The road to becoming a Defender isn't exactly paved with puppies and gumdrops. Each of the Defenders have had a rough go of it, and Luke Cage (Mike Colter) begins the miniseries event in an especially tight spot. Once the protector of Harlem, he ended the first season of his solo series stuck in prison while all of New York is at risk. What happened to Luke Cage before The Defenders?
Unique amongst all of the Marvel Netflix heroes, Luke's story didn't begin in his own show. He first appeared in Jessica Jones Season 1 running a bar and having an affair with a married woman. When that woman's friends turned up at his bar, his abilities were revealed. After deftly dealing with these men, Cage showed Jessica Jones that he's not only strong — he's unbreakable.
After this, Luke and Jessica teamed up in an attempt to take out Jessica's abuser, Kilgrave, who was attempting to regain control over her. Over the course of their team-up, which quickly turned romantic, Luke burned down his own bar and got the heck out of Hell's Kitchen. Between Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, he got a job at a barbershop in Harlem and tried to have a normal life. But life had very different plans.
Luke's barbershop stint marked the third time that he'd tried to get a fresh start on life. After being sentenced to Seagate prison years prior for a crime he didn't commit, Luke became the subject of a prison experiment that resulted in his super strength. After escaping prison to find Reva Conners, a therapist at Seagate who he'd had fallen in love with, it seemed that his life was taking a turn for the better. However, their reunion did not last long as Conners was killed by Jessica Jones under Kilgrave's control.
So a life with Reva was no longer a possibility, and the bar bearing his name burned to the ground. Luke surely hoped that his third attempt at starting over would be the charm. He supplemented his barbershop gig by working as a dishwasher at a trendy Harlem club and fell for a detective by the name of Misty Knight. But a local crime boss and a shadow from Luke's past managed to upset his life once again.
Caught in the middle of a gang conflict between Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) and an employee of Pop's barbershop, Luke and his mentor Pop were attacked. Pop, unlike Luke Cage, is not bulletproof, and his death escalated the conflict. Luke got personally involved, despite wanting to stay out of trouble. Eventually Cottonmouth died by someone else's hand — but an even bigger problem awaited Harlem's own hero.
Diamondback, a feared killer who had been hired to take out Luke Cage, was much closer to the Power Man than anyone expected. Diamondback was revealed to be Cage's half-brother William Stryker. After Cottonmouth's death, Stryker struck a deal (pun very much intended) with Cottonmouth's cousin, local dirty politician Mariah Dillard. Together, they were able to orchestrate Luke's capture via SWAT team, but it would take more than that to take out this guy.
Luke went on the run and relied on the support of everyday citizens, including Wu-Tang member Method Man, to stay hidden. Despite being on the run, he was found by a newly armor-clad Diamondback, and was forced to fight for his life. After some close calls and a lot of damaged cars, Luke came out on top and struck up a relationship with Daredevil's Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson). While he managed to save Harlem from Diamondback, it wasn't enough to keep the fugitive from getting sent back to Seagate — the very place where Carl Lucas became Luke Cage.
Luke hasn't been seen since he returned to Seagate. So when The Defenders begins, the bulletproof man will be starting yet another new life. And with an evil on the loose that's strong enough to bring all these heroes together, he may need a couple more.