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Main Character Index > Villainous Organizations > Criminals & Terrorists | Criminal & Terrorist Organizations > Military Heroin-Smuggling Conspiracy | New York-Based Criminals (Vulture's Gang (Vulture)) (Fisk Crime Ring (Kingpin)) | Harlem's Paradise | The Stylers

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    In General 
The Stokes crime ring is a ring of (mostly) African-American gangsters and criminals that operate out of Harlem, a neighborhood encompassing Upper Manhattan. It is based around Harlem's Paradise, a nightclub belonging to the Stokes family.
  • Ancestral Weapon: A pearl handle Smith & Wesson revolver has exchanged hands between the Stokeses. Mama Mabel first gave the gun to Cottonmouth to execute Pete. Cottonmouth kept the gun until Mariah took it up upon gaining control of Harlem’s Paradise. Because it is very distinct, it becomes the key piece of evidence linking Mariah to three different murders.
  • Canon Foreigner: There is no Stokes crime family in Marvel comics, though the three major members did exist.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Abuse, incest, and kinslaying.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: It started with a dishwasher screwing his friend over to get better relation with the Italian mafia to the most powerful crime family in Harlem.
  • Necessarily Evil: They control organized crime in Harlem and keeps rival gangs out. Most experienced criminals state they need someone in Harlem's Paradise in order to keep the "rules of engagement" enforced. The moment every operating Stokes is dead or locked up, every neighboring crew declares open season on Harlem, trying to absorb it into their territories, and petty criminals start killing civilians over botched robberies.
  • Related in the Adaptation: All three major members of the family; Cornell, Mariah, and Tilda, are unrelated to each other in Marvel Comics. The show makes Mariah and Cornell cousins, and Tilda into Mariah's daughter.
  • Scary Black Man: The henchmen and the male leaders are physically imposing African-American gangsters who rule Harlem with an iron fist. The women aren't angels either.


First Iteration

    Buggy Stokes 

Samuel "Buggy" Stokes

Portrayed by: NA

Appearances: Luke Cage

The founder of the Stokes crime ring, husband of Mabel, brother of Pete, grandfather of Cornell and Mariah, and great-grandfather of Tilda.

  • Evil Former Friend: Was Quincy McIver's best friend until The Mafia said he could keep Harlem's Paradise only if he got rid of Quincy and handed over the Bushmaster Rum distillery.
  • Posthumous Character: He's dead by the time of Luke Cage
  • Rags to Riches: He and Quincy were just ambitious dishwashers working at Small's Paradise trying to support their families before they founded Harlem's Paradise and the Bushmaster Rum Distillery.
  • Villainous Legacy: Though long dead by the modern day (and even the flashbacks) Buggy is the man who started the Stokes descent into crime.
  • Wound That Will Not Heal: When Buggy killed Quincy, the latter managed to shoot Buggy, who agonized for five months before the wound finally killed him.

    Quincy McIver 

Quincy Purcell McIver

Portrayed by: NA

Appearances: Luke Cage

Co-owner of Harlem's Paradise and co-founder of Bushmaster Rum with Buggy Stokes, until the latter betrayed and murdered hum. The father of John McIver/Bushmaster.

  • Age Lift: In the comics, Quincy McIver is the brother of John McIver instead of his father.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: He got betrayed and killed by his best friend and partner under orders of The Mafia.
  • Rags to Riches: Quincy and Buggy were just ambitious dishwashers working at Small's Paradise trying to support their families before they founded Harlem's Paradise and the Bushmaster Rum Distillery.
  • Posthumous Character: He's dead by the time of Luke Cage.
  • Taking You with Me: When Buggy lethally shot Quincy, Quincy managed to shoot Buggy, though the latter agonized for five months before perishing.

    Mama Mabel 

Maybelline "Mama Mabel" Stokes
"You know the rule, baby. Family first."

Portrayed By: LaTanya Richardson Jackson

Appearances: Luke Cage

"I'm right here...Where I will always be."

The former matriarch of the family and infamous crime boss of Harlem. Pop memorably describes her as the Devil’s Ex-wife.

  • Abusive Parents: More verbally and mentally than physical, though she hits Cornell a few times. Could also be considered this for Mariah too due to forcing her to carry out her incest pregnancy by her uncle.
  • Decomposite Character: You can definitely recognize a lot of Black Mariah's personality (and physical appearance) from the comics in Mama Mabel, despite Mabel having a different name.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When Mabel got pissed off she could go to extremes.
    • Cuts a young man's finger off and has him stabbed to death for selling drugs and insulting her.
    • When Gwen McIver demands a share of profits from the businesses that her late husband and Mabel's created together (long before they killed each other), and shows that she has written evidence of the agreement that will hold up in court, Mabel burns her alive in her own home, then two years later sends Pete to shoot Gwen's son.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: She tends not to care about a person's background and even slaps Cornell for insulting a trans-girl.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • She had no problem profiting from prostitution, extortion, gambling and street robbery. But dealing drugs was completely out of the question.
    • She also drew the line at abortion and refused to allow Mariah get one even though she was raped. She most likely held this stance towards her prostitutes as well.
  • Evil Matriarch: In her time she ruled the Harlem criminal world with a ruthless iron fist.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: She acts in public like a kindly neighborhood mother, but she is a sadistic monster who made Mother Dearest look like a saint.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Her charm and love for Harlem's community is superfluous at best, a manipulative technique at worse. As long as everyone does what she wants she'll be nice but any deviations can lead to death.
  • Gruesome Grandparent: Leads an organized crime syndicate and forced her grandson Cornell to participate through verbal and mental abuse. When her granddaughter Mariah got pregnant from being raped by her great-uncle, Mabel forced her to go through a traumatizing pregnancy and birth instead of letting her have an abortion.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Subtle, but still present; she allowed Peter Stokes in her household and didn't realize he was betraying the family and sexually abusing Mariah until it was too late.
  • Hypocrite: Mama Mabel may preach "family first," and Shades even talks about her standing up to wifebeaters. Yet she also allowed Pete to rape Mariah repeatedly and did nothing to stop it. She even forced Mariah to go through with giving birth to Tilda, regardless of the pain and psychological destruction it wrought on Mariah. It's also obvious that Mabel only used Mariah's rape as an excuse to kill Pete, when she was really only angry that Pete was betraying the family by allying with Salvador Colon. Otherwise, she would have killed him after the first time he raped Mariah.
  • Karma Houdini: Despite committing some heinous acts during her time as the queenpin of Harlem, not once did she receive any comeuppance for her crimes, and she was able to retire from the gangster life and peacefully die of old age.
  • Kick the Dog: She sarcastically apologizes to a young Bushmaster after killing his mother.
  • Mama Bear: Played with. Mabel placed the safety of her family and community above all else, was famous for dealing with abusive parents and protected her granddaughter from Uncle Pete's sexual abuse. On the other hand, she was also emotionally (and occasionally physically) abusive towards Cornell so she could mold him into her enforcer. Also her way of protecting Mariah was simply to send her away rather than expelling Pete from the family. In fact, she didn't do anything about Pete
  • Man of the City: A female and decidedly evil example. While she was a ruthless gangster, Shades recounts how she had Harlem's well-being in mind, providing clothes or food for those in need or making sure that abusive parents never hit their kids again, and also drew a line at drug pushing.
  • Miss Kitty: Her home doubled as a brothel of which she was the madam. It was most likely as a madam that she built her other connections and her criminal empire.
  • More Deadly Than the Male: Where Buggy Stokes turned on his best friend rather than face the might of the Italian Mob and the Irish cops, Mabel was able to create a network of legitimate and criminal connections so formidable that neither group was able to get a foothold on Harlem on her watch. And neither did any other criminal syndicate, for that matter.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Literally, since Mama Mabel was Cornell and Mariah's grandmother, and the guy who messed up with her got one of his finger sliced off with a pair of florist shears.
  • One Bad Mother: A ruthless and brutal queenpin named "Mama".
  • Posthumous Character: She's long dead in the present day, but her influence on her grandchildren Cottonmouth and Mariah is still considerable.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Mabel was quite content owning much of Harlem, and passed up a chance to forge an alliance with the Spanish Harlem mob even if it meant having enough influence to take over the New York underworld, suggesting that it'll give her too much attention. That they dealt with drug-dealing may have been another factor against such an alliance. As far as she was concerned, "Pistol" Pete acted without her permission, went behind her back, and got greedy.
    Mabel: Pigs get fat. But hogs? They get slaughtered.
  • Predecessor Villain: In a sense. Her screwed up parenting of Cornell and Mariah (and presumably their parents before them) is what caused them to be as screwed up as they were. If it weren't for her, most of the events of the show would have never happened at all.
  • The Queenpin: At first she was part of an Unholy Matrimony with Buggy Stokes and then she shared leadership with Pistol Pete. After she had him executed for raping Mariah, she becomes the sole leader of Harlem's Paradise until her death.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Seems to have this approach with Cottonmouth, as she forces him to savagely beat a drug dealer and kill Pete despite Cottonmouth preferring being a pianist than the family enforcer.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: One of the reasons why Mama Mabel was so successful as a gangster was that she had lots of connections, which went all the way up to the Mayor's office.
  • Shear Menace: She cuts a guy's finger off with her florist shears for selling dope in her territory.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: She genuinely took care of the people in her community, whether it was giving children clothing, helping them get education, or stopping abusive husbands/fathers. That being said, she was utterly ruthless in the pursuit and protection of her power, and crossing her was a death sentence... if you were lucky.
  • Yubitsume: Mabel cuts off an associate's finger for selling drugs without permission. She also had Cornell give him a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.

    Pistol Pete 

Peter "Pistol Pete" Stokes
"You always protect your family. No matter what."

Portrayed By: Curtiss Cook

Appearences: Luke Cage

Buggy Stokes' brother, who helped build the Stokes' criminal empire with his sister-in-law following Buggy's death.

  • Alas, Poor Villain: Only in Cornell's case, since he only saw his good side. Mama Mabel and Mariah understandably have no such pity for him.
  • Bait the Dog: One probably would figure from his first scene that he is a Nice Guy encouraging his grand-nephew's musical talents and want him to pursue arts instead of being a criminal enforcer. But it turns out he has been sexually abusing his own grandniece Mariah.
  • Child by Rape: Mariah ended up conceiving Tilda as a result of his abuse.
  • Cool Uncle: From Cottonmouth's point of view. He tried to give him a better life.
  • Creepy Uncle: To the point of sexual abuse with his grand-niece, Mariah Dillard, and sired Tilda Johnson as a result. He is the reason why she was sent away to college to keep Uncle Pete from hurting her.
  • Dirty Old Man: To his own grand-niece.
  • Evil Parents Want Good Kids: Pete tried to encourage the young Cornell's musical talents and keep him out of the life of a gangster. It's too bad Mama Mabel had other ideas...
  • Foreshadowing: Domingo drops his name during the meeting with Cottonmouth and Mariah at the club, saying Pete was a good man and his brother always liked him, there is a brief cut to Mariah looking away in discomfort, not agreeing with the statement.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Pete never liked being the Number Two in Mama Mabel's criminal organization. He even noted that his late brother/Mabel's husband was the original owner, and felt that he should have inherited it, and not Mabel. His envy leads him to make dealings with the Spanish Harlem mob behind her back.
  • Posthumous Character: Just like Mama Mabel, he died a long time ago and he only shows up in flashbacks. Unlike Mama Mabel, his death is seen at the hands of Cornell.
  • Would Harm A Child: Had no qualms about shooting John McIver, even though he was just a kid, not to mention his abuse of Mariah.

Second Iteration

    Cornell Bertram "Cottonmouth" Stokes 

Cornell Bertram "Cottonmouth" Stokes
"Everybody wants to be the king."

Portrayed By: Mahershala Ali; Elijah Boothe (young)

Appearances: Luke Cage

"I'm all about the old school. You know that eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth kind of thing. Fire and brimstone. See... back then... do someone wrong, wasn't no beggin' and pleadin'. Just took care of it. Handled your business."

Part of the generation that succeeded Buggy and Mabel, Cottonmouth is the owner of Harlem's Paradise. In private, he's an arms trafficker using his cousin Mariah's position as Councilwoman to launder money. He was a sweet kid who got broken and hardened by the family business until he grew into a bad adult.

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the comics, he had a pretty bizarre appearance with More Teeth than the Osmond Family, on top of being old and having a large unibrow. Mahershala Ali is not only younger-looking, but more conventionally handsome too.
    Cottonmouth: Never thought I'd be happy to see your ugly face.
    Scarfe: Well, we all can't be as pretty as you.
  • Adapted Out: His comic counterpart's Super Strength and filed teeth capable of piercing Luke Cage's hide, don't make it into the show. Also, there is nary a mention of his photographic memory.
  • Adaptational Wimp: This version of Cottonmouth is just a Badass Normal with great leadership. See Adapted Out above for more details.
  • Adaptation Name Change: In the comics, "Cottonmouth" was his actual last name. Here, it's just a nickname. And he absolutely hates people calling him by it.
  • Affably Evil: Despite his brutal methods, he genuinely loves Harlem and thinks he's doing whats best for the people who live there. He's also very personable face-to-face, all smiles and handshakes.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Double-Double Subverted. Cornell angrily confronts Mariah on the fact that she was protected by Mama Mabel, and sent to a fancy school where he, despite his talents was forced to get his hands bloodied, even killing the man who cared for him the most. She reveals Mabel sent her away to keep her safe from that man since he was molesting her, but Cornell presses the issue, victim-blaming her and suggesting she enjoyed the abuse. She brutally beats him to death in response. She, seemingly not intending to kill him, cries over his corpse after the act, but ultimately agrees with Shades that he deserved what he got. However, as of Season 2, Mariah seems to view him in a more sympathetic light again, playing this trope straight.
  • Arc Villain: He never made it to being the Big Bad of the season, but he still serves as the main threat to Luke Cage before he is promptly killed off.
  • Ascended Extra: Cottonmouth is not a terribly prominent villain in the Marvel Universe comics, but here, he's the Arc Villain for the first half of season 1.
  • Badass Baritone: Courtesy of Mr. Ali, Cottonmouth has a very smooth, deep tone to his voice that only makes him that much more intimidating.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: For all his suave and debonair styling, Cottonmouth is still a deadly, deadly man, and everyone knows it.
  • Bad Boss: While he may have standards, it's a bad idea to be a subordinate who gets on Cottonmouth's bad side. The lucky ones just get fired for annoying him. The unlucky ones get shot in the face or thrown off buildings, frequently with no warning.
  • Bald of Evil: He has very little hair.
  • Batter Up!: Upon Luke busting up all his stashhouses, he takes out his rage on his club furniture with a baseball bat.
  • Berserk Button: He does not like the "Cottonmouth" nickname. At all. Woe betide anyone who uses it in his hearing, and especially to his face.
    [Tone, who used the name and was, up until doing so, very confident and self-assured around his boss, is now terrified as Stokes bellows in his face]
  • Big Bad Wannabe: While Cottonmouth is a fairly threatening, successful villain, and causes the plot to start by indirectly causing Pop's death, he is still a regular mob boss facing a Nigh-Invulnerable super-strong hero with no previous real experience of super-powered people, so he is severely outmatched; even his attempts to turn the population against Luke backfire spectacularly. He does eventually finds Luke's weakness through his true identity and the Judas Bullets, but he gets killed by Mariah before he gets the opportunity to truly use either. Shades even warns him that Diamondback could have him killed anytime he wants and Domingo is ready to declare war against him.
  • Broken Pedestal: Averted. Despite knowing what Pistol Pete did to his cousin, and that he betrayed their family, Cornell still holds him in high regard, because he was the only one who was nice to him, as in, didn't push him into becoming a criminal and tried to promote his musical skills instead.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Downplayed, but present. As Shameek learned the hard way, Cottonmouth is capable of beating a man to death with his bare hands, suffering no more than a few cuts on his knuckles in the process.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Mariah mentions Cornell was a nice person and blame Mabel for his descent into crime. Flashbacks show that he was a cheerful child until he got old enough to be in the family business, and Tilda was very close with him.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: After most of his cash gets impounded, Cornell lists his remaining assets and mentions that he still has the profits from his club to keep him afloat. This implies that the club could actually function on its own as a legitimate business without the arms dealing. Justified when Mariah asks him why he is using legal money in his illegal affair, he has bigger plans for Harlem and greasing the wheels to ensure Mariah gets her housing projects through needs way more money. Also he has seven million in dirty money that would take years to launder just with the club.
  • Death by Flashback: Episode 7 focuses on the Stokes' past. He is shown as a quiet and gifted child in music, who was forced to become a criminal by Mama Mabel. The final scene shows him killing the one man who tried to help him, his own uncle. Then he's murdered by his cousin, Mariah, after he pushed her Berserk Button.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: Is killed in the seventh episode of Luke Cage, making way for Mariah and Diamondback to take his place as the Big Bad Ensemble of season one.
  • The Dreaded: His own employees are afraid to go up to his balcony. Anyone with a modicum of sense knows to be afraid of Cottonmouth.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: That's how the Cottonmouth nickname began (he lost teeth in fights which muffled his speaking, like he had a mouth full of cotton), but now that he's an adult and a man of power, it doubles as Names to Run Away from Really Fast.
    • Everyone knows calling him Cottonmouth is his Berserk Button, and most of his gang knows what happens when that button is pushed. People die.
    • The police also know how dangerous he is and use the name Cottonmouth to scare lesser criminals, reminding them of just how deadly he is.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Cornell did care for Pop in his own way. When Pop is killed, he furiously throws the murderer off the top of his club and is later seen weeping over an old photo of Pop. This also makes him a Bruiser with a Soft Center. Season 2 reveals that he was also very close with Tilda, more than Mariah ever was, as Tilda is seen laying a flower at his grave.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: As cruel and greedy as he can be, Cottonmouth does have a code. He believes that there are rules to the criminal lifestyle, and is angered when those rules are broken. He's also disgusted with Mariah's pretenses of legitimacy, seemingly viewing her as even more dishonest than him.
  • Evil Laugh: When the mood suits him he can break out a delightfully sinister chuckle.
  • Expy: In many ways, Cornell is the MCU's version of Avon Barksdale — both are men that believe that the criminal lifestyle has rules, are angered when those rules are broken, and seem disgusted with their associates' attempts to go legitimate. Mahershala Ali also bears a resemblance to Wood Harris, making the similarities more noticeable.
  • Fatal Flaw: Pride. Despite claiming that he likes being underestimated, he sees Luke Cage's attacks on his business as a threat to his reputation and credibility. Mariah and even one of his own men tell him to cut his losses and sell his club/leave Cage alone. He ignores the former and kills the latter. He also takes Scarfe's attempt to squeeze him for money too personally, which earns him police attention. Finally, his bitterness and jealousy toward Mariah, who received an expensive education that could've made him a music star, ultimately leads to a fight with Mariah that gets him killed.
  • Freudian Excuse: When Mama Mabel made him beat a boy to death and even shoot his own uncle, he was basically forced to carry on the criminal legacy of his family.
  • Hidden Depths: Cornell is a very gifted pianist, even keeping a Rhodes Mark II keyboard in his office. As "Pistol" Pete mentions in flashbacks, he had enough talent as a child that they were talking about Juilliard, but living under Mama Mabel's influence made him decide to use his hands as blunt instruments instead. He also had a big soft spot for Tilda.
  • The Hyena: He has a very distinctive and frequent laugh that comes out at inappropriate times.
  • Karmic Death: Ultimately, Cornell is taken out in brutal fashion like the one he gave to Shameek, but with a microphone. Ironically, while Cornell did that to Shameek, who had taken money from him, his own death comes from Mariah, who he felt stole the opportunity of a good education from him. A double dose too, as he's pushed out of his private box onto the main floor of the club, similar to how he killed Tone.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Played with. Cornell cultivates the image of a swank businessman, but it's an open secret who he really is.
  • Meaningful Name: His codename "Cottonmouth" comes from a childhood incident where several of his teeth were knocked out of his jaw.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Despite his hatred of it as a cruel childhood nickname, the Cottonmouth is a species of venomous snakes. Quite the apt name for such a dangerous man.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Cornell's character may be partially based on Willie "Flukie" Stokes, a Chicago pool hall owner, self-named gambler, and also a notorious gangster and drug dealer who simultaneously terrorized and befriended the South Side of Chicago, and adored by the public even though he was the primary source of much of their misery.
  • Older Than He Looks: He does not look like somebody roughly the same age as Pop and Mariah. (Mahershala Ali is over twenty years younger than Alfre Woodard and Frankie Faison)
  • Parental Abandonment: Cottonmouth was the illegitimate son of Mama Mabel's daughter Jasmine and her boyfriend Malik. However, Malik overdosed on drugs while Cornell was an infant, and Jasmine ran away because she felt she wasn't ready to be a mother.
  • Present Absence: In Season 2, surprisingly. He is mentioned several times in a positive context, by both Mariah and her daughter.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Is one to facilitate Mariah's decent into villainy.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: He tends to be very well-dressed, as befitting his status as a Wicked Cultured club owner.
  • Tantrum Throwing/Villainous Breakdown: He's largely a genial sort, but can terrifyingly blow his top. When things go wrong, all the smiles and good humor in the world won't stop him from beating you to death with his bare hands until there's more blood outside than in. He is also one to engage in destroying his own things by throwing or with a baseball bat when there's no one around who deserves the beating.
  • The Tooth Hurts: His nickname comes from an incident as a young street thug where three of his teeth were knocked out.
  • Tranquil Fury: Don't let his moments of raw fury make you drop your guard. It's when he's outwardly calm and composed that Cottonmouth is at his angriest, and consequently his most lethal.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: He insists on being referred to as "Mister Stokes" by his subordinates to his face, though they still call him Cottonmouth behind his back.
  • Tragic Villain: If not for Mama Mabel, he could have been a famous musician instead of a crime lord.
  • The Unfavorite: Feels this way as Mariah got a higher education while he was forced to beat and kill people by Mama Mabel. It turns out part of why Mariah was sent to broadside school was because their uncle was raping her.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: He was a gentle boy, played the piano. Then Mama Mabel made him beat a boy to death.
  • Villainous Lineage: Cousin to Mariah Dillard, and raised with her by his crime boss grandmother, "Mama Mabel". The experience seems to have made quite an impression on him, as he equates crime with autonomy and empowerment.
  • Waistcoat of Style: As part of his Sharp-Dressed Man get-up, he has a very cool waistcoat.
  • Wicked Cultured: He may be extremely ruthless and willing to get his hands dirty, but he's still a criminal of the classy variety, favoring a wardrobe of natty well-tailored suits and playing soul piano in his off-hours. He also has a poster of Biggie as the King of New York framed and hung in his office, pointing to both his tastes and ambitions.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Twistingly played with. He used an old open palm rule (you can't punch a woman but you can slap her mentality) on Shameek because he considers him "a little bitch". When Shameek gives him a Spiteful Spit, Stokes decides that he can hit him like a man and promptly beats Shameek to death.
  • You Look Familiar: Mahershala Ali would later go on to join the film side of the MCU as Eric Brooks/Blade.

Third Iteration

    Mariah Dillard 

Madam Councilwoman Mariah Dillard (née Stokes)
"Politics is where the power is."

Portrayed By: Alfre Woodard; Megan Miller (young)

Appearances: Luke Cage

"Harlem doesn't need a hero. It needs a queen."

A city councilwoman in Harlem and first cousin of Cottonmouth, looking to bring change to Harlem, whose life is thrown into turmoil by the actions of Luke Cage.

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Alfre Woodard is certainly easier on the eyes than her counterpart in the comics.
  • Adaptational Curves: Her comic counterpart was a Fat Bitch, but she's much slimmer in the show.
  • Adaptational Job Change: She's a city councilwoman aside from her involvement in organized crime earlier on.
  • The Alcoholic: Come Luke Cage season 2, she spends a lot of time knocking back drinks, especially when under stress.
  • Ascended Extra: While Mariah is among the main villains of season 1, she's always being second-fiddle to Cottonmouth and Diamondback. In season 2, she is the main villain overall front and center, and the season is about her trying to stay on top as others like Luke, Misty and Bushmaster try to bring her down for various reasons.
  • Asshole Victim: She is poisoned and dies painfully, but she is so utterly despicable that Luke thought her suffering was good.
  • The Beard: Her marriage to her late husband was purely one of convenience. Jackson Dillard was gay and married her so he wouldn't be disowned by his own family for his homosexuality, and so Mariah could claim that Jackson was her daughter Tilda's father. Despite this, Mariah claimed that the two of them loved one another as much as a straight woman could love a gay man.
  • Berserk Button:
    • When Cottonmouth calls her "Black Mariah," she throws a glass at him. He seems a bit surprised at the strength of her reaction.
    • Quite understandably (as a result of Tilda's mere existence being proof of it), she is not pleased when told she enjoyed being raped by her uncle when she was young. It leads to her savagely beating Cottonmouth to death.
    • It's Dillard, not Stokes, she only starts answering by her family's name when she embrace the evil of it.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Serves as a secondary antagonist to Cottonmouth and later Diamondback in Season 1, being a Corrupt Politician sort-of ally for both. While she ends up on top at season's end, she's never the most dangerous or prominent. It’s played straight in Season 2, where she and Bushmaster are relatively equal threats until the final episodes.
  • Big Bad Slippage: When Luke Cage season 1 opens, while she is admittedly a corrupt politician tied to her crime boss cousin, she is trying to use her position to do good in Harlem (even if it is for self-serving reasons) and is continually hampered by Cornell's feud with Luke. By the end of the season she's murdered said cousin, outlasted her cousin's weapon dealer boss, managed to get Luke sent back to prison, and has become a crime lord in her own right, ruling from Cornell's own nightclub.
  • Big Bad Wannabe:
    • In season one, while she becomes increasingly more competent and ruthless after killing her cousin Mariah still has to play second fiddle to the far more terrifying Diamondback, even trying to form an Enemy Mine with Luke and Misty, and due to her relative inexperience she's only kept afloat and out of prison with Shades' assistance and guidance.
    • Downplayed in season two. Mariah tries getting out of the criminal game, and completely ignores the growing threat that is Bushmaster. When she gets back on her feet she quickly tries to take out his allies, but her own ruthlessness drives away all of her own and leads to everyone gunning for her head, spending the finale desperately trying to cling to power from within prison. While she's easily the most villainous and destructive character, her incompetence leads to her reign crashing and burning with far too much collateral damage.
  • Blofeld Ploy: When Mariah (correctly) suspects that one of her men is snitching, she summons several of them into her office to confront them about the security leak. She harmlessly passes over Comanche, the actual mole (despite him being a man she NEVER trusted or even liked), and stabs another associate in the hand to make a non-fatal example.
  • Character Development: Initially introduced as a corrupt politician with righteous goals who is appalled at senseless killing. However, Mariah becomes more twisted following her murdering Cornell. She unhesitatingly manipulates her patsy, Candace, and quickly concludes killing her is the right course of action should she talk. All the while Shades grooms her into a crime lord.
  • Child Hater: She's filmed interacting with children in a park, and once the cameras are off she grabs the Purell.
  • Corrupt Politician: She is a politician, unlike her comic counterpart who's merely a drug dealer, and, like her cousin, she's amoral. Oh and she also used donation money to fund Cornell's nightclub.
  • The Corrupter: From the grave. In her will she hands over Harlem's Paradise to Luke, knowing that he will try to change Harlem from the club and that power will corrupt him. She turns out to be right, as owning the club starts changing him for the worse.
  • Comic-Book Movies Don't Use Codenames: Her comic counterpart is often called Black Mariah, which hasn't been the case here. Cornell mockingly refers to her by this name once. Mariah made sure it was only once. In Season 2, Luke takes a liking to the name when he realizes how much she hates it, and how much it suits her given her recent criminal deeds.
  • Decomposite Character: Though she may be the one who's named Mariah in the series, you can definitely recognize a lot of Black Mariah's personality (and physical appearance) from the comics in Mama Mabel.
  • Defiant to the End: Her last words to Luke, while suffering a horribly painful death: "We're not done yet." Then it turns out she recently changed her will so Luke would become the owner of Harlem's Paradise, expecting that it would corrupt him into becoming a criminal just like it did her.
  • Did Not Think This Through: Mariah continually acts on impulse, without thinking about the consequences, and it is largely by luck and by the actions of others that she comes out on top. It is only because Shades was at the nightclub at the same time, and because he was also planning to kill Cottonmouth, that she got away with his murder. In addition, she only got off scott-free for said murder due to the fact that the fight between Diamondback and Luke Cage caused Misty Knight to lose her phone, which allowed Shades to kill off the only witness to her crime. Which is amusing given she was the most cautious of her crime syndicate until things went South.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: She dies in Luke's arms with Luke keeping her company for her final moments.
  • Establishing Character Moment: She shows up at a community event, smiling and hugging every neighborhood kid she knows... and then, as the smile fades, she discreetly steps off to an aide, who offers her a squirt of hand sanitizer.
  • Enemy Mine: Mariah and Shades are so disgusted by Diamondback that they're willing to make a truce with Luke just to get rid of him. She briefly makes one with Luke after Bushmaster burns down her brownstone, but quickly scuttles it not too long after.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Played with in the case of Cottonmouth. She constantly criticizes Cottonmouth that his methods are savage and violent. Yet she does not have a real issue benefiting from his actions. Played more straight, though, when Diamondback comes along. Mariah is uneasy about entering into a partnership with Diamondback, and it quickly falls apart as Diamondback resorts to bloodthirsty methods that draw too much heat for Mariah to tolerate, to the point that she and Shades sever all ties with him following his hostage situation at Harlem's Paradise. The two of them even make a truce with Luke just to get Diamondback out of the way.
    • In season 2, Mariah is very hesitant about the gang bosses that seek to buy her guns, viewing Cockroach as impulsive and Nigel as too ambitious.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: She loved Cornell, Shades and Ridenhour even though she ended up driving them all away in her descent through villainy.
  • Evil All Along: At first, Mariah seems like a Morality Pet to Cottonmouth early on, albeit one that was in the grey due to benefiting off his corrupt dealings. Ultimately she proves she's no better when she does increasingly awful things, which eventually accumulates in her murdering her cousin, framing his death on Luke Cage, and taking control over his criminal empire. Season 2 shows that she is even more ruthless than Cottonmouth ever could be and she was kind of a Rich Bitch as a kid.
  • Evil Counterpart: She’s one for Jessica Jones. Both are strong but bitter women with ties to Luke Cage (albeit at opposite ends). Both had a Dark and Troubled Past that included being sexually abused, use alcohol to cope with their traumas and at one point had hallucinations of their rapists. However while Jessica acts sour and crass, deep down she's good person who enjoys performing heroic acts; Mariah on the other hand while acting warm and motherly, is shown to be an horrible person who enjoys committing evil acts.
  • Evil Duo: She becomes this with Shades by the end of Season 1 and the start of season 2.
  • Evil Feels Good: After her attempt of retiring from the criminal business fails, she embraces her Stokes heritage, being proud of all her horrible deeds.
  • Fantastic Racism: Mariah certainly doesn't have a high opinion of super-powered people, referring to them as freaks that disrupt natural order during public rallies. Of course, she could also simply be capitalizing on anti-superhuman sentiments for personal benefit, though private conversations with Cottonmouth, Shades, Alex, and Diamondback imply she genuinely means it.
  • Faux Affably Evil: To the public, she's an honest politician who cares for her neighborhood. In private, she could care less and will take advantage of certain people for her benefit.
  • Foe Romance Subtext: Mariah and Luke have a very strange relationship; they both clearly hate each other but, as season 2 goes on, Mariah comes to view Luke as one of the only people she can truly rely on and often gets up close in his face and flirts with him (whether there is a genuine attraction or if she is just messing with him is debatable). In her final scene with Luke she even admits that she is happy to see him one last time, admits she's happy he is taking over Harlem, and dies in his arms. Its mostly one sided on Mariah's part though, since Luke mostly just hates her.
  • Generation Xerox: To Mama Mabel, they were both ruthless women involved in criminal activity that used legal business as front, and had their own visions about protecting Harlem. While she is unwilling to admit that, even speaking to a portrait of Mabel that they are not the same, by the end of Season 1 Mariah has completely embraced it and became just like Mama Mabel.
  • Hypocrite:
    • During her rally at Harlem's Paradise, Mariah suggests that Jessica Jones lied about Kilgrave's powers and his raping her with them. But it's exactly this kind of victim blaming that caused her to kill her cousin. She also states that she hates people using the N-word but is not above using it herself to drive a point across.
    • Mariah likes to maintain plausible deniability on her cousin's criminal activities, but she's ultimately too much of a control freak to be totally hands-off. In conversations with Cottonmouth, Mariah tends to flip-flop from one sentence to the next between not wanting intimate details on his behavior and telling him what to do next. This is partially because Cottonmouth is way out of his depth in dealing with Luke Cage, but even he gets fed up with Mariah both wanting nothing to do with the criminal empire while also demanding she run it.
  • I Own This Town: She outright tells one reporter that "I am Harlem" when the cameras are turned off.
  • It Gets Easier: She's a lot more ruthless after she kills Cottonmouth.
  • Just Giving Orders: After Mariah crosses the Moral Event Horizon and embraces her Godmother persona in Season 2, she makes the claim that all of the murders she has ordered are not her problem because she did not pull the trigger (even Anansi).
  • Karma Houdini: Gets out of her arrest at the end of Season 1 by sending Shades to kill Candace, who had been preparing to testify against her.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: In season 2 the charges stick, and while she does take a stab at Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All, it doesn't last.
  • Kick the Dog: She calmly and firmly tells Tilda to her face that she feels nothing for her. It reduces the poor girl to tears.
  • Lady Macbeth: A non-romantic variation to Cottonmouth. Despite being initially unwilling to associate herself with her cousin due to his criminal activities, Mariah gradually grows into this role as Luke Cage becomes a thorn in their asses, and tells Cornell to come up with more practical ways to get rid of him such as poisoning, drowning, burning, etc.. Eventually it culminates with Mariah murdering Cornell and taking his place.
  • Madness Mantra: While she only actually says it in two episodes of the series, the way she says "I DIDN'T WANT IT!" gives you the impression that it's something she's spent her life repeating in her head.
  • Missing Mom: She's not been too heavily involved in her daughter Tilda's life. She only brings Tilda into the family business in season 2 after her publicist suggests parading Tilda out in front of the cameras for sympathy points.
  • Mrs. Robinson: Gets together with Shades at the end of Season One, though it's unclear how genuine their relationship is or if they're just using each other for their own ends. Alex, her political aide, also seems infatuated with her, and Mariah eventually replaces Shades with him.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Was only ever known as Black Mariah in the comics. The show gave her the last name Dillard, which shortly was adopted by the comics. Season 2 further reveals that Dillard is her married name and that her real name is Stokes, like her cousin.
  • Nerves of Steel: The reason Diamondback sees her as a partner rather than a liability: she doesn't even flinch as he brutally kills four of Harlem's crime bosses in front of her.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Of all Luke's foes, she is the least physical (killing Cottonmouth aside), preferring to act through hired thugs, powerful connections, and plausible deniability while providing a legit front.
  • Not Me This Time: Much to Luke's surprise, she wasn't responsible for the murder of Candice Miller's brother nor the clean-up crews in Harlem, The Hand was.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Seemed to be a corrupt politician who is in over her head because of her gangster cousin's actions. Then she kills him to protect her reputation. And from that point onward, she slowly embraces the criminal side she tried her best to ignore. By the end of Season 1, she is smarter, more clever, and more ruthless than Cottonmouth ever was, just like Mama Mabel.
  • Pet the Dog: She does love Harlem even if she doesn't seem like it. She paid for Sugar's college tuition even though his ruined knee mean he'll never make pro, and her family first center was a genuine attempt to make the family mantra sounds good.
  • Politicians Kiss Babies: Her photo ops tend to revolve around showing how good she is with kids.
  • Put on a Bus: Mariah has gone under the radar during the events of The Defenders.
  • The Queenpin: After killing Cottonmouth and the downfall of Diamondback, Mariah takes over Harlem's Paradise in her own right, with Shades acting as The Dragon and The Consigliere.
  • Rape as Backstory: Molested by her uncle when she and Cornell were young. She ended up giving birth to Tilda as a result.
  • Retired Monster: What she plans on doing in Season 2, by investing in Atreus Plastics. Bushmaster has other ideas.
  • Sanity Slippage: Midway through the first season she becomes angrier and becomes more and more like Mama Mabel, which she tried to distance herself from. She even starts shouting at a portrait of the old lady that she isn't like her. During the second season, she starts getting even worse. A daily routine of hers apparently consists of chugging down a strong drink while telling Mama Mabel's photo "I'm not like you". And there's at least one instance of her hallucinating her grandmother and uncle, which comes before she goes completely over the deep end.
  • Save the Villain: Luke is the one to save Mariah when Bushmaster tries to kill her by blowing up her brownstone. Mariah even notes that Luke is the only person she can always rely on, which is why she decides to throw a free party at Harlem's Paradise as bait for Bushmaster, knowing Luke will come to save the innocent bystanders.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: She's absolutely foul-mouthed when angry, at one point angrily calling Misty Knight a trick.
  • Smug Snake: She is really arrogant and self-confident when she feels on the top, though this trait is more pronounced in late Season 1 whenever she is around Misty Knight. Just watch how she acts like when she walks away free after the main witness is murdered.
  • Thanatos Gambit: She bequeaths Harlem's Paradise to Luke so that he might eventually fall and turn into evil.
  • Tragic Villain: She's absolutely awful but her Dark and Troubled Past make her this.
  • Troll: She teams up with Shades to appeal to Luke Cage to eliminate Diamondback, who has become as much as a problem for them as he is to Luke himself, using the police file on Carl Lucas as leverage when meeting him at Pop's Barbershop. The chaos of Luke and Diamondback fighting however, causes Shades to lose it, and Mariah gets arrested for her cousin's murder. When she's released on the account of the sole witness to the crime being murdered, she giddily walks out of the police station, with Luke Cage watching. When Luke reminds her to hold up her end of the bargain, Mariah uses the fact she doesn't know where it is to rub it in (unbeknownst to both, it ended up in the hands of Bobby Fish):
    Luke: What about the file?
    Mariah: What file? Buh-bye!
  • Unholy Matrimony: Seems to have settled into a relationship with Shades at the end of Season 1, judging by the lip-biting. Season 2 confirms it, but her increasing insanity turns him off.
  • Villain Has a Point: Her pet project is subsidized housing for working-class residents of Harlem, in order to help it retain its black culture. Not too far from reality since Harlem has been gentrifying over the years, forcing out long-term residents and families who can no longer afford the skyrocketing rent prices.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: She has the reputation as a honest politician who is trying to save Harlem for African American residents, and she knows how important this reputation is. During the first season finale, she is able to cover up the murder of her cousin and her criminal dealings. Continues to run the club with no problems, and one scene is shown with her doing damage control with the media, while smirking at an angry Misty Knight.
  • Villainous BSoD: She has one continuous one as she suffers from the pressure of Bushmaster's revenge and the NYPD cracking down on her hard in light of Ridenhour's murder.
  • Villainous Lineage: She's the cousin of Cottonmouth (whom she's reluctant to embrace either privately or publicly), and was raised with him by "Mama Mabel" Stokes, her criminal grandmother. Rather than go for outright illegal activities like Cottonmouth, Mariah was instead drawn to Mabel's fixings and dealings in Harlem and became a career politician. The blood ties are made explicitly clear in "Manifest" where she viciously kills Cottonmouth in a rage, and she begins to act much more like Mama Mabel from then on.
  • Visionary Villain: She genuinely wants to make Harlem a better place.
  • You Look Familiar: Resulting from Alfre Woodard also playing Miriam Sharpe in Captain America: Civil War.

    Hernán "Shades" Alvarez 

Hernán Enrique Salazar "Shades" Alvarez
"The key to a good lie is that it runs parallel to the truth."

Portayed By: Theo Rossi

Appearances: Luke Cage

A menacing, manipulative consigliere to Cottonmouth and Diamondback.

  • Ascended Extra: Like Mariah, Shades plays second-fiddle to Cottonmouth and Diamondback over the course of season 1. With them out of the way, he gets much more focus in season 2.
  • Adapted Out: Shades's comic book counterpart has optic blast thanks to his signature shades. Here he just has regular Ray-Bans.
  • Affably Evil: Unlike Cottonmouth and Diamondback — both composed men who often lose it when Luke Cage is involved — Shades is always cool under the collar, only showing himself to get frustrated (but not angry) when he's finally in charge and none of his guys can find Luke's body, or when his Berserk Button is pressed.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: He gives one to Comanche, stating that he couldn't see that Che was a snitch because he still loved him.
  • Arch-Enemy: To Luke Cage, being his most persistent and personal enemy. The two have history together that extends all the way back to their time as inmates at Seagate. Shades works for several crime bosses that have all opposed Luke, and as the Hyper-Competent Sidekick he has a huge influence on the events that unfold. After the end of Season 1, Luke makes it his top priority in stopping him and Mariah.
  • Assassin Outclassin':
    • Does this to Zip and two goons who try to kill him on behalf of Diamondback.
    • And again in Season 2 finale, where he overpowers and kills the assassin sent by Mariah to kill him, then calls her and says, "Nice try!"
  • Bald of Evil: He sports a shaved head in season 1. By season 2, concurrent with taking on a prominent position in Mariah's organization, he's grown out his hair a bit.
  • Berserk Button: In season 2, Arturo Rey talking trash about Mariah to his face prompts him to put a bullet in Arturo's head. When Mariah begins insulting Comanche, he snaps and comes very close to choking Mariah to death on her desk, only not completing the task because he doesn't think it worth it. He also personally beat up a waiter for unintentionally insulting Mariah.
  • Co-Dragons:
    • With Alex to Mariah. Shades takes care of the criminal part of her activities.
    • During his time at Seagate, Comanche and Shades were Albert Rackham's leading enforcers among the inmates.
  • Comic-Book Movies Don't Use Codenames: Averted. He's almost exclusively called by his codename, while his real name is scarcely ever used.
  • The Consigliere: Acts as this towards Cottonmouth, and to Mariah after Cottonmouth's death, on behalf of Diamondback.
  • The Corrupter: He's the one who encourages Mariah to give in to her inner Stokes, to his later dismay.
  • The Creon: Shades is not gunning for the top and seems content with his status as Number Two towards Diamondback. Diamondback mistakes his attempts as being an Honest Advisor as disloyalty.
  • Dark Is Evil: He wears an all-black three piece outfit for the better portion of season 2: black dress shirt, black vest, black necktie and black suit.
  • Dragon Ascendant: Played with, subverted, and ultimately played straight — after Cottonmouth's death, he doesn't seek to seize control over his own boss that he's been working on behalf of, but over Mariah, who he sees as the new dominant figure in the Harlem underworld. His plans are briefly sunk when Diamondback himself decides to step in and take charge, but when Stryker is taken down, he becomes Mariah's new partner controlling the streets.
  • The Dreaded: Due to his role as The Dragon for Diamondback, even Cottonmouth is reluctant to cross him.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: A lot of friction happens between him and Mariah in season 2 because although he views himself and Mariah as partners in running the Stokes crew (with Mariah handling the white collar stuff while Shades runs the street muscle), Mariah doesn't look at him as her equal and more like hired help.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In his first scene, he confidently strolls into Cottonmouth's office and proceeds to control the entire conversation just by mentioning his connections.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Shades is dismayed by Tone's trigger-happy assault on Pop's barbershop. He also finds Diamondback's vendetta against Luke to be too self-destructive and turns against him after the hostage situation.
      Shades: There's a code to the streets. There are RULES to this shit!
    • He is visibly disturbed witnessing Mariah kill numerous innocents in Bushmasters uncle's restaurant, even more so when Mariah burns and then shoots Anansi point blank. He's so shaken that he chooses not to kill Ingrid when he catches up to her, and decides to testify to put Mariah in jail permanently. His calling out of Mariah about this has him explicitly say he has rules — if complicated and hypocritical ones — for who is and isn't fair game in regards to violence, and in the ensuing confession to the cops the difference becomes a bit more pronounced: when retelling Tone's death, someone who by his standards broke the rules and caused pain he shouldn't have, Shades is gleeful and specifically notes how the fact that he never stopped screaming made the moment extra perfect. When recounting Anansi's death, a relative innocent in the whole affair, the fact that he never stopped screaming until Mariah shot him still horrifies Shades so much that he loses his composure for the first time in the entire scene.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • At the end of the second season, Shades still massively dislikes Luke Cage. What makes him give Luke a tip about the new players moving in to claim Mariah's turf? The restaurant owner where he used to hung out in as a kid was killed in a robbery. He also mentions his mother fondly.
    • A good way to piss Shades off is badmouthing Mariah or Comanche, who are pretty much his lovers.
  • Evil Duo: He becomes this with Mariah by the end of Season 1. He still technically works for her, but they really share equal power in decision making.
  • The Fettered: Despite being a ruthless career criminal, he puts a lot of stock in what he sees as the code of the streets and the rules for how criminals should behave. (Admittedly, said rules are often twisted and occasionally self-contradictory, but never mind that.) Every time he sees someone he works for or with break those rules, he is at least disturbed by it, and in several cases he turns against them afterwards.
  • Foil: Zip has a lot in common with Shades, but he chose sadism over pragmatism during most decisions taken and his ambition only stops at being Number Two, while Shades is being The Creon. Diamondback even sends Zip to kill Shades and takes his place in Diamondback's organization, which fails since Zip tries killing him in style (strangling him while his goons act indifferent) than simply shoot him.
  • Forgotten First Meeting: Subverted. He initially doesn't recognize Luke Cage at Pop's, despite inflicting a lot of damage on him and believing he killed him at Seagate... but Luke was under a different name and sporting quite an afro and a thick beard at the time. Shades quickly recognizes Luke at Harlem's Paradise, not from his appearance, but from his fighting style.
  • Glasses Pull: You don't want him to take off his sunglasses because if he does, he's probably come to threaten you or bring you bad news.
  • Graceful Loser: When Misty arrives to arrest him and tells him that Mariah's death has made his immunity deal null and void, and that evidence has been found linking him to the Atreus Plastic deals and gun sales, he merely laughs, comments that Mariah thought of everything, and calmly allows himself to be taken into custody.
  • Hazy Feel Turn: While he doesn't full turn Face, at the end of the series, he can't go back into a life of crime since he's a snitch. He plants the suggestion in Luke's mind to take control of Harlem's Paradise that the violence in Harlem doesn't escalate further.
  • Heartbroken Badass: His killing of Comanche and Mariah's subsequent journey into becoming a ruthless crime boss has left him broken by the end of Season 2.
  • Hidden Depths: Isn't afraid to admit to Comanche that he cries watching This Is Us
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: At the deal for his immunity he is such an obnoxious and gleeful jerkass to his lawyer that when she recuses herself she doesn't fully explain some of the fine print in his deal, most importantly that if his evidence doesn't result in Mariah being convicted, his deal becomes void. When Mariah dies before being convicted, the evidence he gave to the police is used against him instead.
  • Honest Advisor: To Cottonmouth and Diamondback, he is constantly trying to get them to think about Cage more logically, neither listens.
    • Repeated with Mariah in Season 2, where he constantly brings up logical and less risky choices that she refuses to take.
  • Hyper-Competent Sidekick: To both Cottonmouth and Diamondback, being the strategic adviser who guides them in their war against Luke Cage. Though unlike Wesley, he doesn't hold any Undying Loyalty and will abandon his current boss when someone newer and more successful shows up.
  • In Love with Your Carnage: It's very obvious that he's sincerely turned on by Mariah's darker compulsions, and he encourages them completely. In fact we learn just how much he cares about her when the ordinarily stoic Shades simply executes Arturo Rey mid-conversation for repeatedly insulting Mariah. But, love has limits. Mariah crosses the line in his eyes when she murders an entire restaurant full of innocent people before burning Bushmaster's uncle alive and then shooting Anansi when he wasn't dying quickly enough without any emotion on her face.
  • Iconic Outfit: Shades always dons a pair of gloves when he's about to kill someone. He'll usually wear something else depending on the situation to fit in, like the time he shot Candace while wearing a hoodie in the streets, but the gloves will always be on when he does the job.
  • Karma Houdini: Along with Mariah; the two end up getting away scot-free and escape justice in Luke Cage's Season 1.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: Shades's luck runs out by the end of Season 2, as he is arrested for killing Candace and Comanche.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Shades is smart enough to see the red flags to tell him when he needs to cut ties with someone who is becoming a liability.
  • Likes Older Women: Gets together with Mariah at the end of Season 1.
  • Meaningful Name: His nickname comes from the fact he always dons a pair of Cool Shades.
  • Minored In Ass Kicking: His present demeanor can make the audience forget that before being a schemer, Shades started as a street thug and he can defend himself.
  • Mouth of Sauron: Acts as Diamondback's contact to Cottonmouth.
  • Named by the Adaptation: His first name has never been revealed in the comics and since his son Victor Alvarez goes by his mother's name it's probably not it either.
  • Never Hurt an Innocent: Downplayed, he will take part in a hostage situation and even participate in shooting innocent people but his boss will hear his displeasure about this. In season 2, he is disgusted by Mariah's torching of Anansi, because Anansi is at most guilty of simply being connected to Bushmaster by family ties.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Not that it was done for the purest of reasons, but still... His decision to testify against Mariah after she becomes unhinged and bloodthirsty first puts him right in Bushmaster's path when Bushmaster makes a final attempt to assassinate Mariah, and then the evidence he gave the police instead becomes evidence they use against him once his immunity deal is voided by Mariah being killed in jail.
  • Only Sane Man: Shades is able to stay afloat by being this when everyone else is losing their cool. It helps that he is incredibly detached about Luke Cage's interference despite their common past. In season 2, he tries his best to make rational choices when handling the ongoing attacks from Bushmaster, as well as Mariah becoming more and more unhinged, but it doesn't work out.
  • Opportunistic Bastard: Always try to get in the graces of someone with more power than him, be it a corrupt guard at Seagate or Diamondback, the latter even calls him out on it when he guessed that Shades planned on being Mariah's right hand man and Evil Mentor as he saw more potential with her than with Diamondback.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: If Shades takes off his sunglasses, you better damn count your lucky stars.
  • Pet the Dog: He seems to genuinely express his condolences to Cottonmouth over Pop's death.
  • Put on a Bus: Shades has gone under the radar alongside Mariah Dillard during the events of The Defenders.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Unlike the comics, his shades don't fire lasers.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Stands out among nearly every other criminal he works with by being unfailingly pragmatic, often to Only Sane Man levels, which includes knowing when to (and when not to) have standards. He often tries to play Honest Advisor and keep his cohorts from being self-destructively violent or aggressive, but hardly anyone listens when they should except Mariah, and it nearly gets him killed by Diamondback.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: He sports all-black three piece suits and neckties in season 2.
  • Sinister Shades: Alvarez wears his namesake sunglasses so often that his eyes are rarely seen, and makes it known that he means business when he takes them off — any scene without them is usually a serious and pivotal one. (Theo Rossi has commented in interviews about taking a few cues from Charlie Cox's portrayal of Matt Murdock, as the role similarly required him to act without using his eyes to express emotion.)
  • Situational Sexuality: "Inside is inside". Although he developed genuine feelings over Comanche he wasn't attracted to any other men while being open about his desire for women.
  • The Starscream: Reveals to Mariah he was gonna kill Cottonmouth had she not beaten him to it. Diamondback suspects him to be this, since he questions his orders a lot and suspects he killed Cottonmouth despite him never giving the order (Diamondback considered Cottonmouth his best seller and friend), but Shades doesn't want power as much as making sure the one in power earns it.
  • Too Clever by Half: He thinks he's out of the game for free by ratting on Mariah, but her dying at the hands of Tilda voids the immunity deal, meaning he ends up going to prison for the murders of Candace and Comanche. He's more than impressed that Mariah was able to outsmart him.
  • Token Minority: He and mixed-race Claire are the two Latino characters in the main cast for Luke Cage.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Over the course of season 2, he goes through a pretty thorough, if slightly understated one. It starts with him having to kill his longtime friend and former prison lover Comanche after he finds out Comanche is snitching to Ridenhour, watching Mariah descend into a level of madness and savagery that horrifies him, he comes tantalizing close to reaching the point where he could walk away from a life of crime as a rich man only to see it snatched away, is made to break the most cardinal rule of the moral code he swears by, etc. By the time that Misty and Bailey come to arrest him, it's pretty clear that he's a shell of the man he once was.
  • Troll: Shades knows who killed Cottonmouth. His name is Law Yer.
  • Undying Loyalty: Subverted. He's absolutely loyal to whoever he's working for and won't snitch unless they've crossed the Moral Event Horizon in a particularly horrific and stupid fashion but if it's clear his employer is losing it, he will find a new employer. He won't cross them, but if they cross him, he's not holding back.
  • Wild Card: For the first half of season 1, he operates as Diamondback's Dragon but clearly has his own agenda with Mariah. Once Diamondback actually shows up, he makes it apparent Shades has done some things without his consent.
  • Would Hit a Girl: He kills Candace at the end of Season 1. He also comes pretty close to personally killing Mariah after she pushes him too far.

Fourth Iteration

See the Luke Cage page



    Big Ben Donovan 
See the New York City page

    Piranha Jones 

    Darrell Mitchell 

Darrell Mitchell

Portrayed by: Stephen Grove Malloy

Appearances: Luke Cage

Cottonmouth's accountant.

  • Canon Foreigner: There is no Darrell Mitchell in the comics
  • Expy: He's the Leland Owlsley to Cottonmouth's Fisk.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: He shows up just once, to inform Cottonmouth of his financial status after Luke Cage's raid on Cottonmouth's stash and its confiscation by the NYPD.

    Alex Wesley 

Alex Wesley
"How may I be of service?"

Portrayed by: John Clarence Stewart

Appearances: Luke Cage

Mariah Dillard's aide and publicist.

  • Ambiguous Situation: Confesses to Tilda at the end of season two he wanted to quit much earlier, but was unable to because of his fear of Mariah. He's also been shown to be a little unscrupulous and only made the decision to bounce once his life was in danger.
  • Canon Foreigner: There is no Alex Wesley in the comics.
  • Co-Dragons: With Shades. Alex is in charge of Mariah's public and political relations while Shades is Mariah's link to the criminal underworld.
  • Corrupt Politician: A young, low-level example of one. Despite being a minor character he has a rather significant Establishing Character Moment early on. While portrayed as having a pretty passive and obedient personality, he surprises Mariah by offering her a way to twist Cottonmouth's death into a strategy to curry more political support.
    Alex I think if you play this could have supporters with even deeper pockets behind you, who see this as a political issue and see your cousin as a brave man who stood up to a freak.
    Mariah You would use my personal tragedy for strategic political advantage? ...I taught you well.
  • First-Name Basis: His last name of 'Wesley' is not mentioned out loud, and only revealed in the Season 2 credits.
  • Leave No Witnesses: Mariah has him killed as part of her purge of would-be witnesses following her arrest.
  • Pretty Boy: Handsome, composed and sharp-dressed at all times. He's later implied to be something of a side option for Mariah, much to Shades's frustration.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Invoked. He attempted several times to abandon Mariah after she became involved in organized crime but he always got pulled back in.
  • Undying Loyalty: He kept following Mariah even after the latter became more and more involved in gangster activities.


    Darius "Comanche" Jones 

Darius Comanche Jones
"Damn, my nigga, that pussy must be ridiculous!"

Portrayed By: Thomas Q. Jones

Appearances: Luke Cage

Comanche: You know how this goes? You win, you get whatever you wanna from this joint, booze, bitches, extra rations, shit like that.
Carl Lucas: I don't want none of that.
Comanche: What kinda nigga are you?

Shades's best friend since childhood, fellow member of "the Rivals" and immate at Seagate Penitentiary.

  • Alas, Poor Villain: Shades has a hard time going through with killing Comanche upon learning of his betrayal, and despite his efforts to push on, the death weighs heavily on him and leads to him eventually turning against Mariah.
  • Ascended Extra: He only appears in the flashbacks to Luke's time in prison during season 1. In season 2, he gets a larger presence, now that he's been released from prison and reunited with Shades.
  • Bad Liar: He's not very good at covering up his tracks when it comes to his covert meetings with Ridenhour. It eventually culminates in his death when Shades catches on and follows him to a meeting.
  • Bald of Evil: He has a shaved head while in prison. Upon his release in Season 2, he's grown it out into dreads.
  • Co-Dragons: Comanche and Shades serve as co-enforcers for Rackham. After Comanche gets out, he becomes Shades's right hand.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: He doesn't like the disdain Mariah directs at him.
    "'GO!' Like I'm some damn dog!"
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: He loves his mother deeply, and Janice is devastated by his death, and pissed when she learns Shades is behind it.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: He questions why Shades is so stuck up loyal to Mariah.
  • Gayngster: Comanche and Shades had a sexual relationship during their time in prison. For Shades, it was Situational Sexuality and he moved on once he was released, but for Comanche it was more than jailhouse love, and he heavily implies that he's either gay, bi, or just has feelings for Shades.
  • Mercy Kill: Shades shoots him with Ridenhour's gun, with the intention of letting Comanche bleed out. But he can't bear to see his friend in such pain, so he shoots Comanche again to give him a swift death.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Is only known as Comanche in the comics.
  • Scary Black Man: A violent African American criminal.
  • The Stool Pigeon: He's put back on the streets by Ridenhour with the intention of getting the NYPD an inside line into Mariah's operation.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Shades is very devastated when he kills Comanche upon finding out about his snitching.



Portrayed by: Sean Ringgold

Appearances: Luke Cage

A muscle man and driver for the Stokes crew.

  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Mariah spares Sugar when she's cleaning house after her arrest because his wife loaned her clothes.
  • The Consigliere: Becomes one to Luke Cage after the latter agrees to take over Harlem's Paradise and become Harlem's Sheriff/Diplomat to the crime bosses.
  • Chick Magnet: He was one in his teen years, which earned him his nickname.
  • The Dragon: He's become Luke's right hand by the end of season 2.
  • The Driver: What he's become in season 2. D.W. calls him "Uber for thugs"
  • Dramatic Irony: Mariah decides to purge every one of her goons and henchmen who might testify against her... except for Sugar, who at that time, is now firmly on Luke's side.
  • Happily Married: He's got a healthy marriage, has just become a father at the start of season 2, and his wife loans Mariah clothes after Bushmaster burns down her brownstone.
  • Hidden Depths: As the second season rolls on, we see more and more of Sugar, such as being a football player during high school and how he feels indebted to Mariah and the Stokes/Dillards since they put him through college even though he had a bum leg. When Mariah died, he still felt sorry for her.
  • Heel–Face Turn: He's become Luke's right hand by the end of season 2.
  • Friendly Neighborhood Gangster: In Season 2 he becomes an informant of Luke's. He later support's Luke decision to replace Mariah Dillard because he wants to keep the streets of Harlem safe of gang violence.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: He worked for the Stokes out of gratitude for Mama Mabel to put him through college regardless of his Career-Ending Injury and kept working for Cottonmouth to support his family.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: He bails out of Mariah's organization while the crew are on their way to Gwen's for the Rum Punch Massacre.
    Sugar: This feels right to you? Marching a dude down the block as we head to a restaurant? This is off. I ain't doing this shit.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: In season 1, he temporarily leaves town after Aisha shoots him, but quickly comes back after Cottonmouth dies.


"Let me step up."

Portrayed By: Jaiden Kaine

Appearances: Luke Cage

A mid-level enforcer on Cottonmouth's payroll, constantly looking for a chance to step up.

  • Book Dumb: He doesn't know about the story of Icarus, for one.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Shades shoots him in the head after his attempted hit fails.
  • The Brute: He becomes one for Cottonmouth after Tone's death.
  • The Bully: In addition to being in Cottonmouth's employ, he's a sadist who truly enjoys intimidating people.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Tries to strangle Shades to death in a freight elevator and has his two armed men stand with their backs to him. Shades is able to wrestle with him for a bit, get a gun and kill all three. Zip probably should have just shot him.
  • Evil Is Petty: He'll do whatever it takes to inflict pain, no matter how small.
  • Evil Makeover: After Cottonmouth's death, Shades gives Zip a wad of cash to buy some new clothes to reflect the organization's new "first class" approach, so Zip goes from wearing leather jackets to fine suits.
  • Fatal Flaw: Pride.
  • Foil: He has a lot in common with Shades but he chose villainy over pragmatism during most decisions taken and his ambition only stops at being Number Two while Shades is being The Creon. Diamondback even sends him to kill Shades and takes his place in Diamondback's organization, which fails since he'd rather try killing him in style (strangling him while his goons act indifferent) than simply shooting him.
  • Follow in His Footsteps: He grew to become a gangster just like his father, Romeo.
  • Jerkass: A smug bully and violent psychopath.
  • Like Father, Unlike Son: Turk and Shades call him a disappointment compared to his father, Romeo.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: We never learn his legal name, and everyone just addresses him as Zip.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: He talks Diamondback out of killing Shades because it won't solve the problem Luke Cage poses to them. As soon as he's given the order, though, he goes through with trying to kill Shades himself.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Zip takes Tone's place in Cottonmouth's organization after Tone is killed.
  • Scary Black Man: And he likes it.


"It was loud 'cause it's supposed to be! Niggas need to know you don't rob Cottonmouth!"

Portrayed By: Warner Miller

Appearances: Luke Cage

Tone: Turk called me, tells me he saw Chic at the shop slipping, I came and asked you if it was important that the nigga was breathing, you seemed non-committal so I make an executive decision.
Cottonmouth: That's what you call it? An executive decision? Okay, so you caught him slipping outside?
Tone: Nah bro, I lit that shit up like the Fourth of July. It was all so Django Candyland shit for real. Lights, camera action baby! Somebody call Quentin!

Cottonmouth's original right-hand man.

  • Asshole Victim: No tears are shed when Cottonmouth throws him off the roof.
  • Beard of Evil: He has a five o'clock shadow.
  • The Brute: For Cottonmouth. He's formidable, but not particularly smart.
  • Disney Villain Death / Car Cushion: Cottonmouth throws him off the roof of the club and onto a parked car below for killing Pop.
  • Jerkass: Tone is just an asshole.
  • Overzealous Underling: He is so aggressively loyal to his boss that when Shades doesn't show Cottonmouth the proper respect, Tone makes things difficult by insulting and threatening Shades. Later, when Chico steals money from him, Cottonmouth learns that Chico is hiding in Pop's Barber Shop. Cottonmouth is an old friend of Pop and respects his rule that the barber shop is neutral ground; Tone thinks that this makes his boss look weak, so he goes against orders and shoots up the entire shop, accidentally killing Pop while still failing to kill the target they were after. This move is so poorly thought out that it leads to Luke Cage declaring war on Cottonmouth. For this (and also generally being disrespectful to Cottonmouth), he gets tossed off the roof.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Doesn't have much screentime, but his decision to kill Pop is what really gets the central conflict going.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Kills Pop and then coldly dismisses his death as a "casualty of war".
  • Too Dumb to Live: Let's just say Tone does not know how to read a room. He grossly misunderstands Cottonmouth's instructions on how to handle the hit on Chico, and does so by emptying two submachine guns into Pop's barbershop. Cottonmouth is angered, and Tone makes things worse by calling him Cottonmouth to his face. And to top it off, he only managed to kill Pop, a misstep that he shrugs off as a casualty of war while Chico — the actual target — survived. At that point, it wasn't a matter of if Cottonmouth was going to kill him, but when.
  • You Have Failed Me: He's murdered by Cottonmouth for going rogue and killing Pop. Note that going rogue itself was not the fatal mistake (Cottonmouth mentioned that shooting up the shop could be fixed, even if he didn't like that he had to), but killing Pop was.


    "Sister Boy" 

"Sister Boy"

Portrayed by: MJ Rodriguez

Appearances: Luke Cage

A transgender whore during the days of Mama Mabel.

  • Trans Tribulations: She suffers violence from some of Mama Mabel's customers. And then Cottonmouth simply tells that she should "learn to throw her hands up like a brother".

    Kalinda Potter 

Kalinda Potter / "Sunflower"

Portrayed by: Delissa Reynolds

Appearances: Luke Cage

A former whore for Mama Mabel imprisoned at Ryker's Island.

  • Klingon Promotion: Mariah kills her to take over her prison gang.
  • The Oldest Profession: She was a whore for Mama Mabel.
  • Slashed Throat: How Mariah kills her.
  • Villainous Rescue: She and other two immates save Mariah from immates hired by Rosalie Carbone to kill her. However, her intent is to blackmail Mariah for protection in revenge for Mama Mabel abandoning her in prison.

Suppliers and other Associated Crime Bosses

    Willis "Diamondback" Stryker 

Willis Stryker / "Diamondback"
"I am your brother."

Portrayed By: Erik LaRay Harvey; Jared Kemp (young)

Appearances: Luke Cage

"You speak to me as if you're not in the presence of death."

An arms dealer who supplies Cottonmouth with guns and tech from Hammer Industries, and comes to the neighborhood when he hears of Luke Cage disrupting operations.

  • Adaptational Badass: In the comics, Diamondback was a very minor villain despite having a big influence in Luke's past whose main gimmick was playing with knives and he didn't live very long, being dispatched just one issue after his introduction (he did get better recently, though). Here, Diamondback is a very dangerous mercenary, killing several people in rapid succession and wielding all kinds of weapons including a Powered Armor that allows him to go blow-to-blow with Luke.
  • Animal Motifs: Rattlesnakes. His codename is derived from the western diamondback rattlesnake, he takes pride in being called a snake by Luke and compares himself to one when cornered by his foes at one point. In addition, his Powered Armor vaguely resembles a snake.
  • Arch-Enemy: To Luke Cage. Of all members in the Big Bad Ensemble, Diamondback qualifies best for this trope as he holds a personal grudge against Luke, as he is willing to burn everything down just for the chance of killing him. The feeling is very much mutual as Diamondback frames Luke for a cop's death, turning him into a wanted man.
  • Arms Dealer: Taken Up to Eleven. Machine guns and sidearms? He's got them. Rocket launchers? He's got those, too. Chitauri metal bullets made from abandoned Hammer prototypes in Ukraine that can pierce even Luke Cage's hide, drill deep, and explode within the target? He's not only developed them, he's got the skills and resources to mass-produce a weaker version for the NYPD.
  • Ax-Crazy: He plays this. While he is unstable, he's not nuts. On one hand, he is willing to strike deals with people when it benefits him and will sometimes listen to reason. On the other hand, he kills very easily and casually without having much incentive.
  • As the Good Book Says...: He loves to intimidate his victims by quoting relevant passages from The Bible.
  • Badass Baritone: Has a deep, husky tone to compliment his Bible-quoting.
  • Badass Boast
    Domingo: Why am I still alive, man?
    Diamondback: 'Cause no one's coming at me. They'll ask around so tell' em: I'll murderize everything in sight. 'Cause I don't care and I won't quit. You can't bargain with me. You buy or you die.
  • Badass Normal: No actual powers, but he's the first person to make Luke Cage bleed since Luke got his powers.
  • Bastard Bastard: He's the illegitimate son of Luke's father, and a total scumbag.
  • Bad Boss: When we first see him interact with his mooks, he shoots one of them (non-fatally) for not being out looking for Luke. He very nearly executes Shades in the same scene too, and had to be talked out of it by Zip, who pointed out that they still needed him. Stryker decides he has enough of him after the hostage situation where Shades questions his plans, and decides to get rid of him permanently. This ends up leading Shades to side with Mariah against him.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: After Cottonmouth dies halfway through Season 1, Diamondback and Mariah take over as the show's antagonists. He is the biggest threat too, since he has the firepower to take over Harlem by force if he wanted to.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Whether out of ignorance or a desire to see Luke suffer, he passes up a point-blank headshot to shoot Luke in the chest with a Judas bullet, resulting in Luke escaping and finding enough time to recuperate.
  • Boxed Crook: The third season of Jessica Jones reveals that Luke Cage got him imprisoned in the Raft after Noah Burstein's experimented on him.
  • Cain and Abel: He's the Cain to Luke's Abel.
  • Church Going Villain: He is obsessed with the Bible and constantly references it. We actually get a shot of the inside of his personal Bible, and it has notes and highlights everywhere. That said, it is implied he doesn't actually believe in God, and became fascinated with the Book of Genesis, because it's the story of Cain, the neglected older brother, killing the younger favorite, Abel.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: His first lines are quotes from The Warriors, he annotated seemingly every line in his Bible, and his mannerisms in general scream "comic book villain".
  • Combat Pragmatist: Before their first encounter, Stryker takes up a sniper rifle from a distant point and gut-shots Luke with a Judas Bullet, then begins stalking him down the street; when they finally come face to face, Stryker repeatedly kicks Luke in his wound. Stryker has no powers of his own, and is shown to just bounce off when a stray kick connects with Luke's chest.
  • Composite Character: The traits of being Carl Lucas's brother with a bone to pick and being experimented on by a scientist to gain powers belong to James Lucas, Jr., aka Coldfire, in the comics.
  • Contrasting Sequel Antagonist: After three seasons of dark, complex villains that force the heroes to make morally questionable decisions, like Wilson Fisk, Kilgrave, or Punisher, Diamondback is a sharp contrast with his hamminess and theatrical nature, making him more like a comic book villain in the usually down-to-earth shows. He's just a lunatic who needs to be locked up, with no complications to morality.
  • Cop Killer: He kills a police officer with his power glove and then runs off shouting "I'M LUKE CAGE!", as part of his and Mariah's scheme to sell the Judas to the NYPD.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: When he takes hostages inside Harlem's Paradise where Luke hid himself, his strategy of making things up as they go along are criticized by Shades as impractical and not helped by them being surrounded by the police. While some of Willis's men are killed or captured in the process, his plan works: he gets Luke arrested, while Willis succeeds in walking away, though Luke manages to escape, but no fault of Willis himself.
  • Create Your Own Hero: He framed Luke for a crime he didn't commit and got him sent to Seagate where he was experimented on and gained Super Strength and Nigh-Invulnerability. Lampshaded by Diamondback himself:
    I sent you to hell and you come back with superpowers! Ain't that a bitch.
  • Diabolical Mastermind: Played with. Much of the later troubles Luke is faced with is orchestrated by Mariah Dillard, even if his framing of Luke as a cop-killer got the ball rolling. And his hostage situation was most certainly not well thought out, only escaping by the skin of his teeth by thinking on the fly. On the other hand, in order to mass-produce a series of bullets based on an alien metal, you've gotta have a lot of powerful connections and considerable pull in military circles. Not to mention his other Power Fist gadgetry, and Powered Armor. Shades seems to be disappointed that when he finally came out of the shadows, he wasn't thinking as clearly as before Luke Cage came into the picture.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: He hates Luke because their father always liked him better and because Willis was sent to prison while Luke joined the military. Willis seems to think this is sufficient justification for tormenting Luke, killing multiple innocent people in order to frame him, ruining his reputation, and trying to kill everyone he loves just to get back at him.
  • The Dreaded: Even Cottonmouth is afraid of this guy, giving pause early on when Shades just mentions his name in conversation.
  • Establishing Character Moment: After taking out the ambulance carrying Luke and Claire, Stryker's first action is to step out into the middle of the street and shout The Warriors quotes to taunt Luke, establishing right away that he's got an ax to grind with Luke and may have a few screws unwound in the head.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: His mother died of cancer while he was in prison, meaning he couldn't do anything to save her. He blames this on Luke.
  • Evil Counterpart: Is made to be an anti-Luke Cage. He's an evil older brother who was raised in the same conditions, but always received the short end of the stick. He's been responsible for pretty much everything going wrong in Luke Cage's life. He's also the only one who can put up a real fight against Luke, possessing the Judas bullets that can pierce Luke's skin or his Power Armor that can replicate Luke's strength and durability. Diamondback even mirrors Luke's line of using "always" with his own line "He is my focus, always."
  • Evil Former Friend: He and Luke were childhood friends and brothers, unbeknownst to Luke.
  • Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor: While he is a ruthless criminal, Diamondback sure loves morbid jokes in the midst of chases.
  • Evil Is Hammy: It's telling that one of the first things to come out of Willis's mouth are The Warriors quotes delivered in a Mocking Sing-Song.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: 100% all the way.
  • Eviler Than Thou: Diamondback is far worse than Cottonomuth ever was. He's so deranged and unhinged that all the other villains eventually turn on him and root for Luke to take him out for good.
  • Faux Affably Evil: He'll have the biggest smile while he's horribly murdering you.
  • Foil: To Cottonmouth. Both are criminals nicknamed after snakes. However, Cottonmouth chiefly operates through his henchmen while Diamondback is more than willing to get his own hands dirty. Cottonmouth's war with Luke is due to them simply being on opposing sides of the law, while Diamondback's beef with Luke goes all the way back to their youths. Cottonmouth hated his street name while Diamondback embraced his. Finally, while Cottonmouth had some respect for traditions and love for the people of Harlem like Pop, Diamondback holds no sentiment and is willing to fight Luke in Pop's barbershop which is usually seen as neutral territory.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: As a teenager, he was an underprivileged juvenile delinquent who went unacknowledged by his birth father. As an adult, he is a ruthless arms dealer and enemy of Luke Cage.
  • Hated by All: By the end of Season 1, nobody can tolerate Diamondback. Stopping him becomes Luke's number one priority. Even all of the villains turn against him, with Shades and Mariah rooting for Luke to take him down and even try to form a truce with him.
  • Hate Sink: Diamondback is such an asshole to friend and foe alike that no one can stand him. Then he is eventually revealed as the force behind EVERYTHING wrong that has happened to Luke. Defeating him becomes Luke's number one priority, above everything else. Eventually, every single one of his allies ends up turning on him with Domingo trying and failing to execute him, and Shades and Mariah trying to strike up a truce with Luke to get rid of Willis by any means necessary.
  • Indy Ploy: His entire hostage situation at Harlem's Paradise is improvised on the spot, much to Shades's consternation.
  • Inexplicably Awesome: Diamondback has no inherent powers, was born in a modest home rather than extensive wealth, and isn't exactly a criminal mastermind with many pillars of support like Fisk. Somehow, though, he has amassed such a vast criminal enterprise that he can smuggle state-of-the-art Hammer Industries weapons, manipulate a secret prison experimentation racket, have weapons custom-built to defeat Luke, and can kill an entire room full of hardened criminals without breaking a sweat. It's hinted that he's been preparing all his life to fight Luke, but that alone doesn't explain why he's such a powerful, feared One-Man Army.
  • Just Between You and Me: He tells his whole backstory to one of his hostages, who has the sense to ask why he would tell all of this. Diamondback proceeds to brutally murder his victim, as he never intended them to live knowing about it.
  • Knight of Cerebus: As hammy as he is, the stakes get a great deal higher once he arrives, with Luke's life actually on the line and the bodycount rising phenomenally.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: He planned to ruin Luke by incriminating him for a crime he did not commit. At the end of Season 1 after Diamondback is defeated and taken by the police, it's Diamondback who gets accused of a murder he did not commit, when Mariah claims that Diamondback was the one who murdered Cottonmouth, when in reality she did.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: He's revealed to be Luke's brother.
  • Made of Iron: Willis can take some damage even without gear. Claire stabs his arm multiple times, enough to leave a Blood Trail that Luke follows across a street, yet he is able to wield a high power rifle and get into fistfight and win despite it. He also fell headfirst from a balconey to the floor below and got up unharmed while most people would die from a broken skull, neck and spine. However, its not enough to help him when Luke gets serious, who knocks him out by throwing himstones across a concert hall into a pillar, and then an uppercut from Luke results in him getting a neck cast.
  • Man Behind the Man: The man who Shades answers to and the one who backed Cottonmouth before he met his demise.
  • Mind Screw: While introducing himself to Shades's crew, Willis draws out his hand from his jacket and points it around like a gun — then uses it to "fire" a round right into one of their shoulders. It turns out he'd drawn a real gun with his other hand and hip-fired it while everyone was distracted, as a not-so-subtle way of telling them not to look in the most obvious place for Luke Cage's body.
  • Misplaced Retribution: When it comes down right to it, all the things that he hates Luke for are actually their father's fault. It was Reverend Lucas who ignored him all his life, didn't lift a finger to save him from jail and cut off his mother's monetary support.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: He kills on impulse, using it as his goto resolution if he's unsatisfied.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: So intent was he ruining the life of Carl Lucas that he framed him and got him sent to Seagate — which lead to Carl taking part in an underground fighting ring, beaten to near death when he pulls out... and getting superpowers from the subsequent experimentation on him, not only saving his life, but making him pretty much impervious to harm by conventional methods. He's not pleased by the irony:
    Luke: You ruined my life!
    Diamondback: I gave you wings! I send you to hell, and you come back with superpowers! Ain't that a bitch?
  • One-Man Army: Killed an entire contingent of armed criminal guards before casually walking inside of a meeting and killing four of the bosses without breaking a sweat.
  • Outside-Context Problem: Compared to the other major criminals, he is really more comic bookish than Wilson Fisk, Kilgrave or Cottonmouth: he has access to advanced technology, his plans are more on the spot for show than criminal scheme for money and he even has a super-villain costume by the end. Fittingly that makes him a perfect counter for Luke Cage who up until this point had no one able to graze or outwit him.
  • Power Fist: Wears a powered glove that hits with such impact it can break through kevlar, send people flying 20 feet into the air and pretty much kills with one punch. He uses it to kill a cop and Councilman Boone to pin their deaths on Luke.
  • Powered Armor: In the season finale, he dons a Hammer Industries battle suit that allows him to fight Luke on even terms.
  • Pop-Cultured Badass: Introduces himself by quoting The Warriors and makes a Friday reference during the hostage situation.
  • Power Armor: Dons one in the final battle against Luke Cage, made by Hammer Tech.
  • Quick Draw: He is the first to shoot twice in situations where everyone but him has already drawn their gun.
  • Related in the Adaptation: Diamondback used to be Luke's friend in the comics just like in the TV show, but he is turned into his half-brother here.
  • Revenge Before Reason: His vendetta against Luke ultimately destroys his entire power base with Luke barely having to lift a finger. Shades lampshades this when Willis shoots Misty in the club and turns his attempt into a hostage situation; it's a very, very stupid move that is unlikely to end well even in the best of circumstances. Willis bluntly says he doesn't care. He's willing to burn everything for a chance to kill Luke.
    Diamondback: At the end of this thing, either he's dead or I am.
  • Room Full of Crazy: A portable one in his mother's Bible — it's full of notes on every page, every line. Highlights, underlines, notes... Damon Boone is visibly disturbed by it.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: He was completely absent from all the trailers, posters and TV spots for the show. The likely reason is to hide the twist of him becoming the show's true villain after Cottonmouth's death. He was eventually given a poster after the show had premiered, when there was no longer any reason to hide his presence.
  • The Unfavorite: A major part of the reason why he hates Luke is that their father clearly liked Luke better. It's later revealed this is because he is an illegitimate child.
  • Wasn't Me That Time: Despite claiming to be responsible for much of Luke's hardships, he admitted that he had no part in killing Reva. Kilgrave got to her first. This however doesn't stop him from saying her name just so he piss Luke off more.
  • We Used to Be Friends: He and Luke were close as children, even though Luke didn't know they were brothers.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: He has some serious daddy issues, and he takes them out on Luke.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Since the series was cancelled, his fate in prison was never elaborated on.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: He begins playing this the moment he enters the series personally. Every time a situation descends into chaos, he doesn't seem worried or shaken in the slightest. He just starts making moves and seeing what happens before making his next one.

    Domingo Colon 

Domingo Colon
"I celebrate when things are finished, not when they get started."

Portrayed By: Jacob Vargas

Appearances: Luke Cage

"Do you know what a Plover is, Cornell? A plover bird sits inside the crocodile's mouth, now this bird ain't stupid, the plover picks scraps of meat out of the crocodile's teeth, helping the crocodile avoid infection and the plover, he gets a free meal. You're a plover. I'm a crocodile. You peddle your guns picking up my scraps, and I allow it."

A Puerto Rican crimelord in Spanish Harlem. He is one of Cottonmouth's main buyer of guns.

  • Almost Dead Guy: He is discovered by Luke in Diamondback's base, the only one still barely alive after him and his men tried to kill him. Domingo lives just long enough to warn Luke even he might not be capable of defeating Diamondback in his Powered Armor.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Acts as if he owns the town and later tries to upstage Diamondback, which gets him killed quite gruesomely.
  • Guns Akimbo: He's fond of dual wielding Berettas.
  • Jabba Table Manners: He invokes it during a meeting with Cornell for intimidation and voicing disrespect while depositing Milky Way wrappers on the floor.
  • Jerkass: He's a very unpleasant and condescending person.
  • Mister Big: He is really small compared to the others.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Both became evil but he and Cottonmouth used to chill together when their parents were doing business.
  • You Will Be Spared: Domingo is the only survivor of a meeting between Harlem gang leaders interrupted by Diamondback, who executes the other four leaders for breaking their arms deal contracts with him. Domingo is allowed to live just to spread the message: you either buy from Stryker or you die. Later, when Domingo decides to backstab Diamondback, his luck runs out.

    Peter Hong 

Peter Hong

Portrayed By: Shing Ka

Appearances: Luke Cage

The leader of the Korean mob in Harlem.

    Jacques Alef 

Jacques Alef

Portrayed By:

Appearances: Luke Cage

The leader of the Macoute, the Haitian mob in Harlem.

    Neville Barnwell 

Neville Barnwell

Portrayed By: Khalil Maasi

Appearances: Luke Cage

The leader of The Yardies in Harlem.

  • Bald of Evil: He's bald, and being the leader of his own gang indicates he's done some nasty stuff.
  • Bald Black Leader Guy: He's the bald leader of the Yardies, also, he's dark-skinned due to his nationality.
  • Canon Foreigner: There's no Neville Barnwell in the comics.
  • Generic Ethnic Crime Gang: The only thing that differences him from his fellow crimelords is his nationality and his accent.
  • One-Hit Polykill: The one shot that kills him also kills Juan Carlos Castro.
    Diamondback: Two for the price of one.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: He wears a cool-looking dark gray suit and tie combined with a light blue shirt.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: He's killed in his first appearance.
  • The Yardies: He's the leader of the Yardies, who control Crown Heights and Jamaica, Queens. Following his death, his brother Nigel takes over.

    Juan Carlos Castro 

Juan Carlos Castro

Portrayed By: Franky G

Appearances: Luke Cage

The leader of the Cuban mob in Harlem.

  • Eye Scream: Diamondback's bullet pierces through his right eye.
  • One-Hit Polykill: Diamondback kills him with the same shot that kills Barnwell.

Alternative Title(s): MCU Criminals Terrorist Stokes Dillard Ring