Luke Cage season 2 introduces viewers to Mustafa Shakir’s Bushmaster – and he’s easily one of the best villains in the MCU to date. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is often criticized as having something of a “villain problem,” and a major part of that is Marvel’s dependency on ‘mirror-image’ villains – bad guys who are deliberate inversions of the heroes. That turns the villains into little more than a foil for the heroes, rather than a character in their own right.
The “villain problem” is gradually being addressed, though. Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming was a compelling, three-dimensional character in his own right, and it helped that Vulture’s powerset was very different to Spider-Man’s. Thanos was essentially the star of Avengers: Infinity War, complete with a twisted version of the Hero’s Journey. And Michael B. Jordan was the proud recipient of MTV’s Best Villain Award for Black Panther‘s Killmonger.
But the best bad guys in the MCU have always been found on the small screen, particularly in the Marvel Netflix shows. The classic examples to date have been Vincent d’Onofrio’s Kingpin and David Tennant’s Kilgrave. But how does Mustafa Shakir’s Bushmaster compare to these characters?
- This Page: Bushmaster’s Dynamic With Luke Cage
- Next Page: Bushmaster’s Arc and the Themes of Luke Cage Season 2
Bushmaster is easily one of the MCU’s most fascinating and complex villains. We’re told his backstory early on, and ultimately shown it in a series of (largely unnecessary) flashbacks. We learn that Bushmaster’s family suffered terribly at the hands of the Stokes family, and Bushmaster himself was forced to watch his mother burn alive. He has sworn vengeance, and to that end has cultivated a dependency upon the drug Nightshade. Nightshade reveals the man within; the child who burns with fury and rage, the unstoppable juggernaut who serves as an agent of wrath.
Crucially, though, Nightshade is clearly an addictive drug in all the worst senses of the word. Every dose becomes less effective than the last, meaning Bushmaster is forever having to treat himself with larger quantities of Nightshade. Meanwhile, Danny Rand suggested Nightshade actually causes an imbalance between body, soul, and spirit; that imbalance is gradually driving Bushmaster insane, and he’s going to ever-greater and more brutal lengths to get revenge on Black Mariah and her family. Bushmaster’s uncle desperately warns against it, but his advice is not heeded.
The Dynamic Between Luke Cage and Bushmaster
This creates a fantastic dynamic between Luke Cage and his new nemesis. At first, Bushmaster is interested in Luke Cage purely because he’s in the way; little by little, though, the rivalry between the two physical powerhouses becomes intensely personal. By midway through the season, the two have begun to earn a grudging respect for one another; then, after Mariah commits an unspeakable atrocity against Bushmaster, they find themselves united in revulsion. That’s when we actually get a brief but thrilling team-up between Luke Cage and Bushmaster, as they stumble into one of Black Mariah’s traps – and work together.
Shakir and Mike Colter are a dream team, performing their nuanced roles with skill. Several scenes draw out a deliberate parallel between the two characters, one that’s stressed early on when Luke’s father preaches a version of the “Tale of Two Wolves.” This imagines that there are two wolves fighting to control each person; one stands for hope, the other stands for darkness. One for righteousness, the other for vengeance. Which one will win? The one a person feeds. In the case of Bushmaster, he’s been feeding the dark wolf for decades, and the desire for vengeance has consumed him. In contrast, Luke resists the howl of the dark wolf, and struggles to retain his innate goodness. That will no doubt prove far more challenging in season 3, given he’ll be in a position of real temptation.
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