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Luke Cage

February 9, 2014

In talking about African-American superhero characters, it would be a major oversight not to mention Luke Cage. Whether you call him "Hero for Hire," "Power Man," "Avenger" or something else, he's been one seriously tough customer since he first showed up in 1972.

The old Marvel title page intro put it like this: “Wrongly convicted and sentenced to prison - reborn in a freak experiment there that gave him steel-hard skin and strength beyond belief - a man who hides his identity as an escaped convict in the role of Hero For Hire!”

Luke Cage debuted in Hero For Hire #1 in June 1972. Hero For Hire ran through #16 (December 1973), when the title changed to Power Man with #17. Power Man continued as a solo title through #49 (February 1978). The following issue, though, would bring a profound change, one that would propel Luke Cage into the permanent ranks of Marvel's superheroes.

Iron Fist, one of Marvel's martial arts-inspired series of the 1970s (along with Master of Kung-Fu and the black & white magazine Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu), had been canceled after 15 issues in his own series and 11 issues of Marvel Premiere. Power Man had never been near the top of the sales charts either.

Iron Fist was Daniel “Danny” Rand, a child of wealth, privilege and incredible martial arts training skills and powers. Cage was a man of the streets, with no formal training and brawler's sensibility when it came to getting things done. Iron Fist was white, Power Man was black, and some people quite frankly thought it would never work.

Power Man & Iron First #50 debuted the series' new title with a splashy, movie poster-esque cover, formally completing the team-up that had began in Power Man #48. The naysayers were quickly silenced as these characters with next to nothing in common found an incredible dynamic in their interaction and teamwork. Looking back with modern hindsight, it seems like a no-brainer putting such near-opposites together, but this was way before Lethal Weapon and the other buddy flicks of the '80s and '90s.

Power Man & Iron Fist #125 was the final issue of the series, but the characters have been firmly reestablished in the Marvel universe in the past few years. Iron Fist once again had his own title, and Luke Cage has played a part in such titles as Alias, The Pulse and then a major role in New Avengers.

Luke Cage was even briefly a member of the Fantastic Four (beginning in Fantastic Four #168) when Ben Grimm lost his powers and reverted briefly to human form.

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