The Marvel Cinematic Universe has done a remarkable job of adapting seven-plus decades’ worth of comics into a cohesive storyline that has encompassed more than a dozen movies and more than a hundred hours of television. Even so, they have to take a lot of stuff and condense it. The stories cherrypick various aspects of the comics and makes the best possible use of them. Sometimes this results in unexpected alterations from the comics canon—e.g., Jasper Sitwell, a fiercely loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in the comics, and a Hydra mole in the MCU; or the MCU friendship between Karen Page and Frank Castle, who’ve never actually met in the comics.
While Luke Cage’s history “only” goes back to 1972, there’s still quite a bit of it, and a lot of it was put into a blender and adjusted for the MCU, both here and in Jessica Jones. Here’s a look at ten changes Netflix’s Luke Cage made to the comics characters. Spoilers for season 1 of the show ahead.
In Luke Cage, it’s established that the title character is originally from Georgia, but has made Harlem his adopted home after he moved there with Reva following his escape from Seagate Prison. Indeed, the show is a love letter to Harlem, celebrating the region’s character, history, and importance. Harlem is as much a character in Luke Cage as Baltimore is in The Wire or Gotham City is in The Dark Knight.
This is the exact opposite of the comics. Carl Lucas was born and raised in Harlem, and was a low-level criminal along with his best friend Willis Stryker (more on that in a bit). But when he returned to New York after escaping Seagate and changing his name to Luke Cage, he moved to Times Square (which was a slum in those pre-Disney days).
In both comics and TV, Shades and Commanche are a couple of ex-cons who were with Carl Lucas at Seagate. In the comics, the pair later got out and became super-villains, Shades with a visor that fired a beam of force, Commanche a low-rent Hawkeye with a bow and arrow. The two are also, basically, morons. They are among the most inept of foes, not much more than cannon fodder for more talented bad guys. Shades later went straight and became a community organizer, and was killed by Bullseye, though his son became the new Power Man.
Pretty much the only thing the MCU Shades has in common with the comics’ version is being a fellow Seagate inmate of Lucas’s. Not that this is a bad thing. Shades was a pretty nowhere character in the comics, but Theo Rossi’s version on Netflix is the series’ breakout character. He’s Harlem’s Wormtongue, playing kingmaker by trying to align himself with a winner, whether it’s Diamondback, Cottonmouth, or Mariah.
While being an NYPD detective has always been part of Misty Knight’s backstory, the MCU is the first time we see her as a cop in the main part of the story. Misty was actually introduced as a supporting character in Iron Fist’s storyline in Marvel Premiere, eventually becoming his love interest in his short-lived title. But when we met her, she was already an ex-cop, having lost her right arm in a bomb explosion. She received a bionic arm from Tony Stark as a reward for her heroism, and then joined with Colleen Wing to form Nightwing Restorations (nicknamed the “Daughters of the Dragon”). The pair of them have continued to work as Heroes for Hire on and off, and Misty has remained one of Marvel’s badasses. She didn’t actually meet Cage until the storyline that united him and Iron Fist.
The MCU is taking the tack that Misty never had her arm blown off, and thus remained part of the NYPD. And she’s coming to the world of superheroes via Cage rather than Iron Fist, which is a particularly sharp departure from the comics. But she’s still a badass, which is the important part. (And she got shot in the right arm, a nice nod to her comics injury.)
In both the comics and the screen, Scarfe is Misty’s NYPD partner, and in the comics he remained her friend and confidant, and also became a friend and ally to Iron Fist, and later Cage as well. Scarfe eventually did go rogue, after years of frustration with the way the world was going, and possibly also as a side effect of mind control by Master Khan.
In the MCU, they cut straight to the going-rogue part, with Scarfe as a dirty cop the whole time, a quickly-tossed-off line of dialogue establishing it as being due to trauma from the loss of his son, who shot himself with Scarfe’s service weapon. It is, in this writer’s humble opinion, the only change that is actively for the worse, as Scarfe went from being a strong, dependable character whose going bad was the result of years of experiences, to being just another dirty TV cop. And his being dirty just makes Misty out to look bad, though at least that was put to good use in Misty’s conversation with the police shrink.
This time we have a character who was originally introduced as a Luke Cage supporting character in the comics, but we actually meet her for the first time in the MCU as a Daredevil supporting character. She’s also a doctor in the comics, not a nurse.
However, the pairing of Cage and Claire is right out of the comics. Dr. Claire Temple was the first front-story love interest for Cage—both versions of Reva were already dead when we’re first introduced to Cage—but in the comics she left him because she didn’t like the dangerous life he lead. Which is so very much not an issue for the MCU Nurse Temple, who is a cross between the comic book doctor and the “Night Nurse” character…
At one point, Cottonmouth refers to his cousin as “Black Mariah,” and Alfre Woodard’s character has the same real name as the comics’ Black Mariah, but the comics’ version is a bigger-than-life (both in body and personality) crime boss. In fact, she’s the main bad guy in the opening arc of the new Power Man & Iron Fist comic.
But while the Mariah Dillard of Luke Cage is a politician who is using her criminal cousin’s gun-running money to finance her career, she and Cottonmouth were both raised by Mama Mabel, a bigger-than-life (both in body and personality) crime boss. Go fig’. Mariah herself—who desperately wants to be out of Mama Mabel’s shadow for all that she’s turning into her more every day—is proving to be a nifty ongoing villain in the Netflix corner of the MCU.
In both the comics and in Luke Cage, a man named Cornell who is known as Cottonmouth is a crime boss, but the comics’ version is really named Cottonmouth, has no relation to Black Mariah, and Willis Stryker is one of his subordinates. There’s no tragedy in his backstory, he’s just a gangster, introduced in the early days of the Hero for Hire comic as a villain in the style of Bumpy Jonas in Shaft.
But the MCU Cottonmouth is a figure of tragedy and fascination—and also is killed off way too soon.
In both the comics and the MCU, Willis “Diamondback” Stryker is Carl Lucas’s childhood friend, and in both he set Lucas up for his stint in Seagate. In the comics, it was a drug possession charge, while the exact charges against Lucas have been left unsaid on Netflix.
The television version of Stryker is actually closer to the comics version than almost any character here, down to the super-suit he wears to frame Cage and to fight Cage at the end, which looks very similar to Diamondback’s costume in the comics.
And yet, the biggest change is rather significant: in the MCU, Stryker isn’t just Cage’s childhood friend, he’s his illegitimate half-brother.
In the comics, Dr. Burstein is a kindly old scientist who is attempting to re-create the Super Soldier Serum that created Captain America. His initial experiments created the mercenary known as Warhawk—who was a foe of Iron Fist’s, among others—and he later wound up inadvertently creating “Power Man.” He remained a close friend to Cage, and also to Dr. Claire Temple.
In the MCU, Burstein is a much more sinister figure. We don’t know who he’s working for, he’s not particularly friendly, and we don’t know the agenda behind the experiments. However, he and Temple do wind up working together to save Cage’s life.
Reva is barely a character either in print or on TV, though at least in the MCU there’s more to her than simply “Cage’s dead wife.” She manipulated Cage, and how much of her affection for him was real and how much was part of her cover remains unclear. It’s also possible that she was involved with the research that created Killgrave and/or the accident that gave Jessica Jones her powers. (This is purely speculative, based on Killgrave’s ordering Jessica to kill Reva in Jessica Jones.)
In the comics, though, Reva’s pretty much just part of Cage’s backstory. Stryker set Cage up by stealing drugs from the mob and planting them on Cage, and when the mob tried to get them back, they killed Reva.
Keith R.A. DeCandido is the author of several novels and short stories featuring Marvel heroes, including the Spider-Man novels Venom’s Wrath and Down These Mean Streets and the “Tales of Asgard” trilogy that includes Thor: Dueling with Giants, Sif: Even Dragons Have Their Endings, and Warriors Three: Godhood’s End. He also writes the Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch and “Holy Rewatch Batman!” for this site every Tuesday and Friday, respectively.