Later this week, Marvel’s Luke Cage will return for a second season on Netflix. This season, Luke's got a new adversary to deal with: John "Bushmaster" McIver, as played by Mustafa Shakir. While Bushmaster is one of the few villains who can match Luke’s physical strength, it’s his intelligence that makes him deadlier than the average bad guy.
Somehow, the original comics version of Bushmaster has only made a handful of appearances over the last 40 years, a surprisingly small number given that Bushmaster played a large role in bringing together Luke Cage and Iron Fist for the first time. Without Bushmaster, one of Marvel's most enduring duos may never have met.
Bushmaster dates back to 1977, when he made his first appearance in Iron Fist #15. That's an issue that's best remembered for Iron Fist's brawl with the X-Men. But it also established Bushmaster as a crime boss with considerable connections to the Maggia. Misty Knight went undercover in Bushmaster's organization as Maya Korday, and she got a little too close to him in the process.
Misty didn't break her cover until Bushmaster put out a hit on Iron Fist. She actually used her bionic arm to overpower Bushmaster and force him to tell her where the hit was supposed to go down. But Misty left Bushmaster alive, and his plot for revenge led him to Luke Cage, the original Hero for Hire.
Luke immediately turned down Bushmaster's request to bring Misty to him, but he was blackmailed into proceeding with the mission because the lives of Claire Temple and Noah Burstein were at stake. Note that Noah was one of the leading scientists behind the experiments that gave Luke his durable skin and his super strength.
If not for the intervention of Iron Fist, Luke may have gone through with the exchange. And in true comic book fashion, the first-ever meeting between the two heroes was an all-out brawl. Luke and Iron Fist fought to a standstill, but the martial artist sensed that Luke wasn't evil. Once Luke was given a chance to explain, Iron Fist, Misty, and Colleen Wing all agreed to help him rescue his friends. But by that time, Bushmaster had gained superpowers of his own.
Noah recreated the process that created Power Man and gave Bushmaster strength that was even greater than Luke's. Bushmaster was so powerful that he tossed around both Iron Fist and Luke as if they were nothing. Luke was only barely able to survive the fight when he and Bushmaster were exposed to electrified chemicals. However, Bushmaster also lived and managed to get away.
From there, the Heroes for Hire were born, and Luke and Iron Fist had a legendary comics bromance. They even shared the title billing on Power Man and Iron Fist for an additional 75 issues. But eventually Bushmaster returned to get his vengeance on both men. Bushmaster kidnapped Noah to reverse the process that gave him his powers because he was turning into "unliving metal" — as opposed to, say, the living metal of the X-Man Colossus. Naturally, Bushmaster wanted Luke to be the guinea pig and had him kidnapped as well. However, Bushmaster could barely move at this point, and he eventually went full metal.
Shortly after that, Bushmaster's metal skin revealed his skeletal remains, and that was the end of Bushmaster for a few decades. But in comics, you can never count on a villain to stay dead forever. It helps when the bad guys suddenly have a secret child or sibling. In this case, it was Cruz Bushmaster, the never-before-mentioned son of the former crime lord. Cruz gathered Bushmaster's remains and forced Noah to once again perfect his Power Man experiments. Unfortunately for Cruz, it worked all too well. The elder Bushmaster was resurrected and took over his son’s body. He even took on a new codename: Power Master.
Bushmaster's comeback as Power Master didn't last long, and he was seemingly killed off in the same issue. His original code name had already been usurped by the second Bushmaster, Quincy McIver. Mark Gruenwald and Paul Neary created their Bushmaster as a Captain America villain in 1985. Quincy was retconned into John's backstory as his screw-up little brother who lost his arms and legs in an accident while attempting to elude the police. John Bushmaster abandoned his younger brother, but Quincy was given cybernetic arms and a cybernetic snake-like body. That's why this Bushmaster is primarily associated with the Serpent Society.
We probably won't see Quincy McIver's Bushmaster in the Marvel Cinematic Universe anytime soon. But the trailers for Luke Cage's second season have implied that John Bushmaster will have the strength to rival Luke. We expect that to lead into a major showdown during the course of the next 13 episodes.
Luke Cage Season 2 will premiere on Friday, June 22, on Netflix.