This 'Luke Cage' Politician Runs Harlem

The Defenders team is filling out on Netflix. The first full season of Marvel's Luke Cage drops on Sept. 30 and gives the unbreakable man audiences met in Jessica Jones his star vehicle. Mike Colter reprises his role from the superhero detective series. In Season 1 of Luke Cage, Jessica's former fling and bartender will become a full-fledged vigilante hero himself when duty calls from his old neighborhood. The Hunger Games actor Mahershala Ali is Cage's nemesis, a powerful Harlem gangster named Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes. He's protected by Alfre Woodard's character, who holds a different kind of influence. Mariah Dillard is a politician with an agenda on Marvel's Luke Cage.

When Marvel broke the news of Woodard's casting, they described Mariah in Season 1 as someone "who is looking to bring a new era of change to the streets she grew up on." And though you probably remember her playing a small role in Captain America: Civil War, that grieving mother character is not the same woman Woodard is playing in this separate Marvel property. Confusing, I know. Anyway, neither Mariah or Cottonmouth could have possibly anticipated an antagonist with impenetrable skin or super strength, so expect Luke Cage to crush (or at least derail) a few of their plans. It should be noted that there's not only a business partnership between the politician and the criminal; Mariah and Cottonmouth are family. She's his cousin. The release goes on to say that Mariah's "personal life and professional career are thrown into turmoil" as the season unfolds.

Like Luke Cage himself, this 2016 TV version of Mariah Dillard has roots in Marvel comic books. Woodard's character is loosely based on Black Mariah, a nemesis of the hero who made her debut in 1973. In the Luke Cage comics, Mariah isn't as outwardly respectable as she in the series. This Mariah isn't in politics. She shows up first as the head of the Rat Pack, a team of small-time crooks who steal the valuables off of dead bodies. Eventually, she moves up in the criminal world and becomes the main distributor for a trendy and dangerous drug called Acid Z. Luke Cage dismantles her drug empire with the help of Iron Fist. (Incidentally, Iron Fist is getting his own Netflix series in 2017 and will be a part of the Defenders spin-off with Luke Cage and Jessica Jones too.)

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Black Mariah is back in more ways than one this year. Woodard will bring her Oscar-nominated gravitas to the role on television; and back in the spring, Black Mariah resurfaced in the first issue of the rebooted Power Man And Iron Fist comics series. ("Power Man" is Luke Cage's crime-fighting name, FYI.) Mariah and her associate White Jennie convince the heroes to "return" a powerful gemstone necklace to them, by claiming that it's an heirloom passed down through Mariah's family. Really, it's a tool they need to begin their takeover of the criminal empire belonging to a boss named Tombstone.

In an interview with IGN, Woodard explained how Luke Cage would make reference to her character's loaded comic book nickname. "It is old schoolyard poop between cousins," Woodard says. In other words, Cottonmouth will call her "Black Mariah" and Ms. Dillard will not be amused. She also delved into the adult relationship between these two characters and how Mariah can rationalize and even support Cottonmouth's deeds. She said:

We learn how to love and how to fight in families. And how to create together, and so I think it paints a very realistic picture that a politician on the up-and-up has in their family a successful businessman, who steps in and out of the gray areas. But you don’t divorce them...And what is morally centered? That depends on the person that’s looking.

Something tells me the gray areas in this series will be many. See how Mariah Dillard negotiates them when Luke Cage premieres this Friday.

Image: Myles Aronowitz/Netflix