Randy Jackson Re-Reads Luke Cage Hero For Hire/Luke Cage Power Man

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.

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The last two issue titles have both been song references, to "Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues and, of course, "Jingle Bells." Makes you wonder how they resisted titling the previous issue "They Call the Wind (Black) Mariah!"

Back in the Bronze Age, many comics writers were only 5-10 years older than me, and drank from the same musical well. Which means that I got most of the song references in titles and dialogue, and it made me feel all the more like I was part of a secret club. Interestingly, many songs referenced in the Bronze Age are still occasionally referenced today, not only because of the evocative imagery of many (often drug-influenced) 1960 and '70s rock and roll tunes, but because they are still in play on Classic Rock stations. And, possibly, because some of today's writer learned OF those songs by reading old Marvel Comics, or are lifting the title without knowing their origin!

Of course, the reverse is true today -- I don't get ANY references to pop music, because I don't listen to it. As I am old. Or, perhaps I should say that if I DO get a song reference, I know that it's no longer cool -- e.g. when Spider-Man said "who let the dogs out." From context I gathered it was from a pop song, but by its mere presence in a comic book, it was probably already out of date. (And I was right.)

So, that happened.

Perhaps the writer hated "Paint You Wagon?"

Surfing movies were big in 1963 but were out by 1965. After the Silver Surfer appeared only a couple of beach movies came out, and they were all flops at the box office. I remember Jughead getting a mohawk for awhile in one of their many wrong minded attempts to make him cool several years after they were in. I also recall a Disney cartoon giving a character legwarmers a couple years after they went out.

I have been told Que Sera Sera came for a musical made a few years ago, Then a couple of years later someone released something called Que Sera which has no similarity to the old song except the title. I also remember fans of someone called Tiffany wondering how she wrote and recorded a new song so fast. The song in question was "I Saw Her Standing There", with her and she changed to him and he. The previous song they encouraged her fans to believe she'd "written" that made her famous? "I Think We're Alone Now." Tommy James might object to that.

 

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #8 - "Crescendo!"
Cover Date: April 1973
Writer: Steve Englehart
Artist: George Tuska

We open on Cage in his office, throwing a tantrum. Apparently the source of his ire is...himself. He feels there are unresolved issues going back to the death of Frank Jenks in issue #5, and he wants to resolve them. HOwever, he's interrupted by D.W. escorting a sleazy (he's got a flower in his lapel and a mustache--that's how you know he's sleazy) gentleman who wants to hire Luke. Luke doesn't want to listen and walks down to the street, but the man is persistent and follows. He tells Cage he has an offer that can make him rich. Luke tells him he's uninterested as he has a personal case to deal with. He then spots one of Jenks' assailants on the street. He chases, and the thug runs away and attempts to escape. He thinks he's gotten away, but Cage corners him. At this point, the thug attempts to fight his way out, but Luke is a little too much for him--okay, a lot too much. He punches Cage in the face only to break his hand doing so. He then pulls a knife and slashes Luke, but Luke laughs it off. He tries to stab Cage, and the knife breaks. Finally Luke has the man, Georgoe Simms, beaten, but then he's distracted by a neighbor complaining about the noise from the fight. In the interim, Georgie runs away. Cage tries to trail him, but loses him.

Luke goes to Dr. Burstein's clinic to see Claire Temple. She sews his shirt back together for him. After he's done...canoodling...he heads out again, only to be accosted by the sleazy guy in the three-piece suit again (once again, only a sleazy guy would wear a three-piece in Harlem). He persists and finally manages to hire Cage to find and subdue four men who have escaped with his client's secrets.  He also gives Luke their location, and Luke agrees because it should be quick.

Luke does a little legwork and locates the men. He busts through the door and attacks, but the men shrug it off. One of the men shoots him with a ray gun. It slows him down, but it doesn't stop him. Meanwhile, the men are speaking English in such a way as to show they are not from this part of the world. Luke hits one of them and his head explodes--it's a robot. The others drop an engine on Luke's head and escape.

Luke decides to find out who his client is. He romances a young lady working for the phone company--well, he does promise her a steak dinner (what would Claire think?)--and she gives him an address to go with the phone number. The address leads Luke to an embassy where a party is going on. He locates the sleazy guy--now dressed in a military uniform--and tries to talk with him. The other soldiers attempt to keep Luke from the man known as General Manntoff, but fail. Luke grabs the general but is interrupted by...duh duh DUH...Dr. Doom!

At this point, Luke has either never heard of Doom or doesn't think much of him. Doom demands more respect from Cage and orders everyone else out so they can talk. After the partygoers leave, Doom asks Luke if he expected to gain super powers and then remain in the world of petty thieves and thugs. He tells Luke that such things as robots are commonplace in his new surroundings. Cage asks Doom why he hired him. Doom explains that the robots disguised themselves as Black men, and that since he himself is unwelcome in the USA, he hired Luke to do his work for him. He then asks Luke if he plans to continue the work he was hired for. Luke decides that even though he doesn't like Doom, the job seems on the up and up, and agrees to finish it. Doom gives him the new address for the robots as he had them followed.

Luke goes to the provided address and is attacked by the robots. After a lengthy fight, Luke manages to destroy the robots. He goes back to Doom to settle accounts, only to find that Doom has closed the embassy and fled back to Latveria, and plans to stiff Luke in the process.

My rating: 8/10

This is a bit of fun, no question about it. Luke's first case involving foes greater than human is quite interesting, especially considering his client. That Doom is dishonorable about paying the bill is a little surprising, but I'm going to let it go.

There were some things I didn't like about this issue.  First of all, the Jenks sub-plot is being revisited for the first time in three issues, and the way it was brought up again didn't really work for me, especially as I don't think Luke would wreck his office because of it. I can understand his anger at himself, but it would be more likely he'd go find a condemned building to take out his frustrations on if he wanted to get violent.

Something else I didn't like was that the woman who interrupted his fight with Georgie was obviously meant to be Jewish/Yiddish and also used a racial epithet that seemed really unnecessary.  I know that part of this is looking at a 1973 comic through 2014 eyes, but part of it is also that there really wasn't a need to go there.  There are many other ways in which Englehart could have used a character for comic relief, and it just hit me wrong.

One final observation: this appears to be one of the first instances where a character used a variation of the word "spit" as a synonym for a more colorful phrase.  Am I correct in this, or was it used more frequently before?

Doom is usually depicted as keeping his word, although he's known to twist it for his own purposes. Did he specifically say he was going to pay Luke, or did he just say something like "I assure you I have the money" or "the money is in my embassy now"? Or could he have lied because Luke was black? Has Doom ever been depicted as racist?

Thinking about it, for 1973, this was likely closer to the way Doom had been portrayed. Running out on a bill wasn't so out of character. I don't think efforts to depict him as more honorable came until later.

Ron M. said:

Doom is usually depicted as keeping his word, although he's known to twist it for his own purposes. Did he specifically say he was going to pay Luke, or did he just say something like "I assure you I have the money" or "the money is in my embassy now"? Or could he have lied because Luke was black? Has Doom ever been depicted as racist?

One example I remember, I believe from Stan and Jack, was when Doom gave Sue a bouquet of flowers and promised he wouldn't try to take over the world while they were in bloom. Sue asked Reed if that meant he was changing and Reed said "I doubt it. After all how long do cut flowers stay in bloom?" I believe they were already starting to wilt in the last panel. Someone later (Gerry Conway? Marv Wolfman?) had Reed call Doom a liar and a hypocrite and state Doom never kept his word, he only claimed to. I think the efforts to make him honorable came from complaints he was being misused and treated like any other villain. If it's true that Doom sometimes sent Doombots to do his dirty work for him (I know that was retconned away and the Doombots were made too stupid to trick anyone but I think that was pretty controversial) Luke might have never met the real villain.

If one has read the most recent issue of Loki: Agent of Asgard one will find a Doom that is most deceptive and puts extraordinary emphasis on keeping people guessing who might be a Doombot and who might be Doom himself.

Naturally he claims he never met Squirrel Girl.

Really, the next time he acts up, Reed and the Avengers should just have Squirrel Girl on speed dial.

Ron M. said:

Naturally he claims he never met Squirrel Girl.

And yet when she tries to join an Avengers team they just offer her a job as a nanny. Like the JSA just made Johnny Thunder a full member but just hired Wonder Woman to be their secretary.

Or Forbush Man. He beat Juggernaut without even knowing he was there.

Ron M. said:

Or could he have lied because Luke was black? Has Doom ever been depicted

as racist?

I don't think Doom looks down on black people in particular. He looks down on ALL people who aren't him.

Thanks to everyone for making me aware of Squirrel Girl. She sounds like great fun. Even the writers and editors must like her since apparently they haven't trashed her or killed her.

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