Now listen up, because nowhere in any old school Marvel fan’s wildest dream did he or she ever imagine that there would be a live action Luke Cage either on TV or film. Even when the Avengers assembled for the first time on the big screen, no one thought that Luke Cage could possibly follow. But it’s happening, and it ain’t just going to be one sorry two hour film. Oh, sweet Christmas no, it’s going to be thirteen hours of Marvel Netflix awesomeness.
So why was Luke Cage an unlikely candidate for live action super stardom? Well first off, Luke Cage, aka Power Man, has always dwelled on the fringes of the Marvel Universe- until recently that is. Secondly, Luke Cage wasn’t a major MU player through the late ’80s and most of the ’90s, but despite all that, Cage is on his way to bust some heads as Netflix expands its little corner of the Cinematic Marvel Universe.
And this is a very good thing because Luke Cage has starred in some truly great comics over the decades. So grab your tiara and get ready, because we’re going to outline some of Luke Cage’s greatest comic moments as we speed towards Marvel’s Luke Cage on September 30th.
Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #1-2 (1972)
Writer: Archie Goodwin Artist: George Tuska
Luke Cage began life as a reaction to Blaxploitation films like Shaft, Super Fly, and Dolemite, so early issues of Luke Cage were filled with some cringeworthy moments. But through all that, when you strip away the trappings of a bunch of white guys trying to write a black hero to take advantage of a black cultural trend, there is something very special about Cage’s origin presented in Luke Cage #1 and beyond.
In the first few issues of Cage’s monthly title, creators Archie Goodwin and George Tuska introduced Carl Lucas, a man convicted of a crime he did not commit. Lucas is offered a chance at parole if he volunteers for an experimental procedure that is attempting to replicate Captain America’s super soldier formula. When racist prison guard Billy Bob Rackham tampers with the experiment, Lucas is accidentally gifted with super strength and steel hard skin. Lucas escapes prison, changes his name to Luke Cage, and sets out to free his name. In the second issue, Cage meets nurse Claire Temple (yes, the very same Claire Temple played by Rosario Dawson on Marvel’s Netflix shows). A free man, Cage opens his Hero for Hire business and a legend is born.
Luke Cage #1 was the first comic Marvel ever published starring a black man. Soon, this groundbreaking star would go on to star in many memorable comics and eventually, join the Avengers.
Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #5 (1973)
Writer: Steve Englehart Artist: George Tuska
One of the greatest aspects of the early Luke Cage comics was his awesome and oft times somewhat offensive villains. Meet Black Mariah, a rotund crime boss that took the fight to Cage during the hero’s first year of adventures. Black Mariah runs a gang of thugs that pose as EMTs to loot the recently deceased. Cage shuts down Mariah’s racket but not before making an enemy for life in this larger than life villainess.
Alfre Woodard will be bringing Mariah to life on the Netflix series with a bit more nuance than what we saw in the comics.
Luke Cage: Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #8-9 (1973)
Writer Steve Englehart Artist: George Tuska
You’ve probably seen the memes, “Where’s my money, honey?” Early on in Luke Cage’s first series, he ran afoul of Doctor Doom and it was freakin’ glorious. In the first part of a two part story, a mysterious client hires Cage to track a bunch of androids. Pretty standard stuff, right? Nope, because that client was none other than Doctor Doom who proceeds to stiff Cage out of his stipend.
As one does, Cage goes and steal a Fantasticar from the Fantastic Four and flies to Latveria because Cage wants his money, honey. The two battle it out for a few hundred bucks and Doom ends up gaining respect for Cage because what other hero has the iron sack to confront Doom in his own country?
The “Where’s my money, honey?” line has grown legendary and it damn well should because it totally defines those early Luke Cage adventures. Plus, after Cage battles Doom, it establishes the Hero for Hire as a big league presence in the Marvel Universe.
Amazing Spider-Man #123 (1973)
Writer: Gerry Conway Artists: Gil Kane and John Romita
This issue of Amazing Spider-Man is important to the history of Luke Cage for a number of reasons. First, it is the first meeting between the two. Second, this issue takes place during a pivotal event in Spider-Man history. This meeting between Cage and Spidey takes place right after the deaths of Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn and sees a mourning Spider-Man battle it out with Cage.
You see, thinking that Osborn was an innocent man murdered by Spider-Man (Osborn was actually the Green Goblin, but you probably knew that), J. Jonah Jameson hires Cage to take down Spidey. Spidey was nearly broken from the death of his beloved Gwen and was in no mood for Cage. So this issue features Cage taking on a furious Spider-Man and Mr. Cage still held his own! This is basically Cage’s coming out party to Marvel fans everywhere as the issue establishes him as the equal to Marvel’s most popular character.
Power Man #17-18 (1974)
Created by Len Wein and George Tuska
The villain known as Cottonmouth is coming to Netflix, played by Mahershala Ali. Cottonmouth, a vile gangster in control of a massive heroin ring, first appeared in Power Man #17. This issue is also important because it is the comic where the title of Cage’s book transitions from Luke Cage, Hero for Hire to Power Man. Cage faces perhaps his greatest threat in Cottonmouth in these two hard hitting comics that you should read before you binge Netflix’s coming series.
Defenders #17 – 19 (1974-1975)
Writers: Len Wein and Chris Claremont Artist: Sal Buscema
Now, you all know that very soon Luke Cage will be teaming with Iron Fist, Daredevil, and Jessica Jones (and maybe Patsy Walker, the Punisher, Misty Knight, and Elektra) as the Defenders. But old school Marvel fans will tell you that the comic book Defenders were made up of other great heroes entirely, including Doctor Strange, Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Silver Surfer, Nighthawk, Valkyrie, and many others.
But there is a historical precedent for Cage running with a crew of Defenders. In Defenders #17-19, Luke Cage joins with the team to take on the Wrecking Crew. Cage is every bit as badass as Strange and the Hulk and he’s a formidable teammate for this already powerhouse squad of heroes. For years, Cage was a minor footnote in Defenders’ history, but now that he is going to be a founding member of TV’s Defenders, these issues have become a fascinating curiosity, with a crapton of seriously badass Bronze Age action as well.
Fantastic Four #168 (1976)
Writer: Roy Thomas Artist: Rich Buckler
While we’re touring the mainstream Marvel Universe, did you know Luke Cage was once a member of the Fantastic Four?
In Fantastic Four #168, Ben Grimm is cured of being the Thing and the Human Torch is thinking of quitting the team for reasons of his own (spoiler: he wants to get laid). Needing more power, Reed Richards hires Luke Cage to join the team. With Cage in tow, the new FF quickly defeats the Wrecker but it isn’t long before Puppet Master gains control of Cage and sends him after his new teammates. Chaos ensues, Grimm dons a suit of Thing armor (wait, what?!?) and Cage is freed from Puppet Master’s control. With an armor clad Thing back in action (seriously, huh?), Cage and the FF part as pals.
It’s issues like this that show that Marvel really wanted to make Luke Cage a big deal as the writers and artists of Marvel took every opportunity to make sure he rubbed elbows with giants.
Power Man #48-49 (1977-1978)
Writer: Chris Claremont Artist: John Byrne
When people discuss the great writer and artist team of Chris Claremont and John Byrne, it is usually to bring up the team’s industry changing work on Uncanny X-Men. But Claremont and Byrne are also responsible for another great Marvel team-up. Power Man #48-49 presented the first meeting between Power Man and Iron Fist.
In these must read issues, Luke Cage not only meets his lifelong pal Daniel Rand, aka Iron Fist, he also meets Misty Knight and Colleen Wing, two battling women who will also become crime smashing partners with Cage. Played by Simone Missick, Misty Knight will also be appearing in the new Netflix series, but right now, we are here to talk about how important it was for Marvel to pair Power Man and Iron Fist in these issues. The two would go on to be inseparable in the minds of fans for decades to come and this buddy story began here with Cage and Fist meeting, battling, and forging a bond that would become the stuff of legend.
Power Man and Iron Fist #50-125 (1978-1986)
By a ton of the finest creators in comic book history
We were originally going to hit you with some Power Man and Iron Fist highlights, but you know what, read the whole fershugguna run because it rocks. Chris Claremont kicked off this team-up series and was followed by Jo Duffy, Kurt Busiek (in his first pro work in comics), Cage creator Archie Goodwin, and the writer now known as Christopher Priest- Jim Owsley. All these writers presented light hearted yet hard hitting tales of super hero action that are a true pleasure to read. Well, except for Owsley who unceremoniously killed Iron Fist to end the series, but other than that, Power Man and Iron Fist was a joyous romp to some pretty unique corners of the Marvel Universe. We want to single out Jo Duffy in particular as a writer that just had the banter down between Cage and Rand and helped define one of comics’ greatest duos.
Misty Knight and Colleen Wing provided the supporting cast for this series that is still a great read. We can’t wait to see Cage and Fist get together on Netflix in a live action reflection of this beloved series.
By the way, Fist got better and is still kicking ass in the Marvel Universe.
Daredevil #178 (1982)
Writer and Artist: Frank Miller
Foggy Nelson hires Cage and Iron Fist to protect a witness. It’s Frank Miller writing and drawing Luke Cage teaming up with Iron Fist and Daredevil, what else do you need to know? It’s like Miller predicted all this Netflix street level goodness 34 years ago.
Heroes for Hire #1-19 (1997-1998)
Writer: John Ostrander Artist: Pasqual Ferry
Hey, did you know that John Ostrander, creator of the modern day Suicide Squad, once created a super team for Marvel? And did you know that said super team was led by Power Man and Iron Fist?
The intervening years between the end of Power Man and Iron Fist and Heroes for Hire saw a dearth of Luke Cage appearances throughout the Marvel Universe. Yeah, he had his own title for a few years, but like most ’90s books, Cage was a mish mash of ideas and extreme art that kind of took the character down the wrong path. But in 1996’s Heroes for Hire, the classic Cage was back and teaming with Iron Fist once again.
This time, the pair is joined by Black Knight, Hercules, She-Hulk, White Tiger, and Scott Lang’s Ant-Man. The book features a back to his roots Cage as Ostrander and company brought the same energy and fun team dynamics to Marvel that featured so prominently in years of Suicide Squad adventures. Heroes for Hire is almost forgotten these days, but it’s a hidden gem in Luke Cage history, one that allows Mr. Cage to interact with some very cool and often unexpected Marvel heroes.
Alias #1 (2001)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Artist: Michael Gaydos
After Heroes for Hire was cancelled, Luke Cage went back to being a fringe character. That was the case until Cage made his entrance in Alias and into the life of Jessica Jones in 2001. Alias was a groundbreaking comic the likes of which Marvel had never published before. It was laced with profanity and graphic sex and featured a protagonist in Jessica Jones who was truly broken by her life’s events.
When Cage stepped into this world, he was just as rudderless and broken as Jessica and the initial meeting between the two was one of the most honest and painful portrayals of sex ever seen in a mainstream comic. From there, Cage became one of Jessica’s strongest supporting characters and the two found true love in each other’s arms. Through Alias, Cage was introduced to a new generation of Marvel readers and the character would soon reach new heights of popularity and success.
New Avengers #1-5 (2005)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Artist: David Finch
We keep mentioning how Cage kind of took a step back as far as importance in the Marvel Universe goes after Power Man and Iron Fist was cancelled. Well, in the first story arc of Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch’s groundbreaking New Avengers run, Cage took center stage and finally took his place with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
“Breakout” sees Cage joining with classic Avengers Iron Man and Captain America and brand new Avengers like Spider-Man and Wolverine to stop one of the biggest super villain prison breaks in history. Cage shines as he takes on Electro and Kilgrave, but “Breakout” is so darn important because it lifts Cage out of the mean streets of Marvel and into the mainstream spotlight.
The Pulse #11-13 (2005)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Artist: Michael Gaydos
Luke Cage was revitalized by his relationship with Jessica Jones. In these issues of The Pulse, a series focusing on Jessica after she defeats and frees herself of the legacy and influence of Kilgrave, readers learn the history of the relationship between Luke and Jessica. Through a series of flashbacks, Bendis and Gaydos evolve their relationship from casual sex partners to true life partners.
This story sets up Luke and Jessica as a for real adult couple and we suspect as Luke and Jessica grow closer in Marvel’s Netflix world, some of these issues of The Pulse will leak over onto TV.
New Avengers #22 (2006)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Artist: Leinil Francis Yu
Fans never got to see Luke Cage in Marvel’s cinematic Civil War but they certainly got to see him make some hard choices in the comic version. Cage had to choose whether to side with Captain America and his anti-Superhuman Registration squad or Iron Man and his government loyalists. The choice defines everything special about the Luke Cage character as he risks his comfortable life with Jessica Jones and their child, his place on the Avengers, and his personal freedom by joining with Captain America.
This must-read piece of Luke Cage history defines what is so special about this character: that his morality and fortitude are just as unbreakable as his skin. It’s possibly Bendis’ finest hour writing Luke Cage, a character the writer has worked wonders with for years.
New Avengers Annual #1 (2006)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Artist: Olivier Coipel
Luke Cage and Jessica Jones both lived dark, rough lives, but in New Avengers Annual #1, the two super powered lovers live “Happily Ever After.” Of course, this being a superhero wedding things go a bit pear shaped as the Adaptoid shows up and wreaks havoc on these nuptials. But the Avengers are there en masse and the wedding that begins with a brawl and ends with a kiss, as Luke Cage begins his next great adventure, marriage and fatherhood.
Power Man and Iron Fist (2016)
Writer: David F. Walker Artist: Sanford Greene
You just can’t keep a good pair of super pals down. Everything old is new again as Cage and Fist team up to take on some of their old enemies from back in the original run. This book, which by the by, is one of the best books Marvel is publishing right now, hits every nostalgic note while taking both classic heroes to some great new places.
The series pays tribute to the old Power Man and Iron Fist comics of yore while finding fresh new story directions for Luke and Danny. The future is brighter than ever for one of the hardest hitting, baddest men in comics: the groundbreaking, head busting Luke Cage!