I SUPPORT BLACK SUPERHEROES [Belser-Verse, Part 18]: Sweet Christmas!

JaDarrell “The Belser”
@TheBelser

Talk about timing… Today’s article has us taking it to the streets with one of the all-time great black superheroes, LUKE CAGE! I could do a spiffy opening paragraph but this article speaks for itself. And, of course, I hope you all had yourselves a.. SWEET CHRISTMAS!

 

First Appearance and Creation: 

Blaxploitation: movies about “Brothas with a Plan to Fight The Man”!

The story of Luke Cage began with the popularity of the then-booming Blaxploitation film genre of the early 1970’s. Blaxploitation films generally featured a black male or female hero from a poor neighborhood( Harlem, Watts, and Chicago were popular locales for these films). The main character has a rough past (usually involving racial discrimination) and is now out for revenge against criminals that have wronged them, politicians that exploited their people or simply getting back at ‘The Man‘ (the representation of white supremacy).

Often, the main character has a job involving law enforcement ( ex-cops, private investigators,  former federal agents, etc). These films usually involve nude women, interracial sex, murder, betrayal, and a music soundtrack created by a popular soul artist( Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, etc) . The dialogue often used a lot of black slang, negative racial stereotypes and the glorification of drugs and violence. Movies like Shaft, SuperFly, Slaughter and Black Belt Jones are all key examples of this genre.

Luke Cage was created by Archie Goodwin, Roy Thomas, and John Romita Sr and first appeared in Luke Cage: Hero For Hire #1 ( June 1972).

Stan Lee pitched the idea to create a new hero to capitalize on the phenomenal success of the Blaxploitation genre and this new market of black consumers.  Stan consulted with his protégé, Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Roy Thomas, and the pair thought up some key elements for a blaxploitation-inspired character. Roy Thomas highlights the creation in an interview:

“Stan didn’t want a typical super-hero name for the comic, but wanted him to want to make a paying career of crime-busting, and was looking for a title.  I had some months ago written an Avengers issue called “Heroes for Hire,” so I suggested Hero for Hire.  Stan also wanted a good one-word name for him that was atypical, and I suggested “Cage.” “( Sacks, 2014, Sweet Christmas! The Creation of Luke Cage, Hero for Hire)

Roy Thomas drew inspiration for Luke Cage from the protagonist of Philip Wylie’s 1930 sci-fi novel Gladiator. The book has the hero made strong and bulletproof due to experimentation. They wanted this new black hero to be powerful, but not Hulk or Thor level powerful.

They tasked artist John Romita Sr. with designing Luke. Inker Billy Graham, one of the few black people in the comics industry, was brought in to, as Roy Thomas put it, “make certain that George’s African-American characters looked African-American.”

Written by Archie Goodwin and pencilled by George Tuska, Luke Cage: Hero For Hire was the first American comic-book series to be headlined by a black superhero .

The comic was retitled Luke Cage, Power Man with issue #17. Cage’s adventures were set in a grungier, more crime-dominated New York City than that inhabited by other Marvel superheroes of the time .
The Original Heroes for Hire, Power Man and Iron Fist

As blaxploitation movies started going out of style, Cage was paired with another declining title, the martial arts superhero Iron Fist, in an effort to save both from cancellation.  The duo forms Heroes for Hire, a small business licensed by the state of New York that offered a full line of private investigation and security services. They had offices on Park Avenue and two paid employees: Jenny Royce, the group’s secretary, and Jeryn Hogarth, the group’s lawyer. The series’ title was again renamed Power Man and Iron Fist: Heroes For Hire with issue #50 (April 1978)  and retained that name through the series’ cancellation with issue #125 (Sept. 1986). The series ends the framing of Cage for the apparent murder of Iron Fist.

Luke Cage returns in the 90’s with a new look inspired by boxing’s then-heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson. Cage symbolically destroys his original costume on the cover of the first issue.

In 1992, Luke Cage was relaunched in a new series simply titled Cage. Still a fugitive from the Iron Fist frame-up, the new series was set primarily in Chicago with Cage abandoning the Power Man name and look.  The main focus of the series was Cage clearing his name, which he eventually does. The series, written by Marc McLaurin, ran for only 20 issues and featured appearances by The Incredible Hulk and The Punisher. Cage also received his own serial in the anthology series Marvel Comics Presents.

In the aftermath of the “Onslaught” and “Heroes Reborn” companywide storylines, Cage was included in the series Heroes for Hire, written by John Ostrander, which lasted 19 issues.

The new Heroes For Hire had Cage returning to New York. Deciding he is no longer in superheroics, he becomes co-owner of the Gem Theater with his friend D.W. Griffith. He even declines an invitation from Iron Fist to join a new and expanded Heroes for Hire. Meanwhile, The Master of the World tries to recruit Cage as a spy within Iron Fist’s team. Cage plays along and joins Heroes for Hire and serves with them for some time while reporting to the Master. In the end, Cage can not betray Iron Fist and he helps Heroes for Hire destroy the Master of the World’s plans. Cage remains with the group and dates a fellow member, She-Hulk.

Cage: Ask Your Parents’ Permission Before Reading

In 2002, writer Brian Azzarello and artist Richard Corben collaborated on Cage, a standalone mini-series published under the Marvel MAX imprint, which allowed for a much greater degree of violence, sexual content and profanity.

Luke Cage and Jessica Jones tie the knot. That preacher looks familiar.

After a sexual encounter with a drunken Jessica Jones, the two make peace with it while working as bodyguards for Matt Murdock. Cage also gives vital emotional support to Jones when she is forced to revisit her past abuses by the Purple Man. After Jones reveals that she is pregnant from their one night stand, she and Cage move in together, their feelings for each other grow and they eventually get married. 

Luke and Jessica have a daughter whom they named Danielle (in honor of ‘Iron Fist’ Danny Rand)

Luke Cage: Avenger!!!

Luke Cage adds a credit to his superhero resume as he finally becomes an Avenger

Luke Cage’s road to The Avengers starts as Cage was present at the breakout at the supervillain prison ‘The Raft‘ . Through his actions, he becomes a founding member of the re-formed Avengers.

Luke Cage meets up with The Black Panther, Blade and Brother Voodoo to help the denizens of New Orleans with disaster relief (and save them from a vampire infestation) after Hurricane Katrina

When the Superhuman Registration Act is enacted, Cage refuses to register, comparing the act to Jim Crow laws. Cage joins Captain America’s “Secret Avengers“. He fights alongside them in opposition to the act until Captain America surrenders to U.S. authorities. Cage does not comply with the amnesty offered to the Secret Avengers, going underground and re-forming the New Avengers.

Luke assumes leadership of the New Avengers after the assassination of Captain America.

Origin

The first splash page of Luke Cage tells it all: Women, Cops, Crime and a Bad-Ass Superhero Bursting on the Scene!!

Carl Lucas was born and raised in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. He was the son of Esther and James Lucas, a retired N.Y.P.D. detective. Since he was a boy, he would use the term ‘ Sweet Christmas ‘ as an alternative to curse words. Carl spends his younger years in a gang called the Rivals.

With his best friend Willis Stryker, he fights rival gangs and commits petty crimes. Lucas dreams of becoming a major New York crime lord.

Carl finally realizes how his actions are hurting his family and seeks to better himself as an adult. Meanwhile, Stryker rises through the ranks of crime, but the two men remain friends. When Stryker’s activities anger the Maggia crime syndicate, he is badly beaten in a mob hit, saved only by Lucas. Stryker’s girlfriend, Reva Connors, breaks up with him and she finds comfort with Lucas. Stryker is convinced that Lucas is responsible for the breakup, so he plants heroin in Lucas’s apartment and tips off the police.

Lucas is arrested and sent to Seagate Prison, an island prison off the coast of Georgia. During this time, Reva is killed by members of the Maggia, whose drugs Willis had stolen to frame Lucas in the first place.

Lucas is consumed by rage over Stryker’s betrayal and Reva’s death, engaging in frequent brawls and escape attempts. While locked up, Carl becomes the favorite target of racist corrections officer Albert “Billy Bob” Rackham. Rackham’s sadistic brutality ultimately leads to a demotion that he blames on Lucas.
Research scientist Dr. Noah Burstein recruits Lucas as a volunteer for a cellular regeneration experiment based on a variant of the Super-Soldier process. Burstein picks Lucas due to his excellent health. Lucas agrees for the chance of early parole. This experiment would later be revealed to be part of the Weapon Plus program used to create superheroes like Captain America and Wolverine.
Burstein immerses Lucas in an electrical field conducted by an organic chemical compound. While he leaves Lucas unattended, Rackham comes in and alters the experiment’s controls, hoping to kill Lucas.  Instead, Lucas’ treatment is accelerated past its intended limits, causing a body-wide change that gives him superhuman strength and ‘unbreakable’ skin. He uses his new power to smash through a brick wall. Guards shoot at Lucas as he attempts to escape. His newly fortified skin deflects the bullets but the impact knocks him into the sea. The guards find his bullet-riddled shirt and then assume that Lucas is dead.
Lucas survives his escape and makes his way back to New York by hitchhiking and riding the rails of trains. A chance encounter outside a diner has Lucas unintentionally stopping a robbery and the owner gives him a cash reward in a show of gratitude. This incident inspires him to use his new powers for profit.
Whille visiting Reva Conners’ grave, Lucas accepts that his past life is over and adopts a new alias of his own creation,  Luke Cage ( representing his last name and his time in the ‘cage’ of prison). Cage creates a distinctive costume from discarded items used by an escape artist in a magic shop. Cage launches a career as a Hero for Hire, a private superhero helping anyone who can meet his price. He makes himself known by busting up known racketeers and handing out his business card to onlookers. Cage’s work was unique and controversial as he operated like a private investigator/ bodyguard rather than the usual superhero who did services for free. Many other superheroes question his morality because of this. He soon establishes an office above Times Square’s Gem Theater.
Dr. Burstein also relocates to New York and opens a medical clinic, assisted by Dr. Claire Temple, whom Cage begins dating.
Although Cage is content to fight just regular street criminals, he soon learns that New York is hardly the place to do so. He finds his old friend Willis Stryker ( who has become a Maggia agent known as Diamondback) and Stryker ends up dying in a battle with Cage.The event truly establishes Luke Cage as a new superhero to watch for the New York populace. After an incident involving Iron Man, Cage even takes the name ‘Power Man’ ( a reference to ‘Black Power’) to make him more acceptable by the public( and drum up some business).
One of Cage’s early adventures had him unknowingly working for none other than Doctor Doom, the archenemy of The Fantastic Four. When Cage realizes he has been duped, he hijacks a missile from the FF and makes his way to Doom’s home country of Latveria to get his money ( which was just $200 by the way).
Cage makes friends with the Fantastic Four and even replaces The Thing as the team’s resident strongman for a brief period of time ( on a retainer from Mr. Fantastic).
Luke Cage begins associating with the loose-knit super-team the Defenders, against threats like the Wrecking Crew and the Sons of the Serpent. When he is called to assist the Defenders against the Plantman, Cage begins to complain that his participation in their group is interfering with his paying work. So, Nighthawk (the team’s wealthiest member) solves this problem by placing Power Man on retainer, giving Luke a steady paycheck for his Defenders activities. Eventually, Cage feels out of place in the often-bizarre exploits of the Defenders and resigns.
In The Amazing Spider-Man #123 ( Dec 1976), J. Jonah Jameson hires Luke Cage to take out Spider-Man after Spidey is framed for murder. After the initial misunderstanding ( and a fight between them), Spidey and Luke resolve their differences.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Power Man!!

-JaDarrel Belser

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