Yup, I threatened to do this, now it's going to happen. I'd thought about waiting until I was finished with Howard the Duck but I decided to go ahead and get started.
For this discussion, I'll be covering Luke Cage: Hero For Hire #1-16, Luke Cage: Power Man #17-27 and Power Man @28-48.
Agree with your review, Randy. I think the book was at a point where it was an afterthought - Len Wein plots a story, hands it off to the rookie Isabella and it feels like there's chunks of story missing. Maybe this is around the time he became Editor-In-Chief?
Perhaps Len had an origin in mind for Cottonmouth but failed to mention it to Tony, who might have come in in the middle, not read what happened before, and not known he didn't have an origin?
Sounds likely. The book was bi-monthly at this point, so there might have been a long time lapse in between Len starting the story and Tony finishing it,. I think in those days, especially for a 2nd tier book like this one, everyone was doing things by the seat of their pants, so a bit of failure to communicate doesn't seem impossible to me. I don't mean that as a criticism of everyone involved. I get working on projects where time and energy is limited.
Also, I went and checked, Len Wein won't be listed as Editor (In-Chief) until #23, cover dated Feb 1975, a few months away, but it might have already been in the works.
Luke Cage, Power Man #21 - "The Killer With My Name!"
Cover Date: October 1974
Writer: Tony Isabella & Len Wein
Artist: Ron Wilson
We see a man on a street corner reading a newspaper. Something he reads makes him very angry, and he punches a lamp post, bending it significantly. We see that he was reading about Power Man busting up a drug ring--presumably Cottonmouth's.
In Times Square, Luke is enjoying what he thinks is a new day with Cottonmouth behind bars. He stops at a flower stand to get Claire some flowers. As he continues along his way, he runs in to some kids who are excited to see him. Talking to them, he finds they're very impressed that he took on both Morgan and Cottonmouth. He tells them he's on vacation and asks them to keep the streets clean for him. They agree.
He arrives at the Clinic and asks for Claire, but Dr. Burstein tells him that she's gone, possibly for good. Luke grabs him and asks what's going on. Burstein tells him that he's just as worried as Luke is, and that she left a note for him before she left (I could have sworn last issue that she told Burstein goodbye). Luke reads the note and says that she says she's going to Los Angeles, but doesn't give any reason. She's asked him not to follow, and that she may have to leave his life completely forever. He leaves the clinic despondent.
As he walks back home, he's attacked by a large dog owned by a wealthy woman. He fights the dog off pretty easily, but his owner is pretty pissed off about it, wondering "how come there's never a superhero around when you need one?"
Luke returns to the Gem, followed by the man in the trenchcoat from the first page. He thinks he can take Cage pretty easily, but he wants witnesses. He buys a ticket for the movie.
Up in his apartment, Luke is pissed off about everything when he hears noises from down below. He goes down to investigate, and he's told that some guy who's strong as an ox just started ripping up the theater. Cage goes in to see what's happening. He runs into D.W. who tells him that the man has been calling out Luke Cage. Luke tells him that he's kind of angry anyway, and goes to take on the guy.
Cage enters the theater, and finds himself confronted by...Power Man! Yes, this is the old Avengers foe and one of the former Masters of Evil. He wants to lay claim to the name of Power Man. Luke isn't having it, and it's on. They fight for a bit. Luke's ready to go back for more when he finds a small child hiding in the rows of seats. She asks for Luke's help getting out of there. He picks her up and begins carrying her towards the door when Power Man atttacks him from behind.
Cage yells at him, telling him he could have hurt the kid. Power Man tells him that the kid doesn't matter to him. This sets Cage off--he's thinking about both the kid and Claire--and as Popeye would say "I've had alls I can take and I can'ts take no more!" He tells the little girl to run out to the street, because he's got something to take care of.
Power Man pulls down the theater screen, rolling it up like a battering ram, and charges Luke. Luke stands there and takes it as the screen crumples like tissue paper. Power Man is surprised that Luke didn't budge an inch. He attacks again, but he's out of his league now. They fight more, and Cage wins. Luke tells him that if he ever comes back, it won't be as Power Man, because there's only one Power Man around, and that's Luke Cage.
My rating: 7/10
In some ways, this was a fairly clever story, having the old Power Man come after the new for his name. Beyond that, it's nothing spectacular, other than being an affirmation of just what makes a superhero a superhero, aand that's rarely bad. Nothing Earth-shattering, but fun nonetheless.
The original Power Man NEVER reclaimed his name. After this he redubbed himself the Smuggler then Goliath III and now as Atlas.
This was a pretty good story. Looks like somebody remembered there was an earlier evil Power Man (this guy hadn't appeared anywhere in over 4 years), or maybe Marvel was deluged with letters after #17 saying "you guys already have a Power Man!". Josten was as rotten here as he was in his Avengers appearances, and almost nothing like the Erik Josten we would see in Thunderbolts many years later. It's also nice to see Luke take on an established Marvel villain, tying him in a little more to the greater MU. He's already met Dr. Doom, the FF, Spider-Man, J. Jonah Jameson, Iron Man and soon he'll meet up with the Defenders.
There was one story where he said something like "Yeah, I AM Power Man again!" I think it was when Count Nefaria briefy boosted his powers before stealing them. The original Power Man's strength level should have been Wonder Man's level, but he never seemed that powerful. Possibly because he came in to fight Cap's Kooky Quartet while Wonder Man was brought in to help destroy the orignal Avengers so Stan and Don Heck didn't make him as powerful as his predecessor. And apparently his powers were failing, since I believe when he went to Nefaria he said he'd been getting weaker ever since Luke beat him. Perhaps the machine was malfunctioning or the Enchantress didn't know how to work it properly. (Or maybe his powers were based on his confidence and Luke beating him and stealing his name completely demoralized him?) When he became Goliath his powers were boosted again, causing Wonder Man to insist "You CAN'T be as strong as me! You didn't die like I did!" I don't think he was. Luke would have lost if he was "almost as strong as Thor" like Wonder Man liked to brag he was.
Or maybe it's yet another case of confusion on whether Luke is at Spider-Man strength level or Thing strength level.
As the third criminal Goliath, Josten possessed far greater strength as a giant than either Henry Pym or Clint Barton due to Zemo's process.
Luke Cage, Power Man #22 - "The Broadway Mayhem of 1974!"
Cover Date: December 1974
Writer: Tony Isabella
Artist: Ron Wilson
Luke and D.W. are looking over the ruins of the Gem Theater. Insurance money will cover the damage, but D.W. won't be doing anything until it's up and running again. Luke is in something of a good mood, as despite getting stiffed on his recent job with the Defenders, he'd gotten a postcard that Claire had mailed back to Dr. Burstein. This means he's got a lead on her trail (it is suspicious that Burstein didn't give him the postcard himself rather than have someone bring it over, but we'll see). He tells D.w. that he'll go see Dr. Burstein to see if he can borrow money for bus fare to try to find her as he's pretty much broke currently. Unbeknownst to Luke, there's a figure following him.
As he goes up to his office, he's lost in thought until he opens the door and is flattened by some type of energy beam. This is quickly followed up by some sort of flying, razor sharp disc. Luke decides that he needs to go through the wall to get the drop on his attackers.
After he smashes through the wall, he finds himself face to face with Stiletto--and some guy calling himself Discus as well. Luke asks them why they're harrassing him, as he doesn't have a clue who either of them happens to be. Of course, they refuse to tell him, and Discus throws a--well, a discus--at Luke. He dodges, but Discus explains it's a special boomerang discus that puts Luke in position for one of Discus's haymakers. Stiletto then goes after Luke with one of his sonic knives, but Luke isn't having it. However, Discus then pushes him through a window. He falls to the marquee of the Gem below.
Discus wonders if they've finished him, but Stiletto's fought Cage before and knows that he's just stunned, if that. Stiletto mentions that their professor never dreamed that his top student and athlete (Stiletto and Discus, respectively) were using the facilities to create their great weapons. Stiletto fires wrist-mounted grappling hooks to catch a cornice across the way, and the two of them swing down to Luke, who is just getting to his feet. They manage to knock Luke off of the marquee, but he lands on top of a taxi which continues driving, and so Luke escapes. The man who was shadowing Luke before is having a moral dilemma about calling the police on Discus and Stiletto, but the two of them go in pursuit of the cab that Luke is laying on. Luke comes to and realizes he's on top of a car. He gets off, ready to make a stand (BTW, the cab seems oddly undamaged for having a 300 pound weight crash into it from around 15-25 feet).
Discus and Stiletto are pushing their way through the crowd of New Yorkers as they attempt to tell them that they're chasing a dangerous criminal. Luke is also warning passers by that he's being pursued by two costumed lunatics and that they should make themselves scarce. Neither is very successful.
Discus and Stiletto catch up to Luke and order him to surrender. Luke says there are innocent bystanders around and that they'll get caught in the middle. Stiletto suggests that Luke surrender again before he shoots Luke again with his mini-knives full of explosives, knocking him over. As they both rush him, Luke gets an idea and uses a Hulk stunt--namely pounding the ground and causing a slab of concrete to fly upwards into Discus and Stiletto. He knocks out Stiletto pretty easily after this, then takes care of Discus.
Luke is trying to figure out what to do with the two of them--he should turn them over to the police, but they know his identity. While he's pondering, Stiletto revives. He activates his cryogenic knives so that he and Discus can escape. They run inside a Nathan's so they can regroup, but Luke pursues them. They try attacking him again, but Cage is ready for their gimmicks and beats them easily. He wants to get some answers from Stiletto but he's interrupted by the man who's been following him--it's the progressive former warden from Seagate Prison. He holds a gun on Luke, and says that even though he's heard it won't do any good he has to try. He's willing to let Luke go if he'll turn over custody of his sons, Discus and Stiletto. Luke decides to give the man--Tyler Stuart--his sons.
A day or so later, Luke is at the bus terminal, heading towards Los Angeles where Claire is. He's lost in thought when D.W. sits down next to him, ready to join him on his trip.
My rating: 6/10
This is another one of those slam bang all out Marvel Action! comics, and in that it's not bad. The plot is okay, and Discus and Stiletto are reasonable antagonists.
The thing is, these days this story would take somewhere around six issues, and in this case, I think that would have been the right thing to do. Had Stiletto not shown up out of the blue earlier, had their been a series of hit-and-run encounters over a few issues, had Luke been followed by Warden Stuart for a few issues, I think this would have worked much better. As it is, we've got two loonies attacking Cage in some sort of law and order frenzy, and at stories' end, we still don't have a good explanation as to why.
Luke Cage, Power Man #23 - "Welcome To Security City"
Cover Date: February 1975
Writer: Tony Isabella
Artist: Ron Wilson
Luke is pensively thinking of Claire as he and D.W. ride the bus to Los Angeles. He's lost in thought in Arizona when the bus driver interrupts him, asking him why he's riding that particular bus that very few others are riding. Luke explains that the main bus broke down, so they took the next one available. The driver tells him that the only thing around is this new planned community they call Security City. The driver tells him it's an odd place--they didn't want to be on the bus route at all as they didn't want any "riff-raff" entering the town. He then tells Luke that he was thinking about moving there himself after seeing their ad on TV, but after what he's heard about the place...
Suddenly the bus is riddled with gunfire, hitting the driver. The bus crashes. some men approach the crash when the bus has come to the stop. One of them says the bus company was warned about coming too close to the city. They intend to loot the bus for funds for the City Treasury. They realize that not too many were on the bus as there's only one bag in the baggage compartment. One of them is pretty edgy, and the other tells him they have to search the bus, as the Colonel has told them that there are to be no survivors. Except of course, there was, as Luke punches his way through the side of the bus. The men recognize him, and they scuffle. One of them shoots Luke with high caliber ammunition, but this just pisses him off. He bends the barrel of the rifle as the man fires, causing the rifle to explode in his face. The others want to report back to the Colonel, but Luke stops them by chopping down trees with his bare hands! He's miffed, because he thinks these guys just killed his best friend. However, D.W. did survive and is okay. Unfortunately the bus driver didn't. Cage searches his captives and finds out they're members of the Security City Police Department. Unsure whether they're actually officers or thieves that stole their badges, Luke and D.W. handcuff them to the bus and head to the City to find out.
After a while and a little light banter, the two of them arrive at a bluff overlooking Security City. The city itself looks like an armed fortress, with a handful of houses surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and tons of guards wearing the same uniforms as the men who attacked the bus. The two of them approach the gates, and the watchmen tells them to be on their way. Luke shows them the error of their ways and they go inside. They encounter a woman walking her baby around in a stroller, and Luke asks her the way to City Hall. She freaks out because they're strangers and pulls out a double-barreled shotgun, shooting at Luke. Of course, this does him zero harm, and he takes the weapon from her and destroys it. However, other townspeople--also armed--attack them at this point. Luke and D.W. run away and manage to stumble upon City Hall at the same time as they're surrounded, and they surrender as they've achieved their goal.
Tney're led to a dark room where the leader is viewing the Chamber of Commerce's latest commercial. Luke thinks he recognizes his voice. They watch the commercial, which extolls the virtues of Security City. When the viewing is over, the leader tells them to turn on the light so Luke can see who he's talking to. The lights are turned on, and Luke instantly exclaims "You're dead!" He also plans to rectify his "got-betterness" but the guns pointed at D.W. tell him to play it cool for now. The leader is revealed (or reviled--I did nearly type that) as one Colonel Gideon Mace(yay). Mace explains how he managed to survive their last encounter (he unscrewed his mace hand as he was sinking into the river and was able to swim away). As he continues monologuing, D.W. (who is somehow being ignored) manages to patch in the microphone in the room to the outside speakers. Cage agitates Mace further, and he rants more and more, ensuring that all of the townspeople can hear him call them "sheep that can be led and moled into the patterns we want." There's more about sheep as well.
A brick comes flying through the window, interrupting his long-windedness. The citizens have heard every word, and they are not amused. In fact, they're violently storming City Hall. Mace wonders why, and D.W. explains how he was a bad boy and wired the loudspeakers to the mic in the room. Mace attempts to attack D.W., but Cage prevents him from doing so. The two of them storm out of the room into a hail of bullets, but Luke protects D.W. and they escape. Outside of City Hall, they find the citizens and the police force in all out armed combat against one another. Luke and D.W. leave City Hall out the back way, leaving the townspeople to kill one another.
My rating: 3/10
First of all, I have to say that it's a crying shame that Gideon Mace is Luke Cage's arch-nemesis at this point in time. As hard as it is for me to believe that the Red Skull can find followers, I find it even harder to believe that Gideon Mace can. And yes, I'm not a Red Skull fan either--I think he's a moron. I understand where he comes from and why he's so iconographic and everything, but if you look at what he's done over the years, he's a complete idiot.
Anyway, this whole scheme of Mace's seems incredibly farfetched. I know there's no publicly available internet at this time, but if these ads were running in multiple states, wouldn't there be an investigation of some sort? Surely killing a bus driver and crashing a bus like that would bring them under a great deal of scrutiny, right? Mace doesn't even have any super powers or abilities or anything besides the mace on his hand (which is kind of useless in most instances, come to think of it) to give him any illusion that he's unstoppable. I know most Marvel villains are really, really stupid like this, and I know that most Marvel 616 citizens are bloodthirsty hate-mongers but...eh, scratch that--it makes sense now.
Anyway, stupid villain, stupid plot, mediocre action, a really questionable decision by Luke at the end (seriously, there are bullets flying around all over the place--shouldn't he at least attempt to stop the fight?). Just not a good comic or a fun comic.
Luke Cage, Power Man #24 - "Among Us Walks...Black Goliath!"
Cover Date: April 1975
Writer: Tony Isabella
Artist: George Tuska
Luke and D.W. are at the circus watching a pair of acrobats (gee, they look familiar). Luke remarks that the weather is a little too rough for the acrobats (who are performing outdoors) but the crowd is egging them on. One of the acrobats goes up to the high wire to continue the routine as the other tells him it's too rough and not worth it. As he walks along the high wire, the wind blows the trapeze into him, disturbing his balance. He holds on to the high wire, but it breaks, wrapping him up around the post in the ground. Luke climbs up the pole in an attempt to rescue him. He begins attempting to untie the acrobat, but then the pole breaks. However, Luke manages to steer the falling pole towards the tent. Both he and the acrobat are knocked out by the impact, but they survive the fall. The acrobat, Luigi, tells Luke that he's in his debt. The other acrobat tells them he must take his brother to the show's doctor, but he comps Luke and D.W. for the rest of the show. As they leave, Luigi complains to his brother Ernesto that he's been rude to the man who saved his life, but Ernesto explains that he's recognized the New York superhero Power Man. He then tells Luigi they need to go see the boss to best figure out how to deal with Power Man before he has a chance to disrupt their plans for Goliath ((for anyone who hasn't figured it out, these are the Flying Gambonnos and this is the Circus of Crime).
Back with Luke and D.W., the latter is complaining about the cold shoulder treatment they've just received. Luke says forget about it, as they need to focus on the real reason they're there--to locate Claire Temple. D.W. wonders if Claire wants to be found. Luke says that if that were the case, why did she send a postcard with the address of the hotel where she was staying? He also says that he just needs to be sure. They found out from the hotel clerk that she's been at the fairgrounds a lot, and suddenly, there she is!
Luke tells D.W. he has to handle this solo, and D.W. agrees. Luke approaches Claire and they embrace. She then asks Luke why didn't he stay in New York like she asked? She then drops the bombshell that she's here with her husband. Luke begins to storm off angrily but Claire tells him that the man she's here to see is Bill Foster, her ex-husband (it's interesting to note that apparently their being divorced was a really big deal back then). She explains their history, that they married in college when they were too young and it just didn't work out. After their divorce, she went on to do her internship while her husband Bill went to work for Stark Indutries. He worked with Hank Pym who was trapped at 10 feet tall at the time. After Pym was cured, Foster kept working with the formula for growth until he came up with his own variation. It eliminated all the side-effects of size-changing, but left him trapped at a height of 15 feet. He's sure he can cure himself, but it takes money and he's too proud to go to Stark or Pym, so he joined the circus for "fast money" (yes, because small circuses are just raking in the money).
The reason she told Luke not to follow because of Bill's Avenger connections, thinking he might discover Luke was an escaped convict. Luke asks why she's here if they're exes, and she tells him that she owes him this. Luke then asks about the plans they'd made. She tells him that she used to be in love with Foster, and that it may not be over.
At this point, Bill Foster enters the fray, telling Luke to get his hands off of his woman. Claire attemps to play peacemaker, but Luke has his mad up, and so it's on! Since it's Luke's comic, he gets the upper hand.
Back at Dr. Burstein's clinic, he's answering questions from a reporter, one Peppy Rocco. It seems that Peppy wants information on Luke because he's writing an article on Black superheroes. Burstein angrily replies that he's making a mistake lumping all of these men together (he'd also mentioned the Falcon and the Black Panther) as it's not race that makes them great, but their strength of character. He then tells Rocco he should go and talk to Luke himself, and Peppy says that's what he will do. Burstein realizes that he's reacted far too strongly to this reporter's questions, but he reminds him of Phil Fox.
Meanwhile, Luke and Bill Foster are still fighting, and Claire is still trying to break it up. Goliath has caught him in a safety net, but Luke shreds it and escapes. They continue fighting until both are interrupted by a bolt of electricity. Claire asks what they've done, and a voice off panel says that his associate has immobilized them long enough for him to place them under his hypnotic control. Of course, it's the Ringmaster, and he tells Claire that Power Man and Goliath will join the Circus of Crime--"and this time, no one can stop us!" (shyeah, right). Then we see the circus, augmented by a couple of new members, a strongman and a cowboy whirling an electric lariat.
My rating: 6/10
This is simple melodrama for the most part, and since it's a Marvel comic, the two heroes have to have a pointless fight, right?
Seriously, the Circus of Crime again? Stilt-Man was busy that week? Once again, Luke is saddled with another poor villain. At least there's more than one this time around so it'll be a slightly more fair fight. I suppose if I'd been 10 in 1975 (oh wait, I was) and I'd never seen the Circus of Crime before, I might be slightly more impressed.
The real problem is that this particular comic revolves around way too much exposition. Foster's story takes too long and slows down the momentum, and the fight between him and Luke is pretty mediocre as such things go.