Scoundrels Behind the Cage Part 2

August 24th, 2009 by | Tags: , , ,

After sixteen issues, Luke Cage had come to realize that with a title like Hero for Hire, nobody would ever take him seriously. He was rarely mentioned in the press due to the feeling that he was just a mercenary. He took that to mean that he needed a new name and stat. He considered calling himself “Ace of Spades”, but decided it was too ethnic. During a team-up with Iron Man, a villain asked Cage, “But how? This ship’s construction makes what you’ve done impossible!”

“Just chalk it up to black power, man.”

Then he got distracted so much by how right on track he was with a new nickname that he got punched in the ribs by a villain in a robot suit.

As of that issue, the title changed to reflect his newfound name. It also led to a fantastic issue where the villain named Power Man (currently Atlas) took exception to this infringement and fought Cage in a movie theater. This ranks up there with #9, the Cage vs. Dr. Doom issue, as one of the best pieces of the series.


First Appearance: Luke Cage, Power Man #18
Threat Level: 2
Bizarreness: 4
Lasting Ability: 1

Jake Mallard and his two brothers were construction workers working for Maxwell Plumm. Plumm liked to cut corners whenever possible and the shoddy materials led to the deaths of Jake’s brothers. Jake swore vengeance and spent the next few years building some construction-based weaponry for his own construction-based villain gimmick of Steeplejack.

Looking like a really bad Raphael cosplayer, Steeplejack got hold of Plumm and tried to toss him off a building. Cage was in the area, saw this and intervened. Steeplejack fired rivets at him, tossed Plumm to his doom and ran off. Cage saved Plumm, who hired our hero to protect him.

That night, Steeplejack figured that if he couldn’t get straight-up vengeance, he’d ruin Plumm business-wise. He went back to the construction site and began melting some of the girders as way of sabotage. Cage arrived and the two fought once again. This time Steeplejack used a gun that shot out liquid fire. To best combat it, Cage found a barrel lid, covered it with asbestos and used it as a shield while yelling one of the all-time best battle cries in comic book history.


He karate-chopped Steeplejack’s gun and then punched him back, knowing that a nearby girder would break his fall. Irony of ironies, it’s one of the girders that Steeplejack had sabotaged, so he broke through it and fell to his death. To make sure he was really, really dead, his backpack of liquid fire exploded upon impact.

As for Plumm? He became Steeplejack II in the pages of Ms. Marvel. Why would you do such a thing?

First Appearance: Luke Cage, Power Man #19
Threat Level: 3
Bizarreness: 3
Lasting Ability: 1

I suppose the fans or writers wanted them to bring back Diamondback in some way. He was dead, but I suppose the idea of a snake-based crime lord was something they wanted to revisit. With one of the oldest tricks in the book, they do this by introducing Cottonmouth. He isn’t Diamondback, but he is the one who taught him everything he knew. Diamondback used to work for Cottonmouth until betraying him and stealing his gimmick.

We never found out all that much about Cottonmouth’s past, but he is equally as strong as Cage. He dealt in heroin and got Cage’s attention by killing off Flea, Cage’s personal word on the street. He then hired Cage with the promise that he had the records that could clear the name of “Carl Lucas”. Cage worked for him as muscle, but snuck around trying to find those records. Cottonmouth caught him doing this and the two brawled it out in his office. Cottonmouth had things under control until his assistant Mr. Slick (which looks like “Mr. Suck” in comic print) came in with a gun, pleading to be the one to waste Cage for kicking his ass earlier on.

With Cottonmouth distracted, Cage got his second wind and punched the crime boss into Mr. Slick. Slick flew out the window and splattered on the streets below. Cottonmouth had the last laugh as Mr. Slick’s photographic memory was his records. Cage was on a wild goose chase and took it out on Cottonmouth by throwing him through a desk and calling the cops on him.

Since then, not a word on the guy. Good riddance, I suppose.

First Appearance: Luke Cage, Power Man #27
Threat Level: 1
Bizarreness: 3

Lasting Ability: 1

That’s right. X. Or as the cover calls him, “Just a Doom Called X!” Or as the first page calls him, “Just a Guy Named X!” If you’re at the Prize or No Prize panel at Comic Con and Tom Brevoort asks you to name a character starting with the letter X, give him this guy as your answer. You’d make me proud if you did.

X’s story is one of the better Cage issues, put together by the team of Bill Mantlo and George Perez. That’s quality.

Willie Dance used to be a great wrestler with potential to be one of the all-time best until he developed a nasty blood clot. That plus his history of head injuries had turned him into a dim-witted has-been. He had let himself go quite a bit and took up the masked guise of X the Marvel. His manager Bernie took care of him and humored him, but knew that the big guy was dying and couldn’t bring himself to tell him.

Bernie and X rented out a room next door to Luke Cage’s office. Hearing X training drove Cage crazy, merging with all his other many problems. When X accidentally missed a punching bag and flew through the wall, Cage had had enough. He took out his frustrations on the apologizing wrestler who only fought back out of self-defense. Cage repeatedly insulted him over his weight and lack of intelligence. Before things could get really messy, Bernie stepped in to break up the fight. He offered to pay for the hole and got X to apologize. Once they were gone, Cage figured he probably was acting like a bit of a douche.

This is where the story gets nutty. A scientist had created a synthetic version of the Super Soldier Serum. Another guy shot him and stole the formula before the notes could be written down. Afraid of the cops, he snuck into X’s locker room and placed the serum canister into his locker. Shortly after, he died in a police shootout.

Angry at the way Cage treated him, X snapped at Bernie and caused him to leave in a huff. X then found the canister in his locker and figured it to be some kind of protein shake. He drank it and his figure transformed into a perfect human physique. His first act of business would be to get revenge on Luke Cage for laughing at him.

Another hole in the wall later and the two went at it once again. This time it was more of an equal match. It spilled out into the street, where Bernie saw what was going on. He ran over, screaming at X to stop. X didn’t hear him and instead pulled a handful of bricks out of a wall and tossed them at Cage. They exploded off his chest and a piece nailed Bernie in the head. X stopped fighting and shrugged off Cage’s attacks to see to his friend, who was unresponsive and bleeding heavily.

With the ambulance taking Bernie away, X’s serum began to wear off and he returned to being a timid, tubby guy in a wrestling mask. Watching them leave, Cage figured that maybe he shouldn’t complain so much, considering some guys have bigger problems.

First Appearance: Luke Cage, Power Man #28
Threat Level: 3
Bizarreness: 5
Lasting Ability: 3

Don McGregor had just taken over the series at this point and I can’t say enough about how much he hurt the series. Don McGregor is to Power Man as Bruce Jones is to Nightwing. Don McGregor is to Power Man as Jeph Loeb is to Ultimates. Don McGregor is to Power Man as Chuck Austen is to any comic scene that doesn’t involve the Juggernaut.

Instead of the exciting adventures of the funky Hero for Hire, we’re bogged down with endless text about how much New York City sucks. Everybody who lives in New York City sucks. Everybody who has ever gone to New York City sucks. Everything involving New York City sucks. Rather than tell a good story, he just tries to depress us over and over again by talking about the environment and whatever the fuck. Then he would shoehorn in his pet character Quentin Chase with hopes of getting him his own spin-off series. Said character was never heard from again after Marv Wolfman finished off McGregor’s run for him.

I’m getting sidetracked here. This is where I talk about Cockroach Hamilton. Is he wacky? No doubt, but McGregor tried too hard to make him a bit too wacky. He came up with about 50 different ideas to make him out of the ordinary and shoveled them into the design of a short pimp with a giant nose and a love of “Cheez Snips” junk food, who carries around a six-barreled shotgun and regularly talks to it. Because he’s so weathered from living on the streets of Harlem, he is able to take a punch from Luke Cage and not even register it. Bullshit, says I.

Cockroach worked for Piranha Jones, who I’ll get to in a second. Cage was hired to protect a man Cockroach was hired to kill, so they had their own little fight on a rooftop. Cockroach used his pet shotgun “Josh” on Cage and dislocated his shoulder before finishing off his target.

In a rematch towards the end of this story arc, Cage simply snatched “Josh” out of Cockroach’s hands and destroyed the gun with his bare hands. Piranha Jones tackled Cage into a piranha-infested pool and the angry Cockroach activated the covering so to keep the two locked in there.

He was used a couple more times after this story, though never in a Cage arc (thank God). He showed up in Terror, Inc. for a little bit, still working for Piranha Jones and later appeared in Black Panther as an agent of Nightshade.


First Appearance: Luke Cage, Power Man #29
Threat Level: 1
Bizarreness: 5
Lasting Ability: 1

The classic. Chances are, you know all about this one-shot villain considering Seanbaby made him into a household name.

Since the whole Cockroach/Piranha storyline was taking too long, Bill Mantlo worked his magic again with this fill-in issue. Luke Cage was hired to work protection for a trucking company terrorized by Mr. Fish and his gang. When a truck exploded, Cage chased around and discovered Mr. Fish himself. The villain used to be a lesser criminal (if there was such a step down) who stole some radioactive isotopes, accidentally exposed himself to them, fell into a river and came out as a fish-man.

Cage fought off all the henchmen, but Mr. Fish blasted him down with his laser handgun. Since he was still alive, they figured they would bring him to the top of a building and shove him off to finish him. On the way down, Cage caught onto a girder and saved himself. He climbed back up and fought Mr. Fish one-on-one. Fish ran at him with a girder in hand, got backdropped off the rooftop and fell to his death.

Having to fight a man named Mr. Fish then caused Cage to reconsider his way of life.

First Appearance: Luke Cage, Power Man #30
Threat Level: 4
Bizarreness: 3
Lasting Ability: 3

Hm. Sort of looks like a black Christopher Walken with Headless Horseman teeth.

Piranha Jones grew up in poverty to the point that his teeth rotted away completely. He worked his way up and became a major criminal, able to afford steel spikes surgically added to his gums. He regularly hired Cockroach Hamilton as his go-to man, showing a bit of an Odd Couple vibe with the two.

Jones’ plans involved stealing a chemical agent from a truck shipment. This led to a fight between he and Cage, which was mainly just Jones biting into him again and again. Their fight had caused the canister with the chemicals to crack. With New York City in danger, Cage solved the problem by punching the canister a bunch of times before it exploded. Yay?

The weakened Cage was taken to Jones’ home where they soon fought again. This time they fought within Jones’ piranha-infested pool. Cage punched him out under the water – knocking out a handful of teeth – and decided not to leave Jones to be eaten by his pets.

Piranha Jones was brought back in the pages of Terror, Inc., where he was killed off by the Terror for a dollar.

First Appearance: Luke Cage, Power Man #32
Threat Level: 2
Bizarreness: 3
Lasting Ability: 1

Wildfire is such an important character that his creator, McGregor, would refer to him with the wrong name within his one issue.

Wildfire was Harold Paprika, a racist white man living in Jamaica, Queens. He was so angry at a black family living in his neighborhood that he got himself a flamethrower, got some tights put together and tried to force them out of town. Being that McGregor was nerfing Cage’s powers all over his run, McGregor was easily able to wipe the floor with him in hand-to-hand combat. To make matters worse, the neighbors didn’t seem to care about the terrorized Simmons family and instead alerted Wildfire to danger. The neighbors then allowed Wildfire to get away.

Their rematch took place within the Simmons’ house, this time with the house on fire. Towards the end, Cage began pummeling Wildfire with Quentin Chase trying to stop him from murdering the creep. Cage stopped because the father of the house had just told them that their son had died in the fire. Wildfire apologized, since he only wanted to scare them away, but Cage furiously slugged him out.

For the next few issues, the Simmons family existed in the comic to be nothing but a huge downer, getting no payoff other than eventually moving away.

First Appearance: Luke Cage, Power Man #33
Threat Level: 2
Bizarreness: 2
Lasting Ability: 1

Spear and Mangler had a brother Jack who was dying of a brain tumor. Dr. Bernstein used him as a prototype for his Luke Cage experiment, but it instead caused him to die faster and more painfully. Like everyone with an ax to grind, Spear bided his time and became a supervillain. A supervillain with trick spears.

First, Spear called out Cage to get him out of the way. I know I’ve been ragging on McGregor non-stop here, but when Cage punched Spear in the mask, he stopped to scream in pain over his aching hand. Are you kidding me? This guy shrugs off bullets on a daily basis and once punched a hole through Dr. Doom’s chest plate. In the immortal words of Chris Rock, “What next? The Hulk gonna get the gout?”

Thank God he was off the comic towards the end of this story. By then they had handed it over to Marv Wolfman and we were all better for it.

Spear stalked Bernstein for a while, showing that he could kill him at any time. After enough lead-up, he had Bernstein meet him at a pier. Spear impaled Bernstein with one of his spears and left him for dead. Bernstein survived, but ended up in a wheelchair.

After a failed attempt to rescue the Mangler from jail, Spear’s own mother ratted him out due to the fear of losing another son. Cage found out where Spear lived and the two took part in a chase that ended with them on a bus. The bus swerved and drove off a pier. Cage pulled Spear to the surface and punched him out, making it easier for the police to take him in.


First Appearance: Luke Cage, Power Man #34
Threat Level: 1
Bizarreness: 1
Lasting Ability: 1

Mangler is Spear’s brother and yet another masked wrestler. He figured out that the masked criminal going after Dr. Bernstein was his brother and decided to make it easier on him by barging into Luke Cage’s office and taking him out himself. Cage fought him off, but the moment he went after him, one of Spear’s spears sent him through a window.

Spear later belittled Mangler for interfering, but decided to use him anyway. As Spear confronted Bernstein, Mangler again attacked Cage. This time, Cage easily beat him down and knocked him out.

The next day, Mangler tried escaping from jail with the help of Spear, but when the wrestler climbed across a grapple-line, Cage jumped out and grabbed onto his leg. The rope snapped and the two fell into a dumpster.

After all this time I don’t think it would be too hard to get some use out of these two again.

First Appearance: Luke Cage, Power Man #38
Threat Level: 5
Bizarreness: 3
Lasting Ability: 1

As a youth, he was arrested time and time again to the point that he ended up in prison. In prison, he seemed reformed due to his fixation and skills with computers and robotics. He was released from prison, but chose to use his tech skills to create a criminal empire.

He was in competition with the Baron over the criminal underworld. Baron had equipped himself with the second Chemistro, who convinced Cage that he worked for Big Brother. Seeing Big Brother’s get-up for the first time, Cage yelled in big, bold letters, “HOLY JUMPIN’ CRUD!!” which is completely understandable.

Big Brother’s right-hand man was a guy named Cheshire Cat who was infinitely annoying. He was a guy with the power of invisibility and nearly every one of his speech bubbles was some variation of, “Yeah, daddio, I can dig it! Baby, I can dig it!”

Big Brother somehow convinced Cage that he wasn’t a major criminal and got him to go mess with the Baron for a while. After pounding down on the Baron for a bit, Cage discovered that Big Brother was going to connect himself with all the computers and annihilate the entire city.

While Cage visited Dr. Bernstein at the hospital, Big Brother took him out with knockout gas. They decided to kill Cage by chaining him to the top of a train and having it fly off a cliff. Can’t you just force-feed him rat poison and be done with it? Even Frank Gorshin thinks this death trap is over-the-top.

Cage escaped, hopped off the cliff and onto Big Brother’s helicopter. He and Big Brother traded punches for a bit until one punch knocked Cage out through the door. He caught onto the railing and climbed to the top. He tore the helicopter rotor apart and hopped onto another cliff as the copter exploded into the ground. That’s the last we’ve seen of DBZ Shaq, so I guess he really is dead.

First Appearance: Luke Cage, Power Man #39
Threat Level: 1
Bizarreness: 5
Lasting Ability: Is it too cliché if I put it in the negatives?

It’s pretty telling when you’re owned this badly in your debut. Despite all the lead-up to the Baron’s appearance, his castle fortress, his army of knights, his futuristic weaponry merged with medieval weaponry and having Chemistro II on the payroll… the son of a bitch didn’t even stand a chance.

After hearing that Chemistro was really working for the Baron, Cage went to his castle and annihilated everything in his path. This isn’t one of those things like how Mr. Fish got the best of Cage and later lost. No. Cage steamrolled the Baron’s home with his fists! Even the cover, which regularly showed Cage about to be killed by the villain of the month, featured Cage handing these guys their own asses.

Oh, Baron. Baron, Baron, Baron. You lost the second you put on your chain mail.

First Appearance: Luke Cage, Power Man #41
Threat Level: 3
Bizarreness: 2
Lasting Ability: 4

Bumblebee told the resurrected Optimus Prime that he felt like a gold bug. Optimus laughed at him and told him that that’s what he’d be known as for now… wait. Sorry, that’s the wrong Goldbug.

This Goldbug seemed to be based on the Blue Beetle, only as a villain. At least, that’s the expression that I get from seeing a millionaire with a double life who carried around a sci-fi pistol and piloted a giant bug around.

Jack Smith hired Luke Cage to protect a gold shipment, but warned him that the world famous master criminal Goldbug was going to plan something. If Cage was a smarter man, he would have smacked him down right there, but he ignored Smith’s glowing review of Goldbug’s style and took the job.

During the job, there were complications and Cage met up with the obscure speedster Thunderbolt. Cage figured he was a villain, so the two fought it up until Goldbug’s aircraft melted the van away and stole the gold. Cage went after him, but got zapped by a ray that covered him in gold. Thunderbolt used his speed to break him out of there.

Cage and Thunderbolt decided to team up. The two had great chemistry, which made it more of a shame when they killed off Thunderbolt a few years later. Through one of Thunderbolt’s stoolies, they found out where Goldbug regularly landed his craft and tried to apprehend him. As the story advanced, the three of them were inside the aircraft over the streets of New York. Thunderbolt punched Goldbug into the controls, destroying them. Knowing that they were going to crash, Goldbug escaped with a parachute.

Cage and Thunderbolt, on the other hand, did their best to land the craft without hurting any innocents. They survived the crash landing and Cage piggybacked away on Thunderbolt. The two left on good terms and decided that they would check in later that night to continue working on the Goldbug case. A rarity, the entire story arc changed in the middle of the issue and the Cage/Thunderbolt vs. Goldbug situation would go unconcluded. Cage wouldn’t be checking in with Thunderbolt, since he’d be skipping town to evade the IRS.

This was part of a third Gideon Mace storyline, followed by a one-shot where Luke Cage fought Zzzax. After that, Cage was blackmailed by the criminal Bushmaster into kidnapping Misty Knight, known girlfriend of the martial artist Iron Fist. The rest, as they say, is history.

Oh, wait! I forgot to talk about Goldbug. Okay, so compared to all the other Luke Cage bad guys, Goldbug actually got the most use. The guy made it big with appearances against Spider-Man and the Hulk. He was even in Secret War! In fact, the guy got the biggest break of any Cage villain by getting a speaking role in the world famous event Civil War! Things are looking up for…

…never mind.

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