Luke Cage Season 2 introduces a brand new antagonist to the pantheon of Netflix Marvel baddies: John "Bushmaster" McIver, a Jamaican immigrant who is here, as he puts it, to "take back his birthright," which he believes to be Harlem. But who is he really? And can Harlem really be someone's birthright? This isn't the Iron Throne for heaven's sake, it's a New York City neighborhood. It's not like the Bushmaster was usurped from his inheritance by another family. Or was he? What do fans know about him? Is Bushmaster in the Marvel comics? Warning: Spoilers for Luke Cage Season 2 follow.
There have actually been two characters by this name in the Marvel comics over the years, both of whom were featured in either Luke Cage comics or in Iron Fist comics, where Luke Cage was a prominent player. So, this is a bad guy that Luke has fought on the page.
The original character has the same name as well, John McIver. But his history is different. This McIver has arrived in Queens with little to his name, and ruthlessly steps up to take over the main gang from the neighborhood, known as the Yardies. Over the course of the episodes in Season 2, fans watch as the Bushmaster builds himself into a man who can stand toe-to-toe with Luke Cage, using a voodoo magic concoction that includes the poisonous plant called Nightshade.
This is a far cry from the comics, where the original Bushmaster arrived already a kingpin of crime. He was a Maggia crime boss in Europe. (Maggia is a fictional Marvel international crime syndicate.) He arrives in Harlem with designs to expand his reach across the United States. Unlike the one on-screen, he is less interested in taking Harlem as his birthright as he is in taking Harlem today and the United States tomorrow.
The original Bushmaster does have the ability to stand toe-to-toe with Luke Cage, but it's not due to homeopathic recipe creations created from ingredients he gets from Mariah Stokes' estranged daughter, Matilda. Instead, there's an accident during a one-on-one fight with Luke Cage, where his body is transformed into "unliving metal." This slowly killed him over the course of his adventures, but while he survives the process, he and Luke Cage are basically two sides of the same coin.
The show has kept the latter aspect of Bushmaster and Luke, both of whom are boastful braggarts who believe Harlem to be something they should control. But there's one huge change they've made: Bushmaster's incredible obsession with Mariah Stokes. The original Bushmaster doesn't like "Black Mariah," as she's known in the comics. But it's not this unhinged, seething hatred going back generations.
This change actually makes Bushmaster a far more interesting antagonist, and a sympathetic one. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as Luke Cage would say, and he and John are both on the same side when it comes to Mariah and her gangster act. Luke doesn't like her because she's a ruthless, power-hungry murderer. McIver doesn't like her because her ruthless, power-hungry, murdering family killed his parents in order to take full possession of Harlem's Paradise. Turns out Stokes didn't found the club alone: He did it with McIver's father, the creator of the Bushmaster rum they serve.
So when Bushmaster says he's here for his birthright, it might not be quite on the level of the Iron Throne, but it's not all that far off from the family feud in Westeros. The question is, once he takes down Mariah, does it mean he and Luke Cage will find themselves in a square-off? Because Cage is no more interested in giving up Harlem than she is.