It really was Luke Cage that turned a hoodie into armor. Even in his first TV appearance, in Jessica Jones, Luke looked nothing like the neighborhood icon he’d become.
“Once he became Cheo’s, we wanted to humble him, make him that working class hero,” says Marvel TV costume designer Stephanie Maslansky. “We didn’t realize how far we’d go with it, but it became a very iconic part of his look.”
Cage’s hoodie, just like in Season 2, has now taken new context in the real world. Hit up Comic-Con and you’ll find cosplayers of Luke Cage wearing hoodies with holes poked through by box cutters.
“Wearing the hoodie made me feel SO AWESOME!” says Ricky, a YouTube personality who goes by the name Stewdippin over Twitter direct message. On Halloween 2016, Ricky posted a Luke Cage tutorial as part of a “$5 Cosplay Challenge” series. “Wearing it makes me feel confident, powerful, but more importantly unabashedly comfortable in my own skin.”
“The homage to Trayvon Martin was a beautiful choice,” he added. “They took something that was used as reason to be suspicious of black people into a symbol of hope or almost like a badge of honor. I love it.”
Though in the MCU, Cage isn’t happy about his “cosplay,” in real life — where the Netflix show grapples with what happens when clothing becomes a symbolic costume in its own fiction — members of the black cosplay community have found a hero to emulate, one whose imagery is more than a power fantasy.
“We still have a ways to go,” Ricky says, “but I think shows like Luke Cage are showing the many flavors black people come in and that what we wear isn’t a reason to cause for concern. We’re just our here living our lives.”
“Once in a while costumes take on new meaning,” Maslansky adds. “As costume designers we don’t know everything. You need to support the character and the story, and that’s what we’re striving to do.”
The show’s portrayal of black masculinity, a balancing act between one’s outside image and their inner turmoil, is what fuels Season 2 of Luke Cage. Picking up in the aftermath of The Defenders, the series follows Luke Cage (Colter) enter an existential crisis as new and old criminal forces descend upon Harlem, including one rival named “Bushmaster.”
There’s plenty more action than in Season 1, but Coker isn’t easing up on the drama either. “Black men this size rarely get to have roles where they get to be emotional, where they get to cry, to be sensitive,” he says. This isn’t going away, even if fans weren’t happy with it last season.
“They wanted Clubber Lang,” Coker says about some fans’ reviews, “Clubber is my favorite Rocky villain, but the real Mr. T has more range.”
There is a texture to Luke Cage that appears effortlessly, which happens when a show starring a black superhero is staffed by black producers, black actors, and diverse writers and directors (including one Lucy Liu). So when Luke Cage debuted in 2016, the bullets bouncing off Cage’s skin weren’t just relevant. They were also resonant.
Now, two years later in front of a mirror, becoming a “Hero for Hire” maybe isn’t what Luke Cage had in mind. Coker is reminded of his grandfather, a Tuskegee Airman who flew in World War II.
“He didn’t like telling war stories,” Coker remembers. “People died, he survived. It wasn’t cute. It was life and death. He always said that people that talked the most, did the least.”
While Luke has an unbreakable body, it doesn’t mean he can’t get hurt. And it’s the fakeness of Piranha’s hoodie that cuts especially deep.
“He felt every one of those bullets that entered that sweatshirt,” Coker explains. “He feels the pain. Fans are like, ‘Oh, cool! You got shot and nothing happens!’ But Luke feels those bullets. The bullets don’t penetrate, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.”
Marvel’s Luke Cage Season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.