[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for “Luke Cage” Season 2, including the finale.]
“Luke Cage” series creator Cheo Hodari Coker is a longtime comic book fan, and it shows with the number of fun Easter eggs he includes in the show’s first outing. Since then, Netflix’s Marvel world has expanded, and therefore in Season 2, the show doesn’t hold back when it comes to pop culture references and full-blown crossovers. Many are obvious, but some are for diehards or eagle-eyed, pause-button-happy fans.
“Luke Cage” is the type of show that references the Avengers but never names them. It also exists in the present but feels retro thanks to the heavy ‘90s hip-hop influence and nods to the original comics when Luke Cage (Mike Colter) was drafting off the blaxploitation craze. Check out all the Easter eggs and pop-culture references we could find below, and let us know what we’re missing in the comments.
Episode 1: “Soul Brother #1”
- Soul Brother #1: While Luke’s dad, the Rev (the late Reg E. Cathey), refers to Luke Cage as “Soul Brother #1” while rehearsing his sermon, this is also the title of the episode. And just as the first season’s episode titles were named after Gang Starr songs, this season the names came from Pete Rock and CL Smooth songs.
- African-American College Alliance: While this brand was popular among ‘90s hip-hop artists, Luke alluding to finding a sponsorship is a reference to the Heroes for Hire phase of his superheroing in the comics.
- Luke Cage t-shirt: D.W. (Jeremiah Craft) is trying to profit off of Luke Cage’s newfound fame, and one of the t-shirts he’s selling mimics the Run DMC logo. There’s some race-bending going on here since the original comics character was white. He’s also named after D.W. Griffith, the filmmaker behind “Birth of a Nation.”
- ”The Defenders”: Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) is helping rehab Misty Knight (Simone Missick) and tells her, “No one’s ever going to know what Matt Murdock did under Midland Circle. Or what you did for me and Colleen.”
- Dontrell “Cockroach” Hamilton: This mob enforcer first appeared in the comics in “Power Man” No. 28 and faced off with Luke Cage a number of times. At one point, he was also hired to attack Black Panther. Fun fact: Cockroach is played by Dorian Missick, the real-life husband of Simone Missick, who plays cop Misty Knight.
- Raymond “Piranha” Jones: This character played by Chaz Lamar Shepherd also appeared in the “Power Man” series and later in “Power Man and Iron Fist.” The original character had sharp pointy teeth, hence the nickname.
- Atreus Plastics: Piranha wants Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) to invest in this company, which in the comics is known for specializing in plastic explosives. The company was also seen in “Daredevil” Season 1 when mercenaries use an Atreus Plastics truck to extract Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’onofrio) from police custody. Mariah also drops references to that scene in “The Graduate” when Dustin Hoffman’s character is told about the “great future” in plastics.
- Glenn Industries: In the comics, Kilgrave took control of Maxwell Glenn, who owned Glenn Industries, and turned it to criminal pursuits. It also joined forces with Atreus Plastics.
- Comanche (Thomas Q. Jones): In the comics, Darius, a.k.a. Comanche, is one of the gang members in The Rivals who ran with Shades, Luke, and Stryker. He and Shades were at Seagate together and later teamed up against Luke and Iron Fist.
- ”Night Nurse”: Luke and Claire Temple can be seen dancing and doing other things to Gregory Isaacs’ song ”Night Nurse.” It’s a nod to when the comics character Night Nurse was originally written into Season 1 of “Daredevil,” but when the MCU had plans to use her, then the role was rewritten as Claire Temple.
- Ta-Nehisi Coates: Luke is reading the novelist and journalist’s “Between the World and Me,” which explores the realities of being Black in America. But he also has a Marvel connection. He writes for the “Black Panther” comic book series (and included Luke Cage as a character in a few issues) and authored the six-issue spinoff, “Black Panther and the Crew.”
- Machiavelli: Cockroach learns that Comanche read Machiavelli while at Seagate Prison and replies, “Tupac wrote a book?” *Rimshot* Tupac did, however, read Machiavelli’s political treatise “The Prince” while he was imprisoned, which is what inspired one of his aliases, Makaveli.
- A little dab will do ya: Argh! Why did Luke Cage execute a totally random dab at the end of a video message for the Harlem’s Hero app?
Episode 2: “Straighten It Out”
- The Incident: Another mention of the MCU battle between the Avengers and Loki’s army.
- Cameo: Todd Bowles: The New York Jets coach shows up to put Luke through his paces during practice. Apparently, he sought Luke out through Bobby, who does his taxes.
- Cameos: Michael Smith and Jemele Hill: The ESPN personalities show up to cover the practice and offer commentary so that we understand just how powerful Luke is and why he’d be good for branding. He’s apparently also faster than Usain Bolt.
- ”Daredevil” crossover: Fisk’s lawyer Ben Donovan (Danny Johnson), springs Arturo Rey (Otto Sanchez) from police custody. Here, he’s working on behalf of Mariah Dillard.
- Tilda: Gabrielle Dennis plays Tilda Dillard, the hitherto estranged daughter of Mariah on “Luke Cage,” who runs a shop for anthroposophic medicine ironically named Mother’s Touch. A hint that she may go the way of her original Marvel comics character is given when she provides the Bushmaster with some nightshade.
- That blessed lady: The elderly neighbor lady (Venida Evans) who gives Luke info on Cockroach hits on the Hero of Harlem, asking if he wants some “coffee,” which we’ve learned from Season 1 means way more than a caffeinated beverage. She also wishes Luke to have a “blessed day,” which is a line Evans is known for when she played Mrs. Brooks on “Treme.”
- Creeping DC: Gary Clark Jr. plays “If Trouble Was Money” at the Paradise. He’s also known for his cover of “Come Together” for “Justice League.”
Episode 3: “Wig Out”
- ”Iron Fist” connections: Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) shows up to train Misty, and they participate in a fight that hints at their comic book friendship and professional partnership under various names, including Daughters of the Dragon. Colleen also references Danny Rand (Finn Jones), and Misty calls him the “barefoot billionaire.”
- ”Titanic”: Claire and Luke’s dad bond over the dumb ending in which Rose doesn’t make enough room on the door to let Jack float (and survive) with her.
- Mortimer “Mr. Fish” Norris: In the comic books, Mortimer had actually mutated into a fish-man thanks to radioactive materials and falling into the East River. Here, Morty has a beef with Misty since she sent his brother Bill to Dannemora. He gives the piscine moniker to himself after Colleen tells him the water is too shallow for him to join them at the bar. “Call me Mr. Fish, baby. I’ll adapt,” he says.
- Mariah’s reign: Similar to how her cousin Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) visually and figuratively crowned himself king of Harlem by framing himself in front of a Biggie painting, Mariah and her lover Shades (Theo Rossi) share a couple of painted crowns after what they view as a victory. The painting is Jean Michel Basquiat’s “Red Kings,” which we first saw in the Season 1 finale when Mariah had this installed in place of the Biggie painting.
Episode 4: “I Get Physical”
- Christ complex: When the Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir) tells D.W. who he is, he says, “I’m the stone that was refused.” This is a reference to Psalm 118:22, in which Peter preached to the Jewish leaders that they had rejected Jesus, but God had made him the cornerstone of salvation. Bushmaster is a really confident dude.
- ”Dreamgirls”: Singer-turned-actress Antonique Smith who plays Nandi exposes her Broadway experience when she sings “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from “Dreamgirls.” Jennifer Hudson in that musical was one of Smith’s inspirations for musicians who broke into acting.
- Misty’s cybernetic arm: Misty will get her replacement arm as expected, but instead of having Stark Industries provide it, Danny’s Rand Enterprises provides it, thanks to their personal connection.
Episode 5: “All Souled Out”
- Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson): The lawyer crossed over from “Daredevil” when Luke got sued by Cockroach for assault. He faces off against Ben Donovan.
- Family First Hall of Fame: Mariah’s new clinic is decorated with photos of trailblazing black women, including Sojourner Truth, Bessie Coleman, Ida B. Wells, Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, and Shirley Chisolm Clinic
- Luke vs. Shark: In order to settle with Cockroach, Luke needs to make lots of money and fast. One of the schemes he considers is a TV series named “Bulletproof vs. Beast,” in which he takes on wild animals. The proposed big finale would have him facing off with a shark. In the comic books, the closest Luke got was taking on Lenny Sirkes as Lone Shark, who was hired by a man who was running for borough president of Brooklyn to terrorize the neighborhood while wearing a battle-equipped shark suit. Luke and Jessica Jones made short work of him.
- ”The Wiz”: When Cockroach mocks Misty’s cybernetic arm, he calls her the Tin Man from the Tony-winning musical adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz,” which celebrates African American culture. In the 1978 film version, Nipsey Russell plays the Tin Man.
- Luke Cage Hall of Fame: Piranha is a Luke Cage superfan, and his office has a wall dedicated to the Hero of Harlem with items we’ve seen in the series before. They include: a bootleg Seagate prison uniform, the bullethole-ridden door he ripped off a car, a crushed padlock, newspaper clippings, a speed bag, twisted rebar, and a crushed gun with the bullets that he was shot with. Piranha also hires Luke Cage to appear at a party and makes him wear a hoodie that’s full of bullet holes.
- Presidents: “Luke Cage” makes the most references to real-world people, and in Piranha’s office he has photos of himself with former President Clinton and Obama. He also name-drops Panamanian reggaeton artist Flex and British DJ and producer Mark Ronson.
- Wu-Tang Clan connection: Ghostface Killah rapping at the party follows a cameo and song by Method Man from Season 1. In the same universe, it turns out RZA directed an episode of “Iron Fist,” although he kept it quiet at the time.
- The Hulk: At the party, someone asks Luke, “Who’s tougher: you or the Green Monster?”
- Hero for Hire: That’s starting to look like a better option after being hired to be Piranha’s pet at the party. When Piranha is almost kidnapped by Bushmaster’s goons, Luke makes a different proposal, “You want to hire this hero? The price just doubled.”
Episode 6: “The Basement”
- Black Mariah: Mariah’s comic book nickname gets a mention on the show as the cruel name kids called her while she was growing up.
- Movie theaters: Luke Cage has a history with movie theaters. In the comics, he had rented an apartment in the third story of the Gem Theater in Manhattan and sometimes used it as his office. On the show’s first season, Luke has a showdown with Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey), and in this episode, he and Piranha hide out in the basement of a theater.
- Vintage film posters: A number of vintage posters for films starring African Americans and often discuss race issues grace the walls of the theater they’re hiding in. Two of them can be clearly seen. “The Crimson Skull,” a so-called “lost film” from 1922 is set in the all-black city of Boley, Oklahoma, which has been disturbed by terrorizing outlaws. It’s also one of the two films starring legendary black rodeo star Bill Pickett. The other is 1935’s “A Murder in Harlem” about a black night watchman who’s framed for the murder of a white woman whose body he finds at the chemical factory one night.