Essential Luke Cage Volume 2: Fish-Based Villainy, the Windy City and that Kung-Fu Whiteboy

November 6th, 2007 by | Tags: , , , , ,

With the first Essential Luke Cage collection so fresh in my mind, it didn’t take me too long to finish off his solo series. Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Volume 2 covers from issue #28 to #49, plus an annual that Chris Claremont wrote. That’s good, since we’re cheated out of an issue. Power Man #36, which claims that “Chemistro is back! And deadlier than ever!” is really just a reprint of #12, the only Chemistro appearance up to that point. The nerve.

On the subject of them messing with us, the back cover of this book promises a guest-starring role by the X-Men. Bullshit. The closest we get is one panel of Iron Fist saying, “I just met the X-Men the other day.”

Except I didn’t read this for the X-Men cameos. I read this because back in the 70’s, the blaxploitation man-tank named Luke Cage was a ridiculously fun protagonist who beat up any jive sucka that looked at his metal tiara the wrong way. The last trade ended with a wacky, but somewhat heartfelt story about a dumb wrestler with a terminal blood clot who finds and drinks a random can of Super Soldier Serum and temporarily reaches his peak physical condition. It’s weird, but it has it’s right at home with the rest of the series and keeps the momentum going into issue #28.

Issue #28 begins Don McGregor’s six-issue run on the series. All that momentum nearly slows itself to a halt. Even getting past how McGregor is so needlessly wordy that you can skip nearly every block of narration, the guy just totally whooshes on the series. Let’s look at the problems.

First off, he makes Cage a wuss. The point of Cage is that he’s a tough motherfucker and his villains are threats by finding ways around that or simply equaling his raw power. Rather than do that, he turns our hero into a weakling. Being punched by Cage is supposed to be like getting hit in the face with a sledgehammer. The guy weighs 300 pounds and he’s all muscle. Yet normal thugs have no trouble taking the brunt of his beatings or easily kicking him away, even when they have no fighting experience.

That ugly pimp really doesn’t have any superpowers. He just stands up to the punchings because… um…

Moving on, McGregor just doesn’t get the point of the series. It’s supposed to be fun. There’s no sense of spirit here. Instead, McGregor just writes and writes and writes about how much Cage’s life sucks and how much everybody in New York City sucks. That’s all. He can’t go a page without discussing how grimy things are and how we’re ruining the environment and how tourists are assholes. Thank God he took so long writing one issue that they put a Bill Mantlo fill-in issue with Mr. Fish in as a replacement.

People make jokes about Mr. Fish and all, but I can’t stress enough how glad I am that we got his issue to prevent Quentin Chase from being shoved down our throats for one more issue. Who is Quentin Chase? He’s an FBI agent (I think) that tails Cage and makes his life miserable. Since Cage villains usually die, he figures it’s a good idea to investigate. Plus he wants to investigate Cage’s background. They end up having something of a buddy movie relationship. That doesn’t sound too bad.

Here’s the thing. From what I’ve read, McGregor wanted to get Chase a spin-off series that never happened. For good reason. Chase wasn’t very interesting. I can’t think of a single helpful or interesting thing he’s done in the story. Instead we get scene after pointless scene of Chase going home to his loving family to contrast what a nasty, rotten place New York City is. McGregor leaves right before one of his arcs ends and the remainder of the story goes into Marv Wolfman’s hands. Once Wolfman finishes wrapping up that story, Chase is thankfully never heard from again.

Not that McGregor’s run was all bad. Once Cage goes up against Wildfire, we get the only real solo Cage story of the time that deals with racism. All in all, it’s fine, but the events of the story, the ending and the aftermath are endlessly depressing and show zero signs of any redemption into hope or optimism. Not to mention that within the initial issue, McGregor forgets who his villain is.

Who’s Inferno?

Finally with McGregor out of the way, we can enjoy Marv Wolfman’s take on Cage.

I’d say that Wolfman’s run is the most enjoyable. He gets things right and is able to tackle subplot-filled story arcs that flow well enough. His stories didn’t even need the ridiculous rogue’s gallery factor to work, and yet he went the extra mile and had Cage fight guys like a mobster who for little reason dresses as a knight and lives in a castle.

Unfortunately, Wolfman’s run isn’t all roses. There’s a subplot about Cage being investigated by the IRS for never paying his taxes. He becomes so afraid of them finding out the truth and arresting his supporting cast for befriending him that he changes his name to Mark Lucas and moves to Chicago. By doing this, he completely cuts off a rather nice team-up with Thunderbolt against Goldbug (Evil Blue Beetle) right in the middle of their story. His journey immediately gets him into another adventure opposite his nemesis Gideon Mace.


It’s not the Gideon Mace story that I dislike. Rather, I enjoyed that guy and the payoff to that arc is fantastic. Wish Bendis would do something with him. It’s that Cage absolutely sucks at trying to start a new life. He’s mentioned by name as Luke Cage in Chicago and continues to wear his trademark yellow shirts. But worst of all is that he still walks around in public with his metal tiara. That isn’t going to fool the IRS for too long, my man.

So not only does Wolfman go on with a plot development that from now on Luke Cage can’t be Luke Cage, but still goes around like he is Luke Cage, but I really don’t think he had much of an ending in mind. Not that it was needed. After a rather strange issue where Cage fights Zzzax, Wolfman leaves the book and we get a very important blurb about the future of the series.

Enter the team of Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Something kind of funny I found is that about a year before this issue, Claremont wrote an annual about Cage doing a job in Japan. He fights these henchmen who brag about how they’ve once fought and possibly defeated the great Iron Fist. Back then, that meant absolutely nothing to our man Cage and he just flattens them regardless.

Claremont goes in a different storyline direction, as we all know, and brings Cage back from Chicago. Reworking the status quo isn’t a bad thing by any means, but he goes through it the wrong way. He does come up with a good enough transition, but sits on it for a while. The first page is Cage busting through a wall, attacking Colleen Wing and demanding to see Misty Knight. All the explanation to fill in the gaps is given in the issue after and it just doesn’t feel right.

So how do Cage and Iron Fist cross paths? Cage crosses Iron Fist.

Holy crap, that’s badass. That’s the best thing I’ve read involving Iron Fist since that time he called Jessica Jones a whore!

Cage gets back into the fight, only this time very angry. Not at Iron Fist exactly, but because of his own dire situation. Iron Fist is able to evade his punches for a little while, but his own offense does little to nothing against Cage’s unbreakable hide. Finally, Cage gets Fist in a chokehold and we get a very cool Mexican standoff between our two heroes.

From there, one of comics’ great partnerships is born. The next issue, which is the final issue of this collection, deals with Cage, Iron Fist and Misty teaming up to save Cage’s kidnapped friends from the Bushmaster. Strangely, interaction between Luke and Danny is kept to a minimum during all of this. It’s less of a team-up and more of a mission where they happen to be on the same side. The events surrounding the Cage vs. Bushmaster fight is a very fitting end to Cage’s solo adventures and tie in with his origins, despite the fact that this is his first time clashing with Bushmaster.

As part of the team-up, Cage finally gets to clear his name for the crime that put him in prison in the first place. It finally allows him to breathe, but at the same time, it has the definite feel that this is the end of an era. I’ll be waiting for the Essential collections of Power Man and Iron Fist, but that run of theirs went on for 76 issues, it has to have some sense of quality. Hopefully their joint villains are just as insane as Cage’s were.

Whoa, calm down, man. I’ll read your Essential collection next, Danny.

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One comment to “Essential Luke Cage Volume 2: Fish-Based Villainy, the Windy City and that Kung-Fu Whiteboy”

  1. I give Byrne a lot of crap, and generally don’t buy his work, but that intro page for Iron Fist is spot on. Pitch perfect.

    I love that Shades and Comanche are still around, too. I would totally do a 7 Soldiers-style revamp of half of Cage’s supporting cast.