Arvell Jones is a lifelong Detroiter. He's also the co-creator of a Marvel Comics character named Misty Knight.
That character, part of the Luke Cage series, was brought to life in September when Netflix debuted Marvel's Luke Cage.
As fate would have it, a native Detroiter is playing the iconic character too. Renaissance High School alumna Simone Missick took on the role, a casting call Jones couldn't be happier with.
"I'm ecstatic because my original character was a Detroiter," Jones says. "When everyone started writing, she was a New Yorker. Simone's perfect for the role. She's got that perfect look. She just hit it out of the park."
Jones is particularly pleased with Missick for helping break through stereotypes many black female characters fall into. And Missick is proud to bring such a character to life.
"[Misty] was just so smart, funny, sarcastic, and strong. You don't necessarily see that, especially with women of color, without some unnecessary stereotype," Missick says. "Misty just jumped off of the page as this woman who was badass but not in a put-on way. It came from a very confident place. That was alluring and exciting to play."
Jones was just out of high school when he created the character who'd eventually become Misty. Originally, she was Major Glory, the alter ego of Maj. Mercedes Glory, a military veteran superhero with a bionic arm and legs. Co-creator Tony Isabella changed her name to Misty Night, but Jones added the "K" to her surname.
Then they scaled back on Misty's bionics. The police detective loses her right arm in the line of duty and it's subsequently replaced with a bionic arm designed by Tony Stark (aka Iron Man). Now a private investigator, Misty and martial artist Colleen Wing become the Daughters of the Dragon, who've teamed up with the X-Men, Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Namor the Sub-Mariner. They're also frequent allies of Cage (aka Power Man) and Misty's lover, Iron Fist.
Misty Knight premiered in 1975 and thus her look was inspired by the 1970s blaxploitation craze, particularly actress Gloria Hendry, who starred in films like Live and Let Die and Black Belt Jones. Jones was hoping to create a character that appealed to people like him.
"When I joined Marvel, I was looking at the medium and I didn't see any characters who reminded me of people I knew," Jones says. "I just felt a disconnect in terms of being able to relate to the characters. With characters like Superman, I couldn't relate to him — he's too fantastic for me. So I set out and created what Marvel now calls 'street-level' characters. Misty was the first character I created for Marvel, so I was pretty excited. She's got a background and an attitude that's not stereotypical. She's pretty well-rounded as a person."
To prepare for her role as Misty, Missick created a bible for the character, detailing who she is, where she's from, her relationships with her friends, family, and colleagues. She also kept a journal of "Misty" notes throughout shooting. Additionally, Missick worked out four or five times a week for this physically demanding part.
Missick says taking on the role of the first African-American female superhero in a TV series is "wildly exciting" but scary.
"There's so many fans who have such love for this character that you don't want to let them down," Missick says. "But at the same time it's also freeing because you don't have to worry about how did this person play this role when they did it 20 years ago or how does this sound coming out of my mouth because people associate it with this person. It's new. It's the opportunity to make it my own and to figure out what those shoes feel like. It's great."
The character Luke Cage was also inspired by the blaxploitation trend and debuted in 1972's Luke Cage, Hero for Hire No. 1. An ex-con imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, Cage gains super-strength and steel-hard skin after involuntarily undergoing an experiment while in prison. Afterward, he becomes a superhero and Iron Fist's partner, as well as a member of the Fantastic Four and the Defenders. In the early 2000s, the character experienced a resurgence in popularity in such titles as Alias and New Avengers, which were written by popular comics scribe Brian Michael Bendis.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which began with 2008's Iron Man), Cage, played by Mike Colter, debuted in 2015's Jessica Jones, starring Krysten Ritter and based on the Alias comic, before graduating to his own titular series. Colter is slated to reprise his role as Cage in 2017's The Defenders.
On Luke Cage, Cage and Misty are uneasy allies in their battle against crime-family cousins in Harlem: Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) and the Black Mariah (Alfre Woodard). In the final episode, Cage battles his half-brother Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey).
"When they initially meet, there is this chemistry," Missick says. "It's palpable, undeniable. Misty is on one side of the law and it appears that Luke's on the other side of the law. At first glance, it doesn't look like Luke is interested in being an ally. You can almost say he's her opponent. So despite that chemistry and that attraction they have for one another, they both have very strong positions they're standing on, which creates a lot of intensity, a lot of sparks in their relationship."
For Jones, it's a thrill to see characters he drew 40 years ago come to life on the big and small screens. That includes Misty and Cage, but also Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the Avengers — all of which comprise the MCU. He calls Luke Cage a "groundbreaking step" in the portrayal of African-Americans on TV, following the trail blazed by ABC's Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder.
"They're casting African-American characters in a much different light," Jones says. "And it's happening as well with Asians and Hispanics. You're getting a more diverse and interesting line of characters. I think Hollywood and the TV industry are opening up to more diversity. They're just looking to capitalize on the audience and the audience potential. I think that the marketplace has changed so much, and Marvel has a deep bench of characters that they can pull from at any time."