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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Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #5 - "Don't Mess With Black Mariah!"

Cover Date: January 1973

Writer: Steve Englehart

Artist: George Tuska & Billy Graham

 

We open inside the Gem Theater. Mirroring the action on the screen, a thug strikes one of the patrons with a pipe while another lays in wait.

Meanwhile Cage is seen approaching, as he has an appointment with a Mr. Jenks in the balcony, who is currently being assaulted. He beats up the pipe swinger, but the other thug takes advantage and stabs Jenks to death. He attempts to stab Luke, but Luke knocks him off of the balcony.

Cage and D.W. examine the body. As they discuss the untimely end of Mr. Jenks, someone is eavesdropping. He goes to call someone named Black Mariah.

Cage follows him to the phone, to call Jenks' widow. After he does that, he runs into Phil Fox, who's still poking around in Cage's life. Luke tries to tell him off but notices that Jenks' body is gone. He asks D.W. where it is and D.W. tells him the ambulance took him. Cage realizes that there's no way the ambulance would leave without the police being there. He runs out into the street, but the fake ambulance and drivers are long gone. At this point, Mrs. Jenks shows up. Luke tells her about the body being stolen. He offers to find the thugs gratis, but she insists on paying him.

 

We see the fake ambulance driving into a boarded up tenement. The drivers are celebrating because they think they've made a good haul. One of them talks about telling Black Mariah, but the other doesn't want to because he doesn't want to split the profits. At this point, Black Mariah enters.  She's a Black, female version of the Kingpin without any of his sophistication. Very large, very strong, possibly West Indian. She beats the dissenter and reminds them they wouldn't be in this position without her. Apparently, the entire racket is that of "stealing bodies" before the actual authorities get there. They take any cash the victim had, and use his keys to burglarize the house before anyone's the wiser.

 

We see Luke talking to an information broker/snitch named Flea. Cage asks him about fake ambulances. Flea tells him where to go for fifty dollars. The  place is deserted when he gets there, but apparently Mariah's operation is setup next door. The driver of the fake ambulance is about to go and dump Jenks in the river when he sees Cage. He backtracks and lets Mariah know, and they set a trap for him.

 

Luke walks in and suspects a trap, but decides to meet it head on. The first thug attacks, but Cage easily dispatches him. Another pretends to give up while a third drops a heavy weight on Luke. It doesn't knock him out, but it does leave him reeling. The three thugs team up and hit Cage with a wooden beam battering ram style, and this knocks Cage out.

 

Mariah tells the thugs to bring Luke to her, as she wants to search him for valuables. However, Luke has been faking.  He tackles on thug. Another attacks with a knife, but Cage sends him to la-la land. He grabs a piece of debris and hurls it at the other two, taking them out of the fight.

 

Mariah shoots Luke, but he shrugs it off. He explains his bulletproof skin to Mariah. She charges Luke, but he judo tosses her through the floor. She's pleased to see that he won't hit her. She attacks again with all of her weight behind her, and causes a fair amount of property damage. she charges again, and Luke braces himself and allows her to bounce off.

 

At this point she runs away and jumps into a boat. She attempts to get away, but Cage leaps into the rafters over the pier and jumps onto the boat, flipping it over and causing it to capsize. Presumably the police come and pick her up.

 

Later, we see Cage back on Broadway, shirtless and ruminating about how many shirts he goes through. Flea catches up to him and asks him about his money. Cage refuses to pay, telling Flea that he only found Mariah due to blind luck.  Mrs. Jenks comes up and Flea asks her for the money, and she refuses, saying that Cage said no charge. Luke tells Flea he'll talk to Mrs. Jenks himself, but she gets angry and throws bills in his face, which Flea takes.

 

My rating: 5/10

 

There were a number of different directions they could have gone with Luke Cage.  Unfortunately, here it seems they just wanted to turn him into a stereotype.  True, he doesn't say "Sweet Christmas!" or anything like that, but his thought and speech balloons are much rougher around the edges than it seems for prior issues.  Having an antagonist as unimpressive as Black Mariah AND having it take an entire issue to stop her isn't exactly heaping a lot of praise on the hero. It pretty much makes you wish that you had Gideon Mace back.

 

 

This is like the problem the orignal Avengers (and the JSA especially) had: writers seem to have trouble coming up with villains that can really challenge the good guys. Cage deserves better than somebody that tries to squash him with their flab and apparently gives up when he jumps in their boat. That wouldn't have stopped Wilson Fisk.

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.

Well, of course it was a nickname for police prisoner transports at one point, and may also have been used for ambulances as well.

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.

I think the term was used once on I Love Lucy.

I wonder if Englehart confused the etymology. It probably wasn't so well known back in 1972.

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #6 - "Knights and White Satin!"
Cover Date: February 1973
Writer: Steve Englehart & Gerry Conway
Artist: Billy Graham

We open over the Gem marquee, as Cage is punching someone out of the window. Somehow, the would-be assailant survives the fall, and is observed by three people decidedly out of place for the area. Two of them are sisters: one wants to hire Luke, the other thinks it's a bad idea. Their chauffeur agrees with the latter. The first sister rushes upstairs to Luke's office, followed by the others. The first sister lets slip that Dr. Burstein recommended Cage. Upstairs, Cage is soundly giving what-for to an additional four different assassins.  He makes fairly short work of them. After he's through giving an object lesson, he greets his company. He invites them into his office after they tell him they'd like to hire him. Inside the office, the girl who wants to hire Cage introduces herself as Laura Forsythe. She explains that her father is dying of polio, but she's convinced someone is attempting to murder him.  Her sister Catherine thinks Laura is imagining things. She explains that their father is an old reprobate who only has luck with money.  She thinks all of his accidents are just that.  She also explains that the only reason he has polio is because he refused to be vaccinated in the first place. Laura explains that Dr. Burstein recommended him, and Cage chooses to take the job.We see the chauffer out in the hallway ruminating over Cage's hiring, as apparently Forsythe is extremely wary of strangers ad outsiders. He does admit that Cage seems to be a good man for the job.

Luke rides out to the Forsythe estate with the girls. He's immediately uncomfortable within his surroundings, particularly the signs of wealth on display. As they walk past a number of suits of armor, Catherine and Laura explain that collecting the suits used to be a hobby of their father. Luke tells them that he thought he heard something in the armor. Catherine tells him there's nothing to be afraid of, and Luke tells her he's afraid of nothing, and that he expects to earn his pay. Catherine asks him if he expects to find someone trying to kill her father who's already dying and in an iron lung. Laura tells her to be more considerate as he's in the room. The two girls introduce Luke to Raymond Forsythe Sr.

Raymond asks Laura if Luke is the detective she told him about. Luke introduces himself and tells Raymond why he's there. Raymond says that there's not much he can do unless he knows medicine. He tells Luke that he should go back to Manhattan and to abandon this...he starts having trouble with the lung and Laura helps him. She also beseeches Luke to help make his last days more comfortable. Luke agrees, but wonders why someone couldn't wait for Forsythe to pass normally.

The butler Ansel is bringing medicine but Catherine tells him it won't be needed. She tells Ansel to put Cage up in the North corner guest room. Ansel asks if she's sure, because that was the room for the young Mrs. Forsythe before she died.  He feels that Raymond wouldn't like that, but Catherine insists. Ansel begins to lead Luke to his room, resentful of Cage's station and likely his race as well. Cage swallows his anger.

As they're walking down the hallway, a chandelier falls from the ceiling. It's heavy enough to kill Catherine and Laura, but Cage intercepts it with his own body. Laura ends up with a few cuts, but Luke saves the day. They all agree that it was likely done deliberately.

Ansel leads Luke to his room, and tells Luke that the room once belonged to Mr. Forsythe's Daughter-in-Law Margaret. Luke asks about Forsythe's son, and Ansel tells him that he died in Korea. He also tells him that Laura and Catherine are the only heirs, and that they stand to inherit everything. Ansel goes on to try to erase thoughts that one of them might be trying to kill the other, as he says they are quite devoted to one another.  He says something about how there isn't enough family affection these days in the world, and he also tells Cage that despite not being sure of him before, he is now.

Luke tries to sleep. He thinks about the things Ansel has said to him, trying to figure him and his reversal of behavior out. He gets out of bed and starts looking around for something, although he's unsure what. He hears a sound from the hallway. He investigates and finds the suits of armor have begun walking around. He realizes there's no one inside manipulating the armor, and so he destroys them. He realizes that they're some sort of robots. After he's done, Laura runs in asking what's up. Cage tells her the armor was radio-controlled. He also realizes they were a distraction. He smashes through Raymond's door. He discovers that someone has tampered with the iron lung, and Forsythe is delirious, asking why Raymond left. He tells Laura to call the police. He then performs mouth-to-mouth on the dying man. An ambulance is called, and Forsythe is taken away.

Afterwards, Cage does some investigating. He finds the family Bible and looks through it. He discovers there's another child, Robert Frederick Forsythe, who was taken away by his mother and thought dead. Luke tells Catherine that he isn't.

Cage smashes through a wall to reveal Ansel--actually Robert--working on some armor. Robert grabs a blowtorch. He tells Cage that the old man's will stipulates that his fortune goes to Robert if he dies before Robert's 25th birthday. He fires on Cage with the blowtorch. He's crying as he talks about how his mother was treated, and how she was blamed for Raymond joining the army. Luke stops him by hitting him with a workbench.

Afterwards, Catherine thanks Luke for his work, saying that she was wrong about him. They both kiss him on the cheek just as Claire Temple arrives. Luke tries to explain to Claire, who isn't buying it.

My rating: 8/10

Marvel has never been known for it's detectives, as most of the villains the superheroes face aren't trying to get away with anything, just overwhelm with brute force. It's interesting then that Luke has several times now dealt with mysteries of some sort. Perhaps in the mid-1970's they realized that it would be a good thing to have a detective. Sadly, there weren't more mysteries like this one.

It is a bit of a trite mystery--there's never the feeling that there's any other possible antagonist--and it's wrapped up more quickly than I may have liked, but I still enjoyed it. In many ways, I think Marvel has done itself a disservice over the years in terms of not having more mystery content. I know they were doing all they could to avoid being linked to the "distinguished competition" but there are lots of people who love mysteries and would buy the stories, at least in my opinion.  could be wrong though.



Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #7 - "Jingle Bombs!"
Cover Date: March 1973
Writer: Steve Englehart
Artist: George Tuska & Billy Graham

We open at the clinic, where Luke is waiting for Claire's shift to end. He sees a man beating a child on the street and goes to investigate. He confronts the man, who is wearing a top hat and a scarf. The man says that Cage has no right to stop him. Cage begs to differ. The man attacks Cage with his cane, identifying himself as one of "His Majesty's Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers". He hits Luke in the head with his cane, but Cage doesn't even feel it. He hits back, pulling his punch. The man surrenders, complaining that he was beating the kid because he overcharged for a newspaper. Cage asks who he is and he tells Luke that his name is Marley and he deals in chains. He runs away to join his partner, and Luke lets him go because it's Christmas Eve. He takes the young paperboy into the clinic, as Marley muses that there are people who will help those in toruble, and that he'll have to see more of Cage before the city dies.

Dr. Temple fixes up the newsboy, Timmy, before leaving with Luke. She notes that it stinks to be so broke that you have to work on Christmas Eve, and Luke remarks that it makes Christmas day better. She realizes that Luke has gone through the same situation in his life. Before they leave, Dr. Burstein asks Luke for a word. He warns Luke that Phil Fox is still snooping around, and has asked Dr. Burstein for his story. He declined, but if Fox digs enough he might be able to connect the two of them together.

Luke walks with Claire through the streets. He makes up a snowball, but she pushes it into his face before he can throw it. He chases her and tackles her in the alley, and they kiss. They're interrupted by a police officer, and they move along. They run across a beggar on the street. Luke gives him money, and he thankfully takes it, remarking that he has less body to freeze now that he's back from Vietnam. The beggar starts losing his composure, warning that the enemy is approaching. He produces a machine gun, confusing Luke with a deserting soldier. He fires, but of course he fails to hurt Luke. Cage takes his weapon, and the man begs, saying that he has no defense now. Luke breaks the gun, not blaming the beggar, but rather the guns and the "dudes that sent him over there to use 'em!" He gives the broken pieces of the gun back to the beggar, telling him he was lucky he ran into someone with bulletproof skin. As Cage leaves, the beggar is revealed to be the same as the man he encountered earlier, who thinks that Cage might be the one man who can stop him--forgetting Spider-Man, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men...

Luke and Claire go to a bar to enjoy themselves. They close the bar, then head elsewhere. Claire asks Luke for his background. However, they're attacked by a man with some sort of weird gun and a costume. He forces Luke and Claire into an alley and then demands Luke's identification. Luke asks what he's talking about, and the man says that it's Christmas 1984 and all citizens must carry identification. He then points his weapon at Luke, identifying it as a laser weapon. Luke realizes his skin may not stand up to that and he attacks. The man asks Luke how dare he attack his superior, and this sets Luke off. He attacks the man who has wrist mounted lasers as well. Luke realizes that something odd is going on with these attacks tonight, and says as much as he counter attacks. The man says Luke is insane and attacks Luke full force with his fists, to no avail. He runs away, and Luke chases. He catches the man and they fight. The neighbors call the police, and they arrive just as Luke is carrying the man out of the courtyard where they fought.

Cage is able to convince the police that he is in the right, and he and Claire leave. They see a police car on the street, and see it's the same police that took the man away.  He was able to over power them. Luke calls for a taxi for Claire and sets off after the man. He runs into a Santa on the street and asks him if he's seen the man he's chasing. The Santa is apparently hard of hearing and asks Cage to speak a little louder. Luke bends over to talk to him and gets hit from behind.

He wakes up in an apartment, facing a man dressed as an executioner, and tied up. The man tells Cage that he's been testing him all along, because he thought no one would help when he started beating the boy. He then says he needed to test Luke against something more dangerous than a cane, which is why he attacked with the machine gun. He was impressed that Cage kept doing the right thing and attempting to help. He then talks about confronting Luke with something out of his comfort zone, the lasers. He tells Luke that he was impressed that he didn't shy away. Luke tells him that he must have had something else on his mind.

The man pushes a button and a hidden panel slides up (seriously, how do you get those built in New York City?) revealing a computer. He says the computer is in control of an atomic bomb. He tells Luke how he stole it from the army shortly after the end of World War II. He also states that as a member of O.S.S. he had the knowledge and skill to steal and rebuild the bomb. He plans to launch the bomb at dawn.

As Luke is breaking free of his bonds, the man is distracted by something coming from his chimney. Luke attacks the man and takes the bomb control from him, then destroys the computer. He then turns to the chimney, where a second story man has fallen into the fireplace. He'd planned on burglarizing the place that day (apparently he forgot to check if there was anyone there first).

My rating: 7/10

This is one of those comics that have some really good moments but a poor villain who's been powered up just enough to be a threat to the hero, and it's hard to buy into. There are some nice moments--the snowball fight between Luke and Claire is sweet, as were some of Luke's retorts while he was fighting.  It was also nice--unrealistic, but nice, and who cares about realistic when it can be fun--to see the police not hassling Luke over his fight with the lunatic. The Christmas Carol parallels were cute too, as was the divine intervention of the burglar.

At the end of the day though, this is brought down by yet another lunatic with absolutely no real reason to be able to stand up to Luke in three separate fights, at least without some sort of explanation of him having super powers or something similar. It's not bad, but it could have been better.

This sounds like Luke fell asleep watching A Christmas Carol after drinkng too much eggnog. What happened to the partner Marley ran off to join, who I assume was named Ebenezer?

Randy Jackson said:

Well, of course it was a nickname for police prisoner transports at one point, and may also have been used for ambulances as well.

Wikipedia has a paragraph on the origin of its use for police transports on this page. It says the earliest reference listed in the OED is from 1847 Boston. The statement in the paragraph that the term appears in Monsieur Lecoq is an error; it appeared in the English translation, but not in the French original. (I can't read French, but I just checked the text at Project Gutenberg with the help of Google Translate. In the French text the vehicle is la voiture cellulaire.) I remember seeing it in a British children's book once, used as if it was a term the reader would know, but not what that was.

Apparently it has a number of other uses, including as a name for the game Hearts. The Hearts article implies it came into use as a name for a version of the game in the 19th century.

He also states that as a member of O.S.S. he had the knowledge and skill to steal and rebuild the bomb.

I doubt the O.S.S. trained its agents to built atomic bombs.

There was a little more to it than that. He gained knowledge of where the bombs were stored, as well as the ability to disguise himself. Somewhere in between--whether through O.S.S. or elsewhere, he learned to dismantle and rebuild the bomb.

Luke Blanchard said:

He also states that as a member of O.S.S. he had the knowledge and skill to steal and rebuild the bomb.

I doubt the O.S.S. trained its agents to built atomic bombs.

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