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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

1st Pics of Luke Cage Villain Diamondback

Edited by Robert Beach 

Mark your calendars: 4 months till Luke Cage premieres on Netflix. Given the fast approaching date, the first major details about the show are starting to filter in. We already met Mike Colter’s Luke Cage in last year’s knock out Jessica Jones Netflix series, and the first trailer for Luke’s solo series dropped earlier this year attached to the end of Daredevil Season 2. So far, neither one has offered much in the way of plot details or other insights.  

There’s also been a handful of set photos released that seem to hint at a very charged story swirling around Luke going up against the NYPD, which would fit his origins.  However, now we have our first official look at one of the show’s antagonists, a J-list Marvel villain from the original Hero for Hire comics named Diamondback, played by Erik Laray Harvey. 

Diamondback’s inclusion fits with Luke Cage’s trend of eschewing the cavalcade of Marvel street-level baddies from the rogues galleries of Daredevil or Spider-Man for a roster of black villains drawn from the original comics.  With the nature of Luke Cage’s origin story and the number of hot-button issues it still ties to, that makes a lot of sense.  

In case you don’t know, Luke Cage was a 1970s Marvel hero meant to ape the style of Blaxploitation films that were blowing up at the time. His origin is he was a kid from the ghetto who was framed for murder and sent to prison where he participated in weird experiments that gave him unbreakable skin and super strength. In the wake of the experiments, Luke escaped the prison, adopted a fake name, and took up the role of hero for hire, selling his super powers as a sort of community, for-profit, crime fighter. 

It was a goofy idea certainly; that’s what you get when a bunch of older white dudes decides to ape styles that are hip with the young folk. But Luke’s story is also rife with elements that speak to current anxieties like the inhumanity of the American prison system, a justice system with no real justice, the plight of reintegration into society after incarceration, and a community so alienated from society at large that a super-powered ex-con is a preferable avatar of justice than the police. 

That last one has been hovering over the Netflix show ever since the first images of Luke clashing with cops surfaced. Given the torrent of news coverage surrounding police misconduct flooding American media in the wake of the summer 2014, it seems like Luke Cage is poised to take a legitimate stand on this issue. much the same way Jessica Jones was about rape culture and abuse. And it looks like Diamondback fits into that set-up.

Our first shots of the Diamondback are a peculiar blend. His basic outfit, the off-green jumpsuit with a layered turtleneck under his V-neck zipper, fit pretty well with the original Diamondback design from the old comics. What sets him apart are the gloves, jackboots, helmet, and utility elements of the costume like the belt and what I think are shoulder lights. Personally, I think the redesigned elements make Diamondback look a lot more like private security, or some form of paramilitary individual. 

A lot of that is the helmet, which reminds me very much of riot gear with the clear visor and form-fitting crown of the helmet.  Diamondback from the comics really wasn’t anything of note, a one-off bad guy so minor that no one ever bothered to revisit him (comparatively, Spider-Man villain Big Wheel has multiple stories dedicated to him). If this is a radical reworking of Diamondback as a private security officer, it would make sense and hints at some major possibilities. 

The possibility I’m most inclined towards is that Diamondback is tied to the Sokovia Accords from Captain America: Civil War.  If you haven’t seen it, then SPOILERS. At the end of the movie, the Sokovia Accords still stand, and heroes are required by law to register their powers with the UN. Now, most folks have been assuming Luke Cage and his fellow Defenders are too low level to come under such scrutiny. 

Given the major plotlines in Jessica Jones and Daredevil Season 2 about citizens and government officials wanting to shut down the NYC superhero set, that might not be the case. During the protracted Civil War event in the comics. S.H.I.E.L.D. actually mobilized several teams of operatives equipped with high-tech weaponry to take in unregistered superheroes charmingly referred to as "Cape Killer units." So if Luke Cage is facing down authorities who want him to register or go back to prison, Diamondback could be part of their Cape Killer force. 

The government also started sending out teams of villains during the Civil War to collect heroes for them, so it’s possible that’s what’s going on.  In the wake of Captain America: Civil War and the re-emergence of General Ross, a lot of folks have speculated Marvel is planning some Thunderbolts/Dark Avengers-type situation. If that is the case, Netflix could do prep work on that by teeing up a team of villains passing for heroes as the Thunderbolt unit of New York City. 

That threat seems like it’d be something for the full Defenders to fight, but I could still see the individual shows setting up future bad guys to reappear on the Thunderbolts team. I mean, we’ve already seen some pretty key Thunderbolt members like Nuke from Jessica Jones,  and Punisher and Elektra on Daredevil. Plus, Netflix is also keen to adapt Ghostrider, another key Thunderbolt, so it’s not like they’re divorced from them. Hell, Luke Cage actually ran the Thunderbolts for a time. It's not like there isn’t a good reason to bring them in.

The final possibility (and most unlikely one) is that Diamondback’s private security look is setting up a confrontation between Cage/The Defenders with Roxxon Oil.  Roxxon has been flittering around the edges of the Marvel universe since the short A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Thor’s Hammer, so it’d be interesting if this is where Marvel finally pulls the trigger on them as bad guys. In the comics, Roxxon is a greedy, evil, monolithic corporation much like Oscorp or Hammer Industries only their obsession is with exotic energy sources. 

Their main comic contributions comes from the hunt for the Serpent Crown, a super powerful mystic artifact tied to Dr. Strange continuity. To hunt down the Crown, Roxxon commissioned a theme of snake-themed mercenaries known as the Serpent Society because that’s just what you do when you’re a super villain corporation. Given that Luke Cage has now confirmed two snake villains (Diamondback and Cottonmouth), I could see this leading up to a multi-faction quest for the Serpent Crown between the various villain organizations from the different Netflix shows. 

Luke Cage is set to premiere on Netflix September 31, 2016. 
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