Sunday, February 27, 2011

Black Superheroes: Luke Cage

Doesn't this guy just scream "I'm a Hero"?
Name: Carl Lucas (Legally changed to “Lucas Cage”)
First Appearance: Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 (1972)
History: Growing up in Harlem Carl Lucas was a troubled youth.  He was involved with gangs and often in trouble along with his friend Wilis Stryker (As opposed to X-Men villain William Stryker).  As he got older Carl had a change of heart and decided to go straight, despite staying friends with the still wrong doing Stryker.  One day Wilis’ girlfriend leaves him due to his criminal activities and he starts blaming Carl for it.  He plants heroin on his old friend and tips off the police.  Lucas was arrested and then imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.  While in prison he is recruited for an experimental procedure but an “accident” (Actually a murder attempt) gives Lucas super strength and unbreakable skin.  Promptly escaping his imprisonment he takes on the name “Luke Cage” and vows to protect the people he once let down during his youth make that mother-loving money by selling his services as a Hero-for-Hire!   Since then Cage has been a complete joke of a character that no one has taken seriously become one of the most respected heroes in the Marvel Universe and a high ranking member of the Avengers.
Beta Says: F*ck Luke Cage.
Find out why by clicking the link below.
Not the first, not the greatest
Let’s say you’re an editor at Marvel Comics in the early 70s.  You decide it’s time to create an eponymous ongoing series starring an African American superhero.  Now either you decide that Black Panther doesn’t deserve it or maybe since he’s not really African American he’s not what you’re looking for; either way you decided to create a new superhero rather than use an existing character.  Now when you creating the character, a character who is making history and showing the world that your company is forward thinking,  do you a) create someone who is representative of the social change that has been occurring in the country over the last few years, like say someone inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Or b) rip-off blaxploitation films and make an offensive stereotype who speaks in a way you suspect black people talk like despite not actually knowing any?
Well Sweet Christmas!  Someone decided to go with the latter!  Created by Archie Goodwin and John Romita, Sr. Luke Cage was a character made by Marvel using the old tried and true method of writing something outside the box: watch a TV show or movie and turn a character you find interesting into a superhero.
Stan Lee: "Just give Yul Brynner a wheelchair and the book writes itself!"
In this case I guess Marvel thought the best way to have diversity was to have a slang using cliché (Troubled black man and convict from Harlem?  My God…) sell his skills like a mercenary, which I’m pretty sure means he’s not a superhero.  This is a weird gray area but I personally get a bit uncomfortable about the idea of a superhero with a fee.  Now granted unlike, say, Spider-Man who can work in is civilian identity I suppose Cage’s life as a wanted criminal meant he couldn’t easily just get a normal job and thus the “Hero-for-Hire” thing was a necessity.  But really did the writers have to make him be an escaped convict?  Did he have to have such a violent past?  Couldn’t have been a working professional who got super powers like a teacher, or a doctor, or a construction worker or ANYTHING ELSE?  First black superhero in his own comic and he’s a thug.  Thanks, Marvel.  Also they later gave him what I think is, with almost no hyperbole used, the worst superhero name in the history of comic books: Power Man.  That makes Black Lightning sound dignified.  Hell, they should have called him Black Power Man (which sounds surprisingly awesome now that I say it in my head).
To add insult to injury as I understand it Nicolas Coppola, a comic book fan, barrowed Luke Cage’s name to use as a stage name to avoid association with his famous uncle.  Of course I’m talking about good old Nicolas “Ghost Rider Should Be for Kids” Cage.  So I thank we can blame Luke for the Wicker Man remake.
Not the bees!
For years Luke Cage was more or less a recurring joke but probably had a pretty sizeable cult following.  Either way for decades he was a third tier character at best and usually wasn’t around for the big events in Marvel.  Mainly he hung out with his best friend Iron Fist (Who is to 1970s martial art films as Cage is to blaxploitation films) and periodically revived versions of Heroes for Hire, usually depicted as a superhero team with a paycheck.  This changed the day Brian Michael Bendis decided he had a use for the character.
If you’ve never heard of Brian Michael Bendis than you simply don’t read Marvel Comics (Or you don’t read the credits, which is worse).  Long story short Bendis is a talented writer who’s over the course of the last ten years or so has become the architect of the current era of the Marvel Universe.   He writes tons of books per month but I think right now he’s best known for writing several of the Avengers books.  He doesn’t have any hair to speak of.  Anyway in 2001 Marvel launched a new mature readers line of comics called MAX, the flagship title being a book called Alias written by Bendis and starring new character former superhero turned private eye Jessica Jones (Who is “retconned”, that is “retroactive continuity”, into having been highly involved with the superhero community for years).  During this comic’s run Bendis brought in Luke Cage as a supporting character and on-and-off romantic interest for Jessica, ultimately leading to her getting pregnant.  When alias ended Jones and her supporting cast were moved to the mainstream books in a title called The Pulse.  Over the next few years as Bendis got more and more assignments it was a usual sight to see Cage pop up in the book in some form, like in Daredevil Cage is hired as Matt Murdock’s bodyguard.  This culminated in 2004 when the writer was allowed to reboot the Avengers and include new members.  This included Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Cage making this one of the least impressive Avenger line-ups ever.
Luke has been a member of the team ever since and has been heavily involved in damn near every major event the Avengers have participated in and has even been leader for a time.  As a result Cage is now one of the most recognizable heroes in Marvel Comics, which is surprising given that he hasn’t had his own book for a while.  Regardless at the moment Luke Cage is the most high profile black character in Marvel Comics with only Black Panther being able to challenge that statement (He does have his own book, after all) and it’s all thanks to Brian Michael Bendis taking such an interest in him.  Is this good or bad?  Well on the one hand it’s awesome that a writer was able to use his growing power within the company to raise the stock of an underused and classic black character.  Everything I said should have happened with Bronze Tiger, Black Lightning and Vixen in DC Comics was executed perfectly by Bendis here.  This proves that a company can make a character popular if they work at it.  If they can do it for Luke Cage than is there any reason a writer can’t do something similar for other underused characters?
Word Life.  This is Basic Thugonomics
On the other hand…why Luke Cage of all people?!  As he’s a glorified thug why did Bendis choose him out of several heroes floating around to become his personal pet character?  I would have preferred Falcon showing up in Alias since is far less of that stereotype that angers me so much…well he used to anyway until 1975 when Marvel blaxploited him by retconing his background from a social worker to a pimp.  You suck, 1970s Marvel Comics!  Anyway I suppose that despite Cage’s racist roots I haven’t seen all that much to me offended by him under Bendis.  He’s not my favorite character by any means but he’s not the jive talking caricature of old (Plus his teammates include Wolverine and The Sentry, my two most hated Marvel characters, so in comparison Cage is awesome).  Still it bothers me that these days I’m more likely to see promotional images of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and Cage all standing tall but not Black Panther who, as I’ve said before, should be on top of the Marvel’s elite.  At least there is a black guy there at all.
Cage currently appears in New Avengers and the Suicide Squad The Thunderbolts, a very Suicide Squad-like book.  Next time on my final profile for Black History Month we’ll look at a legacy character that could potentially represent the future of African American superheroes in DC Comics.
On the bright side he's happily married
Though according to Marvel there is no drama in a marriage
For a less biased take on Luke Cage go here.  For a much more awesome guide to black superheroes from different companies go to BLACKSUPERHERO.COM.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome, as it is the rest of your blog. Go figure, Luke Cage came out over here in Italy, back in 1973-74, in joint venture with "the Defenders". I remember it vividly - "Un eroe a pagamento" ("A hero for hire"). And I remember a peculiar villain, a huge woman named Black Mariah…


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