Monday, March 19, 2012

Book Review: The Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Volume 1

If there's one thing that the seventies were good for, it was basic integration. There was a whole lot less of people hating each other for something as pointless as the color of their skins. And integration came to comic books in a couple of big ways. One of Marvel Comics' franchise super-heroes, Captain America, got an African-American partner in the form of the Falcon. John Stewart made an appearance in Justice League of America as the back-up Green Lantern. Tyroc made his brief debut as a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. The Black Panther, ruler of the African kingdom of Wakanda and part-time Avenger had a feature in Jungle Action, culminating in his own short-lived series. And Marvel staffers Roy Thomas and John Romita created Luke Cage, Hero for Hire.

Luke Cage was really the first legitimate black super-hero to star in his own comic book. I'm sure it was done just to cash in on the growing popularity of the "blaxsploitation" film, just like Marvel started putting out a bevy of kung fu-related books. However,  it really was a bold move in a field dominated by pasty-white blond super-heroes with good teeth. Carl Lucas was an African-American imprisoned for a crime he was framed form, and he wasn't taking kindly to prison life, refusing to become involved with the militants in the prison, nor to get on the good side of the corrupt guards. A new warden shook things up, and the prison doctor offered Lucas a way to shorten his sentence by participating in an experiment. A racist guard tried to exact vengeance by wrecking the experiment, but Lucas came out of the test with super-strength and a bullet-proof body. He broke his way out of prison and headed off to find the man who set him up. Along the way, he stops a minor robbery inadvertently, and gets the idea to become a super-hero, but one for hire. With a costume consisting of a bright yellow tunic, blue pant and boots, a length of chain for a belt and a metal tiara on his forehead, he takes the name Luke Cage.

Cage made pretty quick work of gaining his revenge on the guy who framed him (who was now a knife-wielding maniac called Diamondback), and went on to battle numerous street-level crooks and near-super-villains, until he hit the big time in issues #8 and 9, when he battled Doctor Doom, and ended up meeting the Fantastic Four in the process. Seven issues later, Cage ended up crossing paths with Iron Man, but now brandished the new code-name of Power Man. Other highlights of the volume include a couple of issues with Power Man and Black Goliath battling long-time Marvel stalwarts The Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime, and the original Power Man, an old enemy of the Avengers, trying to get his name back from Cage. Needless to say, Cage came out on top of that particular squabble.

The artwork in these issues is pretty good by most standards. Most of the interior artwork is by George Tuska, with a variety of different inkers. Ron Wilson, probably best known for his work on Marvel Two-in-One provides a couple of issues as well. The first few covers were created by Amazing Spider-Man artist John Romita. This was in the era when it seemed every Marvel cover was done by either Romita or Gil Kane. Romita's has a forceful style, especially when his got a good colorist, but his artwork's always been a little lifeless.

The scripts were also done by a variety of writers, including Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway and Tony Isabella. That's a lot of good talent, and they managed to keep things pretty seamless as writers changed. The dialogue is realistic and you'll end up talking aloud whenever you read Cage admonishing "Sweet Christmas!"

The Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Volume 1 is another excellent reprint collection. If you've never read this series before or heard of the character, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the book.


by Rich Meyer

The first volume of the Comic Book Quiz Book is now available!

This e-book has questions with interactive links to the answers for easy navigation. If you like comic books, from super-heroes to funny animals to war and horror books, then this is the book for you! It has questions from every era of comics history, most of the most popular genres, and almost every major publisher!

About the Author

Rich Meyer collects old-time radio programs, comic books, classic TV shows, Doc Savage novels, likes strange cinema and enjoys collecting bits of random trivia. 
He also plays in many real-life trivia contests, including Trivia Turmoil, KVSC St. Cloud and WWSP 90FM's World's Largest Trivia Contest. He has been a member of several Top 10 teams in the World's Largest Trivia Contest.
Rich is also a fan of the music of Frank Zappa, Blue Öyster Cult, Badfinger, the Tubes and progressive rock in general.

Rich resides in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. He lives with his wife Mona and his furry children Emiko, Montagoon, Pippin, Luli, Maxwell and Liam-Loki. 

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