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'Marvel's Luke Cage' Returns at a More Deliberate Pace
June 22, 2018  | By David Hinckley

Fans of recent blockbuster Marvel movies shouldn’t come to the second season of Luke Cage expecting anything like that relentless level of action.

Like the title character himself, Marvel’s Luke Cage moves at a much more deliberate pace when its long-awaited second season becomes available Friday on Netflix.

For one thing, Mike Colter’s Luke (top) spends a lot of time brooding. Of course he broods. He’s a Marvel TV hero, isn’t he? So it takes a little while before this season’s adventure starts to develop.

After a first season in which Luke had trouble coming to terms with his superpower, which is impenetrable skin that can’t be pierced by bullets, he’s come home to Harlem and is trying in his own way to clean the place up.

The decent people appreciate that. When Luke walks down 125th Street, women melt and fantasize. Men either clear a path or try to maneuver themselves for a quick selfie.

Luke’s slowly moving from feeling ambivalent about this to feeling okay with it. He also seems to be making time with Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson, left), noted nurse to people with superpowers. It’s a sweet relationship, and naturally, it’s going to get both of them in trouble.

Luke also must face the fact that becoming a media star creates both a set of expectations and an inevitable wave of jealousy and resentment among those who either think Luke doesn’t deserve it or they do.

The media star problem plunks itself into the middle of the story within the first five minutes when we see the assembly line at a drug dealer’s sweatshop stamping the words “Luke Cage” on a line of powdered product.

Needless to say, this irritates Luke, and not because he hasn’t been paid royalty rights.

The first episode spends a good deal of time sorting out and setting up the bad guys, who include the charismatic John McIver (Mustafa Shakir, left), also known as Bushmaster.

Willis Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey) also returns. He’s also known as Diamondback, as in the rattlesnake, and his resume includes the frame-up that once sent Luke to prison.

Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) sits on the city council, which doesn’t prevent her from breaking much bread with shady elements. She and Luke do not get along, particularly after she tried to pin the murder of Cottonmouth Stokes on him last season.

Crowd favorite Shades Alvarez (Theo Rossi) also returns and immediately gets an offer to make a killing with a corporate takeover based on leaked inside information.

So the bad guy competition looks imposing and, frankly, the good guys don’t field a great lineup behind Luke. Besides Claire, their strongest player may be Misty Knight (Simone Missick, right), a cop with a strong sense of justice. Misty suffered some damage in action last season, and she starts this season thinking she’s done enough. Soon enough she decides that’s not true.

Misty, Mariah, and Claire become notably strong presences, incidentally, in a storyline that easily could have been totally dominated by the ultra-macho male characters. Let’s assume this may have happened in part because the episode was directed by a woman, Lucy Liu.

In any case, viewers should be prepared for a slow burn in the first episode of Marvel’s Luke Cage. There’s some action, but mostly it’s positioning on the chessboard, as Luke tries to figure out what he’s going to do with this whole new Harlem Hero thing.

By the end, we see what he sees, that this decision may not be entirely his. This just isn’t a world where a bulletproof fellow with a conscience can sit back and watch what too many of the other fellows want to do to that world.

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