Monday, October 3, 2016

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire Marvel Masterworks Vol. 1

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire Volume 1 Marvel Masterworks
336 color pages
Currently $3.99 for Kindle, $75 for physical copy

Unless you've been hiding from the internet, you know that Netflix has a new Marvel series, Luke Cage, the Hero for Hire!

That started off as a comic in the early 70's to take advantage of blaxploitation trends thanks to movies like Shaft. I know some are outraged over the whole exploitation trends but it wasn't just limited to black, as evidenced by the huge amount of martial art material from the 70s, and it didn't stop in the 70s as the 80s would give us Dazzler and modern trends try to latch onto whatever is popular.

Right? No.

Ongoing? Yup.

But out of such origins, we get characters like Luke Cage and often, good stories and often, an evolution of the character.

I originally owned many of the later parts of the Hero for Hire bits, especially when it dovetailed into Power Man and Iron Fist. For me as a young person at the time, that was an awesome combination. It also started art by John Bryne. Back in the day? That meant something.

But what about this particular volume? Well, Amazon has it on sale for $3.99 to take advantage of the hype and as the hardcover is $75, I leapt at the chance to get the kindle version.

Reading the series I'm struck by the evolution of Cage. In modern comics, he's essentially invulnerable. In these comics? While he's bullet-proof, he is still bruised by the shots he takes. Mind you this varies even here as there are times when Cage is facing high caliber weapons and will duck and other times take it and exclaim how much it hurts.

There's a sequence in one of the later issues where he's fighting some of the big cats and they tear him up! These days in modern Marvel comics? They'd be more of an annoyance than anything by themselves.

Several of Cage's original foes reach back into his origin story. For example, Diamondback, the original one at Marvel at least, was Willis Striker, a former friend, later rival, who was responsible for having Cage framed in the first place.

He'd make a great 'Batman' style foe in that he has a inventory outfit him with numerous different special knives that go a long way in overcoming Luke's invulnerable skin.

As far as I can tell, he's one of thos bad guys who gets 'done in one' where he 'dies' but we never see a body and with Marvel's almost inability to leave a character dead, with the Netflix series on now, I wouldn't be surprised to see him make a comeback.

And hey, if he has, leave a comment with the issue and title! I'm a collector but even I get behind!

Many of the other foes introduced in the series put a 'hurt' on Cage through their size. For example, Black Mariah or Big Ben Donovan. No super powers, just like the Kingpin, in a weight class of their own and use that size and weight to smash Cage down.

Mind you since Cage is not only a hefty three hundred pounds himself and super human. The ability to throw your weight around only goes so far.

Like many of the tales told before, let's say the late eighties, these comics are often done in one. You get a full story and while the characters may move forward like those old serials of Doc Savage, the tale itself is done. Handy for when you're in a hurry. The writers and letterers, also know how to space the text.

I don't know if it was a 90s thing, but man, I read the revised Cage series, Second Chances, and wall to wall text in some panels. Like they didn't know how to break it down to readability. That problem doesn't happen here.

One of the sad things about reading the series? Look at the covers.

Solid art. Often better than the interior. but man, that price? Twenty cents? Sweet Christmas indeed.

Some of the foes, like Mr.  Death he faces, and who were 'one offed' as often happened, have appearance later on through relatives. In this case, Mr. Death was often referred to as "Death" or "Luck" depending on what aspect of him you were dealing with. In future Power Man and Iron Fist issues, the relatives of the original make their debut, one as Luck, the other as Death.

When you look at some of those Cage faces, though, you have to wonder about their motives. Like Chemistro. A guy who has an alchemy gun that can turn anything into anything else. Yeah don't know if I'd go the superhero route with that one, but hey, this was before the internet, and he makes a real foe, one with a weapon Cage can't be hit by or else! Chemistro is reinvented later on for future encounters.

Outside of the original foes that Luke faces, he does get to integrate himself into the greater Marvel Universe a bit in a two-part storyline that's famous for one panel so well known I'm not putting the image here, but will share the cover:

Yes! Dr. Doom and Luke Cage go head to head and whereas the Thing and the Hulk often failed to beat Doom, Cage focuses on one part over and over again and reveals a weakness in the armor.

It's not as bad as Squirrel Girl beating Doom, it's pretty bad.

But overall it's an interesting story that modern audiences get carried away with that one panel. It's also the lead in for Luke to work temporarily for the Fantastic Four at a later date in the Fantastic Four's own comic when Ben is turned human.

A lot of the early material is rough but the groundwork is there for numerous things that would happen to Cage at a later date and several of those characters are still in use and getting reuse thanks to  new media.

This volume? For $3.99, there's a lot of tales to take in.