Luke Cage’s Black Mariah Was Even Better Than Daredevil’s Kingpin

the netflix series Reckless It’s still rightly viewed as the best “Marvel Cinematic Universe” entry ever made, and the ongoing concern about its canonicity reflects that. While the show and its main villain, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin, are more than deserving of their acclaim, they’re not the only good things to come out of Marvel Studios’ temporary partnership with Netflix. In fact, the show luke cage it gave the MCU a villain that was arguably even better.

Alfre Woodard’s Mariah Stokes, also known as Black Mariah, was one of the highlights of both seasons of luke cage. Full of stubbornness and becoming completely amoral as her power grew, Mariah had a complicated relationship with her cousin, her daughter, and especially Luke Cage. Compared to the character’s unflattering origins in the comics, this makes her both a well-written villain and a great adaptation.

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Stokes from Luke Cage’s “Black Mariah” descended from politician to criminal

Mariah Dillard (née Stokes) starts at luke cage as a seemingly legitimate councilwoman, and though she profits from and is financed by her cousin’s Cornell Stokes/Cottonmouth criminal enterprise, she tries to appear above it. Denouncing her casual use of self-hating racial slurs and generally wanting to escape her family’s criminal history, Mariah is seemingly a halfway decent person at first. All of this falls apart when Cottonmouth’s continued defeats at the bulletproof hands of Luke Cage draw Mariah into her criminal network, and she develops an even greater anger for Cage after Cottonmouth’s death.

luke cage Season 2 sees her gain more criminal power, though she is also placed a target due to the family revenge Bushmaster seeks. These events are further complicated by the return of Mariah’s daughter, Tilda Johnson. Being on opposite sides of the Bushmaster conflict, both Mariah and Tilda find themselves protected by none other than Luke Cage. Mariah represents the last check for Harlem’s soul standing in Luke’s way, and with her later, he can finally take that power for himself.

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Mariah Stokes was an even more complicated villain than the kingpin of Daredevil

As mentioned, Mariah, much like Cornell Stokes himself at one point, wanted to escape the criminal legacy of her grandmother Mama Mabel. However, her own thirst for power saw her caught in her web, with Mariah slowly discarding all targets of legitimacy and becoming exactly what Cottonmouth was. Her familial relationship is somewhat of an investment by Cage herself, as Luke’s father is still around and wanted a better path for his son. Luke ends up finding that way his way, much like Mariah retorts to Mama Mabel today. Her facade of legitimacy could be seen as making her even worse than Mabel, to the point where her guilt causes Mariah to hallucinate visions of her grandmother. Mariah also had an abusive past courtesy of her uncle Pete, with Tilda being the result of said trauma. Between this and being teased as “Black Mariah” because of her dark skin, it’s easy to see her as a bit of a tragic character.

Similarities could be made to the childhood experienced by Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin in the Netflix series Reckless, though Mariah’s upbringing was arguably much worse. It’s actually a shame the two never interacted on one of the Netflix shows, as together, they really could have unleashed hell on both Daredevil and Luke Cage. Another element that makes Mariah Stokes such a great villain is that she was a vast improvement over the luke cage comic book source material Black Mariah, created by Billy Graham, George Tuska and Steve Englehart, was a borderline offensive stereotype of an overweight, armed black woman, looking more like a caricature than a character. The Netflix series removed that kind of portrayal, turning Mariah Stokes into a ruthless, vindictive and utterly human woman who represented the corrupting nature of crime that was wiping out Luke Cage’s city.

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