MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #23: LUKE CAGE, HERO FOR HIRE

In the 70s Marvel experimented with mixing superheroes with genres popular outside comics, such as martial arts (MASTER OF KUNG FU, IRON FIST), Satanic horror (SON OF SATAN), motorcycle culture  (GHOST RIDER), and blaxsploitation with LUKE CAGE, HERO FOR HIRE. Cage, the character and his comic, were both manifestly exploitative and well-meaning. The character was created by Archie Goodwin and John Romita written and (mostly) drawn by white men. The character was an innocent man who was sent to prison, volunteered for an experiment which gave him superhuman strength and “steel-hard skin” who escaped and used his powers for the good of the common man. For a price.

Operating like most private eyes (and a lot like Shaft), Cage set up in a dingy Times Square office over an “art house” movie theater and took superhero cases on a per diem basis, although he’d often waive or lower his fees for the needy. Despite his often angry and “steel-hard” demeanor, and signature exclamation of “Sweet Christmas!” (filling in for any real profanity in a comics code-approved book) Cage was a soft touch.

Eventually Cage adopted the more superheroic moniker Power Man, but it never seemed to stick. He also partnered with the costumed martial artist Iron Fist to become a crimefighting duo for pay.

In the last decade, much effort has been made to update Cage, his yellow shirt, metal tiara and afro now considered too dated, and he’s been given a more contemporary shaved head and goatee. He’s also lost any semblance of a costume, which strikes me as too self-consciously “cool.” Superheroes are and ever will contain some ridiculous whimsy and efforts to make them cool often underline this rather than obfuscate it.

Cage joined the Avengers, a much better-paying superheroing gig. He also fathered a child with former superheroine Jessica Jones, whom he married. Fatherhood and matrimony agreed with Cage, but he remains as “steel-hard” to his fellow Avengers as ever.

Tomorrow another incredible installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY.

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