Created by Archie Goodwin and John Romita, Sr.
“I ain’t about the tights and shit…”
— Cage on why the tiara is gone, in Alias #1
A working class hero is something to be…
When LUKE CAGE made his debut in Luke Cage: Hero for Hire in 1972, he was the first African-American superhero to star in his own Marvel Comics series — and one of the first black comic book superheroes, period.
It was Marvel Comics’ attempt to jump on the then-exploding blaxploitation bandwagon. Cage was a bad ass, an often ill-tempered, two-fisted black superhero straight outta Harlem with a kiss my ass attitude, nearly bulletproof skin and super-human strength.
I loved him, as a kid. He seemed so fresh and original at the time, although I now realize how intentionally derivative he was.
Born Carl Lucas, Cage’s Harlem childhood was essentially that of a thug in training, running with the gangs and committing minor crimes. But it all came crashing down when Lucas was arrested and sent to prison (for a crime — dealing heroin — he did not commit, of course).
While in the pen, he was offered a deal by a team of scientists looking to replicate Captain America‘s Super Soldier Serum. If he agreed to become the subject for a series of medial experiments, they would ensure his freedom. But a crooked (and racist, of course) guard who had it it in for Lucas sabotaged the experiment, leaving the inmate with what the guard hoped would be a lethal dose. It back-fired, though, and Lucas hit the streets, now augmented by super-strength and nearly impenetrable skin.
He took on the identity of “Luke Cage” and became a “Hero for Hire,” a sort of super-enhanced private detective/mercenary, out to protect the streets of Harlem. At first he worked alone, and there was a genuine effort to “keep it real,” having Cage dealing with a level of everyday crime that seemed light years away from the cosmos-shaking world of the Marvel Universe.
Which made his original costume all the more inexplicable — it was Shaft as reimagined by Liberace. I mean, really — the bright yellow silk disco shirt was bad enough, but a golden tiara as well?
Meanwhile, Marvel was being criticized in other quarters for promoting racial stereotypes.
But it was a short-lived complaint — after just a few years of working solo (and sixteen issues of his own comic, Hero for Hire, Cage became Power Man, a more traditional Marvel hero, and he was teamed up with Iron Fist, a super-powered martial arts expert. The name of the agency was retitled “Heroes for Hire,” to reflect the expanding roster. The re-titled book, Power Man, lasted until 1978, when it was retitled yet again, and became Power Man and Iron Fist, which in turn ran until 1986.
As superhero team-ups go, it was a long way from the A list. Cage (and Iron Fist) lingered in the increasingly convoluted Marvel universe throughout the seventies and early eighties, never quite reaching the audience Marvel had hoped for, despite numerous guest appearances in other titles.
Originally having little to do with the flamboyant costumed superheroes of the Marvel universe, the decidedly blue collar Cage always seemed a little out of place (with or without the tiara), jostling alongside the likes of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Defenders, Iron Man and all the rest. The storylines were often as ridiculous as his costumes.
Far more in keeping with his street-level persona, he also worked as as investigator for vigilante The Punisher and criminal lawyer Matt Murdock (who just happens to be Daredevil) and alongside, at different times, two of Marvel’s best known private eyes, Dakota North and, more significantly, former superhero Jessica Jones.
In fact, it wasn’t until he was reintroduced in a relatively small but ultimately pivotal role in Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias (2001-04) that Cage actually gained the street cred and kick-ass cool that Marvel might have once envisioned–and that I had latched onto as a kid.
It was in the “For mature audiences only” Alias that Cage, while working as an investigator for Murdock, meets Jessica. Now working as a private eye herself, Jessica is more than a match for our dude — both temperamentally and sexually. They eventually have a daughter, Danielle, and move in together, as revealed in the sequel, The Pulse (2004-06).
Of course, in the ever-expanding, mutating and inconsistency-laden world of big time comics, it wasn’t enough for Cage to be an aging, super-powered private eye and new family man involved in an inter-racial relationship with a former superhero, out to protect his small corner of the universe — by 2010, Cage had become the leader of the Heroic Age-era Thunderbolts and then the New Avengers, and he was back on the superhero chain gang.
The big treat for me was Netflix’s ambitious attempt to bring the Marvel Universe to television, with a quartet of interconnected miniseries, each focusing on a different Marvel hero: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. The less said about the lunk-headed latter, the better, but the other three all proved wonderfully gritty, dark and stubbornly street level, a far cry from the high-flying primary colour superhero hijinks of the usual Marvel fare, and yet each had a different and unique vision. Michael Colton, who played Luke, was well cast; and his early appearances in Jessica Jones whetted my appetite for his own series. Unfortunately, the hoped-for sparks between the two were grounded in the television version, and yet the low-down, street level vibe, coupled with a defiant soul train of R&B and hip-hop, made it clear there was a new Man in town, talkin’ proud, and doin’ something.
COMICS (Major Appearances)
- LUKE CAGE: HERO FOR HIRE
(1972-73, Marvel Comics)
Writers: Archie Goodwin
Artists: John Romita, Sr
16 issues, #1-16
- POWER MAN
(1974-78, Marvel Comics)
31 issues, #17-49
- POWER MAN & IRON FIST
(1978-86, Marvel Comics)
74 issues, #50-125
(2001-04, Marvel Comics/MAX)
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Illustrated by Michael Gaydos
- THE PULSE
(2004-06, Marvel Comics)
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
- NEW AVENGERS: LUKE CAGE
(2010, Marvel Comics)
Writer: John Arcudi
Artist: Eric Canete
- LUKE CAGE NOIR | Buy this book | Kindle/ComiXology
(2010, Marvel Comics)
Writer: Michael Benson, Adam Glass
Artists: Shawn Martinbrough
Re-imagines Luke as a Prohibition ex-con, just out of the Big House, and ready to hit the streets of Harlem again. Possibly the best of Marvel’s Noir series.
(2016, Marvel Comics)
4 issue min-series
Written and drawn by Gendy Tartakovsky
Cartoonist Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack) riffs like a mutha on Marvel’s original urban badass, ignoring the then-current gritty street-level Bendis/Netflix vibe or Marvel’s Avengers continuity, and goes full-on retro, playing it all for slapstick laughs, zeroing in on his over-the-top seventies superhero roots, reviving his original yellow disco shirt and tiara outfit, and pitting the brother with bulletproof skin against some of the goofiest foes around. Not sure if it’s spoof or satire, but it sure is fun.
- LUKE CAGE
(2017, Marvel Comics)
Writer: David F. Walker
Artist: Nelson Blake II
I was stoked when I found out there was going to be a whole new monthly series from Marvel featuring the bulletproof private eye, scripted by David F. Walker, the man behind the recent Shaft comics. I wasn’t sure how much private eying he’d actually do, or how it would tie in (if at all) with then recently revamped Jessica Jones book, but with Blaxploitation expert Walker on board, I figured there was definitely going to some street level grit involved. There was, but it wasn’t quite up to the level of Bendis’ version of events, or the TV series.
- LUKE CAGE EPIC COLLECTION: RETRIBUTION (2021, Marvel Comics) | Buy the comic | Kindle/ComiXology it!
Cage’s earth-quaking beginnings as the Marvel’s “Hero for Hire!”– the super-powered private eye with the bullet proof skin. Collects Hero for Hire #1-16 and Power Man #17-23.
- LUKE CAGE OMNIBUS| Buy the graphic novel | Kindle/ComiXology it!
This doorstopper collects the complete run of Hero for Hire and Power Man, plus the Power Man Annual.
- LUKE CAGE
Premiere: November 2016
Based on characters created by Created by Archie Goodwin and John Romita, Sr.
Developed for television by Cheo Hodari Coker
Starring Mike Colter as LUKE CAGE
Also starring Mahershala Ali, Alfre Woodard, Simone Missick and Theo Rossi
- SEASON ONE
- “Moment of Truth” (September 30, 2016)
- “Code of the Streets” (September 30, 2016)
- “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?” (September 30, 2016)
- “Step in the Arena” (September 30, 2016)
- “Just to Get a Rep” (September 30, 2016)
- “Suckas Need Bodyguards” (September 30, 2016)
- “Manifest” (September 30, 2016)
- “Blowin’ Up the Spot” (September 30, 2016)
- “DWYCK” (September 30, 2016)
- “Take It Personal” (September 30, 2016)
- “Now You’re Mine” (September 30, 2016)
- “Soliloquy of Chaos” (September 30, 2016)
- “You Know My Steez” (September 30, 2016)
- SEASON TWO
- “Soul Brother #1” (June 22, 2018)
- “Straighten It Out” (June 22, 2018)
- “Wig Out” (June 22, 2018)
- “I Get Physical” (June 22, 2018)
- “All Souled Out” (June 22, 2018)
- “The Basement” (June 22, 2018)
- “On and On” (June 22, 2018)
- “If It Ain’t Rough, It Ain’t Right” (June 22, 2018)
- “For Pete’s Sake” (June 22, 2018)
- “The Main Ingredient” (June 22, 2018)
- “The Creator” (June 22, 2018)
- “Can’t Front on Me” (June 22, 2018)
- “They Reminisce Over You” (June 22, 2018)
- Luke Cage Goes Pop! | Buy this item
Finally! The P.I./Funko barrier has been breached! After years of hoping the makers of those ever-so-collectable big-eyed vinyl figures would give us some shamus love, we’re beginning to see some light with the release of Luke and Jessica Jones figurines, both taken, not from the comics, but from the TV show versions streaming on Netflix. Hopefully, we’ll soon start to see more TV-based P.I. figures soon. Rockford? Mannix? Peter Gunn? Veronica Mars?
- Eyes on the No-Prize
Private Eyes of the Marvel Universe