4thletter of July: Luke Cage is the American Dream

July 4th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

It’s that time of year again, when people barbecue, swim in pools, chill with family, and generally have a good time. I’m stuck in faux-sunny San Francisco for the weekend, though, so all of y’all can eat it. Would it kill global warming to speed up a little bit? I don’t even sweat on hot days here.

Anyway, though, I had a pretty well received post about Captain America and America last year. It’s 2008 now. I’m older, wiser, and meaner. Why not give it another go, yeah?

I’ve been feeling a little nasty lately. Thinking about movies, news, music, and politics. Even comics, man. The presidential race turned into some ugly “My -ism is worse than yours” race, and I’m honestly tired of hearing about how Obama is going to change everything ever, particularly when he took father’s day to air out fathers, but whatever whatever. My point is that I’ve been waiting for an excuse to bite a face. So, you’ll have to pardon any cynicism that leaks through.

You could say that Captain America represents the American Dream. I say American Dream, but if you think about it, it’s really the ideal. Tolerance, perspective, patience, and so on. He thinks before he acts and he does his best to do right. He believes in his country and her people and trusts them to make the right choice. He chooses to lead by example.

If Captain America represents the American Ideal, Luke Cage is living proof that the dream is a valid possibility.

Carl Lucas is a victim of America. He grew up poor in Harlem, had no way out, and ended up running with a fake comic book gang. His childhood is a slideshow of group homes and juvie. He wises up when he gets grown and tries to go legit. His best friend, Stryker, stays dirty, though. Lucas makes the mistake of being the guy his best friend’s ex-girlfriend runs to, which angers Stryker. Stryker frames him, snitches, and Lucas goes to jail in Georgia for some reason.

In prison, Lucas is broken and angry. He doesn’t care about anything, basically, fights constantly, and eventually is used as a guinea pig for a new variant of the Super Soldier formula. A vengeful security guard sabotages the experiment, accidentally granting Cage enhanced strength and hard skin, and Cage escapes in the confusion. He goes back to New York and starts a new life as Luke Cage, hero for hire. He rebuilds his social circle, finds new love, and gets on with life.

Cage was put through a lot, most of it through no fault of his own.

Nine times out of ten, seems like, most Cage talk tends to be about how he once flew to Latveria to get two hundred bucks from Doom, tiaras, ha ha blaxploitation, and jokes about anal sex. He’s kind of a punchline, but I don’t think people realize how far he’s come.

Cage went from the kind of vaguely-insulting, heart-in-the-right-place black character that was popular back then (and kind of still is now) to the guy who took Captain America’s spot in the Avengers. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

Part of the American Dream is that frontiersman, wild west work ethic. Staking your claim and all that. You take what’s yours and you refine it, beat it into shape, and make it work how it’s supposed to. Cage applied this to real life. He’s a hero for hire, yes, but that doesn’t mean he won’t work pro bono. There’s a scene in a Daredevil comic where Cage proves this. Luke tells Matt to use his senses to scan the building. Is there anyone selling drugs, being violent, or doing crime in his building? No. Why? ’cause Cage laid down the law.

There’s a line from a rap song that goes “Handle your business before your business handles you.” You can sit and wait for people to fix something for you and get screwed over in the process, or you can fix it yourself. Cage fixed it himself. He handled his business. He did the right thing.

This is something that most heroes do not do. They don’t take a firm hand in policing their area. They just kinda mill around and look for crime, or in Superman’s case, actively ignore things sometimes in the name of “letting people govern themselves.” The problem is, most people aren’t going to govern themselves. Some people do not have that choice or made the wrong choice.

Cage’s method of operating is very similar to how Frank Miller approaches Batman. It’s kind of a benevolent dictator move– he knows what’s right, and he’s going to implement it and you’re gonna benefit, whether you like it or not. He uses the Avengers to clean up a single neighborhood. He believes that heroes should be constantly making a difference, not just fighting supervillains. Superheroes should be visible and lead by example. This isn’t just about fighting crime– it’s about making the world better.

He eventually marries Jessica Jones after the birth of their daughter, Danielle. He begins to take heroing even more seriously after that. What’s the point of having powers if you aren’t going to leave the world a better place? What’s the point of having principles if you aren’t going to stick with them?

Why would you want your daughter to grow up thinking that you’re a coward?

This is part of why his split from Tony Stark is so believable. He thinks that Tony made the wrong choice. He can’t live with going along with that choice if it’s the wrong one, so he chooses to play outlaw instead. He’s doing it for the future and he’s doing it for his daughter.

So, Cage is out there every day, putting in work and doing the best he can. The only way to make it in America, for most people anyway, is through blood, sweat, and tears. You have to get dirty.

Cage is getting dirty. In the process, he’s risen above his beginnings, he’s cultivated a circle of loyal friends, he’s protecting his neighborhood, and he’s providing for his family.

Why is all of this remarkable? Why isn’t it just standard issue? Why should Cage be admired for doing the right thing?

(this is where the cynicism hits, y’all)

The thing about America is that she eats her young. It was founded on the idea of freedom, civil liberties, and making your own way in life. In reality, it didn’t even begin to seriously approach those lofty goals until the mid-1900s, almost two hundred years after it was founded. Even then, the political equivalent of baby steps were what happened, not long strides. It still isn’t 100%.

You’re on your own in America, a lot of the times. Look at the prisons, poverty, and education. You think everyone in prison is there because they’re a bad person? No, I’m willing to bet that a significant number are there because they didn’t have any other choice, so they picked up that gun or bat or kilo and went to work.

Think about it. Say you’ve got a family and your kid won’t stop crying because she’s hungry. You can either hope for a call back from that temp agency or you can hit the corner for a day or two and come home with a roll of twenties.

Now, keep thinking. What kind of a world is this where you have to seriously contemplate the idea of losing your family versus poisoning someone else’s? Could you make that choice? Is it right that you should ever have to make that choice?

This is what I mean. The American Dream should be a reality, but it is still a pipe dream for a lot of people. It shouldn’t be– but it is.

But, that’s life, right?

Well, yeah, it’s harsh, but that’s life. Life isn’t fair. America is not, and has never been, fair. Will it one day be fair? I’d like to think so. Will I see it? Probably not. But, that’s no excuse not to try and do right and behave as if it is.

This is why I love Cage so much. He has every reason to be bitter, full of hate, and furious at the life he’s found himself in. Instead, though, he’s just living his life, trying to do right, and leave it better for the next generation.

That, to me, is the only proper execution of the American Dream. You may feel like Atlas with the weight of the heavens on your shoulders, but your knees don’t buckle and your spine doesn’t bend. When America hurts you, you remind it that throwing a punch is an invitation to catch one right back.

Sometimes, when you love America, you have to fight America. Sometimes, you have to even dislike America, even though you love it.

Cage gets it right. He proves that the Dream exists. You just have to be willing to fight for it.

Happy 4th.

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Return of the Wrath of Comic Con

April 22nd, 2008 Posted by Gavok

The weekend of chunky guys dressed like Colossus and hot women dressed as Slave Leia has come to an end. I myself had a great time, spent with hermanos from this very site and a whole bunch of guys from Funnybook Babylon. Sadly, Thomas “Wanderer” Wilde deemed himself “too broke” to consider joining us and Hoatzin would have probably involved a gigantic plane ticket paid in rare diamonds, since he’s from Europe. I don’t know. I really have no grasp on how that type of thing works. Besides, Hoatzin seems to have vanished from our planet. What happened to that guy?

This one movie sent the other movie into space.

Day One

Last year I got to New York the day before the con started, which allowed me enough rest and whatnot. This year I had to come in the first day of the event and kill time until David Uzumeri came in from Canada, since he was in charge of dealing with the hotel. I walked straight from the Port Authority bus terminal to the Javits Center, which tired me the hell out.

After getting my swanktastical press pass, I met up with hermanos and Joseph of FBB. They were at a panel starting up that was a screening for a new Will Eisner documentary. Since I was tired from all that walking, I decided to stick around and watch it. I found it interesting in the sense that I honestly didn’t know all that much about Eisner, which is almost a sin if you’re a comic fan. The four of us (David U. showed up towards the end) mostly agreed that while it had some fantastic stuff in there, such as taped conversations between Eisner and guys like Kirby, the sum of it was incredibly dry.

Shortly after, we went to the panel on online journalism, with guys from Newsarama and CBR there. It wasn’t as good as the comic blogging panel from last year and mostly focused on arguing over criticism vs. getting press releases. Once that was done with, I was rested up enough to do some wandering.

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Weekly reviews – 02/14/08

February 14th, 2008 Posted by Hoatzin

I read some comics and I review them here. Just click “Read the rest of this entry” to see them. I know you’re all very excited. Happy Valentines Day!

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Wedded Bliss Sometimes Isn’t

February 8th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

Especially when there are superheroes involved.

Awesome preview of New Avengers #38 over at CBR. It’s Bendis doing little character moments and it’s rock solid. I’m suddenly way more interested in NA than I already was.

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Fixing the flawed: Tigra

January 11th, 2008 Posted by Hoatzin


“There’s no such thing as bad characters, just bad writers.” – Unknown

It’s the truth. Especially in a medium where characters rarely have one set writer, sometimes not even one at a time, the quality of a character is largely decided by how they’re written. But sometimes a character needs a little more effort to work; characters with no set goal or motivation, a lack of personality or simply an outdated concept. Tigra is one of those characters. She never struck me as interesting in anything I’ve read featuring her; She was either just kind of a generic urban vigilante with a cat theme or caught up in the plights of some society of cat people with a convoluted history that I couldn’t care less about. But recently Marvel seems to have been making people more aware of the character, by making her the one who betrayed Captain America in Civil War, the person the Hood beat the crap out of to set an example in New Avengers and as one of the characters in the House of M: Avengers miniseries. So if you’re going to bring her to the readers’ attention, the least you can do is make her compelling. That scene in New Avengers was the first time I’d felt any sort of emotion towards the character, but it hasn’t been followed up on so far and it’s unclear if it will be (although I’m still holding out since Bendis tends to write stories with a slow burn). So here are some things I would like to see happening with the character to make me interested in reading about her:

– Politely ignore the cat people stuff. It’s unnecessary baggage and too goofy to take seriously in this day and age. There was a Tigra mini a couple of years back by Christina Z and Mike Deodato Jr. that did exactly this. It wasn’t very good because the writing was too cheesy, but at least it tried to do something new with the character and give her a place in the universe. Oh yeah, she became a cop at the end of that mini. That was sorta interesting. Whatever happened to that?

– Change the name while you’re at it. “Tigra” makes it sound like she should a member of the Thundercats. Either go for the Luke Cage angle and get rid of the name altogether (“Greer Grant” has a nice enough ring to it), or change it back to the more generic yet elegantly simple “The Cat”.

– Change the outfit. It makes her look silly. Yeah, I know, she’s confident about her sexuality, blablabla. Lots of people (real and fictional) are confident about their sexuality, yet they generally don’t walk around in a bikini all the time. Besides, we all know the real reason she’s dressed like that. It’s not even a practical outfit, since very rarely is it drawn as giving any sort of support. The only thing it’s good for is removing the impact from dramatic scenes. She doesn’t need a superhero outfit anyway, much in the same way Wolverine doesn’t need one. She has no secret identity anymore and her look is distinctive enough to not warrant a flashy costume. Like I mentioned, she’s supposed to be a police officer now, so put her in a police uniform.

– Yeah, she’s a police officer! That’s one of the things that always appealed to me about Savage Dragon, that he was a cop who got super powers but chose to stay a cop in favor of becoming a generic superhero. Focus on that idea and it’d both give her a unique role in the universe and be the perfect opportunity to show the Initiative in action; Superheroes actively working together with the police force. And, hey, holy crap, guess who’s the new top dog in Marvel’s criminal underworld? The Hood. The guy she’d have a very personal reason for going after. This stuff practically writes itself.

In fact, this can all be brought back to simply remembering that she’s a cop. That one story element from a five year old miniseries suddenly makes the character relevant again. This really isn’t that hard.

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The Top 100 What If Countdown: Part 20

November 12th, 2006 Posted by Gavok

Well, it’s been four months of lead-up. When the first part of the countdown came out, Lynxara asked about why I’d do a top 100 list for a series of books that only have 175 issues. Especially when I count two-parters as one entry. Truth be told, this isn’t like ranking the best issues of Nightwing or Mighty Thor. Most comic series have cohesion and you usually have an idea of what to expect in each issue. Writers, artists and story remain the same for months and sometimes years at a time.

What If, on the other hand, is different. What If is the ultimate comic book box of chocolates. Writers, artists, stories, ideas and tones change from issue to issue. Many stories are good. Many are bad. But almost every one of them is interesting in its own way. I could have easily have done a top 20 or top 50 list and be done long ago, but there’s too much fun we’d be missing out on. No jive-talking Incredible Hulk, or Matt Murdock crying over Wilson Fisk’s death bed, or Kraven the Hunter eating Peter Parker’s face.

Now let’s get in our Quinjet and take us down to #1.

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What’s So Civil About War, Anyway

September 27th, 2006 Posted by Wanderer

Civil War is really fucking stupid.

I think I could fix it.

Let’s see if you agree.

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The Top 100 What If Countdown: Part 13

September 22nd, 2006 Posted by Gavok

I mourn this image, not for the loss of Timothy Leary, but for the loss of Vaudeville Silver Surfer. You’d think that with Keith Giffen writing Annihilation, we’d see him make a comeback.


Issue: Volume 2, #87
Writer: Dan Abnett
Artist: Frank Teran
Spider-Man death: No
Background: Sabretooth was, for a time, a captive in the X-Mansion with Xavier hoping he could mentally fix what’s wrong with him. One time, when most of the team was out on a mission, a power failure in the mansion allowed Sabretooth to escape. He didn’t get too far, though. When he went after Jubilee, Bishop went up against him and knocked him out with a powerful blast. Our story here begins with Jubilee crying over the shredded-up body of Bishop. Uh oh.

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Pride of a Panther: Top 5 Black Men

July 10th, 2006 Posted by david brothers

Dr Sivana shol is a smart 'un!So, anyone who spends any amount of time speaking to me tends to find out that I am very, very pro-black. There’s a song by dead prez that goes, “Thirty-one years ago I would’ve been a [Black] Panther.” This is so true in my case that I have actually gone back in time and helped found a chapter of the Black Panther Party in Brooklyn. I did this when I was a little older. Time travel is tricky, all right?

I was sitting here thinking, as us intellectual types are wont to do, and I’m not feeling the love, comics. You aren’t treating your black characters right. You call Jason Rusch, the new Firestorm, a token, an affirmative action quota kid, and all kinds of other nasty names. Bishop? Bishop had a perm. What kind of self-respecting, non-pimp black man wears a perm? Virgil “Static” Hawkins and his imprintmates at Milestone went the way of the dodo, despite being some of the best comics to come out of the ’90s. Static was the first Ultimate Spider-Man, if you get me. Don’t even get me started on the reaction to Captain America: Truth – Red, White, and Black, or the kind of glaring lack of writers of color at the big two.

It’s cool, though.Captain Marvel in Blackface Blacks in comics have come a long way. Luke Cage used to be a patently offensive stereotype, though he’s been pretty well gentrified now. Stepin Fetchits abounded during the early years of comics. Comics great Will Eisner even had his own little stereotypical black kid running around. Did we have it as bad as Chop-chop and Egg-fu? Well, yeah. Stereotypes, unless played very carefully, tend to be ugly, ugly things.

Anyway, this is all introduction to the meat of the matter. A lot of black heroes are wack, but there are some gems, too. For every Black Goliath there’s a Black Panther, dig? So check the list and let me know what you think. Read the rest of this entry �

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