On September 30th, there’s a new hero in town…….a Hero for Hire! That’s right, the end of September will see the release of all 13 episodes of Marvel’s Luke Cage on Netflix. The hero made his first television appearance during the first season of Jessica Jones and we’ve all been waiting for the man with unbreakable skin to start his own adventure. The wait is almost over. There still is some time, but don’t worry. I’m here to help you get through it. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be giving you some background on this Harlem hero from his origins to his current place in the Marvel Comics landscape. From Powerman to Avenger to Father, all will be covered. We’ll probably skip over that time he was a member of the Fantastic Four…..but everything else will be covered. Come along for the ride and find out more about a man called Luke Cage.
Of the Marvel Netflix series we’ve gotten so far – Daredevil, Jessica Jones & Luke Cage – there is one connection between the 3 of them. They all had great success being written by Brian Michael Bendis is the 2000s. In 2001, Bendis began his now legendary run on Daredevil with artist Alex Maleev (and others, but Maleev for the most part). Around that time, The Marvel MAX line began with Alias (starring Jessica Jones) as it’s flagship book. It made sense for Bendis to have these two characters appear in each other’s titles, weaving a story that set up Jessica Jones as Matt Murdock’s bodyguard while he faced allegations that he was in fact Daredevil (which he was/is but trying to hide it).
During this time, Bendis had Luke Cage show up in both books, working as another bodyguard and confidant for Daredevil while starting into a relationship with Jessica. He became an integral part of both series, acting as a sort of conscience for Matt Murdock as he slipped a bit too far off the deep end at points and eventually finding out that he would be the father of Jones’ first child. He was Bendis’ go to supporting superhero.
Bendis kept this love of Cage going as he introduced new titles that would put the former Power Man front and center in the Marvel U. Cage would be a member of Nick Fury’s super secret strike force that went into Latveria for a special ops mission not cleared by the U.S. Government. Upon returning from Latveria, Fury would mindwipe Cage and the rest of the crew (which included Spider-Man, Wolverine, Daredevil, Captain America and Black Widow), leaving each of them with no memory of the mission. But, of course, there would be some repercussions that would leave Cage near incapacitated due to internal damage.
This limited series, titled Secret War (one of those titles that Marvel likes to recycle every decade or so), would be illustrated by painter Gabriele Dell’Otto. Due to the length of time it took for Dell’Otto to finish the artwork, the five issue series would take almost 2 years to come out. The story would also play out in The Pulse, the new Jessica Jones series at the time, showing the events from her perspective and filling in the blanks that were caused by the time delays.
While those books did a lot to elevate Luke in the eyes of Marvel readers, it would be Cage’s story line in New Avengers that would garner him the most attention. New Avengers would launch in 2005 and was seen as Marvel’s attempt to mirror the success of DC’s JLA by putting the biggest names in the 616 Universe all on one team. Captain America and Iron Man would be joined by Spider-Man and Wolverine. Filling out the rest of the team would be Spider-Woman Jessica Drew, The Paul Jenkins-created Sentry, A ninja named Ronin and Luke Cage. The team would form in the unlikeliest of places: a prison break. Cage would be on hand as lawyer Matt Murdock’s bodyguard but would end up fighting it out with the inmates (specifically the Purple Man who he would deliver a brutal beat down due to what he did to Jessica Jones). After the breakout, the team would stay together to hunt down the escaped super villains and would later uncover a conspiracy involving the 2nd Black Widow (Yelena Belova), a group of rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and a Vibranium mine in the Savage Land. A rip roaring adventure was had and kicked off this new era with gusto.
Luke would be an active member throughout the first few story arcs of New Avengers, mostly having moments with Spider-Man that made for great comedy. Spidey was the stand in for Danny Rand as Luke’s running buddy. As Bendis’ Man-Crush was now in full effect, Luke would always have some great one-liners and action beats. But it wouldn’t be until issue 22 of the series that Bendis would truly figure out exactly how Cage fit into this big Avengers World.
In a Civil War tie-in issue, Luke Cage would be given an ultimatum by Iron Man and Carol Danvers: sign the superhero registration act by midnight or S.H.I.E.L.D. will arrest you. Not one to take too kindly to an ultimatum, Cage tells them to get out of his apartment and to leave his family alone. Iron Man and Carol comply but warn him of the impending conflict. Shortly after, Cage would send Jessica and their baby, Danni, to Toronto while he stayed behind to wait for S.H.I.E.L.D. to make their move. at 12:01, agents would descend on his place and a fight would ensue.
Cage holds his own for a good while but S.H.I.E.L.D. has the numbers. They take him down and it looks like they’re going to take him in when something happens: the people of Harlem get involved. They throw garbage at the S.H.I.E.L.D. stooges and tell them to let one of their own be. The agents become agitated and it looks as though one might do the unthinkable. Thankfully, he doesn’t get the chance as the cavalry shows up lead by Captain America to save Cage from this disaster.
Cage would end up being a high profile soldier for Captain America during Civil War and after the event, would end up taking command of the New Avengers in his absence. On the run, wanted by the government and still trying to make a difference, Luke’s New Avengers would make Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum their headquarters for the long haul. They would travel to Japan to do battle with Elektra and the Hand and even uncover the first evidence of the pending Secret Invasion by the Skrulls. Cage would be a productive leader and make his mark in Avengers history with this fantastic run.
Eventually, everything would get ironed out between Iron Man and the resurrected Steve Rogers and all heroes who were seen as fugitives during the time of the registration act would get full pardons, making all Avengers teams legit once again. This would lead Tony selling Avengers Mansion to Luke and Jessica for $1, ushering in the start of the “Heroes for Hire” version of the New Avengers.
With Cage and Jessica Jones running their own Avengers team, it only made sense Iron Fist would be on the team. Hell, he did loan him the dollar, after all. Also joining them would be Wolverine, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, Mockingbird and The Thing. Even Daredevil and Squirrel Girl would join up for a bit. The title would have its moments, but would showcase Bendis recycling a number of stories he did during the first New Avengers series. It would be around this time that Bendis would move onto new characters and the series came to an end.
While Cage has remained a big deal in the years after Bendis writing him, he doesn’t seem to be as connected to the main happenings of the Marvel U. He’s returned to more of a street level position, now re-teaming with Danny Rand to bring back the Heroes for Hire proper. But it was the continued inclusion of this character in a number of Bendis projects for over a decade that brought Luke back to relevance in the eyes of comic fans. And we’re all grateful for that.
This article ended up being posted a lot later than planned, so you won’t have to wait a full week for the next one. I’ll have a new one up in a couple of days, breaking down the comic history of the supporting characters on the upcoming Netflix series.
Marvel’s Luke Cage debuts on Netflix on September 30th.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!