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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Sounds like they didn't want to do this series, got roped into it, and didn't put in much effort because they figured it would get cancelled anyway. I'm surprised this lasted long enough for Iron Fist to join Luke.

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 should mention that in the table of contents for Essential Luke Cage, Steve Englehart wasn't listed in the credits for #15 - Billy Graham and Tony Isabella were listed as co-scripters - which is why I called #14 Englehart's last issue.  On the splash page for #15, the credits list Graham and Isabella that way (Graham, significantly, is listed first and of course also credited as the artist), and then say "Steve Englehart, Camp Counselor", which I gather means he spelled out to Isabella the story he and Graham co-plotted together.

At his website, here, Englehart implies he (co-)plotted the whole story. Isabella says here that he scripted #15 over the pencils and wrote a full script for #16. (Link via the Supermegamonkey website.)

Sounds like he either quit in the middle of working on #15 or he got tossed out for some reason.

This kind of thing seemed to be happening a lot back then. Like the infamous "Friend" story.

I don't think anything nefarious happened here.  Englehart was writing 5-6 books each month at this point and I'm guessing the workload got too heavy.  The same month Luke Cage #14 came out, so did the first two chapters of the Avengers / Defenders Clash, and Englehart also was writing Incredible Hulk and Captain America & the Falcon, as well as the Dr. Strange feature in Marvel Premiere.  For the latter, there were three pages of new material and two old reprints from Doc's early days in Strange Tales.  When that many books are being written by one person, any number of things could throw that out of whack - illness, family emergency, etc.

I take both men's recollections of who did what 40+ years ago with a grain of salt.  Despite what Isabella said, I find it hard to believe that there wasn't a conversation with Englehart or Billy Graham, or at least EIC Roy Thomas, about the plot of the three part Retribution story.  I believe issue #15 was a rushed emergency fill-in - it is an 11 page story with a random reprint of a Sub-Mariner story included, after all - but that doesn't mean Tony wasn't given some direction.  He had only 5 writing credits to his name at this point.

 Ron M. said:

Sounds like he either quit in the middle of working on #15 or he got tossed out for some reason.

This kind of thing seemed to be happening a lot back then. Like the infamous "Friend" story.

He also quit Defenders as soon as the Clash was over. Never liked his Dr. Strange. Always wished Gardner Fox had finished the Shuma-Gorath story. I doubt the original ending when Barry Smith started the story was Doc kills the Ancient One. Marvel Masterworks ended one volume with Fox's last issue, forcing anyone wanting the end of the story to buy the next volume. Since I have the rest of the contents of that volume (and didn't care for them the first time I read them) I can't justify getting a Masterworks just to read the last two chapters of a story. (Sadly my original issues of Marvel Premiere are long gone.)  And Essential Doctor Strange #2 which reprints the entire story must be rare because the only place I've been able to find it is asking more than double cover price.

 But what I really mean is it seems like people got moved around an awful lot during this time period. Like after Englehart left the Avengers they had several writers take over for just an issue or two and I think they didn't get another steady writer on the series until the Korvac Saga.

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #16 - "Shake Hands with Stiletto!"
Cover Date: December 1973
Writer: Tony Isabella
Artist: Billy Graham

Cage prepares to open up a can of whup-ass on Shades and Comanche. Before he does, Shades convinces him to ask Flea what's going on. Flea obliges, informing us that he  had helped Fox home after a night of heavy drinking, and that Fox had told him about the notebook. Flea tells Luke that he's not going to turn him in, as it would be bad  for business. He then tells him that he met Shades and Comanche while they were casing out the liquor store they were planning on hitting with their protection racket.  Flea brought them together because he thought that they had some mutually beneficial goals.

Shades then tells Luke that he and Comanche intend to help him clear Claire's name. He explains about the protection racket and that they think they could make it work if  Luke worked with them. Luke asks what's in it for him, and Shades explains that they can lead him to Rackham. Luke reluctantly agrees. He tells them that getting Rackham  is the top priority, then asks the others to leave while he makes a phone call. He tells the others he's calling his lawyer, and they agree to give him some privacy, but  he has something up his sleeve.

As they leave the store, they're being watched by a costumed character on a rooftop. Through his thought balloons, he identifies himself as Stiletto, and that he plans on  taking them all out.

Out in the suburbs of New Jersey we find Rackham and Mrs. Jenks. She's trying to rattle his chain about what Luke's going to do to him. He's nervous and keeps looking out  the window. Suddenly Cage, Shades and Comanche enter the room. Rackham points his gun at Mrs. Jenks and there's a stand off, as she's needed to clear Claire.

Outside the house, Stiletto has approached. He begins attacking the house with tiny little knives projected from wrist ejectors. Presumably some of the knives were loaded  with explosives, because the roof collapses. Afterwards, Cage thinks he's the only survivor, but it turns out that Flea and Mrs. Jenks survived as well. Unfortunately, so  did Rackham. He draws a bead on Mrs. Jenks and shoots her. The shot causes the unstable roof to collapse more, trapping Rackham.

Flea hauls Mrs. Jenks out and asks Cage to rescue Shades and Comanche. He finds them and carries them out, then prepares to go back for Rackham while Flea calls for an  ambulance for Mrs. Jenks. However, before he can go back in he's confronted by Stiletto. Apparently Stiletto is a real law and order type who's decided to take the law  into his own hands by killing criminals. Cage protects the others from his miniature knives, telling Stiletto that they have no effect upon him, but Stiletto says he has  more weaponry available. He attacks Luke with knives filled with gas (or ice, it's hard to tell), knocking Luke down. Stiletto then pulls out a large knife and uses it to  shock Cage--somehow. Luke manages to get the knife away from Stiletto with an heroic effort. Now Stiletto attacks with gas-filled pellets. Luke manages to clear the gas  with a nearby shrub. He then manages to get close enough to Stiletto to punch him, and the two fight (although how Stiletto manages to stay in a fight with Luke is hard  to tell, as he seems to be a fairly ordinary human, albeit one that's got a few screws loose).

Meanwhile, Rackham somehow survived the second roof collapse and has escaped. He hears the ambulance siren and thinks that they've called the police. He doesn't want to  go to jail and makes a run for it, only to be hit by the speeding ambulance, killing him.

Back to Cage and Stiletto. Stiletto pulls out a special cryogenic knife and points it at Luke, causing him to freeze--cold, not immobile. It's good enough though, and  Stiletto escapes.

Afterwards, we see that Shades and Comanche have been captured by the police. Apparently Luke had Big Ben Donovan put a tail on him. He's ready to go back to Seagate  himself, but finds out that Shades and Comanche have no intention of turning him in since he saved their lives. Luke asks Shades about Flea and Mrs. Jenks, and he tells  Luke they're with Donovan. He finds out that Rackham's dead, and so is Mrs. Jenks, but she managed to confess to Phil Fox's murder before she died. He and Donovan surmise  that there may have been more to her than either of them thought.

As an epilogue, Claire is freed, and Flea is a little bummed out that he couldn't make any money on the whole deal.

My rating: 4/10

In some ways this was more coherent than the last issue, but in other ways it was even harder to follow. There were a number of things that happened that were  unexplained, and I'm not sure whether it was Isabella's fault for not writing descriptive captions or Graham's fault, although I think I'm going to lay blame on Isabella  for this one.

Including Stiletto in this just seemed to jumble stuff up more, and it seemed the only reason for him to be there was to give Luke someone to fight. It would have been  nice to have better explanations of what his various weapons were actually supposed to be doing. I think it would have been much more interesting if Rackham had barricaded himself inside the house with his gun to Mrs. Jenks' head (seriously, why was she never given a name?). You have a classic hostage situation and you could still have had a similar outcome.

The confession didn't make a whole lot of sense to me either. I suppose the idea was to tie everything up neatly for Claire, but to me it opened up a lot of questions as well.

This is the last issue of Luke Cage: Hero For Hire. Look for upcoming reviews of Power Man.

Ron M. said:

And Essential Doctor Strange #2 which reprints the entire story must be rare because the only place I've been able to find it is asking more than double cover price.

This was probably caused by Marvel's print-according-to-orders policy. A smaller print order causes rarity.

I know stileltto is a type of knife so a guy with that name's supposed to sound tough and cool and dangerous, but I wonder how many people, hearing that name, is going to imagine the villain's walking around on high heels (actually possible back then when you consider outfits like what KISS wore)? And Shades and Comanche are too minor (and too...blah...looking) to be around for three issues in a row. Nothing's ever going to turn these two guys into the next Red Skull. Daredevil had lame villains but it never took a three parter for him to beat the Matador.

Ron M. said:

But what I really mean is it seems like people got moved around an awful lot during this time period

While that is certainly true ....

Like after Englehart left the Avengers they had several writers take over for just an issue or two and I think they didn't get another steady writer on the series until the Korvac Saga.

You might be thinking of something else.  Englehart's last issue was #151, which he rather infamously did not finish, as Gerry Conway and Jim Shooter also got credited as writers on that issue.  Conway wrote Avengers 152-157, and Shooter wrote 158-168, 170-172, 174-177.  Marv Wolfman did a fill-in for #169 and David Michelinie did one for #173.  After the Korvac Saga concluded, there were three more fill-ins, #178 by Steve Gerber, and #179 and 180 by Tom Defalco, and then Michelinie started his run on the book with #181.

That's still six writers from #152-#180. And many of those and later issues had two or three writers. The infamous #200 had four writers. Yet apparently not one of them said "You know, doing this to Ms. Marvel might not be such a great idea, guys."

No point in waiting, is there?

Luke Cage, Power Man #17 - "Rich Man: Iron Man--Power Man: Thief!"
Cover Date: February 1974
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: George Tuska

Luke is reading the newspaper in his office and something upsets him. We find out he's annoyed because his recent troubles have gotten him zero publicity. He wonders if  it's because of his name, or lack thereof (superhero name of course). Meanwhile, D.W. is leading a prospective client up to his office.

D.W, leaves them alone, and the man--one Orville Smythe--tells Luke he's from Stark Industries and wants to hire him. Luke is incredulous, but Smythe continues to tell  him that Stark has just completed work on a space suit. Thinking they want him to test it, Luke declines, but Smythe tells him that they actually want him to steal the  suit. Luke is ready to throw him out, but Smythe shows him a check that's very large. Smythe then tells him that he wants Luke to steal the suit so they can check out the  defenses at Stark Industries. No one will have knowledge of the agreement but himself, Luke and Tony Stark. Luke agrees.

Luke leaves the Gem ready to go out to Stark when he runs into Dr. Burstein. He's quite angry that Burstein's notebook was the cause of all the recent trouble, but he's  unable to punch his lights out like he wants to. Burstein invites Luke over to the clinic to see Claire, but Cage declines.

Out on Long Island, Luke sneaks into the Stark compound by hitching a ride under a delivery truck. As he makes his way through the complex, he's thinking about a new  name. He locates the suit and knocks out the guard guarding it. He's surprised by two other guards who empty their guns into his body. Realizing that the shots will alert  the entire security staff, he quickly deals with the guards.

Meanwhile, Tony Stark is on the premises, and very, very surprised to find out that someone's breaking into one of his labs. He changes into Iron Man(uh-oh, Luke).

Luke is telling the guards that he's saving their jobs as he pummels them. He finally finishes them off only to be confronted with Iron Man. They scuffle.

Back at the Gem, D.W. leaves a mysterious package in Luke's office.

Back at Stark Industries, Luke and Iron Man have fought to a standstill when Luke calls off the fight. He tells Iron Man that Stark hired him to find out if the compound  was burglar-proof, and that now he knows the truth. Of course, this is the first Iron Man is hearing of this, and after trading notes, they realize that they've been set  up. They rush off to the lab to find Smythe stealing not only the suit, but also an experimental vehicle called a Sky-Skate. Iron Man wants to pursue him, but his boot  jets aren't working. That leaves the chase to Cage.

As the vehicle takes off, Luke manages to grab part of it and then breaks into the cockpit. When Smythe tells him that what he's just done is impossible, Cage snarks  "just chalk it up to Black Power, Man". Bam! A new name!  Smythe, wearing the space suit which of course has an exo-skeleton built into it fights with Luke. However, Luke  forces him out of the craft and he plummets to the ground below.

Afterwards, Iron Man tells Luke that Stark will replace the check Smythe gave him, minus expenses. Luke leaves, telling him to mail the difference to Luke Cage, Power  Man!

My rating: 7/10

After the bad taste from what should have been a good three parter, this is pretty much a breath of fresh air despite all of it's warts. The plot is one that makes sense  and wasn't quite shopworn back in 1974, and although it's laughable that a) Luke could toe-to-toe with Iron Man and b) that he could damage Iron Man's armor, the fight is  still fun.  There's even a little bit of humor with Smythe, which is nice.

I do cringe just a little over how much it's being emphasised that Luke is a "Black" hero. I understand why it's being done, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

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