One of the most vibrant Marvel heroes in the modern age has been none other than Luke Cage. For decades since his creation in 1972 he was generally type-cast as a one-note blaxploitation character, but since his re-introduction in the early 2000s in Alias and on through his starring roles as a member of the Avengers and sometimes leader of the Thunderbolts, the man formerly known as Power Man has been broadened from being a stereotype to being a fully-fleshed out force in comics.
Originally best known for his team-up with Iron Fist, recent years and recent writers have repositioned Cage as an integral part of the modern Avengers line-up; a super-strong bruiser but someone with a deep moral center that rivals Captain America.
In this week’s Where Do I Start?, we cover the various portrayals of Cage over the years and find a common thread of a man coming to terms with his powers and coming of age as a hero, husband and member of his community. And we show him kicking some ass.
Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 2: This book collects the second half of Power Man’s 1970s solo series, which showed then-newcomers Chris Claremont and John Byrne hone their skills before they went on to do Uncanny X-Men. Of specific importance in this is issues #48 and #49, in which Claremont and Byrne first introduce Iron Fist into Cage’s world but also has Cage’s criminal record (which inadvertently gave him his powers) cleared once and for all.
Alias, Vol. 4: The Secret Origins of Jessica Jones: This is a story about Jessica Jones, but these final issues of Alias show Jones coming to terms with herself and also her relationship with Luke Cage. Through this, Luke Cage is really humanized as a three-dimensional character; more than he’d arguably ever received before. If you really want to know the modern-day Luke Cage, it’s important to see him in relation to Jessica.
Luke Cage: Noir: Marvel’s noir line wasn’t well known for its character-defining moments, but writers Mike Benson and Adam Glass and artist Shawn Martinbrough really showed how strong a character he is when they remade him as a 1930s Harlem hero. Shifting him back to this time period really shook off the tinge of blaxploitation of the character has had with him since his 1970s debut and instead deliver a poignant and timeless portrayal of Cage that is an excellent examination of the core character.
The Pulse, Vol. 3: Fear: Writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos brought Luke Cage back into the mainstream mix at Marvel through his relationship with Jessica Jones in Alias. In these final four issues of The Pulse, we see Cage and Jones’ relationship and different careers really come to a head here. This book succinctly flashes back to their first meeting, and paves the way for their wedding in New Avengers Annual #1, which is also included in this collection.
Essential Luke Cage, Power Man Vol. 1: Have you ever let someone borrow money and not get it back? Imagine if you were Luke Cage…. Then imagine it was Doctor Doom that borrowed the money. It’s only two issues as part of a larger collection, but those two issues by Steve Englehart and George Tuska where Luke Cage goes to Latveria to get his money back neatly define the character in those times and give him one of his first major face-offs with a top-tier Marvel villain.