Artist Nelson Blake II talks the man, his clothes, and more!

It seems like a great time to be Luke Cage, so why’s he getting involved in a mysterious battle in New Orleans? The man who continues to mature as a leader, hero, parent, and husband, will find trouble in his past as seen in his self-titled May 17-debuting series.

Written by David F. Walker with Nelson Blake II on art, the one-time Power Man will head down to the Big Easy to find out what happened to Dr. Noah Burstein, the deceased doctor whose experiments turned Luke from a wrongly incarcerated inmate into a man with impenetrable skin. We talked with Blake about Luke’s past, his trip down South, and what makes him such an appealing character to draw.

Marvel.com: Luke Cage is in a great place right now between his new status as a media star and his various comic appearances. How does it feel to be drawing the character at this time?

Nelson Blake II: While I am a huge fan of the show, my excitement for the character really started with [writer Brian Michael Bendis’] take on him over the years. I read a ton of that stuff in DAREDEVIL, NEW AVENGERS, etc. He wrote Luke as a great leader, but also as a powerful hero and overall interesting guy. That kind of thing really gets my imagination going for a character, which is what really made me happy when [Marvel Editor-in-Chief] Axel [Alonso] and the crew offered me Cage.

Marvel.com: This is a character who had a very signature look back in the day, but has gone more modern as the years have gone on. How do you balance the classic with the new in that sense?

Nelson Blake II: From the classic era, I think there is a tone that is always present in Cage, but he’s definitely older and I enjoy that. Some characters get modernized, not because they actually grow, but because times have changed. Luke has actually matured as a man and his current look reflects that. It’s not often that a character can look at their own original incarnation and get that same feeling that we all get when we look at old pictures of ourselves, for the good and the embarrassing parts of all of it.

Marvel.com: In addition to his choice in clothes, Luke has also grown up a lot since his first appearance. He’s a father and husband now. Does that change how he carries himself in your mind? 

Nelson Blake II: Absolutely. One of the most important parts of adulthood is learning that your actions affect others and you’re responsible for that. As much as any character in comics, this resonates with Luke. Even down to the nature of his powers, being bulletproof. While he is quite strong, his signature ability is defensive and protective and that becomes a metaphor for his personality.

Marvel.com: It sounds like Luke will be looking into his own past as well as that of Dr. Burstein. How is it peering back into that world?

Nelson Blake II: Luke revisiting his own past is very personal and challenging for the character. I can’t reveal too much, as Luke’s interactions with his origin and Burstein’s role in it are all key moments in the story. It’s a great take by David and the editorial crew that makes the events matter to Luke, as opposed to a villain-of-the-week approach.

Marvel.com: What can you say about the tone you’re working with in the series? Will this be a street level book mixed with some super hero elements or something else altogether?

Nelson Blake II: It’s got a crossover with crime, noir, sci-fi, and straight-up comics stuff. I’m a big fan of dynamic contrast, so I like going from a scene that’s totally still and could be shot with an ABC camera setup, then pushing things to a level that’s comics only, in your face and over the top. That’s reflective of my influences from novels and Michael Mann movies all the way to animation and manga. That’s the fun of comics, being able to bring all those things into one place and hold them together with an art style and pace that doesn’t sacrifice drama for action, or vice versa.

Marvel.com: This first arc takes place in New Orleans. Do you enjoy diving into that kind of real world setting while also mixing in some of the more Marvel Universe elements?

Nelson Blake II: I’m a New Yorker, so the New Orleans research has been a really fun departure from my own experience. The architecture, weather, and culture dictate a feel and tell of history that’s another world compared to Luke’s more common NYC/Harlem roots. It also serves well to isolate him from the comfort of his fellow heroes, which is a great place to start in a solo title.

Marvel.com: David guided Luke’s adventures in the previous series with Iron Fist. How is it working with him on this character he’s become even more familiar with?

Nelson Blake II: The first thing that struck me is how much David cares. He infuses Luke with a dignity and personal approach without skimping on the fun comic book elements. Dave is also somewhat of a comics historian and that comes through in a lot of his staging and sequencing. His vision is rooted in comics tradition without being trapped by it, and his experience with other great artists makes telling his stories really easy. Talking to him about the scripts and the characters gives me a lot to work with, because he has thought through the drama and characterization, and you can just tell that each issue is a film in his head. This makes sense, as David has a history as a filmmaker. It’s been a joy so far and I hope he’s having as much fun as I am. The whole team is great to work with, from editorial to colors.

LUKE CAGE #1 by David F. Walker and Nelson Blake II bursts on sale on May 17!

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