Reva Connors: Invisible Man
Invisible Man, written by Ralph Waldo Ellison, was a novel that centered around the life of an unnamed protagonist, a protagonist who not only lacks a name, but also a definable identity, and goal. This protagonist, is a black man who lives in 20th century America, years before the Civil Rights movement, and as such he exists in a constant state of invisibility; meaning, his own identity is disregarded and changed for the betterment of other characters, and to his own detriment. In Luke Cage, Marvel third joint production with Netflix, Reva Connors exemplifies this characteristics of Ellison’s Invisible Man perfectly. All through her appearances in both Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones, Reva Connors does not exist as a character with her own agency, but as a tool to further the narratives of others.
Reva: The Bringer of Hope
Luke Cage is the story of a man who was sent to prison on a charge he was innocent of. Through illegal experimentation, Luke Cage gains unbreakable skin, and super strength. He escapes prison and runs away to Harlem, hoping to start a new life. In the first episode of Luke Cage, the titular characters remembers his late wife Reva Connors. In this scene Luke sits alone in his apartment and remembers Reva’s words, “If you don’t make an attempt to befriend someone, loneliness is guaranteed to eat you alive” And it is after Reva’s advice that she hands Luke Cage a copy of Eliison’s Invisible Man. For Luke Cage, Reva Connors has always existed as the bringer of hope. It was Reva Connors who counseled Luke Cage during his time at Seagate prison. She worked as a psychiatrist, hoping to rehabilitate the inmates and prepare them for life outside of Seagate’s walls. Through her questioning, and shrewd observations Reva worked to break down Carl Lucas’ (Luke Cage’s birth name) walls. She challenges him during group sessions with the other inmates, she probes him for information about his past. And, when Carl Lucas is fatally injured, she is the one who brings him to Burnstein in hopes of healing him. For Luke Cage, Reva Connors exists as a memory that helped him through a difficult time in his life. Even after Cage’s escape from Seagate, it is Reva Connors who introduces him to Henry “Pop” Hunter, and the city of Harlem. Through Reva, Luke Cage is able to shed his past and enter a new life, with a new name. In episode 10, Take It Personal, Luke Cage discovers that Reva was in reality working with Seagate to find test subjects for their experiments. Most of Luke’s tribulations (the underground fight ring, the harassment at the hands of the guards, the breaking down of his psyche) where all do to Reva’s screening him for Burnstein’s illegal experimentations. It is in this episode that Cage realizes that he loved “The idea of Reva” rather than the woman herself, because, in actuality, Luke Cage never understood who Reva was as a person. He created an image of her that existed as a means of giving himself hope, and this image robbed Reva Connors of her own identity.
Reva: The Bringer of Freedom
While Reva Connors has the most screentime in the Luke Cage program, she made her debut in Melissa Rosenberg’s Jessica Jones show. In Jessica Jones, Jessica is a woman dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder due to the manipulations of Kilgrave, a man who can control the minds of others. In Jessica’s past she is perpetually controlled by Kilgrave, until Kilgrave orders her to “Take Care” of Reva. In which Jessica, using her enhanced strength, kills Reva Connors, and is able to break free of Kilgrave’s hold. Through the rest of the series, Jessica works to bring down Kilgrave, while also trying to keep his mind controlled victims safe. Because of Jessica’s hand in Reva’s death, Jessica is the only person in the world who is immune to Kilgrave’s control. Much like the protagonist in Invisible Man, Reva’s body was used and discarded for the further agency of others. In the novel, Eliison’s Invisible Man is used by Mr. Norton, a trustee for the university the protagonist currently attends. Mr. Norton takes an interest in the protagonist and states, repeatedly that this young man’s destiny, and his own are intertwined. This is an ironic statement, because through the first part of the novel, Mr. Norton wants the protagonist to take him all throughout the university, and the protagonist does so, despite his headmaster’s warning not to. At the end of the first section, the university’s headmaster, Bloodgood, is angry at the protagonist for showing Mr. Norton the Golden Day (a bar on the outskirts of the school) and expells him. While Mr. Norton is allowed to return to his own circle of trustees, still in search of his “destiny”. At the end of the novel, the protagonist, now broken, abandoned and jaded sees Mr. Norton once more. While the narrator remembers Mr. Norton, and the entire ordeal vividly, Mr. Norton has no recollection of the incident and dismisses the young man. While Mr. Norton is still living as he always had, the protagonist has been used by the world around him, and then forgotten about. Jessica’s freedom from Kilgrave’s hold comes at the expense of Reva’s life. Reva’s story is cut short, while Jessica is able to take her freedom, and achieve her destiny of being Kilgrave’s adversary and the hero of Hell’s Kitchen.
Reva: The Bringer of Progress
While working as the psychiatrist for Seagate Prison, Reva Connors also worked with Dr. Burnstein to screen potential candidates for Burnstein’s experiments. Noah Burnstein is more concerned with creating scientific breakthroughs, even if that means treating human beings like lab rats. While Noah Burnstein does not have the ability to screen potential guinea pigs himself, Reva does. Through her work with the inmates, she is in the best position to discover who has the best physical, mental and emotional stability to deal with the stress. Not only that, but she has connections with the guards who implement whatever tactics needed to persuade Carl Lucas to take up cage fighting. Including threatening Squabbles. It is through Reva that Burnstein is closer to achieving his breakthrough, and it is through Reva that Burnstein is introduced to Carl Lucas, and Lucas DNA which is the “X factor” that allows the experiment to be a success. And at the end of the season, Burnstein continues these experiments with Diamondback (Luke Cage’s half brother). If not for Reva’s interest in Carl Lucas, Burnstein would never had discovered that the Lucas family gene was the requirement to make the experiment a success.
Reva: The Cautionary Tale
Claire Temple, unlike Jessica, Luke and Burnstein, has never met, or been in contact with Reva Connors. Yet, Claire still feels Reva’s impact through her relationship with Luke Cage. After discovering Reva’s part in giving Luke Cage’s bulletproof skin, and her dishonesty in their relationship, Luke Cage becomes distrusting of the people around him. Looking at Luke Cage’s past relationships (Jessica Jones, Misty Knight and Reva Connors) each one has been deceitful, or hidden a truth from him. Jessica Jones hid her part in Reva’s death. Misty Knight lied about being an accountant, and Reva Connors never revealed her true intentions at Seagate. Claire Temple, understands this distrust and instead decides to be honest with Luke about who she is. She even states, “If you can’t trust me, then trust the fighter in me.” It is through Reva’s past transgressions that Claire Temple realizes how important honesty is to Luke Cage when beginning as relationship, and with that knowledge in mind, Claire Temple alone is the only woman Luke Cage is romantically involved in who has earned his trust.
Reva Connors: Identity.
Much like Eliison’s Invisible Man, Reva’s lack of agency and discernable goals, make her easily malleable to other people. Reva does not exist as a person unto herself but as raw material for others to mine and use at their whim. And this, in essence, takes her narrative into an even darker place than Ellison’s original novel. At least at the end of Invisible Man, the protagonist understands how he has been used and can still find a way to take his agency back. He still has the opportunity to change. Reva is dead, and can not explain her actions to Luke, or see whatever progress Burnstein had made. She cannot change her life, or reclaim her narrative from those who seek to gain from it. She exists as the perpetual object for which others can project onto. And that makes her truly invisible.