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 episode of Marvel’s Luke Cage on Netflix. The hero made his first television appearance during the Season 1 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.
The Dynamic Duo. The first thing that comes to mind for most people when they hear that phrase is a guy dressed up as a bat and his colourful sidekick. But when I hear it, my mind immediately goes to Power Man and Iron Fist – The Heroes for Hire! A dude with unbreakable skin and a martial arts expert with a fist like iron who got his powers by punching a dragon. (More on that awesome origin this winter when I start my Countdown to Iron Fist!) A pair of very unlikely best friends who work amazingly well together. 1977 would see the end of Iron Fist’s solo book and a drop in sales for Power Man’s. What do you do when you have two struggling exploitation books each based on a craze that is quickly dying down?
Marvel’s answer was by putting the two together as a new super-duo. But how? The two had not met previously in the comics and even though each comic took place mostly in New York, they felt like they lived in two different worlds. Enter Chris Claremont and John Byrne. The creative team behind the recently canceled Iron Fist were pretty much the go-to guys of the era for dynamic storytelling. At the time, they were enjoying a successful run on Marvel Team Up and just began their run together on a little book called X-Men (you know, the one they would re-define comics with?). If anybody could make these two become fast friends and do so logically, it would be them.
This brings us to Power Man #48, which begins with Luke Cage breaking into the home of Danny Rand (a.k.a. Iron Fist) in search of one Misty Knight. Misty, a private detective and former cop who happens to have a super strong bionic arm, was Rand’s girlfriend at the time and so Cage picked a likely place to find his target. Unfortunately for him, he instead met up with Misty’s partner and best friend, Colleen Wing (of Knight-Wing Restorations). Luke begins to violently chase Colleen throughout Danny’s 3-story townhouse, looking for answers on Misty’s whereabouts. It’s a very strange encounter as Cage isn’t a bad guy. But to Wing (and the reader) he sure is acting like one. Colleen is able to get a call out to Misty who is enjoying a quiet dinner across town at the apartment she shares with Jean Grey (Claremont sure liked to keep the titles he was working on connected in the strangest of ways), and she and Danny make their way to the house to find out what’s going on.
For some reason, Misty decides she’ll enter the townhouse first and take on all 300 plus pounds of unbreakable Cage all by herself. She actually holds her own quite well for the first bit but eventually cannot withstand the strength of Power Man. Luke figures he’s doing alright at this point. He’s got the girl he came to kidnap. She’s unconscious but otherwise unharmed. He’s destroyed most of the townhouse in his battle with both of the Daughters of the Dragon (the name Misty and Colleen were known by in their comic book adventures). Maybe he would get through this without any more hiccups in his plan. This is when Luke Cage would have his first ever encounter with the Immortal Iron Fist.
In what is still to this day one of the best splash pages John Byrne ever produced, Iron Fist’s power would be on full display. The funny thing is that he’s not even pictured. It’s just Luke Cage and his reaction that sells it all. It’s one thing to describe it, which doesn’t do it justice. It’s easier to show you.
But this is Luke Cage we’re talking about here. After getting thrown across the street (and into a condemned building) from the force of Iron Fist’s punch, Power Man crawls out of the rubble, dusts himself off and heads back into the townhouse. A battle ensues and it takes everything in Danny Rand’s arsenal to keep up with the hulking Cage. That is until Cage quits. He stops fighting, stating that all is lost anyways. Knight, Wing and Danny would ask him to explain and after some time, he would do just that.
Turns out that Cage’s attempted kidnapping of Misty was for a mobster known as The Bushmaster. He had taken both Claire Temple (Cage’s girlfriend) and Dr. Burstein (the doctor that gave Luke his powers) hostage and was forcing Power Man to get Misty for him so he could settle a score. When Misty was still a cop, she went undercover and helped destroy some of Bushmaster’s operations by posing as his lover. To add a cherry on top of all this, Bushmaster had irrefutable evidence that Willis Stryker (the now deceased Diamondback) had set Cage up. If Cage fully complied and kidnapped Knight, he would be able to clear his name and no longer have to worry about going back to prison.
With all the cards on the table, Iron Fist and Misty agree to help Cage get his friends and the evidence back from Bushmaster. Thanks to Misty’s past relations with Bushy, they knew where his criminal base would be – the former Seagate Prison. When they arrive on the island, it is revealed that Bushmaster has forced Dr. Burstein to recreate the experiment that transformed Cage into his unbreakable self. The transformation has left Bushmaster even stronger than Luke as this time the procedure was not tampered with the way it was before. This leads to a final showdown between Cage and Bushmaster. The problem is that when you have two unbreakable guys throwing punches, things tend to get destroyed. The pair end up bringing the entire prison down on top of them.
This being comics, Luke survives, his friends are saved and Misty is even able to get a hold of that evidence needed to clear his name. A happy ending and the start of a beautiful friendship. Issue #50, now rechristened Power Man and Iron Fist, begins with a celebration of Luke’s exoneration and a bit of house cleaning. By the end of the issue (which features some c-grade villains crashing the party), Cage’s supporting cast makes an exit and is replaced by regulars from the Iron Fist title. Cage takes a job working for Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. Danny Rand’s lawyer, Jeryn Hogarth, now represents Luke in all his legal matters. It’s the start of a new era for Power Man and Claremont definitely makes it his own.
The Power Man and Iron Fist series would never really be a sales leader, always bordering on cancellation. The creative team would switch on the regular and the title would eventually come to an end with issue #125 where Iron Fist would surprisingly be killed off in a very anti-climatic way (a punch to the chest of all things). Like pretty much every other hero, Danny would be resurrected but the team of Power Man and Iron Fist would not become the dynamic duo that they were for quite some time.
There would be attempts to bring back a Heroes for Hire-like title but never in the traditional way. John Ostrander would debut an H4H comic in the mid 90s that would see Cage and Fist be joined by a bunch of other heroes including Black Knight and She-Hulk, but the book wouldn’t make it to 20 issues. Another incarnation of the team would be put together in the mid-2000s that didn’t even feature Luke or Danny. This book was also short lived. Finally, in 2011, Power Man and Iron Fist would RETURN…….but without Luke Cage. Iron Fist would have a young protege, Victor Alverez, who had taken the Power Man name. This was just a miniseries but didn’t rip up any sales charts, either.
It would take the team of David Walker and Sandford Greene to finally bring back these two back together and do it right. Earlier this year, Power Man and Iron Fist debuted as a new series in which the Heroes for Hire would return as a result of an unfinished storyline from the original series. Jennie Royce, the former office manager of H4H was convicted for the murder of her abusive superhero boyfriend, Crime Buster. She was possessed by a demon at the time, but try telling that to a judge. Anyways, now she’s out and is looking to take over Harlem with the help of a magic amulet. This leads to Luke and Danny getting involved as they have to protect mob boss Tombstone from Jennie’s wrath.
The new series really brings Luke Cage and Iron Fist back to their core sensibilities. With over a half dozen issues released, we’ve seen old characters from the 70s/80s series re-introduced as well as new characters and situations. It’s a home run that’s restored the good name of the original Heroes for Hire. And if that don’t make you smile, then you’ve got no soul.
While Luke’s team ups with Danny are some of his best stories, he’s had at least one impressive solo adventure. Join us next week as we look back at Cage: Max.
Marvel’s Luke Cage debuts on Netflix on September 30th.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!