Luke Cage Season 2 just dropped on Netflix June 22, 2018. In honor of the character’s long history and popularity, this article will explore his development over the years in comic books, focusing mainly on his earliest and more recent appearances. The character has appeared in other mediums such as cartoons, video games, and obviously live-action shows, but the comics are where Luke Cage got his start. So, that will be the focus of this Then and Now article.
Warning this not a review of the characters best stories, just a description of who Luke Cage was from the early issues to his most recent appearances in Marvel Comics. Along with the facts of the stories that are relevant, like the creative teams and Luke Cage’s origin.
Luke Cage first appeared in his own series Luke Cage, Hero for Hire in 1972. The series was written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by George Tuska, with considerable creative contributions by Roy Thomas and John Romita. The character was inspired by the popular blaxploitation films of the time, that while playing to stereotypes, also put black characters as lead heroes of the story. Instead of having black characters portrayed as supporting characters or goofy sidekicks. Luke Cage was one such lead character. In fact, Luke Cage was the first black character to carry his own title.
The first issue “Out of Hell—A Hero!” showed how Luke Cage’s story starts in the streets of Harlem back when he was Carl Lucas. Where he, and his best friend, Willis Stryker, grew up together on the streets. They were thick as thieves until Carl grew a conscience and Willis went into racketeering. Then there was a lovely lady named Reva who both Cark and Willis loved, but she was Willis’s girl. Then, to paraphrase Fresh Prince: “Willis got into a fight and she got scared, so she said I’m moving over to Carl because he isn’t a criminal.” DJ Jazzy Jeff’s rhyme isn’t there, but the point is. Willis was jealous so he framed Carl and got him sent to prison. Carl ended up in Seagate Prison where a Dr. Burstein selected him for a super soldier experiment for time off his sentence. So, Carl said yes, but Rackham, a crooked guard, was mad at him. So, Rackham messed with Carl during the experiment, but instead of killing him, gave him superpowers. So, Carl used his new invulnerability and strength to escape and decided to dawn a tiara and go by Luke Cage. Because he didn’t want anyone to know he was the fugitive Carl Lucas. Luke would eventually prove his innocence later but legally changed his name to Luke Cage as well.
After saving a restaurant from a robbery Luke became a hero for hire. Figuring he could do what the other heroes did, but get paid while doing it. That’s what the character was all about in the earlier issues while wearing his tiara, chain belt, and that yellow shirt that showed his entire chest, getting paid. Luke would later become Power Man and the title of the series would change with him. Then as the popularity in Blaxploitation waned he was teamed up with Danny Rand also known as Iron Fist. A character heavily inspired by the popular martial arts movies, whose popularity was also beginning to deminish.
A lot of mainstays in the Luke Cage mythos were introduced in those early issues. Loyal friends like Dr. Burstein, Claire Temple, and D.W. Dave Griffith. An assortment of colorful villains like Shades, Comanche, Diamondback, Gideon Mace, and Black Mariah. These made up some amazing episodic stories that were able to develop the character and enthrall the reader at the same time. Possibly the most popular story being the time Dr. Doom hired him and didn’t pay. Which ended with Luke getting his two hundred dollars. That was a lot of money back in the day, but still a little over the top to fight Dr. Doom.
The character was a renowned success, even guest starring in Marvel’s flagship title in Amazing Spider-Man #123, where old J. Jonah Jameson hires the hero to capture Spider-Man. Sometimes Luke would also join teams like the Fantastic Four, as a substitute for the Thing, and the Defenders, as long as billionaire member Nighthawk’s checks would cash. Despite this, Luke was never much of a team player, preferring to handle things on his own terms rather than help. He also felt the Defenders adventures were a little too “out there” for a street-level hero like himself.
The original Luke Cage run, though it went through three titles and several creative teams, would last 125 issues. Spanning from 1972 to 1978. Luke and friends fought a lot of villains and told a lot of stories in those six years that are still referred to today. Little did Goodwin, Tuska, Thomas, and Romita Sr. know that their Blaxploitation superhero would become the character he is…
Modern Luke Cage starts in the pages of Brian Michael Bendis’s award-winning series Alias. The same series that introduced Cage’s future wife Jessica Jones. The character would be brought back into the spotlight by Bendis’s series The Pulse and New Avengers. Luke’s changed a lot since his hero for hire days. He’s no longer the blaxploitation stereotype he was in the beginning, but an example of a strong black man- a positive role model for kids to look up too. He’s tossed aside his tiara and superheroing for money ideals to become a husband, a dad, and a better hero. Luke Cage has gained some experience and humility since his earlier series. No longer wearing the tiara and yellow shirt instead dressing in simple jeans and a hoodie. He also works well with teams now, having led the Avengers, the Thunderbolts, and been a member of Bendis’s short-lived Defenders series featuring Luke and the heroes from the other Marvel Netflix shows.
David F. Walker has recently written two fan favorite series starring Luke Cage. A new Power Man and Iron Fist series and a solo Luke Cage run. Both were canceled due to low sales. The title of Power Man has passed on to the son of former Luke Cage villain Shades. Victor Alverez has the power to channel chi and wears a costume that looks like a modern version of Cage’s old one. The two, though first at odds over the title, worked together on Luke’s Mighty Avengers team. Neither character is featured in an ongoing series as of now, but here’s hoping they find room in a series again soon.
Luke’s most recent appearance has been in the mini-series Hunt for Wolverine: The Adamantium Agenda alongside his fellow former New Avengers: Iron Man, Spider-Man, and his wife Jessica Jones on the hunt for their old teammate Wolverine. That’s where the character’s at now, but there’s no telling where he’ll be in the future.
In case your interested here are some notable series featuring Luke Cage.
- Luke Cage, Hero for Hire/ Power Man/ Power Man and Iron Fist (1972-1978)
- Cage (1992)
- Heroes for Hire (1997)
- Cage MAX (2002)
- The Pulse
- New Avengers Volumes 1 and 2 (2005 and 2010)
- Luke Cage Noir (2009)
- Mighty Avengers Volume 2 (2014)
- Cage! (2016)
- Power Man and Iron Fist (2016)
- Defenders (2017)
- Luke Cage (2017)
Check out the Do You Even Comic Book review of Luke Cage season 2 here.
Oh, is this a bio? I better tell people who I am and what I do, right? Well, that’s easy I’ll explain that I’m a writer of sorts who goes under the alias of Nobody, but my friends call me Kade because that’s my name. Check out some of my short stories on Tapas.io under Social Cues of Mythology.