Check out the introduction for background on this series of posts!
Check out part 1: Green Lantern. Check out part 2: Captain America.Check out part 3: Wolverine. Check out part 4: Power Girl. Check out part 5: Aquaman.
Luke Cage is not the most well known hero in comicdom. In fact, he may be more well known as the guy who Nicolas Cage took his name from. He is also the first Black superhero on the list.
Who is Luke Cage?
Born Carl Lucas, he was raised in Harlem, NY and was involved his whole life in gang activity. When his friend framed him for heroin possession, he was sent to prison and experimented on using a form of super soldier serum. Gaining enhanced strength and invulnerability, he took the name Luke Cage and became a mercenary hero.
Eventually joining the Avengers, Luke Cage has had a dramatic resurgence lately, and remains one of the most complex heroes in Marvel’s universe.
Is this character heroic? Mmmmmm. Not really. Don’t get me wrong, he’s certainly not a bad guy, but he started off as a “hero” for hire. He got paid to be good. While he has grown as a character and as a person, he still is wont to engage in behavior that would be considered un-heroic. (0 points)
Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? Mixed bag on this one. And I guess I am being generous there. At one point, Luke Cage was a self-styled hero of the “ghetto.” His words, not mine. He made large promises to his former communities, but has rarely (if ever) been shown in doing anything positive for them in any meaningful way. In fact, when he joined the Avengers, he moved into the Avengers mansion and very rarely even gets out to the neighborhood he grew up in, much less do community building or organizing. Still, he represents and talks a good game, even if he isn’t shown to follow through on his convictions… (0.5 points)
Does this character kill? I wasn’t able to remember many times he has killed, beyond fighting Diamnondback, who accidentally killed himself while he fought with Cage. Still, he has watched and approved while others have killed or planned to, and he has expressed no qualms about it, so I am going to say he would if given motive and opportunity. (0 points)
Does this character have a spirituality? Not that I can recall. I hesitate to say no, but he is often described as down to earth, streetwise, etc… in contrast to the unearthly and spiritual Iron Fist that he so often teams with. (0 points)
Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? Very much so. In fact, this character has had the single greatest growth arc that I can recall out of any character I have read. He actually goes from a hard-knock life street kid to imprisoned, to a mercenary, to an Avenger, and along the way has a kid and gets married. And these things, unlike most events in comics, do not allow him to remain the same person he was before. His narrative arc has a direction. He is a better father and husband than most anyone else in comics and he continues to be funny and awesome. (1 point)
Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? Yes. His wife and child are not simply support, but are characters in thier own right. Specifically, his wife Jessica is a hero on her own. When Luke appears with the avengers, or alongside the other Heroes for Hire, he does not outshine them, but brings everyone up along with him (1 points)
Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? No. I guess I could always go buy a yellow shirt though… (0 bonus points)
Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? Actually, yes. While his attitude towards killing and heroics leave some to be desired, he is ultimately a family man, and unlike most other, rather selfish, superheroic parents, he has routinely refused to do full-time superheroics in order to live a more peaceful life with his family. (1 Points)
Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Yeah. He has sortof typical invulnerability and strength, but that is it. The powers themselves are sort of ordinary, but that is only because most heroes who have those also have a bunch of other powers, too. So having Luke be a sort of one-trick pony as far as powers are concerned actually makes his powers all the more interesting where stories are concerned. (1 point)
A note about Luke Cage and black superheroes: Black superheros suck. They don’t suck on principle. They certainly don’t suck because they are black. But they suck because nearly every single one is exploitative (Luke Cage, Black Lightning/Black Vulcan, Tattooed Man), derivative (Steel, Green Lantern, Goliath, Nick Fury, Spiderman (Miles), Batwing) and/or obnoxiously stereotypical (Brother Voodoo, Rocket Racer). This is largely because Black heroes have mostly been written by white dudes who, even when they were trying to be nice, often played on their own fantasies about what an ideal black person should be like. Well, either that, or a variation of the “noble savage” trope. The exceptions to this rule are the new Aqualad, Storm from the X-men (who has become recently problematic), and the characters from Milestone Comics, which were created by Dwayne McDuffie. McDuffie, who was black himself, was able to create a stable of characters who were black, but refused to be defined by the color of their skin alone. A gripe of mine about this list is that Static won’t be on it because his book was cancelled recently, and wasn’t really given a chance.
In general, black comic heroes have functioned far more to reinforce stereotypes and/or allay white fears about blacks rather than actually change perceptions of blacks or fairly represent them. Comics may pretend to be racially diverse and all that, but when the Justice League had to recreate the entire universe just to make it possible for a black guy (Cyborg) to be on the team (as opposed to simply replacing the white Green Lantern with a black version), then you know something is wrong… I wish there were more and stronger black heroes to put on this list, but Storm, Cyborg, and Luke Cage will have to do, depsite none of them having thier own comic books to draw inspiration from.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 8 points
Tune in next time for a discussion of Iron Man…