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.
If there’s one thing that has resonated with fans regarding Marvel’s Luke Cage coming to Netflix, it’s the street-level element that’s going to be explored within the series. Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker has joked that this show will bring about the “Wu-Tang-ification of the Marvel Universe” and most comic readers are happy to hear it. For the past 15 years, Cage has been seen as a gritty yet charming bad-ass who fights with his fists and his wits. He’s a hero who doesn’t wear a costume….unless you count his standard black tee shirt and jeans. It’s funny to think that this is the same character that rocked a tiara and yellow shirt for so many years. What brought about this update to the look and feel of the former Power Man? Just like everything else in comics, it didn’t happen overnight.
There was an attempt to modernize the character in 1992 with a new comic simply titled Cage. Written by Marc McLaurin, the series began with Luke destroying his former costume and relocating to Chicago. The series was short lived and this new variation didn’t take hold. In 1996, Cage would rejoin with Iron Fist (and a boat load of other super types) to form the new Heroes for Hire. The series was written by John Ostrander and quickly put Cage in an updated version of his classic duds. H4H wouldn’t stick around for too long either and it looked as though Luke would fall into obscurity forever. That was until the early 2000s and the announcement of the Marvel MAX Imprint.
Back in 2001, in an attempt to compete with DC Comics’ successful Vertigo Imprint, Marvel would launch MAX: A “Mature Reader” line of comics that dealt with darker subject matter while still incorporating superheroes. It was unclear whether these books were in continuity with Marvel’s “616” Universe as some titles like Alias and Black Widow were clearly connected to the main books while other titles like Punisher happened in their own separate world. Cage made his big comeback in the pages of Alias, the flagship title of the imprint. It was a very controversial re-introduction as it focused on sexual exploits with Jessica Jones. It was an odd choice and it didn’t light the comics world on fire right away. No, what would get people talking about Cage again would be a 5 issue miniseries written by Brian Azzarello with artwork by Richard Corben: CAGE MAX.
The first issue begins with a woman by the name of Mrs. Dickens hunting Luke down in a strip club. She wants to hire him to “exact revenge” on the gangbangers that killed her daughter, Hope. He takes the case and heads down to G Street, where a group of thugs are hanging out, playing basketball. He interrogates a couple and finds out that the girl got caught between a bullet that was meant for a banger named Clifto and that the hit may have been ordered by none other than Tombstone. Further investigation leads Cage to find that his neighbourhood is on the brink of a three-way gang. Being a guy that doesn’t like to hear that three gangs are fighting for the turf where he resides, Cage decides to inject himself into the situation. How does he inject himself? By offering his services to highest bidder. Cage ends up messing with all three factions from the inside and makes it so none of them grab a foothold on his home.
While some praised the gritty storytelling and graphic depictions of Azzarello and Corben’s take on Luke Cage, others were taken back by it. There were those that didn’t like the fact that Cage was more street than ever before, living into stereotypes of the 90s gangster with the gold teeth and chains. There were also some folks that found Azzarello’s storytelling to be a bit muddled and confusing, revealing new players’ involvement (including crooked cops and politicians) in the pending gang way with each turn of the page. But what these readers failed to see was that these risks and changes needed to be taken with Cage in order for him to shake the trappings of his 70s origins. Cage had to be seen living in modern day New York instead of the one he’d been in for so long. The book was brash and bold and “In Your Face” for a reason. This graphically violent depiction was needed to bring him to the next level.
Cage would go on to become a major facet in Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias as he would begin hanging out with Jessica Jones on the regular, acting as bodyguards for Matt Murdock after his secret identity would be revealed in the pages of Daredevil. This would lead to Bendis featuring him in other books he was writing going forward. The character would end up seeing some great success with fans over the next decade and it was all because of the reinvention explored by Azzarello in CAGE MAX.
Next week, we’ll further explore the success the former Power Man enjoyed as he becomes an Avenger and father thanks to Bendis’ big ol’ Man-Crush. Join us next week for that.
Marvel’s Luke Cage debuts on Netflix on September 30th.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!