CHEO HODARI COKER wanders the aisles of Midtown Comics, a two-story megastore just east of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. Despite the muggy July morning, he’s wearing a hooded sweatshirt, and he mops the sweat from his forehead as he peruses the new releases and graphic novels. After a few minutes he adjusts the messenger bag on his left shoulder, pads silently up to the second floor, and gets to the real reason he’s here—hunting down back issues of Luke Cage. One of Marvel’s first African American superheroes, Cage was introduced in response to the blaxploitation films of the 1970s. A New Yorker like virtually every other earthbound Marvel character, he lived in Harlem, just a couple miles north of this very store. While he never achieved the blockbuster, iconic status of some of his mask-and-cape-wearing brethren, Cage enjoyed a cult following for decades.
But Coker is coming up blank. Midtown Comics doesn’t carry many classic Luke Cage graphic novels. They don’t have Luke Cage #5, the first appearance of supervillain and Cage nemesis Black Mariah. DittoMarvel Premiere #20, which introduces Cage’s frenemy, the cyborg cop Misty Knight. The store had some Luke Cage action figures, but it recently ran out of them.
“Well, I’m happy to see he’s selling out,” the man tells an apologetic staffer.
“I guess it’s because they’re promoting the TV show coming out in September,” the staffer says.
“Yeah, yeah, no doubt,” the man says, in a voice that hints, “Please ask me who I am and why I seem so invested in this character.” The staffer does not bite, so he never learns that, in fact, the man standing before him is the writer and showrunner bringing Luke Cage to the small screen.
As with most Marvel properties, comics fans have pored over any scrap of information they can find about the forthcoming show; they know that it comes to Netflix on September 30, and they know that Mike Colter will play the title role—a wrongfully imprisoned ex-convict with bulletproof skin—but not much else. There’s a part of Coker that’s dying to shed his anonymity, to expose the secret identity beneath his burly frame, Muhammad Ali T-shirt, and Stanford hoodie, to pull the laptop out of his messenger bag and show the rough cut of the trailer he has just received from Netflix’s marketing department. Instead, Coker picks up some books for himself—a Black Panther compilation and a new Power Man and Iron Fist—and shuffles out of the store.