Luke Cage is the kind of down to earth hero that a lot of people can relate to. His indestructible skin gives him an edge when protecting the community of Harlem. But what happens when an unbreakable man becomes vulnerable? Anthony Del Col invites comic fans to find out in his Luke Cage: Everyman miniseries. Luke has been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a concussive disease that’s common in contact sport athletes.
It was great to check in with Anthony and interview him about the series, his thoughts on CTE and what he thinks of mental health in comics.
Congrats on getting to write the Luke Cage miniseries Anthony. For people who are unfamiliar with your work can you explain how you got into writing comics?
Thanks so much! It’s a dream come true, really.
Before getting into comics I had spent a great deal of time in other industries – I produced two feature films and Canada, developed some TV fare, and also worked as a music manager. It was while working in the music industry that I co-conceived (along with Conor McCreery) Kill Shakespeare, an action story mashing up all of Shakespeare’s characters. He and I pitched it to publishers and garnered a lot of interest. IDW Publishing was the most keen and we signed with them.
Since then I’ve worked on a fair number of titles with various publishers – but yes, this is my first Marvel series! I’m so excited by that fact!
It must feel amazing to be working on such an culturally important comic. How did you, Jahnoy and Ian end up working on the title?
Marvel editor Jake Thomas was a fan of my noir series last year, NANCY DREW & THE HARDY BOYS: THE BIG LIE (Dynamite Comics). He approached me late last year, inviting me to pitch a Luke Cage miniseries. The catch? I only had 24 hours to come up with something.
I had been noodling over doing a story with superheroes and CTE and it immediately clicked that this would be a great storyline for Luke Cage, a man physically unbreakable.
In terms of the rest of the team, I have to give props to Jake and fellow editor Alanna Smith. They were fans of Jahnoy Lindsay from his run on She-Hulk last year and he was a perfect fit. And then they decided to bring Ian on board (whom I had worked on Kill Shakespeare with many years ago). It’s just coincidence that all three of us are Canadian, eh?
During the series, Luke needs to grapple with being diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). I think the idea of an indestructible man dealing with a concussive degenerative disease is a poignant one. What kind of research did you do when it came to including that in the series?
As mentioned, I had already been brainstorming some stories with CTE so had done some reading on it. But once my pitch was given the greenlight, I knew I needed an expert to talk with, and I was put in contact with Dr. Maheen Adamson from Stanford. I had a long chat with her about CTE, its symptoms, causes, etc. And then I read further to come up with what could affect Luke in this mini-series.
You’ve mentioned that this is the first superhero story that’s dealt with CTE. Why do you think it’s taken this long to have it addressed?
Well, CTE has only recently received publicity and it’s still controversial. Some (namely NFL owners?) dispute that it even exists and has been pigeonholed to some extent as the “football concussion” syndrome. But it’s quite prevalent in soldiers and troops and really needs to be discussed by everyone.
I’ve already received some pushback on social media from people who don’t like to see their superheroes dealing with syndromes like this. So that may also be another reason why it’s taken so long to be discussed.
From a mental health perspective, bringing more awareness to CTE is certainly a step in the right direction. Do you believe people who’ve suffered with the disorder can find strength from Luke’s experiences?
Editor Alanna Smith was the one who decided to title this miniseries LUKE CAGE: EVERYMAN, and the “Everyman” subtitle works on so many levels. First off, it’s the name of the villain, a serial killer going after the rich and entitled citizens of Harlem. But it’s also what Luke can be described as. Yes, he has superpowers but at his core he’s a simple guy who wants to protect and care for his family and his community.
So that’s why Luke Cage is a good superhero that will appeal to those with the disorder: he’s relatable. He’s trying to save Harlem from this serial killer, but the disorder will force him to worry about how he’ll be a year from now, five years from now, ten years from now.
How do think Luke’s diagnosis will affect his identity as a father and husband?
To me this is the core of this story. Luke’s always defined himself as someone who will put his family and community first, but what happens when he’s not able to do so, when he can’t put his mind to anything at all? That’s the scariest part, and why this hunt for the serial killer is relevant. He’s afraid that he’ll end up like one of those victims, unable to help out everyone around him.
Luke Cage is a great example of a street level superhero that’s down to earth. Do you feel street level superheroes like Luke, Daredevil, Iron Fist, Spider-Man etc are more relatable compared to other characters?
You’ve hit the nail on the head with that comment. It’s fun to see characters like Thor or Dr. Strange but to me the most-relatable ones are those that aren’t out to save the world but instead their community. And while doing so, they grapple with real-world problems. That’s why I’ve LOVED writing for Luke Cage, and the characters you mention (Daredevil, Spidey) are some of my other favourites.
Do you feel reading comics can be beneficial for someone’s mental health?
I’ve done a lot of workshops and lectures at schools around the country on the benefits of graphic novels for students, mainly as a way to encourage reading. And I think it’s relevant in terms of mental health as well. I’ve always tried to design my stories to be not only entertaining but enlightening, shedding some insight into a part of the world or the human condition. I hope this series continues this trend.
When writing the series, were you inspired by any stories that deal with similar mental health themes?
Stories that deal with mental health are some of my favorites; my favorite story of all-time is Don Quixote. So it’s always in the backdrop of everything I write.
In this story, I didn’t use a specific story as a reference but instead each issue deals with Luke going through the stages of grief (denial, etc.). So he starts off believing his diagnosis is wrong, and then we see him deal with each stage as it goes on.
What kind of strengths do you feel Jahnoy and Ian bring to the title?
Jahnoy is amazing when it comes to the action sequences in our story (I just finished going through something he did in Part 3, which is AMAZING!) but what he’s really kicking ass with are the emotional moments. Luke goes through quite a journey in this series and it’s the pages between him and his daughter Danielle, or conversations with his wife Jessica (Jones) that really serve as the backbone to this story.
Are there any other Marvel characters you’d like to write for in the future?
This may be the toughest question of this entire Q&A! There are so many amazing Marvel characters! Amongst my favorites are Daredevil, Hulk and Thor – I’d love to create something for each of them!
Luke Cage: Everyman is available to download on Comixology and Marvel Unlimited now.