Cornell Bertram Stokes, also known as Cottonmouth, was a notorious criminal figure in Harlem and the leader of the Stokes Crime Family, based in Harlem's Paradise. His criminal lifestyle began to unravel due to a failed weapons sale, leading him to track down all those who were responsible and confront Luke Cage. Due to Cage's actions, Stokes' entire organization was put at risk due to the threat of Diamondback taking over while he lost all his money. Despite all of Cottonmouth's best efforts to keep the business running, he soon enraged his cousin Mariah Dillard, who then proceeded to murder him and take over his criminal empire.
Raised by Mariah Stokes
Cornell Stokes was born to Jazmine Stokes and her boyfriend Malik, who was delighted to have a son. However, when Malik died of his drug overdose while Cornell was still just an infant, Jazmine could not cope with the pressure of being this single parent, as she then resorted to dropping Cornell off at Mama Mabel's home, leaving Cornell wrapped up in his blanket in a basket. The responsibility of raising up the young Cornell had then fallen onto Mariah Stokes, who believed that she was too young to be looking after this young child, but was forced into this by Mabel. Much like his own deceased father, Cornell had developed a strong talent for music, particularly the piano.
In the 1980s, the Stokes Crime Family had attempted to strike up a deal with the McIver family in the wake of Quincy McIver and Buggy Stokes' deaths. As the Stokes and the McIver's attempted to find their solution to their conflict, the entire Stokes family had come into Jamaica for the meeting, with the young Cornell viewing it purely as a vacation while Mama Mabel met with Gwen McIver. While Cornell played in the swimming pool, he splashed water at Mariah Stokes as he had told her to get in the pool, who complained about him getting her hair wet while she was still attempting to read her book.
Stokes proved himself to be a great pianist and wanted to pursue a career. But with Mama Mabel basically running the neighborhood of Harlem and being head of the family crime business, she wanted something different for Stokes. Instead, he was encouraged to go out in the street with Pop and Fredo Diaz, beating people up to steal cash, becoming notorious enough that they were once photographed by Jamel Shabazz. When Stokes lost three of his teeth during a fight, he gained the nickname of Cottonmouth, a name that he despised from the start.
One night, Stokes played his piano while Pistol Pete complimented his talent, noting that he really should be going to a school like Juilliard School to pursue his passion. Mama Mabel however made it clear that she did not support his talent and instead told him to keep quiet so that Mariah Stokes could continue with her studies. They were interrupted by the arrival of Pop and Donnie who brought cash and a stolen watch to Mabel, inviting Stokes out to join them on the street to continue their work, only for Pete to insist that he stay and continue to practice on his piano instead.
However, Mabel told Pop he could leave but confronted Donnie on the fact that he had been selling drugs on the streets of Harlem, the one aspect of a crime she refused to get involved with. Donnie insisted that he was only trying to help her organization, noting that Salvador Colon was making a lot of money selling crack which they could get involved with. Stokes listened as Mabel furiously confronted Donnie before using flower cutters to cut off his finger, before ordering Mariah to return to her room and Stokes to stay and watch the violence, in her mind to turn him into a man worthy of her.
Mabel then ordered Stokes to take Donnie downstairs in the basement and deal with him, despite Pistol Pete's objections. Stokes went downstairs and alongside Pete, beat and stabbed Donnie to death as punishment for dealing with drugs outside of their mob. He returned upstairs from the basement with blood on his hands where he returned to his piano, his hands visibly shaking from his first kill. Mama Mabel comforted him with a hug as she put her hands on top of him, making it clear that she was proud of her own grandson for murdering Donnie for her and protecting the family.
Executing Pistol Pete
One day, Pistol Pete took Stokes to an audition, however, he decided to stop off at Spanish Harlem where Pete went to talk with Salvador Colon. Meanwhile, Stokes stayed with his cousin, Domingo as they were talking and watching TV together. Returning to the house, Stokes was confronted by Mama Mabel who explained that while he was gone, a punter had attacked Sister Boy. When Stokes joked that she should have defended herself, Mabel slapped Stokes for being disrespectful, Stokes then told Mabel about Pete's meeting with Colon, much to Mabel's great anger.
Mabel confronted Pistol Pete in their living room for betraying her to the Colon Crime Family, with Pete said that he was trying to make a deal that would help them rule New York City and that this entire criminal empire should have been his if he had been able to marry Mabel instead of his brother marrying her. When Pete noted that Mabel always had a plan for these situations, she revealed that Stokes was standing behind him, threatening Pete with a gun much to his horror. Mabel then ordered Stokes to force Pete outside of the house to be executed for his betrayal against them.
Pete desperately tried to reason with Stokes, reminding him that he was not built to be a murderer and that he should be pursuing the musical career that he had been supporting for all these years. Mariah Stokes then stepped out and told Pete that he deserved to die for what he had done to their family and to her, with Mabel keeping him calm before Stokes fired two shots into Pete's chest, killing him. While Stokes looked at the corpse of his uncle in horror, Mabel took the gun away from him and reminded him that family always came first with them, leaving Stokes as a cold-hearted killer.
Stokes was in good relationships with his niece Tilda. He always did care about her and used music to steer her away from crime. He told her about musicians like Nina Girado, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, and Curtis Lee Mayfield, and bought her her first Casio. Stokes usually said to her that she must follow her own interests and choose her way by herself.
Selling Hammer Guns
- "Nah, what I sell is pure. This is the kind of shit that can blow a hole in a battleship, but it's light enough to hold in your hand. Trust me, Domingo, you can bribe someone's day permanently with this shit. Top of the line, the crème-de-la-crème, this that grade A, military, Justin Hammer level shit. A hundred large per case, ten cases, a cool mil, wholesale, brand spanking new, no serial numbers, because my connector's nice like that."
- ―Cottonmouth to Domingo Colon[src]
In the wake of the eventual death of Mama Mabel, Cottonmouth took control of the Stokes Crime Family and Harlem's Paradise. Becoming one of the biggest crime bosses in Harlem, Cottonmouth established relations with multiple criminals across New York City, such as Yardies, Macoute, Korean Mob, Cuban Mob, and Wilson Fisk and befriended a weapons dealer, known as Diamondback who even gave Cottonmouth the Biggie Smalls poster as a present. During this time, Cottonmouth overlooked the quality of Harlem's Paradise, ensuring that they kept the best quality of service and the best music acts they could find. He also ensured that he kept the most beautiful women around him at all times while he still overlooked the club and listened to the music.
One night Cottonmouth was visited by Mariah Dillard, who commented that the performing Raphael Saadiq was very impressive. When Dillard noted that she should not really be in the club with her cousin, Cottonmouth explained that Colon's Gym was prepared to make a donation both to his organization and to her own political campaign. While Dillard noted that the true power remained in politics, Cottonmouth claimed that while her campaign slogans got her reelected, it was people like him to get the city running as it was, despite Dillard's hatred of that word and what it represented.
The pair were joined by Domingo Colon, who Cottonmouth ordered a bottle of champagne for as they prepared to make a deal that Colon and Cottonmouth wanted as both Pistol Pete and Colon's uncle had both been close friends. While Colon thought they were deal was a get out of jail free card, but Dillard refused to accept this, referring to Fisk's arrest, but Cottonmouth ignored her and explained he would be selling Colon assault rifles designed by Hammer Industries and stolen by Diamondback, a deal that Colon happily agreed to by offering Cottonmouth a firm handshake.
As the meeting continued, Luke Cage arrived to deliver champagne to the table alongside Candace Miller. As Cage tried to leave, Cottonmouth grabbed his arm and asked what had happened to Dante Chapman, whom Cage claimed was ill and had not come into work. Cottonmouth then offered Cage a job as a personal bodyguard due to his size, but Cage refused as it would involve using a gun. Once Cage had left with Miller, Cottonmouth was informed by Tone that the gun deal had been attacked and his money had been stolen by Chapman and some others, leaving several of his own men dead.
The next day while inside Harlem's Paradise, Cottonmouth was forced to defend the events of the night before to the furious Domingo Colon, who believed it was an inside job. While Tone tried to learn more what had happened, they were interrupted by Shades' arrival, who had announced he was now out of Seagate Penitentiary and working for Diamondback. Shades asked if the hit was an inside job before questioning how he and Diamondback could sort the situation out.
Seeking assistance, Cottonmouth found Mariah Dillard as she was giving an interview about her hopes to improve Harlem, ensuring that Zip and Sugar stayed close to her. Once they were alone, Dillard confronted Cottonmouth for getting too close to her and endangering her political reputation before demanding that she get her money as quickly as possible. When Dillard questioned how the deal went down and if anything had gone wrong due to Shades' arrival, Cottonmouth noted that she did not really want to know what had happened and did not tell her the details which she always preferred.
Cottonmouth then returned to Tone and Shades, who noted that Dante Chapman was correct that the heist was planned with Shameek Smith and Chico Diaz's assistance. Shades questioned if they were any closer to finding their targets but Tone claimed they were not. Needing to find them as quickly as possible, Cottonmouth ordered Tone to send a message out to their allies to find them, with eventually led to Smith being tracked down to a strip club within the city where he was spending all Cottonmouth's stolen money on lap-dances with the various strippers who had called Tone to inform on him.
Cottonmouth later returned to the club where he had his various models, who were stripped down to their underwear, listen to him while he played some soft music on his keyboard. While Cottonmouth still relaxed in his office with his models and his music, he sent Tone and Shades to collect Smith under the concept that Domingo Colon's own people were looking for him since the heist and Cottonmouth now wished to protect him from any harm, which was a lie as he simply wished to interrogate the man who had stolen his money from him while also losing his Hammer Industries guns in order to find the rest and repay Dillard to keep that scandal quiet and pay back anyone else he owed money to, to protect his own organization's safety.
With Smith now tied up in his office, Cottonmouth confidently walked up to him and began a conversation about the poster of Biggie Smalls that he had hung up in his office, noting that it was the crown that drew people's attention. Cottonmouth then proceeded to slap Smith as he demanded to know where his money was now, noting that he was slapping him because he viewed Smith as a little bitch and he did not wish to then punch a woman, explaining that Chapman had exposed him in the heist before his death and now they wanted Diaz's location to get the rest of his money back.
The defiant Smith promptly spat his own blood in Cottonmouth's face, which he only laughed at as he wiped the blood from his face. Cottonmouth, however, only laughed and noted that he could now hit him like a man. He then dragged Smith off of his seat and pinned him to the floor before repeatedly punching him in the skull until he had beaten Smith to death in front of Shades and Tone, beating him so hard that his face was almost unrecognizable. With Smith now dead, Cottonmouth ordered Tone to dispose of his corpse and locate Diaz in order to recover the money.
Dealing with Luke Cage
Fully aware that Chico Diaz worked for Pop, Cottonmouth made a trip to Pop's Barber Shop where he requested a shave from his friend. As he sat down in the chair, he requested Pop use a razor rather than his clippers, as he felt that a razor would prove Pop to be skilled at what he did as they discussed the luxury of free time. Cottonmouth then noted young people wanted everything too fast and would lie, cheat, and steal to get what they wanted, clearly referencing Shameek Smith's recent robbery.
When Luke Cage accidentally broke his broom, Shades spoke to him and asked about Diaz, claiming that he used to cut his hair for him and he wanted to reconnect now that he was out of Seagate Penitentiary, although Cage claimed that Diaz had gone. Cottonmouth asked if Cage worked there as well and mocked him for doing so before getting up. Just as Cottonmouth was leaving, Cage insisted that he pay for the shave, so Cottonmouth had Tone pay Pop the full amount of money he owed while Cottonmouth left giving Cage a dirty look for the insult aimed against him.
Cottonmouth then traveled to the Crispus Attucks Complex to deliver Smith's money to Mariah Dillard, which Dillard noted was not nearly enough money to cover her deposit. Dillard reminded Cottonmouth that she had stolen the money to fund Harlem's Paradise before Cottonmouth had made a failed gun deal with Domingo Colon which had endangered them all, making the point that the situation was his fault alone. Despite this, however, they remembered that they were still family and loyal to each other, so Cottonmouth promised he would repay her in full very soon as promised so they could both return to their work.
While back at Harlem's Paradise, Cottonmouth and Dillard enjoyed drinking together when they were confronted by Cage, so Cottonmouth ordered Tone to check him for weapons. Once Cage was proved to be unarmed he was invited to speak and explained that Pop wanted to set up a meeting for the safety of Diaz, who was now hiding out at Pop's Barber Shop, promising that Cottonmouth's money would be returned and Diaz would leave New York City forever. Cage reminded Cottonmouth of his and Pop's history, so Cottonmouth agreed before firing Cage who claimed he had already quit the job that morning.
Once Luke Cage had left, Cottonmouth spoke with Tone who then volunteered to track down and assassinate Chico Diaz as he had been informed of his location by Turk Barrett, but Cottonmouth ordered him not to, promising to deal with the situation himself in the morning. Cottonmouth then spoke with Mariah Dillard who claimed he was wasting his life by living as this gangster, although Cottonmouth argued that such power as he had obtained was exactly what their ancestors had died for. Cottonmouth then claimed that the only thing people remembered more than the black martyrdom was the black money.
When Tone and Shades returned to Harlem's Paradise, Cottonmouth invited them onto the roof to explain what had happened, with Dillard joining them all. Tone explained that he had gone to Pop's Barber Shop to find Diaz and fired into the shop to kill him and collect the money that had been stolen. Shades noted that Tone should have waited for Diaz to come outside and to his horror, Cottonmouth learned that not only had Diaz survived but Pop had been killed in the crossfire, which Tone showed no remorse for as he viewed it as a casualty of war which needed to happen to reclaim the cash.
They were interrupted by the arrival of Barrett who demanded to get his money from Tone for finding Diaz for him. Cottonmouth, still distraught from learning of Pop's death, threw Tone from the roof onto a car, killing him and ordered Barrett to collect his money from Tone's corpse. As Barrett left, claiming he was going back to Hell's Kitchen where it was safe. Cottonmouth then returned the money to Dillard who claimed to not be okay with witnessing her own cousin committing murder right in front of her before Cottonmouth spoke privately with Shades about his regret for Pop's death.
Despite having now gotten much of his rage out of his system by murdering Tone, Cottonmouth returned to his office inside Harlem's Paradise and looked at the photograph that Cage had given him earlier that evening. Looking at the image of himself and Pop as young men growing up together in Harlem, Cottonmouth openly wept as he mourned the death of one of his oldest and closest friends who he had spent so many years protecting from the criminal underworld that Pop's had managed to escape from and build himself a new life helping all of those in need.
Buying a Coffin
While in his Harlem's Paradise office, Cottonmouth watched a news report about the shooting within Pop's Barber Shop, in which it was described how the barbershop was attacked and Pop was killed in the crossfire. As Cottonmouth drank his cup of tea and watched the report, Megan McLaren described how Pop had been a figure of great respect within Harlem and had protected the young people of the city as well as well known celebrities inside his shop for many years.
With Pop now dead and needing a proper funeral, Cottonmouth went to the Spurlock's Mortuary, intending to buy a top-quality casket for his old friend. When Cottonmouth arrived he found Luke Cage was already speaking to Joel Spurlock about buying a coffin and was explaining that he did not really have the funds to buy the coffin he felt that Pop deserved. Cottonmouth entered the room and explained that it was already being taken care of and that he would be paying for the coffin himself to honor Pop's legacy however he could. Cage, however, noted that the coffin should fit the man's character, hinting that one paid for by Cottonmouth was not good enough.
Once they were alone, Cottonmouth explained that Pops would not have wanted any drama between them, but Cage argued that Pops really would not have wanted blood money to pay for his casket. When Cage reminded him that they had tried to make peace, Cottonmouth then explained that it was Tone's doing and that Tone was now dead. When Cage claimed that this did not matter as he still blamed Pop's death on him, Cottonmouth threatened Cage before laughing in his face and asking how the job search was coming, he then walked away while reminding Cage he was a dishwasher.
Cottonmouth then spoke with Spurlock and explained that Pop was his friend and therefore deserved the best that money could buy. Spurlock agreed before changing the subject and asking what he should do with the corpse of Tone, who Cottonmouth would only say that he had to let go and that nothing humbles a man quite like gravity. Cottonmouth ordered Spurlock to deal with Tone's corpse in the usual way, by creating it and leaving no remains to be found. Once Cottonmouth handed him a handful of cash, Spurlock claimed that he did not see any corpse there with them in the first place.
Losing his Money
Cottonmouth then returned to Harlem's Paradise where he took his usual seat in his office and watched as Charles Bradley performed on the stage. While Cottonmouth poured himself a drink and watched Bradley's performance, enjoying the music and the money it brought in, he was unaware that Luke Cage was going to his various safe houses, attacking his men and ensuring that the NYPD took possession of his cash.
Having learned this, Cottonmouth had Mariah Dillard's office reinforced with steel barricades and more armed guards to ensure that Cage could not get inside. Cottonmouth met with Dillard in the park as she expressed her own hatred for the situation. The pair argued about using her office as the main base and if Dillard was really a criminal or legitimate politician as she had convinced herself she was, with Dillard arguing that the only way to save Harlem was to do it all legally, noting all the work Mama Mabel had done to serve a greater good of their dear city which they were dedicated to.
When Domingo Colon entered Harlem's Paradise to speak with Stokes, Zip had confronted him but was told to stand down. Cottonmouth accused Colon of being the one who had attacked his safe houses, but Colon denied all this, instead disrespectfully taking a chocolate bar and then dropping the wrapper onto the floor. Colon explained the concept of a plover bird and compared Cottonmouth to the plover picking food out of his teeth before asking how Diamondback felt about the new situation. Colon demanded a full refund and then declared war once Cottonmouth refused him.
Despite the steps he took, Cottonmouth's main safe house was still hit and he had seven million dollars stolen from him, putting him into a rage as he began destroying his own office with a baseball bat while Dillard tried to talk sense into him. When Dillard argued that she should be the one to be truly angry as it was her own office that was hit and therefore her reputation was on the line, this enraged Cottonmouth even more as he called her "Black Mariah", causing her to throw a bottle at his head but just missed while Cottonmouth continued yelling that the stuff in the office was for him to break.
They were interrupted when Zip entered and informed Cottonmouth that Rafael Scarfe had just arrived to speak to him. Dillard made it clear that she was horrified that the police had come there, but Cottonmouth was not concerned as he already had Scarfe on his own payroll. Seeing Scarfe downstairs, Cottonmouth pointed his baseball bat down towards Scarfe and then questioned what was the use of having a police officer on his payroll if he could not get any new intel in time. Scarfe, however, claimed he did have intel to give to Cottonmouth, demonstrating this by then crudely grabbing at his own crotch.
Scarfe informed Cottonmouth that he had killed Chico Diaz and recommended that they deliver the body to Joel Spurlock to dispose of as usual. Scarfe then explained that he had now discovered that the person responsible for attacking the safe houses and stealing all of Cottonmouth's money was, in fact, Cage and due to a tracker on his partner Misty Knight's phone, he had been able to discover Cage's home address within Harlem. Upon hearing this news, Cottonmouth then decided it was time to end Cage's attacks against him and then left the club in order to go pay Cage a personal visit himself.
With the information given to him by Scarfe, Cottonmouth tracked down Cage to his home above Genghis Connie's, which was owned by Connie and Jin Lin. Taking a position on a rooftop across the street, Cottonmouth saw that Cage was downstairs speaking with Mrs. Lin and prepared an RPG to kill his enemy. Firing a single shot, Cottonmouth caused a massive explosion in the room Cage and Lin were in which caused the entire building to collapse on top of them. Believing his job to be complete, Cottonmouth left, but a few hours later, Cage pulled both himself and Lin out.
Luke Cage's Challenge
Declaring War with Luke Cage
- "This dishwasher thinks he can prove Harlem don't need me. Let's see how bad he really wants to wear the crown. You hit the boulevard and squeeze 'em hard, and when they start crying, talking about why? Why? You tell 'em to go talk to Luke Cage down at the barbershop. They're paying the Luke Cage stupidity tax."
Back inside Harlem's Paradise, Cottonmouth listened as Jidenna performed his music to the empty space for Cottonmouth's approval. Cottonmouth returned to his office with his supporters where he was informed by Darrell Mitchell that he was officially bankrupt, despite still owning the Paradise due to it being left to him by Mama Mabel.
Mitchell then noted that the people of Harlem were talking about how Cottonmouth had lost his power and were supporting Luke Cage, who had managed to survive the earlier bombing of Genghis Connie's. When Koko spoke out by saying that he had been reading up on the politics and history of hip hop, which had allowed him to come to the conclusion that maybe they should leave Cage alone, but this only angered Cottonmouth who shot Koko in the head before ordering Zip to steal money to replace their cash. Shades warned this would not work and attempted to remind him why Diamondback had sent him to the Paradise in the first place, but Cottonmouth ignored him and told his men to tell people that Cage was robbing them before telling Zip to contact Joel Spurlock to dispose of Koko's corpse.
As Cottonmouth looked over the money collected by Zip and his men, which included wads of cash and various other expensive items that were stolen, Shades recommended that he let this whole situation go as it was making him look weak and recommended that he instead sell the club, which Cottonmouth refused as he felt the club was far too important to himself and Harlem. Shades continued to remind Cottonmouth that if he did not make the right decision now, he would soon lose everything, but Cottonmouth just insisted that the club was his own reputation, blood, and legacy and for that reason, he would never sell it no matter what.
Cottonmouth then noticed that Cage had entered the building to speak with him. Cottonmouth and Cage began exchanging insults as Cottonmouth warned the vigilante that taking control of Harlem would prove to be expensive for him, although Cage insisted that he did not want Harlem, he just wanted Cottonmouth to leave it alone. Cottonmouth told him that he did not know anything about what he was talking about and then ordered Zip, Sugar and Amos to attack Cage, only to watch as they were all very easily defeated, with Cage even surviving several gunshots to the chest without even reacting.
As Cottonmouth came downstairs, Cage calmly explained that if a rocket did not kill him, then bullets would not either. Cottonmouth then declared war on Cage, only for Cage to note that he did not have enough people working still for him to stop him while also making it clear he knew Shades from their time at Seagate Penitentiary. As he left the club, Cage ordered Cottonmouth not to use his name anymore, when Cottonmouth asked why Cage did not answer and just walked away before Cottonmouth confronted Shades about how exactly he knew Cage, demanding to know the details.
Luke Cage's Weakness
As they rewatched the CCTV footage, Shades explained that Luke Cage's real name was Carl Lucas and that he was supposed to be dead before he had returned now bulletproof. As Cottonmouth demanded a way to kill Cage, Shades showed a video of the Judas Bullet which had been designed by Hammer Industries using Chitauri metal recovered from the Battle of New York, Cottonmouth expressed his delight at the bullet's power and asked how to get one.
When Shades explained exactly how much the bullet would cost, Cottonmouth realized he was unable to afford it, and therefore his only option was to consider hiring Diamondback to kill Cage for him, with Shades noting that if that happened, Diamondback would take over Harlem. Refusing to allow this to happen, Cottonmouth decided that he would return the Hammer Industries guns back to Domingo Colon's people and sort out that situation so Diamondback would lend him the money he needed to get the Judas and finally kill Cage once and for all and go back to his work in Harlem.
- "They never caught the shooter, but I have faith that he is rotting in the depths of hell. I miss Pop, I promise you, with all my might, that even though we are being attacked from both sides by foreign interlopers, strangers with arcane abilities, I promise you, I'll stay true to what we have right here."
As Cottonmouth arrived at the church to attend Pop's funeral, he sent a text message to Rafael Scarfe to see if he had collected the Hammer Industries guns as instructed. While listening to Pop's son's speech, Cottonmouth did not notice Aisha Axton was considering killing him, although she did not as Luke Cage sat beside her and destroyed the gun.
When Bobby Fish called out to the attendees and invited anyone to speak, Cottonmouth stood up and took the stand. Addressing the large crowd, which also included Misty Knight, Cottonmouth explained how he had grown up with Pop while living with Mama Mabel, noting how he got his nickname from the sound that his fists made. Cottonmouth went on to vow to protect Harlem from criminals, noting that Pop's killer Tone had never been found, but not mentioning that he killed him. His speech soon drew the support of the crowd to all applauded him.
Cottonmouth then watched as Cage took his place on the podium and gave a speech giving his own memories and views on Pop, telling the people that he also was doing what he believed Pop would have wanted, to protect the people and find the good in them and telling the people to stand up to a bully. With the people back on Cage's side, Cottonmouth then left the church with Shades, only to become face to face with Cage, who mocked Cottonmouth for failing to unite the people, only for Cottonmouth to tell him that the war was still going and laughing at Cage's many insults.
Rafael Scarfe's Betrayal
Just outside of New York City, Cottonmouth met up with Rafael Scarfe to take back the Hammer Industries guns promised to him. Although Scarfe promised to give Cottonmouth back the guns, he revealed that he had decided to bribe him for some extra money, reminding him that if he did not get his situation sorted with Domingo Colon, then his organization was finished while also noting that all his money was currently in police lock-up where Cottonmouth could not get to it.
When Scarfe insulted Cottonmouth by reminding him that his current reputation had now gone downhill ever since Luke Cage turned up, Cottonmouth lost his temper and punched Scarfe before fighting him for his gun. Cottonmouth then quickly disarmed Scarfe and managed to shoot him twice, once in the leg and once in the gut. The now bleeding Scarfe hid behind his car while Cottonmouth ran out of ammunition and laughed at the wounded Scarfe before getting back in his car and leaving in case he was seen, but not before promising to finish him soon.
Returning to Harlem's Paradise, Cottonmouth informed Mariah Dillard that he had shot Scarfe, only to be berated for such a foolish act against a cop, although he insisted that he could not allow Scarfe to rip him off and that it was Scarfe's gun that was drawn. Dillard made it clear that if Scarfe survived the shooting, then everything that Cottonmouth had built would soon come crashing down around him and she would not allow him to bring her down with him, while Cottonmouth insisted that Colon would soon be finally getting the guns promised to him before Shameek Smith had stolen them.
Changing the subject, Dillard asked about Cage, although Cottonmouth insisted she should be focusing on her interview with Thembi Wallace. Dillard, however, told Cottonmouth that he should reconsider selling Harlem's Paradise as the people of Harlem were still talking about what had happened at Pop's funeral. Dillard told Cottonmouth that he had to kill Cage, but when he insisted that Cage was bulletproof, Dillard was not phased and suggested that they either drown, poison, or even burn him to kill him which reminded Stokes of Mama Mabel's tactics.
Needing to ensure that the situation with Scarfe was dealt with as quickly as possible, Cottonmouth contacted Perez, questioning if he had had anything to do with Scarfe attempting to rip him off. Perez insisted that he did not know what had happened and noted that his fellow police officers were scrambling to find Scarfe, at which point Cottonmouth gave him his new orders to find and execute Scarfe before he could expose his whole organization to the police and have Cottonmouth arrested for shooting him in the gut.
Cottonmouth was contacted by Perez who informed him they had tracked Scarfe to Pop's Barber Shop where he had been found and helped by Luke Cage. Since Perez clearly did not know how Cage and Scarfe had come into contact, Cottonmouth reminded him that if Scarfe went to the police, not only would he be going down, but he would be taking down half of the whole police force with him. As Cottonmouth threw his phone in a rage, Zip then entered and asked where Shades was before asking for a promotion, with Cottonmouth noting that the last time Zip had stepped up, it had not gone well. Cottonmouth ordered Zip to send out a hit on Scarfe.
Arrest and Release
Despite Cottonmouth's best efforts, Rafael Scarfe got to the police in time to expose his organization before dying from his wounds. With his criminal activities down proven, Cottonmouth was arrested by the New York City Police Department while still inside Harlem's Paradise, with Misty Knight putting on the handcuffs and watching as Cottonmouth was escorted out of the building by Masterson, who took him to jail to await his sentencing for his many crimes including murder.
While he was being held by the 29th Precinct Police Station, Cottonmouth's lawyer, Benjamin Donovan arrived to defend him. While they sat discussing the case together, Cottonmouth mimed playing the piano to keep himself relaxed. When they were eventually confronted by Knight and Priscilla Ridley, Donovan made it clear that there was no evidence presented against Cottonmouth other than Knight and Scarfe's testimonies, both of which could easily be questioned due to one being personally affected by the other's death.
As both Cottonmouth and Donovan prepared to leave, they were confronted by Knight who questioned if by their language they were calling her a dog, but Cottonmouth insisted that it was just a turn of phrase. Before he left, however, Cottonmouth stood face to face with Knight and made an insulting remark which did compare her to a dog, at which point Knight promised that she would sooner or later see that Cottonmouth found himself in prison where he belonged, a statement which made Cottonmouth laugh out loud as he walked out and leaving Knight furious at his victory.
As Cottonmouth left the police station, he found himself surrounded by members of the media who were there desperately asking for a statement regarding why he was arrested, but he chose to ignore them all as he made his way to his car in order to return to the club. As he stepped into the car, Cottonmouth caught eyes with Luke Cage who was watching him from across the street. Seeing the man who had helped try to arrest him watch his own failure unfold, Cottonmouth could not help but smile and he sat down in his car and drove away from the police station as a free man.
Taking back his office in Harlem's Paradise, Cottonmouth laughed out loud as he watched the news reports on his own arrest and freedom, noting how Mariah Dillard would be furious while he was celebrating how he killed Rafael Scarfe and got away with it while Zip found the Hammer Industries guns and returned them to Domingo Colon, ending their war before it even began and restoring peace to his organization after such a chaotic time, putting himself back in control despite everything going wrong for him.
Cottonmouth then asked Shades how, now that he had sorted out his issues, he could get his own hands on the Judas Bullet, although Shades then informed him that he could not which only angered Cottonmouth more as he insisted that he could get no criminal work done as all his men ran in fear as soon as Luke Cage came close to them. Wanting nothing more than to kill Cage, Cottonmouth ordered Shades to get in contact with Diamondback and ask for his help. Once Shades had left, Cottonmouth collected the very gun that he had once used to kill Pistol Pete and held it to the mirror.
Seeking to sort out the business, Cottonmouth called Pop's Barber Shop where he spoke to Bobby Fish before the phone was handed over to Cage. Cottonmouth suggested to Cage that they arrange a parlay to sort out their differences, requesting that he come to the club so that they could speak in private. As Cage reminded him that their attempts at parlay had not previously worked out so well, Cottonmouth insultingly called Cage a dishwasher once again before laughing out loud and hanging up the phone, leaving Cage to make his mind up as quickly as possible.
Final Meeting with Cage
While Cottonmouth was waiting for Luke Cage to arrive, he sat in his office in Harlem's Paradise and played his keyboard to keep himself relaxed, thinking back to his time under the leadership of Mama Mabel and how she had shaped him into the gangster and killer he was now by not allowing him to pursue music and forcing him to murder Donnie and Pistol Pete to turn him into the cold-blooded killed she desired in her crew, changing his life forever.
Before long, Cage arrived and complimented Cottonmouth on his musical skills before noting he had never seen him without Zip or other bodyguards. Cage then informed Cottonmouth that he intended to bring him to Misty Knight where he wanted him to confess to all his crimes, including the murder of Rafael Scarfe among others. Not intimidated, Cottonmouth made it clear that he knew Cage was really Carl Lucas and used this information to blackmail his enemy as he threatened to send him back to Seagate Penitentiary, laughing in his face as Cage considered his options and questioned Cottonmouth's commitment.
Cottonmouth only mocked Cage more, calling him Harlem's Captain America before making it clear that in his view they were both common criminals. Cottonmouth then explained that he owned Cage now because he could easily reveal his true identity to the police and expose him, sending him back to Seagate to continue his sentence. Cottonmouth made it clear that he wanted Cage to not only stop stealing all of his money and disrupting his organization but if he ever had use for a bulletproof man, he would be calling on his services.
With Cage having left to consider his situation, Cottonmouth listened to D-Nice rehearsal before being joined by Shades. Cottonmouth apologized for his earlier actions, with Shades accepting as he knew what stress Cottonmouth was under at this time. Cottonmouth explained what had happened between him and Cage, only for Shades to explain this was not what Diamondback wanted from the situation, although Cottonmouth was not bothering, insisting that Cage would not run as was feared but would fall in line behind him as instructed, although Shades still remained nervous.
While playing his piano, Cottonmouth was visited by Mariah Dillard, who ordered him to finally finished the Luke Cage situation as her political career was at serious risk of falling apart due to the actions of Cage. When Dillard furiously reminded Cottonmouth that they were family and brought up Mama Mabel, Cottonmouth became angry, thinking back to all the ways that Mabel had destroyed his life by pushing him to be a gangster rather than a musician.
This had led them to an argument regarding Pistol Pete, who Mama Mabel had forced Cottonmouth to execute when he was fourteen years old, although Dillard argued that Pete deserved to die as he had raped her. Cottonmouth had still insisted that Mabel had always protected Dillard while forcing him to commit murder, with Dillard arguing that she had always been protecting him when Cottonmouth accused Dillard of flirting with Pete and requesting sex, she snapped, first slapping Cottonmouth before hitting him hard with a bottle and pushing him straight through of his own office window.
Cottonmouth fell from his window and landed hard onto the floor of Harlem's Paradise, badly hurting his back and cutting his skin on the shards of glass, while Dillard continued to scream that she never wanted to be raped by Pete. As Cottonmouth attempted to crawl away despite the amount of agony he was in, Dillard caught up with him and grabbed a microphone stand and then proceeded to beat Cottonmouth on the face with it, eventually crushing his skull and killing him. His corpse was later beaten even more by Shades to frame Cage for the brutal murder of Cottonmouth.
Framing Luke Cage
Despite becoming public enemy number one as a result of Cottonmouth's murder, Luke Cage was eventually exonerated but Candace Miller, the closest thing to an eyewitness, was murdered by Shades before she could testify, robbing Misty Knight of a case against Mariah Dillard. The murder was ultimately pinned on Diamondback, who had been attempting to frame Cage for his crimes ever since Cottonmouth's murder.
- "I'm all about the old school and all that. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth kinda thing. Fire and brimstone. See back then, do someone wrong, wasn't no begging nor pleading. Just took care of it. Handled your business."
"What about turning the other cheek?"
"Jesus saves. I don't."
- ―Cottonmouth and Pop[src]
Cornell Stokes was a calculating individual who firmly believed that power came through money and violence. Unlike his cousin Mariah Dillard who seemed to respect the suffering that the black community in the United States of America had to go through over the course of history to achieve equality with the whites, Stokes thought the real goal of that struggle was to achieve power. For that reason he was intensely proud of his club, Harlem's Paradise as no other black man was able to run such a successful club before, thinking it be another fraction that would go down as his infamy, he refused to sell it, even when he needed to be said money desperately. In spite of that Stokes had no concern referring to himself and other black people as the n-word, inferring he does not care so much about black rights as his cousin did but rather gaining power and dominion over everything.
Having been raised by the most notorious criminal in Harlem, his grandmother Mama Mabel, Stokes was also raised to be the perfect gangster and kept the family business alive even after Mabel's death by successfully running her crime gang. Thinking his legacy to be measured in either blood or power, Stokes demanded the respect he felt entitled towards, seeking to gain this by either reputation as the reputable owner of the most successful club or the most feared crime lord. However, Stokes was unwilling to take responsibility for his own actions despite this desire for legacy, instead of using his connections within the police and morgue to avoid any legal altercations and his own arrest even though many of Harlem's residents, including the police, knew that Stokes was already a brutal crime but could not react due to the amount of evidence that he was able to make disappear. However, after Luke Cage and Diamondback began dismantling his crime empire, he began losing his composure and behaving more rashly despite being cautious about his criminality beforehand. Refusing to be disrespected by Cage, he was willing to risk financial bankruptcy by buying the Judas Bullet to kill him, despite being reminded by Shades that his empire was now in too much shambles to pay. Stokes lived the lifestyle of a classic gangster, with Cage noting he surrounded himself with beautiful models in his private club box.
Despite his vicious and ruthless personality, Stokes was not completely heartless. To some degree, he loved his family due to being raised by Mama Mabel in the importance of family first, even though Pistol Pete was his first victim for betraying Mabel, he was implied to feel deep regret over this and Peter did wish Stokes to have a better future than just another criminal in the family. He also did care about his cousin but simply teased her too much to the point where she eventually killed Stokes in a blind rage when he pushed her too far. Stokes also had a good relationship with his niece Tilda Johnson, using music to try to steer her away from crime as his uncle - her biological father - had done for him, which proved successful. Tilda, in turn, felt that he had been the only loving and genuinely reliable Stokes and, despite his criminality, the only Stokes she did not resent, to the point that she was devastated that her mother had killed him. Due to their history, Stokes had a close bond with Pop even if they went down different paths as they got older. He planned to secretly fund the repair of his barber shop after his hit on it and killed Tone when he discovered that Pop was killed in the shooting. Later on, he cried over this news and paid for Pop's expensive casket.
Because of his former desire to become a music artist, Stokes played jazz in his office quite frequently, as he himself implied that that was his true desire and was forced into crime by his family. He also hated his criminal alias, "Cottonmouth" and was warned by many to not call him by that in his presence as it would lead him to become more violent and even kill whoever did. Stokes had a habit of laughing with a slight rasp when amused. He seemed to be somewhat insensitive towards others especially about their identity. He has referred to the police as "pigs," certain women as "bitches," and has twice made a joke regarding a stereotype he has against Jamaicans. He also seemed to be insensitive towards women such as claiming Dillard invited her abuse, he told Mama Mabel that the female prostitutes should learn to defend themselves against abusive customers instead of relying on their bodyguards, and had no problem calling Misty Knight a "bitch" straight to her face. However, he did have enough sensitivity towards transgender people to not misgender Sister Boy even though Mabel had. Despite some of his female workers being afraid of him such as Candace Miller, he spent some time playing music for his female models to entertain them.
- Combatant: Though not trained in any combat fighting techniques, Stokes does use his sheer muscles to hold a brief confrontation as he was able to beat Shameek Smith to death and easily overpower Rafael Scarfe for control over his gun
- Expert Marksman: For the years of his criminal life, Stokes learned about utilizing firearms. Using his marksman skills, Stokes managed accurately shot Koko in the head, destroy Genghis Connie's with a rocket launcher and shot Rafael Scarfe from his own sidearm.
- Expert Tactician: Stokes used a rocket launcher to shoot Luke Cage, believing he would die and was able to obscure his involvement by making the incident appear to be a gas explosion. When he discovered Cage's vulnerability to the Judas Bullet, he instantly realized this bullet's potential and planned to order some despite his financial difficulties. Upon learning of Cage's past as Carl Lucas, he used this knowledge to blackmail Cage into working for him. While Cage refused to work for him, he did almost leave Harlem to prevent his past from coming to light, which would've still achieved Stokes' ultimate goal of getting rid of Cage.
- Skilled Musician: Stokes was an accomplished keyboardist. In his youth, he demonstrated proficiency for music, being able to play compositions by ear. He considered music his true passion, and his uncle, recognizing his potential, recommended that he go to the Juilliard School and took him to auditions and tried to steer him away from the criminal lifestyle. Even after fully immersing himself in the family business, he continued to play, especially when he was feeling contemplative.
- Stokes' Revolver: Stokes was given an ornate Smith & Wesson Model 64 by Mama Mabel, who explained how he should kill his uncle Pistol Pete due to his betrayal. Pete was cornered and Stokes aimed at him with the gun. Pete tried to appeal to his nephew who, despite his hesitation, shot twice at Pete, killing him. Stokes kept the revolver for many years, as a memento of what he was forced to do.
- Smith & Wesson SW1911SC: Stokes kept this handgun by his desk, and took during a meeting with his men to kill Koko shooting him in the head, angered at his proposal of leaving Luke Cage alone and focus on their dealings elsewhere.
- Glock 19: Stokes managed to obtain Rafael Scarfe's sidearm when an argument with him escalated into a confrontation. Stokes and Scarfe tried to struggle for control of the handgun, and Stokes ended up grabbing it, and shot Scarfe a couple of times, hitting him in the stomach and legs, and severely injuring him before leaving him behind.
- FIM-43 Redeye: Stokes took this rocket launcher to a rooftop in Harlem, stalking Luke Cage in order to kill him inside his house. As he spotted Cage inside Genghis Connie's, Stokes fired a rocket, destroying the restaurant and making the whole building collapse. However, Cage was able to survive the rocket blast, saving Connie Lin shielding her with his body.
- Baseball Bat: Cottonmouth used a baseball bat to destroy his office and threaten Rafael Scarfe out of frsutration.
|This section requires expansion|
- Stokes' Brownstone: To be added
- Harlem's Paradise: Following the death of Mama Mabel, Stokes was finally given the ownership of the Stokes Crime Family's club in the heart of Harlem. From here, Stokes had maintained the illusion of being a legitimate businessman by having several high-end musical performers play while he conducted illegal dealings with Domingo Colon as well as Rafael Scarfe. From the club, Stokes attempted to find solutions to deal with Luke Cage and was eventually killed by his own cousin, Mariah Dillard, who had knocked Stokes out of his office window before brutally beating him to death.
- Spurlock's Mortuary: Cottonmouth bought a casket at Spurlock's Mortuary for Pop.
- 29th Precinct Police Station: Cottonmouth was arrested and brought to the 29th Precinct Police Station, where he was held for questioning. However, Benjamin Donovan quickly got him out of custody.
|Appearances for Cornell Stokes|
in chronological order:
- In the comics, Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes was a heroin trader that wanted to recruit Luke Cage for his organization when Cage was framed by Willis Stryker.
Behind the Scenes
- According to Cheo Hodari Coker, the attitude of the rapper Biggie Smalls, a friend of Coker, was a strong influence for this version of Cottonmouth. Coker has also compared Stokes to Simon Adebisi from Oz, Stringer Bell from The Wire and Rowan Pope from Scandal. Another influence Coker has named is Suge Knight, stating that he envisioned Stokes and Mariah Dillard as "if Maxine Waters and Suge Knight were cousins".
- Stokes' demise drew criticism from some viewers, who were disappointed by the character's exit halfway through the first season of Luke Cage. Mike Colter responded during an interview on ESPN that it was felt viewers could get tired of the character if he were the villain of the whole season and that perhaps Mahershala Ali's performance made the character unexpectedly more compelling. Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker has stated that Cottonmouth was actually killed off after his seventh appearance because Ali's contract just included seven episodes, as that was the condition Ali had to participate on the show.
- Brandon McClary was a stunt double for Mahershala Ali in the role of Cottonmouth.
- Luke Cage: 1.02: Code of the Streets
- Luke Cage: 1.07: Manifest
- Luke Cage: 1.03: Who's Gonna Take the Weight?
- Luke Cage: 1.05: Just to Get a Rep
- Luke Cage: 1.08: Blowin' Up the Spot
- Luke Cage: 1.09: DWYCK
- Luke Cage: 2.11: The Creator
- Luke Cage: 2.12: Can't Front on Me
- Luke Cage: 1.01: Moment of Truth
- Luke Cage: 1.06: Suckas Need Bodyguards
- Luke Cage: 1.13: You Know My Steez
- Luke Cage: 2.13: They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)
- SDCC 2016: Marvel & Netflix's LUKE CAGE Panel
- Cheo Hodari Coker on Twitter, 15 May 2016
- ‘LUKE CAGE’ SHOWRUNNER CHEO HODARI COKER BREAKS DOWN THE SHOW’S EASTER EGGS & INSPIRATIONS
- Mike Colter On Cowboys vs. Packers & Marvel's Luke Cage (FULL)