Character Spotlight – Luke Cage
As previously announced, Marvel and Netflix are beginning development of 4 new TV properties. I’ve given some background on Daredevil and Jessica Jones, now it’s time for Jessica’s husband – Luke F’N Cage.
My first exposure to Luke was in New Avengers #1, where he has been a mainstay and an important voice for the whole run of the series, and really cemented him in the upper echelons of Marvel characters. I thankfully missed the 70s afro, tiara, and yellow silk shirt Luke. More on that in a moment..
First appearance: Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #1 (1972)
Aliases: Born Carl Lucas, legally changed to Luke Cage
Notable Alias: Power Man
Abilities: Superhuman strength, stamina, and durability; Unbreakable skin is highly impervious to damage and temperature; accelerated healing factor; excellent street fighter and hand-to-hand combatant
Lucas began his adult life in prison for a crime he did not commit. While inside, he agreed to be experimented on in order to reduce his sentence. The result was not what was expected, and gave him his impervious skin and physicality. He later formed the organisation Heroes For Hire, often refusing payment in order to do some good in the community. He was one of the very first African American superheroes to have their own series.
Born and raised in Harlem, Lucas was part of a street gang called the Rivals, and was close friends with fellow gang member Willis Stryker. They fought a rival gang, the Diablos, and committed minor crimes for deformed crime lord Sonny Caputo aka. Hammer. He soon realised the effect his criminal lifestyle was having on his family, and so attempted to make something of himself in legitimate employment. Meanwhile his friend Stryker was continuing to climb the ranks of the criminal underworld. Later Stryker fell foul of the Maggia crime family and was badly beaten, saved only by Lucas’ help. This marked the beginning of the end for the pair, as soon after Stryker’s girlfriend Reva Connors broke up with him out of fear of his criminal life, but Stryker sees this somehow as Lucas’ fault and plants heroin in Lucas’ apartment. Lucas is soon arrested and sent to prison, and soon loses contact with his family. His brother James Jr. intercepts all mail from Lucas to his father James, and so father and son come to believe the other is dead.
In prison Lucas is enraged, and frequently got into fights and tried numerous times to escape. He then moved to Seagate Prison off the coast of Georgia, where he becomes a target of a guard name Billy Bob. The constant assaults and abuse gets him noticed, and ultimately demoted, which he then blames entirely on Lucas. Later a research scientist, Dr Noah Burstein recruits Lucas for an experiment based off the Super-Soldier serum responsible for Captain America’s creation. Lucas was immersed in an electrical field conducted by an organic chemical compound, and when unattended, Billy Bob sabotaged the experiment in hope it may kill Lucas, but instead the result was far greater than Burstein had intended and gave him his superhuman strength and durability. He used this new power to escape Seagate Prison, and returned to New York. It was then that he began using the moniker Luke Cage, and wore his (rather dated and mind-blowing) yellow silk shirt and tiara costume. Dr Burstein, knowing Cage is a good man also comes to New York and opened a medical clinic with Dr Claire Temple who Cage then starts dating. New York had changed in his absence however, and his old friend Stryker has become a Maggia agent by the name of Diamondback. The two later fight and Stryker is killed.
Over the coming years, Heroes For Hire was in full swing, and Cage found himself fighting alongside heroes such as the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and Iron Man. After this exposure to world of heroes, Cage starts using the codename of Power Man. He even gets into a fight with another over rights to the name Power Man, ultimately beating the man who became Atlas of the Thunderbolts. It was around this time that Luke became involved with the team known as the DEFENDERS (which the four Marvel/Netflix series seem to be building towards), led by Doctor Strange, the Hulk and Namor among others.
The villain Bushmaster tries to manipulate Cage into abducting detective Misty Knight, armed with proof that the heroin that sent him to prison was not his. This led Cage to come toe-to-toe with Misty’s boyfriend IRON FIST. The two soon joined forces and together with Misty they beat down Bushmaster. Bernstein is forced to use the same process that powered Cage on Bushmaster, but it still wasn’t enough to stop Cage and First. With proof that he is not a criminal, he legally changed his name to Lucas Cage, and he and Iron Fist began a close friendship they maintain to this day.
After a complex and convoluted early 90s plot where Iron Fist is apparently killed, but turned out to be a plant-based doppelganger from Iron Fist’s mystical home city of K’un-Lun (don’t ask), Cage ends up moving to Chicago to be plain-clothed Luke Cage, Hero For Hire. Here he meets detective Dakota North, who later turns up working for Daredevil in Brubaker’s run. Bushmaster’s son, Cruz Bushmaster kidnaps Bernstein’s wife and forced him to again use the serum to power him up, but the elder Bushmaster drains the power from his son and declares himself Power Master. Iron Fist returns in time to help Cage defeats the Bushmasters and saves the Bernsteins. Cage’s exposure to Power virus further increases his powers. Nice.
With help from Dakota North, Cage tries to track down his surviving family, but his vindictive brother James Jr. keeps moving his father away before being recruited by the criminal organisation the Corporation. The power-enhancing evil scientist Dr Karl Malus changes James Jr into the superhuman Coldfire. He uses his hatred of his brother to focus his powers, but the Corporation hold their father as a hostage to maintain Coldfire’s loyalty. Cage learns of this and storms the Corporation headquarters where the two brothers join forces to defeat them and save their father, but Coldfire then sacrifices himself to destroy the Corporation.
Then came the late 90s, and in even more WTF writing, Cage left superheroics but gets recruited by villain the Master, who plans to take over the world, and convinces Luke to spy on the new Heroes For Hire led by Iron Fist. Cage and Master seem to form a proper friendship, but ultimately Cage can’t betray Iron Fist or reconcile the Master’s plans for global domination, and Heroes For Hire later defeat the would-be conqueror. Cage then rejoins his former team and starts a romance with She-Hulk (go Luke!), but when they’re bought out by the Stark-Fujikawa Corporation, Cage and Ant-Man are fired because of their criminal records and the whole time later quits. He briefly returns to costume heroism, but soon learns that despite his international fame, he has been mostly forgotten on the streets where he first started. He invests his money in a bar and starts to patrol the streets of Harlem, forcing out the criminal elements and leaves heroism to the tight-wearers.
This the part where I first became aware of Luke through ALIAS and DAREDEVIL. Luke and Jessica Jones (who had previously met years before), have a one-night stand after Jessica appears at Luke’s bar. She later turns up at his Harlem apartment and find another lady is there and explodes on Luke but is turned away. Carol Danvers tells Jessica that Luke is a “cape chaser” making reference to his relationship with She-Hulk as mentioned above. Later in ALIAS, Jessica reveals to Luke that she is pregnant with his baby. Luke is surprised, but reveals his feelings for her and the two make it official. It was awesome.
As detailed in Jessica Jones’ spotlight, Jessica begins working for the Daily Bugle during her pregnancy in order to make use of their health insurance. Luke objects to this due to a long dislike for Bugle editor-in-chief J. Jonah Jameson, which is more than reciprocated, but ultimately gives in to Jessica’s needs. During her first story with the Bugle, Jessica is put into harms way by Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin. Luke and Spider-Man then attack Osborn’s limo in broad daylight, causing him to reveal to the world his identity as the Goblin, and is then arrested. There was a wonderful scene in one issue where some neighbourhood kids are selling dope, and the imposing silhouette of Cage appears in the background. The group scatters save for one that Cage grabs, and shouts, “WHAT’S MY NAME?!”, and the kid stutters “Luke Cage..” and then lets him go, fearing for his life. During DAREDEVIL, Matt Murdock turns up at Cage’s apartment and chastises him for not looking further than his doorstep. Cage says to him, “Use that radar sense of your’s and tell me: is anyone selling or using drugs in this building right now?”. Matt grudgingly realised that there is none, and that Luke is single-handedly responsible for cleaning up Harlem.
Luke happened to be on the superhuman prison The Raft, during a breakout, a joined forces with other heroes who later became the new incarnation of the Avengers (New Avengers #1), together with Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Spider-Woman and The Sentry. I can’t recommend New Avengers enough, it was phenomenal.
It was around this time it was revealed in the book SECRET WAR, that Luke had been previously recruited by Nick Fury to go on a secret mission to Latveria to topple the government which was funding super-powered tech villains on American soil. Those involved in the mission then had their memories wiped. But the enemy they defeated, Lucia von Bardas, did not forget them, and turned up at Cage and Jones’ apartment and attacked Cage, almost destroying the whole place. Luke was in critical condition and rushed to hospital, but due his unbreakable skin, the doctors were not able to operate on him, and so there was very little that could be done but sit and pray for his recovery. After this, Luke had the honour of joining up with his personal hero, The Black Panther, and several other African heroes on a mission against vampires in New Orleans.
Then came CIVIL WAR. Luke found himself on Captain America’s side of the Superhuman Registration Act, opposing the government’s decision that all superhumans must be registered. With Cap’s assassination (also covered in a review I did here) , Luke takes on leadership responsibilities of this underground Avengers team, and they find a home in Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. It is shortly after this that during a mission to Japan to save Echo (a deaf Native American girl who can mimic any physical action she has witnessed), they fight Elektra and the ninja clan The Hand and Elektra is slain. It is then revealed that Elektra was in fact a Skrull impostor. This opened up a big can of worms, as now no-one knew how many Skrulls had already infiltrated superhero society, and whether members of the Avengers themselves had been replaced. Luke especially suspects Spider-Man, as he switched sides during Civil War.
During SECRET INVASION, Jessica feared for her and baby Cage’s safety and sought shelter with the Pro-Registration Mighty Avengers, effectively ending their marriage. Luke took the New Avengers team to the Savage Land where a Skrull ship had crash-landed. Inside were a group of heroes from 70s era Marvel, afro and tiara era Luke Cage among them. These heroes believed they were the actual heroes, Jessica Jones in her Jewel costume among them, but after an intervention by Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, they are all revealed to be Skrulls. The final showdown with the Skrulls takes place in Central Park, and the Skrull Queen Veranke (who had been Spider-Woman all along) was shot and killed by Norman Osborn, making him an instant hero the world over. Jessica Jones joined the heroes in the battle, and admitted her mistake to Luke and the two reconcile. In one last act, the Skrull posing as Avengers butler Jarvis escapes with Luke and Jessica’s baby, Danielle.
During DARK REIGN, Norman Osborn becomes director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and tasked with protecting the country. He soon renames the organisation H.A.M.M.E.R. and creates his own team of [Dark] Avengers. Luke Cage and his team of Avengers, now joined by the previously Pro-Registration Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers), find a base of operations in the home of the new Captain America (Bucky Barnes). They contact the Fantastic Four and Iron Fist in hopes of finding baby Cage but this proves fruitless. Without telling the team, and especially Jessica, Luke approaches Norman Osborn and says if he helps him find Danielle, he will offers to serve Osborn in any way he sees fit. Osborn helps Luke, but when Bullseye (posing as Hawkeye in Osborn’s Dark Avengers) kills the Skrull Jarvis, Luke takes back his offer and escapes with Danielle. Luke is later placed in mortal peril when the villain Chemistro uses a power drainer that renders the whole team powerless. This particularly effects Cage who suffers crippling heart pain and is forced to turn himself over to Norman Osborn to seek treatment. He is taken on board a H.A.M.M.E.R. helicarrier and is given life-saving heart surgery, but a tracking device is placed inside his heart during the surgery. He is later saved by a team including Daredevil, Iron Fist, Valkyrie, Doctor Strange and Doctor Voodoo (the new Sorcerer Supreme after Strange is stripped of the title). With the help of Doctor Strange and Hank Pym, they remove the tracking device and smuggle it into Norman Osborn’s home. Osborn uses the tracker to unleash a barrage of explosives, and ends up decimating his own house.
Following the events of SIEGE that led into the HEROIC AGE, Luke was appointed head of the Thunderbolts. He is later offered leadership of the Avengers by Captain America, but points out that they opposed the Registration Act and to now work for a government sanctioned Avengers team. Iron Man then sells the refurbished Avengers Mansion to Luke for the princely sum of one dollar. They give him total autonomy to create his own team and save the world however they see fit.
In the (awful awful) SHADOWLAND series, Daredevil turns evil and leads the Hand ninja clan and takes over Hell’s Kitchen. Cage, Iron Fist and some other street heroes take the fight to Daredevil and it later turns out he was possessed by a demon.. Oh.
After the events of AVENGERS VS X-MEN, Luke and Jessica choose to resign from Avengers duties to put the safety of their family first, and despite being offered a place when Marvel NOW! Was launched, Luke declines Iron Man’s offer.
So that’s Luke Cage in a very large nutshell. He is a strong character who has managed to shake loose the racial stereotype thanks to some strong writing from Brian Michael Bendis, and if done right should make some great TV. Again in terms of casting I can’t think any current actor who would fit the role perfectly. I’d rather just see a unknown actor be given their big break.