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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It's arguable that Batman alone has more quality villains of different types than the entire Marvel universe. Joke, Penguin, Catwoman, Riddler (done well), Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, Hugo Strange, Two-Face--and that's not including more modern villains like Ra's Al Ghul, Bane, the Ventriloquist, Poison Ivy, Dr. Freeze etc.

Superman has Luthor, Brainiac, the Ultra-Humanite and Bizarro.

Wonder Woman has...okay, maybe not

The Flash has Captain Cold, Reverse-Flash, Mirror Master and Vandal Savage.

Green Lantern has large things that hit him in the head.

The JLA has the likes of Amos Fortune, T.O. Morrow, Starro, etc.

Captain Marvel has Sivana and Mr. Mind.

I'd say the DC side is pretty deep. 

Take away Batman and Flash and they don't do so well.

And if you're going to count guys like the Ventriloquist then as sick of him as I've gotten I'm going to have to push the Green Goblin. And Kang. And Sub-Mariner. In their earliest days the FF had two great villains, Dr. Doom and Namor, and one of them suddenly stopped being a bad guy, forcing them to fall back more and more on Doom.

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #14 - "Retribution!"
Cover Date: October 1973
Writer: Steve Englehart
Artist: Billy Graham


As we open, Luke is rescuing several construction workers from a building collapse. Simultaneously, Cage's old "friends" Shades and Comanche are escaping from Seagate

prison. Apparently they've escaped with one goal in mind--to kill former prison guard Rackham, who had been brutalizing them unmercifully ever since Luke escaped. They

follow Rackham's trail to New York.

We catch up with Rackham at the Daily Bugle, where he's placing an ad for a job as a guard in a bank, department store or prison. He tells the clerk at the Bugle that he

used to work at Seagate prison.  Phil Fox is there and overhears that bit of the conversation. As Rackham leaves, Fox asks the clerk if the guy just said Seagate prison,

and the clerk mentions his name. Fox chases after Rackham, hailing a cab to follow him.

Back at the Gem, Luke is ruminating in his office at 3am when Mrs. Jenks shows up. As she's only ever given Cage grief, he's not terribly thrilled to see her and asks why

she's there. Apparently her attorney was exceeding the boundaries of attorney-client privilege and she had run to Cage for sanctuary. She's ready to leave when a very

large man busts through the front door. The man is enraged that Mrs. Jenks is two-timing him after he spent his hard-earned cash on her that evening. He's able to

surprise Luke and knock him down.

Meanwhile, Fox has tracked down Rackham, and he's feeding the ex-corrections officer liquor in an attempt to get information about Luke. Rackham says a number of stupid

things about Luke thinking he was smarter than white folks. Fox asks about Burstein, and Rackham realizes that he hasn't mentioned Dr. Burstein once during their

conversation, and he confronts Fox about what he's after. Fox explains to him that Lucas survived that night and that he's now Luke Cage, Hero for Hire. He also tells

Rackham that he's responsible for Luke's super powers. Rackham wants to turn him in to the police, but Fox has blackmail on his mind. Rackham sounds interested, but Fox

then explains that he's tried to blackmail Cage before but it didn't work. Rackham asks Fox if Luke has a girlfriend, and Phil tells him about Claire Temple. Rackham

decides to kidnap her to bring Luke to them. He borrows Fox's car to go get her.

Back at the Gem, Luke has taken out Big Ben Donovan off-panel and is wakling Mrs. Jenks out to a taxi. Rackham drives by and mistakes Mrs. Jenks for Claire. He follows

her cab.

Back in his office, Big Ben is recovering. He seems to no longer be in a fighting mood, but then surprises Luke with a sneak attack. Donovan is wearing six inch platform

heels (it was 1973) and proceeds to try to stomp a mudhole in Cage with them. However, Luke stops him and proceeds to beat the snot out of Donovan until he calls uncle.

In a seedy New York apartment, Shades and Comanche are trying to figure out there next stop. Comanche figures that Rackham has likely gone to Connecticut, but Shades

notices Rackham's ad in the Bugle. He tells Comanche to break out the outfits they stole, and they don their supervillain outfits--Comanche wears buckskins and carries a

bow and arrow, and Shades looks like Generic Supervillain #5. He does have guns.

Rackham has kidnapped Mrs. Jenks. He calls Fox and tells him where he picked her up. Fox tells him that's not where she lives, and they argue. Rackham tells Fox to get

over there. When Fox arrives, he tells Rackham that he kidnapped the wrong woman. Rackham argues that maybe Cage was with two women, but Fox explains that Mrs. Jenks was

a former client of Luke's and that he could care less what happens to her. Rackham argues that Luke has ideals, and proceeds to savagely beat the tied-up Mrs. Jenks.

Downstairs, Claire Temple is on her way up, as she wants to confront Mrs. Jenks as to why she was with Luke last night. She stops to knock on Mrs. Jenks' door, and hears

Rackham and Fox arguing through the door. Rackham plans to mess her up badly, so he can send a picture to Luke along with the information that they have Burstein's

notebook and know he's an escaped convict, which shocks Claire. Next she overhears them arguing about a gun, and there's a shot. Moments later, she opens the unlocked

door, to find Phile Fox lying dead on the floor. Rackham has taken Mrs. Jenks out the window and down the fire escape. She picks up the gun and--big surprise--the police

burst through the door, telling her she's under arrest for murder.

My rating: 7/10

First of all, I appreciate how easily Big Ben Donovan was taken out. Sure, he's a big, strong guy (he is compared to the Kingpin) but he's just not in Luke's weight class

at all. Also, I'm enjoying that all of these subplots are coming together so nicely.

On the minus side, a big boo to the old "pick up the gun after the guy's been shot" cliche.  Perhaps it wasn't so old back in 1973, but it's really, really hackneyed now.

Also, Rackham is just way too much of a Blaxploitation villain to me--there seems to be little motivation behind his actions other than stupidity and brutality--we never

really get a feeling about why he is that way.  Finally--and it's a minor quibble--but I wish Billy Graham had come up with a more interesting costume for Shades. For

what it's worth, I don't know what he should have done, but he could have done better than this:

Exactly why would you pick up a gun you saw lying around? Or pull a knife out of a stabbed person?

The other guy looks like a bizarre cross between Hawkeye and Tonto. This is why you don't get dressed in the dark.

Yes, but at least his character is somewhat defined. All things being equal, neither of them looks awesome, but at least Comanche's outfit suggests a Native American theme.

Ron M. said:

The other guy looks like a bizarre cross between Hawkeye and Tonto. This is why you don't get dressed in the dark.

Shades looks like a spaceman. Or a disco dancer.

Randy, I've been really enjoying your reviews of the series.  Looking forward to your thoughts on the next two parts of the story.  In a way, it's too bad this was Englehart's last issue, I would have liked to have seen him tell the rest of this three-parter.  I think having him and Billy Graham working together longer would have gelled well.  I get the impression George Tuska was not happy working on the book.

I liked Archie Goodwin's first four issues, as I mentioned earlier in this thread.  Englehart's run was pretty uneven, in my opinion.  I thought his debut issue was awful (Black Mariah) but he recovered nicely with #6; #7 was nonsensical but the Dr. Doom two-parter was fun.  The Senor Suerte/Muerte story was not good, but I liked the Chemistro issue.  Lionfang?  Bah.

I wasn't sad to see Phil Fox go.  When we first met him I wondered why I hadn't heard of him, and as he got scummier I knew he would meet a bad end as he did.

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #15 - "Retribution! Part II"
Cover Date: November 1973
Writer: Steve Englehart, Billy Graham, Tony Isabella
Artist: Billy Graham

Luke smashes through his office door on the way to the police station to see Claire (presumably for dramatic effect). Meanwhile, Shades and Comanche are up to no good. Claire is thinking about what she's discovered about Luke and about her murder charge. Rackham is driving away with Mrs. Jenks to New Jersey. He's still thinking about blackmailing Luke, and foaming at the mouth(well, sort of).

We find out that Shades and Comanche are planning a protection racket at a liquor store(and no, they aren't thinking about Morgan or the Kingpin, because they just don't think that way).

Luke busts into the police station (yup, he seems to have a thing about doors) looking for answers and information about Claire. The officer at the door tells him to leave and to get a private investigator's license. Luke leaves, thinking about other ways to get information.

We find out his plan is to jump across the street from the Crayton building to the Tombs, then crawl down the outside of the wall until he finds Claire(yeah, right. Because when I think about jumping from one building across an avenue to another, I think of Luke Cage). He does so(it's the mighty Marvel Method, true believers!), and the police, feeling the vibrations of his landing, send a squad to investigate. Of course, Luke has crawled down between an indentation between buildings and of course, none of the police officers think to look down over the edge of the building. After they leave, he crawls down the side of the building until he finds Claire's window. She recounts what happened and like anyone else with a brain. Luke tells her she was dumb to pick up the gun. Oh well.

He tells her he's going to get Big Ben Donovan to be her lawyer. One of the guards overhears Claire talking to someone and comes to see what's up. Luke gets scared and falls. He should be street pizza, but a convenient flagpole and a city bus break his fall.

Luke returns to his office and calls Donovan. He then goes to investigate Mrs. Jenks' apartment, but of course there's no information there. He then goes to see Dr. Burstein (who's apparently Dr. Burnstein in this issue.  I guess the editors weren't paying attention). Burstein has no answers for Luke, so he goes to find Flea, the snitch. Flea leads Luke to the liquor store, where Shades and Comanche are waiting for him.

My rating: 3/10.  

There's just so much dumb going on in this comic that it's unbelievable. Why didn't Luke ask to visit Claire, or call Donovan first so perhaps he could have avoided all the silly risks?  Why the door destruction? And how does he get off calling Claire dumb when...okay, she was, but still.  

People talk about decompressed storytelling nowadays, and there's no question it can be a problem. However, just throwing willy-nilly action at the reader with no rhyme or reason doesn't work either.

Many of the Marvel comics of the 1970's found champions among the staff at Marvel, writer-editors who did their best to protect the comics they were writing against, well, whatever. Lots of little darlings all over the place. However, it's obvious that Luke Cage: Hero For Hire was the piece of toilet paper that got stuck to someone's shoe. Not to mention that Billy Graham wasn't as accomplished an artist as he later became--his work on the Black Panther comics is head and shoulders better than what he's doing here.  It does sort of feel as if much of what was happening in this title was an afterthought.

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

Randy, I've been really enjoying your reviews of the series.  Looking forward to your thoughts on the next two parts of the story.  In a way, it's too bad this was Englehart's last issue, I would have liked to have seen him tell the rest of this three-parter.  I think having him and Billy Graham working together longer would have gelled well.  I get the impression George Tuska was not happy working on the book.

I'm sure I read this when it first came out, but a couple of things jump out at me.

Luke smashes the door of a police station and he doesn't get arrested?

Claire is in a cell all by herself? I don't think that would happens except in special cases.

Almost nothing makes sense.

You're correct, none of this makes any sense whatsoever. Seriously, it seems as if they thought throwing mindless action at the reader would make up for a thin story. Kind of like the 90's.

Richard Willis said:

I'm sure I read this when it first came out, but a couple of things jump out at me.

Luke smashes the door of a police station and he doesn't get arrested?

Claire is in a cell all by herself? I don't think that would happens except in special cases.

Almost nothing makes sense.

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