Carl Lucas is an innocent man, and looks like a damn fool.
Discovering it was Luke Cage who knocked over his safehouses, leading to his millions being confiscated by the police, Cottonmouth responds somewhat disproportionately by dropping a building on top of Luke and his landlady, Connie. Specifically, he shot a rocket launcher into Genghis Connie’s while they were eating dinner. Noticing just in time, Luke is able to shield Connie from the blast, but the debris breaks her leg. While emergency services work to clear the rubble and save who they can, Luke works to dig their way up to the surface. Punching his way through the concrete in view of firefights, cops, and news crews, he is swarmed to comment on his acts of heroism, or to at least give his name.
But Luke Cage didn’t always go by that name. While digging through the rubble, Luke reflects on his past. Meet Carl Lucas, former police officer, and now current inmate at Seagate, an island prison off the coast of Georgia. Somehow set up and sentenced to rot away in prison, Carl does his best to keep his head down and survive. This becomes more difficult when he attracts the attention of a corrupt prison guard, Albert Rackham, and his inmate minion, Hernan “Shades” Alvarez. Trying to persuade Carl to fight for him in their illegal prison fighting arena. He gives Carl little choice when he threatens those Carl cares about, one of them being the prison psychologist, Reva Conners.
While spending spending months fighting in the ring, Carl makes a plan to get himself out of prison, and bring Rackham’s fighting ring down by acting as a witness and gathering evidence against him. Shades and Rackham discover his plan and beat Carl nearly to death. Desperate to save his life, Reva asks the prison doctor, Dr. Noah Burstein, to put Carl through the experiments he’s been running on inmates to heal their wounds at a faster rate. As Carl is put through the procedure, Rackham intervenes, causing a malfunction with the equipment in hopes that it will kill Carl once and for all. Unfortunately for him, the resulting explosion kills Rackham, and gives Carl extraordinary strength and invulnerable skin. Crashing through the prison walls and swimming to freedom, Carl reunites with Reva and being their new life in hiding, with his new name; Luke Cage.
“Step in the Arena” serves as Luke Cage’s origin story, and while it’s entertaining to see the passage of time based on the size of Carl Lucas’ hair and beard, it touches on characters who will continue to play an integral role in Luke’s fight against Cottonmouth. While Shades’ past is not completely revealed, seeing him in Seagate with Carl shows the kind of man Shades is and apparently always has been. A villain, but intelligent and resourceful enough to find himself at the right hand of an influential figure. Reva, though revealed to be dead in Jessica Jones, is given an introduction as someone who does care of people and tries to make a difference in someone’s life, but has her own secrets. And finally, Carl Lucas, or Luke Cage, while constantly being shown as someone who simply wants to be left alone, we see that it’s his nature to stand up and fight for what is right. A military man who became a cop who became an inmate who is becoming a superhero, Luke can’t help but fight against the wrongs he sees around him. Matt Murdock, while heroic, fights because he can and wants to protect his neighborhood with his abilities. Jessica Jones fights to make a living, but Luke Cage, whether he has powers or not, fights to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.