mariah being a boss in Luke Cage

6 Black Marvel Characters You Should Know About

It's a cliché to say, but representation is important.

The fatigue that people feel towards the superhero genre and the Marvel Cinematic Universe overall is very real. As someone who is really not a Marvel nerd, I have no qualms admitting I’m tired. And believe me when I say that I’m so selective if I do decide to watch anything Marvel.

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Even with fatigue I’m able to touch upon what the MCU has given us. More specifically where Black characters are concerned, and not just the same folks we talk about all the time either. We all know about Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and how his movie impacted blerds (Black nerds) everywhere. I remember watching it in the theater and it was a pretty remarkable experience. And we also know about other iconic Wakandans.

Naturally I could go on about the Black MCU characters that have appeared in all the more recent installments, including Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore). But I’m looking to focus on characters that aren’t as heavily discussed, mostly from the MCU Netflix shows (back when they were actually on the platform).

Blade (Blade, 1998)

blade dealing with other vamps in Blade
(New Line Cinema)

Marvel doesn’t always venture into horror, though Blade (1998) is the exception. Blade (Wesley Snipes) being a half human, half vampire hybrid is probably one of the coolest fucking things. Not to mention without him Marvel wouldn’t be where it is now. He set the stage for Marvel’s success and this movie still has cult status. The fact that an action horror film featuring a Black superhero who is half-vamp became successful is still astounding. Especially for the time it came out. Not including him on this list would render it useless. And that’s a fact. It sort of goes against my wanting to mention less discussed Black characters. But c’mon, people don’t talk about him as much anymore!

Luke Cage (Luke Cage, 2016)

luke walking through bullets in Luke Cage
(Netflix)

When people talk about the Marvel Netflix series, they rarely if ever mention Luke Cage. Could be due to the fact that it focuses mainly on issues within Black communities. Not to mention focuses primarily on Black MCU characters. Too honest? Of course at the forefront is Luke Cage (Mike Colter) because hey—that’s the name of the series! He made his first appearance in Jessica Jones as her mysterious love interest. Thankfully he’s allowed to be his own character on his own show. And while he’s occasionally too self-righteous, his character is important. Being a Black man that’s bulletproof isn’t a small thing. In fact it’s a pretty damn powerful statement. We can thank Stan Lee for not shying away from social issues in his work.

Misty Knight (Luke Cage, 2015)

misty knight in Luke Cage
(Netflix)

While Misty Knight (Simone Missick) had more than a few annoying moments, she’s a memorable character in Luke Cage. She takes no bullshit and yet believes in what she does as a cop. Which is merely a job that operates/was founded on a corrupt system. Changing things from the inside is a failed motivation. Other than that, Simone Missick played her just as she was meant to play her. With a balance of vulnerability and bravery. And when she loses a limb, she’s not reduced to an ableist storyline. In fact she’s the same badass as before and gets a bionic arm. How fucking cool is that? Very.

Mariah Dillard-Stokes (Luke Cage, 2015)

mariah being a boss in Luke Cage
(Netflix)

It’s not an understatement to say Mariah (Alfre Woodard)’s evolution into a stone cold villain is tremendous. Naturally the credit goes to Alfre Woodard’s performance and what she brought to the character. And all of the emotional depth that Mariah holds within herself. Luke Cage as a series would be a vastly different show without her presence. Even before she goes Big Bad. When she violently kills her cousin Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali), there’s a visible switch. But there’s a lot to understand about her as the series goes on. All of the sexual abuse (which resulted in a child born from incest) she experienced and the dysfunction in her childhood isn’t ignored. She essentially is forced to pay for her family’s mistakes at the end of the day. Does it excuse some of her most ruthless moments? Not entirely. But damn is she a great villain.

Cottonmouth (Luke Cage, 2015)

cottonmouth in Luke Cage
(Netflix)

Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali)’s time on Luke Cage was only 7 episodes and yet he’s still regarded as a stellar character. Of course he causes all sorts of problems for Luke. And he essentially deserves his fate after the vile things he says to Mariah. Which led to her snapping and brutally killing him in his own club. The stamp he left on the show moving forward was cemented. All of that violence and brutal persistence to maintain his status is almost absorbed by Mariah. Proving his run on the show wasn’t for nothing. He served an important purpose as a character and that’s what makes him one of the best.

Malcolm Ducasse (Jessica Jones, 2015)

malcolm writing notes on Jessica Jones
(Netflix)

Out of all the characters on Jessica Jones, Malcolm (Eka Darville) is one of the few that changes the most. He goes through many pivotal moments and in the end becomes a very grey area character. Him being an addict in season 1 is also depicted in an accurate way. And he eventually becomes more successful than anyone thought he would. His friendship with Jessica (Krysten Ritter) is undoubtedly a highlight for his character. They have good platonic chemistry and the fallout that occurs between them was tragic. He may not be everyone’s favorite, but he’s at least worth mentioning.

Honorable mentions:

  • Comanche (Luke Cage)
  • Tilda Johnson (Luke Cage)
  • Bushmaster (Luke Cage)

(featured image: Netflix)


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Author
Vanessa Maki
Vanessa Maki (she/her) is a queer Blerd and contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She first started writing for digital magazines in 2018 and her articles have appeared in Pink Advocate (defunct), The Gay Gaze (defunct), Dread Central and more. She primarily writes about movies, TV, and anime. Efforts to make her stop loving complex/villainous characters or horror as a genre will be futile.