Editor’s note: This article contains a spoiler for Luke Cage Season 2.
If you’ve been watching Season 2 of Netflix’s Marvel superhero series Luke Cage, then chances are that you’re well acquainted with Shades, the hot-tempered Latinx henchman-slash-boyfriend of Mariah Dillard, and Comanche his two-faced thug. Throughout the start of Season 2, Comache openly refers to Mariah as a “bitch” (she’s not a very nice person) and repeatedly asks Shades why she’s running things and not him. We wondered why Shades tolerated such mouthiness, seeing as he beat up a waiter who disparagingly called Mariah his “aunt” in Season 2’s first episode. But now we know.… Shades and Comanche used to have a romantic relationship while serving time in prison. And with that, we finally get a Luke Cage queer character. Two, in fact.
And it’s the first time we’ve seen a male same-sex romance in any of Marvel’s Netflix series: That includes Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, The Defenders or The Punisher.
In the middle of Episode 6, Shades and Comanche sneak into Pop’s Barbershop, the storefront that Luke Cage uses as his base. There, they sit back-to-back with guns drawn, waiting for Cage to reappear.
Shades tells Comanche a secret that no one else knows: That Dillard killed her cousin Cottonmouth, the Season 1 gangster whose death she blamed on Cage. When Comanche asks who else knows about this, Shades responds, “Just you. I can’t trust anybody else.”
After a bit, Comanche says, “You’re a born leader. Brilliant…. And you riding for someone who doesn’t deserve the crown,” meaning Dillard.
When Comanche asks Shades what his plan for life is, Shades says he wants the American Dream. “I got a loaded gun, a hard dick and a pocket full of cash,” Comanche replies. “That’s the American dream, right?”
Shades explains that he envisions a life where he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder afraid of revenge all the time.
When Comanche disagrees, Shades says, “You’re just out of prison, but you still have that mentality. You gotta forget all that shit…. We don’t have to be just gangsters. We could be so much more than that.”
Following a brief pause, Comanche says, “We are more than that. Or did you forget all that shit too?”
“Inside was inside,” Shades responds. “Lack of human interaction. Lack of trust. We did what we had to do to keep from going crazy.”
“We didn’t have to do shit,” Comanche says. “I wanted to. You did too.”
Shades shuts him down again though. “Life inside is inside. Prison has its own set of rules that no one in the outside world would ever understand. We’re out now. It’s different. I’m different. We’re different.”
“I ain’t different. Inside. Outside. I am who I am, B…. I’m just saying how I feel.”
“I’d die for you, Che,” Shades says. “That’ll never change. But it is what it is.”
Though their conversation ends there without so much as a kiss or a hand-hold, their intimacy is undeniable. And sadly, the following episode Shades realizes that Comanche is a police informant, and their story ends tragically.
Nevertheless, for a brand which has shied away from showing its queer characters on the big screen, showing two masculine villains admitting their love for each other is groundbreaking. We end up learning Shades is bisexual, which is surprising, and eventually see how Comanche’s love has affected his work as a gangster.
Also, male prisoners do sometimes get into same-sex relationships to feel safe and loved while incarcerated — acknowledging that onscreen is another bold step that affirms seldom-seen same-sex relationships in a groundbreaking way.