Benson & Glass on 'Luke Cage: Noir'

Luke Cage Noir

Marvel Comics has been navigating the seas of genre-writing for 70 years now—but it was not until earlier this year that the superheroes of the Marvel Universe stepped into a world unlike any What If or alternate timeline—they went ‘Noir’. And now, Luke Cage, a character born during a different era of genre writing is getting his second comeuppance in recent years with a Noir mini-series. Luke Cage Noir, an August-debuting four issue mini-series written by Mike Benson and Adam Glass with artwork by Shawn Martinbrough, sets one of Marvel’s A-list African American characters in an era of American history infamous for its practices of prohibition and racial segregation. If you’re not familiar with his work, Adam Glass is a relatively new voice in comics; he and Benson are working together currently on the Deadpool: Suicide Kings mini-series.

Newsarama contacted Mike Benson, who introduced us to Adam Glass, while the two of them discussed the finer points of the ‘20’s and ‘30’s; Marvel’s Luke Cage; and…lunch.

Newsarama: To begin, can you tell readers a little bit about ‘Moon Over Harlem’, Mike?

Mike Benson: First off, let me introduce Adam Glass, my partner on this mini-series. Adam is a friend and a talented writer and a huge Luke Cage fan and was the perfect person for me to collaborate with on this title.

Adam Glass: Thanks bro.

MB: You owe me lunch—preferably sushi. You wanna do the honors?

AG: Sure, put the new guy on the spot. ‘Moon Over Harlem’ is a classic film noir kind of story. You have a protagonist who finds himself trapped in a spider’s web of invisible forces that are out to get him, or manipulate him for their own ends. It’s a dark story; and Luke Cage is such a wonderfully hard boiled character. It’s great fun to watch him fight (and think) his way out of his predicament.

NRAMA: What sorts of analogous connections did you think were important to connect to the Luke Cage in the Marvel Noir environment?

MB: We’re pretty independent from the other titles, so aside from sharing the same era there’s not a lot of overlap with the other books.

AG: If Marvel decided to continue the Noir line, however, who knows? Hint, hint.

NRAMA: Will there be other familiar faces from the Marvel U. appearing in this mini? Does this story dig into the mythos of Luke Cage's 30-odd years as a character?

MB: Oh yeah, big time. That was the fun of it all. We both have one particular villain we are both fans of and he will be popping up in the series along with some other characters closely linked to Cage, and clearly reinterpreted for the 1930’s.

AG: We’ll see really cool versions of Stryker and the villain Mike is referring to. They play a pretty important role in the story, but beyond that I don’t want to say too much.

NRAMA: Will reflections on race issues in the early 20th century be an aspect of your story?

MB: If they weren’t we wouldn’t be true to the time. Race plays an integral part of the story and Luke will have to navigate some difficult waters to say the least.

AG: Yes, race plays a huge role in the story, in some obvious and some not so obvious ways. One cool thing is that Luke has access to a kind of intelligence network of shoe shine boys, newsies, janitors, waiters, etc. People who are invisible to the rich white folks who used Harlem as their own personal playground because of the color of their skin, but who are in a position to observe and overhear their “betters.”

NRAMA: Fair enough. I sounds like there will be similarities, but how is this Luke Cage different from his contemporary counterpart?

MB: The modern Luke Cage was created in the ‘70s and is very much a creature of that era. He’s basically a Blaxploitation character…

AG: I love all those old movies, Shaft especially.

MB: Foxy Brown! Used to have the one-sheet.

AG: He’s been reinterpreted several times since then and kind of cut loose from his roots. But in our story, the Luke Cage Noir character is very grounded in the Prohibition Era of gangsters, speakeasies and segregation. And in a funny way he’s actually closer to the original ‘70s conception of the character.

NRAMA: How is writing a Noir-style story different from your typical projects? What's the challenge?

MB: It’s much more tricky. I mean, Moon Knight has flavors or noir—especially “God and Country.” But in our Cage Noir, we tried to be historically accurate in the way people spoke and the geography of Harlem and the rest of the city. What’s difficult is getting the diction down, when done right it sounds really like poetry, but when done poorly – well, it sounds hokey and sucks. A good example of a modern noir film that hit a home run was “Brick.” I freaking loved that film and even though it was set in a contemporary high school setting it just really worked and sounded great.

AG: There was a bit more research involved obviously. As Mike said we wanted to get the slang right, the way people speak, but not hit the audience over the head with it. Also, with the mini-series you have more freedom to tell a story with a beginning, middle and an end than with a traditional superhero title. And most Noir protagonists come to bad ends, of one kind or another, so that structure is kind of locked in.

NRAMA: Are there aspects of this time period that you were drawn to as a writer?

AG: We both have always been drawn to the Harlem of this era. Prohibition. The Harlem Renaissance. There was a flowering of African American cultural and intellectual life during the 1920s and 1930s. You’ve got all the great jazz and blues artists. The Cotton Club. The Apollo. Writers like Langston Hughes. And in contrast with this are the black gangsters. ‘Moon Over Harlem’ is obviously focused more on this aspect, but they’re all connected.

NRAMA: Are there other opportunities for experimentation out there? What other types of stories would you like to write for mainstream Marvel Universe characters? Steampunk stuff? Futuristic stuff?

MB: There are a couple, but it’s too soon to really get into them now. Stay tuned.

AG: Hopefully, some of them will come to fruition soon.

NRAMA: What other sorts of projects are you working on currently? Anything new you can allude to?

MB: I’m doing a few other comics but right now have to keep under wraps. Sorry. Also, Adam and I would like to collaborate on another mini-series but again it’s too early to say what that will be. I have a project set up with my writing/producing partner Marc Abrams and Anthony Kiedis at HBO which the great; John Sayles is writing and we will Executive Produce. Plus, a bunch of other projects in different stages of development.

AG: I just wrapped up writing and producing my second season on A&E’s The Cleaner. And I’m about to move onto a big network show. Can’t say yet, because I have to sign on the dotted line.

NRAMA: Finally, as you see it, what's going to seal the deal and make folks want to read Luke Cage Noir?

AG: Luke Cage. He’s the man. We just write him. ‘Nuff said.

MB: And Shawn Martinbrough on pencils is crushing it! Adam and I are in total awe of his skills. He’s drawing some of the best noir artwork I’ve seen in a comic.

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