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.
Black Mariah was the unofficial name for the black coloured Riot prisoner-celled Vans police used in Britain in the 60s-70s and in view of her larger frame I always thought that was the reference.
Fred W. Hill said:
Black Mariah was the name of a song by Todd Rundgren on his double lp album Something/Anything? released in 1972 and of which I'd guess Englehart was familiar with.
Captain Comics said:
I remember reading this and figuring "black Mariah" had a meaning aside from the villain's name, but I had no idea what. This was pre-Internet, so I had to wait a while to look it up. In the meantime I asked random adults and nobody knew. Apparently not an expression used much in the South.
The opening lyric of Rundgren's song was, "Black Mariah, you scare me so ...". Maybe Englehart heard the song and was familiar with the same term used for British police vans, and trying to think up a new villain for the next issue, presto, he had it! Of course, apparently Stan Lee apparently was trying to come up with a villain for Hank Pym newly changed from Ant-Man into Giant-Man, was drumming his pencil on his desk and noticing the eraser at the end came up with, ta da, the Living Eraser! Or maybe it was Jack Kirby. Not quite a crowing achievement in creating a new supervillain for whoever came up with him.
As to Luke Cage, while I did get issue #17, I only started regularly collecting the series towards the end of McGregor's run and somehow wasn't put off by his overly elaborate writing style to never pick up another issue. The main reason I hadn't regularly purchased it previously was pure economics -- I only had enough coins or cash to get so many comics each week and Hero for Hire or Power Man was not on my list of must-gets and too often I couldn't even afford the ones I really did want to get. By late '75, though, my allowance went up a bit, so even with the increase in cover prices I could afford a few more comics and P.M., later with I.F. got added to my regular purchase list for the remaining 9 or so years that I collected comics.
I believe Lucy mentioned a black Mariah to Ethel in I Love Lucy once.
Jack Kirby had drawn a story about an artist seeing a pencil fall out of a flying saucer and discovering that everything he draws comes to life. So of course he draws himself king of the world, at which point the aliens come back, take the pencil, and reverse time. Again he sees the saucer but nothing falls out this time and he decides he must have imagined it because nothing interesting ever happens to a nobody like him. So the Living Eraser may have been a left over from the pre-superhero horror days. Archie would mention a villain called the Eraser in their 70s series, saying he turned the Shield to stone and his son took his place and apparently was the Shield of the 60s. The Comet returns the original Shield to normal and his son retires, but they didn't do much with him because they were pushing the later Simon/Kirby Shield for much of that series.