“They call you Pop because you were the OG?”
“Nah, it was the sound my fist made when I knocked a fool out. Snap, crackle, pop.”
[[SPOILERS FOR SEASON 1 EPISODE 2 of LUKE CAGE]]
For my first post about Luke Cage, I wanted to talk about a character who is not only influential in motivating our hero to live up to his potential, but embodies the season’s central themes of history and community. Henry “Pop” Hunter is only seen in 2 episodes, and despite his short screen time, his impact is significant. Pop is a shining example of getting the most out of a character efficiently and powerfully.
The trope of the wise father figure who teaches the hero responsibility before dying in the first act is not a new concept at all, especially in comic book adaptations. This is seen in at least Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, and in two of the three Spider-Man film franchises (I wish I could say that sentence to a twelve year old me). But I think that Pop is a richer character than any of the wise old men in those stories. He is deeply tied to the hero, the villain, and the setting in a way that few characters like him are.
“You should be out there helping people, that’s all, like them other fellas downtown.”
Pop is introduced right off the bat when the opening scene shows a typical day in his barbershop. In this scene we learn a lot about who he is in the way he interacts with different characters. We see how he treats kids, women, young adults, peers, and his employees. And what’s notable, is that he treats everyone the same. He gives everyone in his shop the same amount of respect. We also see that not only does he have a “no profanity” rule, but also a swear jar. And he holds himself to the same standards as everyone else. Despite not being perfect, has no hesitation in paying when he slips up.
In just a few minutes we see this character as one of respect, responsibility, and also very human. It’s easy to like Pop right away. After establishing all this, in the very next scene we learn that Pop, like Luke, is an ex-con. This gives his words real weight when he then talks to Luke about moving on from the past and focusing on what you can do to make the future better. These aren’t hollow platitudes, they are characteristic of Pop’s whole life.
“What would have happened in my life if people gave up on me? I was no angel, no I was a beast. I was a beast, no two ways about it.”
Pop used to be a criminal, known for being one of Mama Mabel’s enforcers. After getting caught, and spending 10 years in prison, he was left with a choice when he got out. He could’ve gone right back to doing what he was doing, living the way he did before and letting his history dictate his future. But he chose a different path. Not only one that would better himself, but make a difference in his community.
He set up shop and used it to keep kids off the streets and learning the value of hard work and respect. But also gave them a safe place to just hang out, play video games, and be kids without being caught up in the toxic elements of their homes or neighborhoods.
Pop mentions that his favorite literary character is Kenyatta. A man who leads a more-or-less vigilante group of people who seek to better their community by ridding it of both criminals and also racist, corrupt police. It’s not coincidence that this not only parallels Pop’s own attempts at community improvement, but also the life that he urges Luke to lead. To use his exceptional abilities to truly take a stand against all dangers that the community faces.
“I was trying to do what Pop always did. Help people in need, and protect them from the forces that would do them harm.”
Another thing that sets Pop apart from most characters like him, is that he is mourned by both the hero and the villain. For all his faults, Cottonmouth is devastated to hear of Pop’s murder. It is Cottonmouth, not Luke, who takes vengeance on his killer. And even Shades, a notoriously hard to read character, is visibly shaken by what happened to Pop. This was a man loved by all who knew him, and whose shop was known as neutral territory.
This whole post reads like an obituary, and I think that says a lot about this wonderful character. In less than two episodes we learned all of this about him and more. Luke Cage does such a marvelous job building this character up and making his death exactly as weighty and powerful as it needs to be to motivate Luke, a man trying lay low, into action.
A common complaint about Luke Cage is that it starts strong and starts to dip a bit in later episodes. And while I will certainly talk about that in the future, I wanted to hold up Pop as one of those very strong aspects to the beginning of this show.
“Take my advice, brother. The past is the past. And the only direction in life that matters is forward. Never backwards.”
Thank you for reading! I will have a least a couple more posts on Luke Cage in the next few days. Be sure to follow the blog to make sure you don’t miss a post! And let me know what you think of Pop down in the comments!