LUKE CAGE, HERO FOR HIRE (aka POWER MAN)Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1972
Creators: Archie Goodwin (writer) and George Tuska (artist)
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Luke Cage was the first black superhero to debut in his own comic book — in fact, the first to be featured in his own series at all. And he was the first black character of any genre to hold down a comic book title of his own since the little-noticed Lobo. What's more, he didn't even have the word "black" as part of his name, like Black Lightning, Black Goliath, The Black Panther and other 1970s superheroes of that demographic. All in all, he was quite an innovative guy — for comics,
at least. In the larger context, however, he was just like the hero of a typical '70s blaxploitation movie, merely translated into the superhero idiom.
The first issue of Hero for Hire (the name of Cage's comic) bore the cover date June, 1972. It told the story of a black prisoner in a maximum security institution called Seagate, addressed and referred to only as "Lucas". Wrongly convicted, of course, and, because of his belligerent (but righteous) attitude, the special target of a racist, pig-like guard named Rackham. The only person who believed his protestation of innocence was Dr. Noah Burstein, who offered him a chance at parole in return for participation in a dangerous experiment. Hoping to kill Lucas, Rackham tampered with the experiment, but the unexpected result was Lucas becoming super-strong, with super-tough skin.
Not realizing his strength, Lucas physically attacked Rackham, resulting in the guard's probable death (tho since this was a comic book, it was left uncertain so he could be used later as a villain). Anticipating the impact of Rackham's death on his future wellbeing, Lucas became the first prisoner to escape from Seagate — by bashing through its stone walls with his fists. He was believed killed in the attempt, but survived and made his way to New York City. With no identification, and knowing he'd be returned the moment he was recognized, he was unable to make a living — until a restaurant owner gave him a cash reward for foiling a robbery. This inspired him to get a costume (with a thick chain around his waist to symbolize his personal history), assume the name "Luke Cage" (half from his previous name and half, again, from his personal history), and set himself up as Marvel Comics' first mercenary superhero.
In the second issue, the "Hero for Hire" (the closest thing he had to a superhero monicker, at least at first) got his revenge on the gangster who had framed him (and, not incidentally, caused the death of his girlfriend). The same issue also brought Burstein, now (in the wake of the disastrous experiment) operating a free clinic in New York, back into the story as Cage's reluctant confidant. By the third, it had become apparent that if he wasn't getting wealthy in his chosen occupation, at least he was able to make a living.
The creative team behind this consisted mainly of writer Archie Goodwin (Manhunter, Vampirella) and artist George Tuska (Buck Rogers, Zanzibar the Magician). Roy Thomas (The Invaders, Arak Son of Thunder) assisted Goodwin on the writing and John Romita (Captain America, Daredevil) assisted Tuska on the pencilling. The inker in the early days was Billy Graham, one of the few black artists working in comics at the time.
A couple of years later, for business reasons, he decided he needed a snappy, superhero-style name, so he began calling himself Power Man — which also became the title of the comic as of the 17th issue (February, 1974). This led to a confrontation, a few issues later, with a minor villain who had been using that name as an antagonist to Spider-Man, in which Cage (of course) came out on top, thus establishing his right to the name. Later the same year, as Power Man, Cage joined The Defenders for a short time. The following year, also under the Power Man name, he temporarily replaced one of The Fantastic Four.
After a few years, sales began to drop as blaxploitation movies became passé; so Marvel combined Power Man with another fading fad, the kung fu movie, in hopes they might prop each other up. In the 48th issue (October, 1977), Cage met Iron Fist, a martial arts guy whose comic had been cancelled a few months earlier. They went into partnership as "Heroes for Hire Inc." and two issues later, the name of Cage's comic was changed to Power Man & Iron Fist. It succeeded under that name, running until #125 (September, 1986), when Iron Fist was killed off.
At that point, Luke Cage underwent the usual fate of Marvel characters whose comics have ended — he hit the guest star circuit. He teamed up with The Punisher for a brief period in the early 1990s, and was back in a short-lived comic of his own (titled simply Cage) from 1992-93. But for the most part, the guest star circuit is where he remains.