Marvel Comics, Hip Hop, and the Power of Personal Inflection

Just take a second to really think about it…

Prior to the last two weeks, the steady grind of my day job had taken a pronounced front seat to just about everything else in my life. The hilarious contradiction in performing well in the eyes of your peers is that you’re trusted to handle a heavier workload; and that’s exactly what’s been going on. So much so, that it leaves me with even less inhibition to type out my daily 100 word entries and make sure and complete my posts on their scheduled days.

Ignoring the hurricane that ravaged the east coast of America, I’ve also been dealing with personal matters that made me have to spend even less time away from not only this blog but writing in general. The bottom line always being that ‘Sometimes Life Happens.’ My common phrase around these parts. Not for nothing, I had to take a second and reaffirm my reasoning for even putting myself through this literary rigmarole in the first place and climb back out of that negative hole within myself and get back to business as usual.

In between everything going on, I had the opportunity to watch two series on Netflix; and although they had different premises, a very familiar through line connected them together: this idea of personal responsibility.

***[WARNING! There are SPOILERS ahead…]***

The Get Down and Luke Cage are emphatically black shows. But for the uninformed, what does this mean? Fear not, it’s not divisive language that’s being used to separate the non-black patrons from being able to enjoy their viewing experience. It’s a way of establishing context for those who may not see the importance of having Luke Cage exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Zeke Figuero honing his voice as an artistic weapon to find respect in the burgeoning culture of Hip Hop.

There’s been plenty of think pieces, editorials, and blog posts written for the sole aspect of highlighting the need for more diverse programming within television and film; and there’s nothing within that context that I disagree with. The world is a diverse place and the media that we consume should reflect that same narrative. There’s something hard to articulate about seeing someone who looks exactly like you on television doing cool and intriguing things at a young age. Those images stick with you subconsciously and follow you through adulthood. But I think there’s another angle to view and that’s this idea of community and collectively protecting those we care about and pointing out the wrongdoings that occur around us.

luke_cage_netflixLuke Cage is literally bulletproof and can punch through walls, eliminating the goons and law enforcement dumb enough to deter him from what’s right. He is clearly intelligent and enlightened and is aware of his identity as a black man and the responsibilities and dangers that come along with that. He was wrongly accused of a crime and harbors ill will towards the system but despite that, doesn’t carry that anger towards those around him, preferring to live a quiet life and away from the spotlight.

But when Diamondback pierces his skin with military grade weaponry and is literally dying from his injuries, how does he get out of the situation? With the help of Claire (Night Nurse for you Marvel heads), they find the doctor necessary to help fix him. When the police are turned against him and the criminal element of Harlem bare down to kill him, how does he make it out? The local community stand up for their hero, with everyone disguising themselves in bullet-hole ridden hoodies to throw off where he really is. Besides the fact of this being INCREDIBLY powerful imagery in contemporary America, it begs the following question: In the end, is it the neighborhood that gives Luke the purpose and resolve to defeat Diamondback or is it vice versa?

A similar point is found with Ezekiel “Zeke” Figuero in The Get Down. He’s an intelligent and very creative kid living within an impoverished community in the Bronx in the late 1970’s. The time period and financially bankrupt New York City playing just as much of a character in the story. He has the opportunity to move beyond his circumstances and leave the inner city but he finds himself unwilling to. He doesn’t want to stand out amongst his peers, much to the chagrin of his teacher Ms. Green and his childhood friend and later girlfriend Mylene. He’s amazing with words, constructing powerful poetry but finds no purpose in it until him and his friends are introduced to the art of “the get down” by Shaolin Fantastic, a former legendary graffiti artist turned amateur DJ.

the-get-down-finalA musical drama at its heart (albeit with MUCH more flavor), The Get Down mixes a variety of themes: blaxploitation, fictional documentary, elements of kung-fu films, comic book styled presentation, bombastic visuals during DJ battles, and a tale on the importance of the choices we make in our lives and the lasting effects they have. All of this is used to tell one complex but cohesive coming-of-age story about Zeke and his friends navigating the pitfalls of their neighborhood with an impressively large backdrop of shifting pieces moving around them.

The context of black and brown people facing the same socio-economic struggles and being pawns in the larger political power play by the government rings a similar tone to present day. But even bigger than that is the rationale that Zeke comes to while waiting to speak at a rally held by Papa Fuerte, who shakes hands with corrupt politicians but hopes to use them to improve his people’s living conditions. Zeke had reached the crucial fork in the road on whether or not he would continue as an MC with Shaolin, RaRa, Dizzee, and Boo-Boo, or separate himself and move up the corporate ladder. He ends up playing the middle, satisfying those whose would try to manipulate the minority plight as well as keeping his connection to his people. In the midst of this incredible shift in culture, Zeke found a way to achieve the ‘come up’ without sacrificing his community in the Bronx; and that’s at the heart of my point.

There’s no escaping the notion of race here in the United States of America. Whether at the founding of this country or through the viewpoint of what is currently going on outside your window, it is an ever-present conversation. But personal responsibility to your loved ones and the community around you knows no color.

There are those among us who are extraordinary individuals on a day-to-day basis.


They accomplish amazing things on their own but even they can’t shoulder the weight by themselves. Luke Cage would never have defeated Diamondback without the aid of the people of Harlem. Without the backing of Shaolin, his hometown crew, his teacher, and his love for Mylene, Zeke would’ve lacked the personal motivation to find his calling and hone his gift of words.

We all are the summation of our individual parts. Those parts being those who are around us; and that means that we’re all equally responsible for one another. Stop turning a blind eye to the events occurring simply because you feel that it doesn’t directly affect you. Whether we’re aware of it or not, the buck doesn’t stop with simply taking advantage of the poor and disenfranchised. A water leak doesn’t just confine itself to one room of the house. Pretty soon, it spreads everywhere.


*The pictures provided in this post I make NO claim for. They are owned by their respective owners*

Author: Mr. Nifty

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