Monday, 20 December 2010

Review - Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol.1 TPB

Sweet Christmas! It’s the Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol.1, collecting Luke Cage, Hero For Hire issues 1 to 16 and Luke Cage, Power Man issues 17 to 27 (same comic, different title) in glorious black and white.

As a kid, Power Man and Iron Fist was one of my favourite comics – not quite up there with Marvel Team-Up, the X-Men and Daredevil, but still near the top of my reading pile every month – but these early, pre-Iron Fist issues predate my relationship with Marvel Comics by a few years (I was only three years old when Hero For Hire #1 came out in 1972). I have always fancied reading these comics, even though I suspected that they wouldn’t be very good. But you know what? I quite enjoyed reading this. I mean, it’s not great literature by any means, but it was good fun, for the most part. At the very least, I got to find out that Cage isn’t Luke’s real surname (although we don’t get to find out what his real surname is), I got to find out that he weighs 300lbs (I know this because it gets mentioned at least once in every single issue), and I got to read that legendary (well, legendary on the internet) two-parter from Hero For Hire issues 8 and 9 where Luke chases Doctor Doom all the way to Latveria because Doom owes him $200, confronting him with the classic line: ‘Where’s my money, honey?’ Best of all, after quite a bit of fighting, Doom pays up!

At the beginning of Hero For Hire #1, Luke is in an Alcatraz-like island-prison, convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. The guards don’t like him much and beat him regularly, so when he gets offered a shot at parole if he agrees to take part in a dodgy medical experiment that has already killed several other prisoners, he accepts. Naturally, things go wrong and Luke ends up with super-strength and bullet-proof skin. He then uses his super-strength to bust out of jail and heads to New York, where he adopts the identity of Luke Cage, Hero For Hire, and vows revenge on the man who put him in prison and got his fiancee killed – his former friend, Willis Stryker, A.K.A. Diamond Back.

Diamond Back is a pretty crappy villain, who thankfully gets killed in HFH #2, but compared to some of the other losers Luke faces in this book – Mace, Chemistro, Lionfang, Stiletto, Cottonmouth, etc. – he is pretty bloody good. Luckily, though, Luke Cage is a strong enough character to carry this book on his own. Not that he needed to carry the book on his own, as Marvel gave him a cast of crappy supporting characters: D.W., the personality-free hippy kid who manages the building Luke rents an office in, Dr Claire Temple, who is Luke’s love interest, and Dr Noah Burstein, the same doctor who performed that life-changing experiment on Luke in prison, but he now runs a Harlem clinic with Claire Temple (perhaps to atone for all those experiments he conducted on black prisoners, although Luke doesn’t seem that bothered about this aspect of Doc Burstein’s past and considers him a friend). Still, Luke could have easily carried this book without any supporting characters, as he is good enough on his own and, like The Thing, lends himself to lots of one-liners. I particularly like the fact that Cage is a superhero for hire. I mean, he still has a heart of gold and does lots of jobs for free, but he usually expects to get paid for his work, unlike part-timers like Spider-Man, which seems quite sensible to me.

The first few issues here are written by Archie Goodwin, with art by George Tuska – an artist I have never given much thought to before but he seemed very well suited to this series. Then we get a bunch of issues written by Steve Englehart, most of which are still pencilled by George Tuska but some of which are pencilled by inker Billy Graham – who isn’t bad but isn’t as good as Tuska. When the title first changes its name to Luke Cage, Power Man, we get a couple of issues written by Len Wein – I liked the way that Luke decided on the name Power Man after saying ‘black power, man’ and liking the sound of it – but then Tony Isabella takes over as regular writer, Ron Wilson takes over as penciller, and the stories and the art become more and more simple, with lots of crudely drawn, unnecessary splash pages. Some issues in the second half of the book are still pencilled by George Tuska but many of these are inked by Vince Colletta and don’t look as good as the earlier Tuska issues.

I got a bit bored towards the end of the book – partly because the issues by Tony Isabella and Ron Wilson were pretty bad and partly because I always tend to lose enthusiasm towards the end of these Essential books, as there is only so much Silver / Bronze Age Marvel a man can take in one sitting – but things picked up a bit in the very last issue, written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by George Perez, so I shouldn’t think it will be too long before I move on to the next volume in this series, which I also own.

Cost: This has a recommended retail price of £12.99 / $16.99 but you can usually get it cheaper. It seems to be out of print at the moment but I got my copy on eBay a few months ago for £5.00. I bought it from a local seller so I was able to collect it in person and save on postage costs and I was also able to buy several more Essential / Showcase books from him for a fiver each, so it ended up being a pretty good deal.

P.S. Luke Cage didn’t say ‘Sweet Christmas!’ once in this book, even though it’s something that I always associate with the character. He did say ‘Christmas!’ a lot, though.


  1. I much prefer this version of Luke Cage to the more modern one. Why can't he still wear the yellow shirt, head band and chains? Not cool enough for ya, Mr Bendis? All other superheroes from this time still wear their outfits, why can't Luke Cage?

  2. I agree. Bring back the yellow shirt and chains, Bendis!