both shows tackle visible social justice movements like Black Lives Matter however the differences feel as if Black Lightning was written for me and Luke Cage was consumable for everyone including me.
Unmatched Black Talent
Black Lightning brought out Robert Townsend and had him saying nigga on primetime television. Now with Jill Scott and Wayne Brady added to their superstar guest star roster, Black Lightning is hiring more Black actors than a Tyler Perry TV show. While Luke Cage depended heavily on their musical guests, Black Lightning is going in the vault and bringing our favorite Black actors back and making them treacherous villains.
But let’s keep it 100, even with Luke Cage’s blindspots, it still broke the internet and because of that, we can enjoy more successful Black superhero TV.
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