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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More like Amos Fortune with a homicidal streak. He strongly believes that his luck will always make people choose the wrong hand.

Ron M. said:

Marvel's attempt at Two-Face? He'd lie and cheat but never went against his coin.

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #11 - "Where There's Life...!"
Cover Date: July 1973
Writer: Steve Englehart
Artist: George Tuska

We open where were left off last issue--Señor Muerte has left Cage in a waterfront pipe chained down with the tide coming in. The chains appear to be unbreakable, and Muerte leaves with a last "BWA-HA-HA!" as he leaves Luke to die in his inescapable death trap. He goes and puts on regular clothes--regular for 1973, at least--and heads off to a party(he's got himself a 40 and he's got himself a shorty).

Luke is still attempting to escape. He's found a rusted link in the chain, but the water is rising swiftly and he may be unable to break it in time.

Back to Suerte/Muerte, one of his men bursts in with the news that some dude from LA is opening up another casino. He gathers his "muchachos" (because Suerte is Hispanic, don't you know) and sets off to deal with his rival.

Back in the water pipe, Luke snaps his chains. What a suprise. He tries to surface, but he's too heavy now.  His chain belt plus his 300 pound body is holding him down. He takes the belt off and manages to escape, then goes to a local locksmith to have him remove the chains binding his wrists.

Outside the rival casino, Muerte and the Jets get ready to take out the Sharks.  Muerte is also dressed in his action suit. He and his men smash their way through the new casino until they find the leader of the soon to be ex-Sharks. The leader, Carlo, takes the better part of valor and runs from the lunatic in the red jumpsuit. Of course, Muerte catches him and offers Carlo the option of playing his game, and Carlo is dumb enough to play rather than, oh, I dunno, shooting him. Anyway, Carlo is now pining for the fjords.  He is an ex-Carlo.

Interlude at Dr. Burstein's clinic, as the good doctor realizes that he left his desk drawer with his notes about Luke open. As he and Claire leave to get food, a mysteriously shadowed figure enters and retrieves the notes.

Luke is trying to get a handle on Suerte/Muerte now, so he visits his favorite stoolie Flea. Flea promises to find dirt on Suerte, but after Luke leaves, he calls the Señor to inform. Suerte is surprisingly laid back that Cage escaped his inescapable death trap--Nah, he throws a fit.  He gives Flea some instructions and bribes him with credit at his casinos.

Back at the Gem Theater, Luke and D.W. are surveying the ruins of Cage's office when the phone rings. It's Flea, offering information on Muerte's whereabouts.  

Cage beats feet to the address. However, he senses that it's a trap. He enters to find Muerte waiting for him, but the building is a gimmicked one including a giant roulette wheel in the floor that Luke steps on. While Luke is spinning wildly, Muerte attacks him with razor sharp blades. Of course, Luke is cut to ribbons--oh wait, no he isn't!  He's got unbreakable skin.  Very lucky for him.

Muerte finally displays a slightly more useful gimmick as he fires an electrical blast at Cage, but Luke dodges. Muerte runs out of the room because he's got more stuff to throw at Cage, including gigantic dice.  Cage manages to escape another inescapable death trap again.  Muerte shocks Luke again, but can't put him down. Cage tells him that he had a new chain belt made from the chains used to bind him in the tunnel, and he removes them and uses them to attack Suerte, as he prefers to be called now. However, somehow the chains get wrapped around Suerte's wrists, and he electrocutes himself, leaving a charred corpse. Luke respons "Christmas!" a couple of times, but apparently it's not sweet.

Cage goes to tell Mrs. Jenks about what happened. He leaves. We close on Phil Fox's discovery that LUke is an escaped convict.

My rating: 5/10.

If my synopsis seemed just a tad flippant, it's because it was. As I stated in reviewing the prior appearance of Señor Muerte, I just can't take him seriously as an antagonist for anyone with two brain cells to rub together. His death traps were laughable, and his surprise at having them defeated were laughable.  

However, even worse to me was the lazy writing and art.  We don't get a good understanding of how Luke is able to stand up to Suerte's electrical attacks, the elimanation of the rival gang was purely filler, and sadly, Tuska's storytelling has been better. It's standard superhero stuff, sure, but it feels like there wasn't enough effort put forward to make it make sense.  If it were Bob Haney, I'd give it a pass because I expect a certain amount of that, but I also think it would be much more fun.  This really isn't.

I never got why Hispanics that otherwise speak perfect English would insist on saying things like si, senor, and muchachos. Seemed to me those would be the first English words they'd learn,

Steve Englehart isn't exactly known for his great villains. In Avengers he came up with the Lion God and those troglodytes just before the Avengers/Defenders War. And the Slasher made his one and only appearance while they were in Vietnam. In Captain America he made the 50s Cap and Bucky villains but they'd already existed before as heroes. He made the Viper, then quickly killed him off and had Madame Hydra, who wasn't his creation, assume his identity. Then there was Solarr, who only appeared once in Cap and once in the Avengers that I know of. Then there was the Phoenix who he immediately killed off. He's been back many times since then but I think that was the only time Englehart wrote him. Then there was Moonstone, the Coalition to Restore America's Principles (gee, wonder he was saying when he came up with that name?)...and...Nixon. And they again only appeared in one story. (Then of course there was the Golden Archer who was Hawkeye playing Green Arrow Robin Hood so we won't count him.) So he was always much more interesting when he'd use somebody else's villains than when he came up with his own.


Ron M. said:

I never got why Hispanics that otherwise speak perfect English would insist on saying things like si, senor, and muchachos. Seemed to me those would be the first English words they'd learn,

It's not necessarily realistic, but it seems to me it's shorthand for putting an accent in your head, and reminding the reader of the character's ethnicity. It wouldn't be necessary in film, but without audio, the occasional foreign word is a tool writers can use in a silent medium. It works better in some instances than others. 

"Right, cher?"

"You know it, sugah."

Solarr also appeared in Marvel Two-in-One #57.

They used the idea in a lot of Westerns, including The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, both the movie and the radio drama. (The main difference is in the radio play Curtin was played by Frank Lovejoy while in the movie he was Tim Holt.) Harrison Ford has said he was told he was basically playing Humphrey Bogart in the Indiana Jones moves and was ordered to watch Treasure before filming started because Indy was based on Fred C. Dobbs. One of the most miquoted lines in movie history "I don't have to show you any stinking badges!" appears in the film.

Haven't seen it but I used to have #58 and I think he had a cameo or flashback sequence in it. That's where Wundarr became the Aquarian isn't it?
Luke Blanchard said:

Solarr also appeared in Marvel Two-in-One #57.

Yes (but off-panel; he's first called Aquarian the next issue). Solarr is being held in Project Pegasus, and escapes and teams up with Klaw.

Getting back to Cage, I like the cover to #10. According to the GCD the covers from the period, after the first two issues, were by Billy Graham (this one is signed). The villain's design reminds me of Slaymaster from Captain Britain.

The cover of #7 was also signed by Graham, but the drawing of the villain looks like Tuska's work to me.

Randy Jackson said:

Luke respon[d]s "Christmas!" a couple of times, but apparently it's not sweet.

I like Luke's "Sweet Christmas!" exclamation, but I also like to imagine a panel with dialogue like this:


*Not his real profanity.

Billy Graham? The preacher or the wrestler?

He was the feature's regular inker and pencilled #4, #6, #13-#16. At his website Englehart says he co-plotted. He was a black creator who also did many of the Black Panther issues of Jungle Action with Don McGregor (with whom he later did some of the issues of Sabre), and had earlier been art director at Warren. According to Wikipedia he was born in 1935, so he will have been in his later 30s at the time of these issues.

Popular name. Wikipedia mentions ten more Billy Grahams besides those three. Two were boxers and another was a boxing promoter.

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #12 - "Chemistro!"
Cover Date: August 1973
Writer: Steve Englehart
Artist: George Tuska

We start with a quick splash page showing Luke Cage battling Spider-Man (presumably a bit of cross-promotion).  In the crowd is a woman named Annabelle Crawford who is extremely impressed by Mr. Cage. She returns to her office, only to be confronted by a character in a costume with a weird gun. He introduces himself as Chemistro, the master of alchemy.  Annabelle screams for help. Chemistro tells her that she shouldn't have screamed, because his gun doesn't shoot bullets, but instead changes one thing to another. To display this, he turns the floow beneath poor Annabelle's feet into glass, which cannot support her weight, and she falls to the lobby below. Chemistro leaves, telling everyone to tell Mainstream Motors that this was only a warning.

Back on the street, post-Spidey-battle, Luke notices a large crowd in front of Dr. Burstein's clinic. He pushes his way through the crowd to find Annabelle, who's been asking for him. She passes out after asking him to get Chemistro. Her employer, Horace Claymore, backs that up and tells Cage he wants to hire him to find Annabelle's assailaing. He also introduces himself as the President of Mainstream Motors. He tells Cage that Chemistro plans to destroy his company, and that Annabelle will need hospitalization for months and plastic surgery (hmmm...wonder if something else is going on here).  

Back to Chemistro, who's skulking in an alley. He monologues, revealing that he's Curtis Carr, one time flunky for Mainstream Motors. Apparently Curtis developed his alchemy gun on company time, and Claymore wouldn't allow him to retain ownership. Carr was fired, and immediately began working out, planning his revenge, designing his costume until it was just right (no, it wasn't), and waiting until he could truly claim the name of Chemistro.

Over at the Daily Bugle, Phil Fox is trying to sell J. Jonah Jameson on a Pulitzer-worthy story about Luke Cage, but JJJ isn't having it, as Cage recently told him off.  Fox thinks about a possible other angle.

Back in his office, Luke is talking with D.W. about the case. He says he has no clues, at least not ones that will help him find Chemistro. He retrieves his phone book, which is currently propping up his desk. He calls up Manny Raymond at a private chem lab--apparently, Luke had some of the glass analyzed--and Raymond tells him that the glass turned to dust as soon as it was exposed to heat. The glass was unstable.

There's a board meeting over at Mainstream Motors.  The other members of the board are arguing whether or not to go to the police to let them know they know who Chemistro is. One argues that at least Cage should know, but the others let him know that Claymore specifically didn't tell him. At this point, Chemistro --who was hiding inside a statue (how does that work, exactly?) busts out. He has the board of directors at alchemy-gun-point when Claymore enters the room, trying to figure out what the ruckus is all about. Chemistro attempts to shake down Claymore for money, but then Cage busts in. He allows the others to escape while he faces off against Chemistro, who doesn't want to fight him (I have no idea why, given the weapon he has).

Chemistro attempts to shoot cage, but he hides behind the conference table, which Chemistro has turned to rubber. Cage is shocked, but shows he's also quick thinking as he tosses the rubbers sheet over Chemistro's head. Chemistro loses his gun and dives to retrieve it. He gets it before Cage can get to him and shoots the floor, turning it to paper. As Cage crashes to the floor below, Chemistro tries to escape. Cage comes right back, but Chemistro shoots the door frame, turning it to phosphorous and creating a fire. Cage uses this opportunity to try to get the truth from Claymore and the board.

Returning to his office, Luke is annoyed to find Phil Fox waiting for him there. He's going to eject Fox forcefully when Fox reveals that he knows about Luke's past. He intends to blackmail Luke with the knowledge. He knows Luke doesn't have much money, but he figures Luke could easily rob a bank for him. Luke throws him out. Fox runs into Claire Temple on the street and says bad things about Cage, and she lays the smack down on him.

A few days later, Mainstream Motors is publicly testing out some new prototype vehicles. Claymore is worried that Chemistro will attack, but cage has promised to help out. We see a car start up and begin driving around the test track, which includes a ramp for jumping. As the vehicle goes over the ramp, it turns into a bunch of molten slag and crashes in a fireball. The driver staggers out, and is revealed as Cage. He runs into the stands as he's spotted Chemistro and is giving chase.

Cage catches up to him and pulls off his mask, revealing Carr underneath. In order to escape, Carr shoots himself in the foot, turning it into steel. However, as he turns to run away, the instablity of the transmuted matter proves tragic, as his foot crumbles to dust. Cage attempts to console Carr, but Carr tells Cage his life will be nothing but crutches and prison from now on.  

My rating: 7/10

There are a ton of holes in this story, from Annabelle being brought to Dr. Burstein's clinic (Cage lives and works in a fairly run-down part of town. It's hard to imagine that the Mainstream Motors building is the closest medical facility available.), to Carr being smart enough to invent the gun but then being too stupid to use it wisely even in wreaking his revenge (he could have done everything quietly and much more effectively). Still, I enjoy Luke acting as a detective more than just a brawler, and it's a rare instance of a supervillain meeting his comeuppance in such a dramatic way--usually the villain would presumably be killed only t get better later.

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