Tag Archives: The Mighty Avengers

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 6, Luke Cage

A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 6, Luke Cage

Posted on November 5, 2013 by 

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, Hero for Hire #1 (June 1972). Cover...

Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 (June 1972). Cover art by John Romita, Sr. (background by George Tuska). Series a.k.a. Hero for Hire. Romita credit per Grand Comics Database: Hero for Hire #1 (June 1972); Tuska credit per #S967 The Unofficial Handbook of Marvel Comics Creators: Hero for Hire (1972-1973) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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…

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Comics+Religion+Race: Superman VS. the KKK, The Watchmen, and Deadpool

The Invisibility of [Religious] Watchmen

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.”- Ezekiel 3:17, NIV

Image from DC Wikia

One Sunday [I admit it, it was during church] this summer, I found myself reading DC Comics’ Before Watchmen on Kindle. A couple years ago, when I heard the news of Before Watchmen (without any involvement from Alan Moore), I refused to pay any attention. It just was not going to be the same, with the criticism and somewhat historical outlook of the superhero genre as a whole. One of the things that caught my attention was the character, Hooded Justice of the Minute Men. Hooded Justice (pictured above) is a minor character in the original Watchmen comics/graphic novel. When I first read The Watchmen, it was his image, the mask over his face quite resembling the hood of a Ku Klux Klansman, and the noose around his neck (which brought out the history of black people being lynched in the US). One could assume that Hooded Justice was Moore’s way of connecting the origin story of comics and superheroes to the story of U.S. American vigilantism. One historian has written on Southern white vigilantism and the origins of Robert Kane’s Batman. Of course Batman is a cultural symbol, and symbols change overtime, but that legacy still haunts the comic book genre, since it is seen as something not for People of Color to consume. In fact, the approach of many comic writers and artists is that the presence of racial minorities in comic books is “contrived”. Native American,Black, Asian, & Latin@ heroes/heroines are not “A-Listers”; there is no need for representation for POC, because comics, from the start were inspired by white vigilantism, in defense of the nation-state.

Image from Dark Knight News

If a vigilante, in the modern imagination, is someone who works outside established or legal means to obtain justice for victims, I think a good case could be made that there have been a group of persons of color who would count as vigilantes. One of these would be the late historian and abolitionist philosopher, David Walker, was an outlaw, who had a bounty on his head because he believed in the liberation of both whites and blacks from the institution of chattel slavery. Like Denmark Vesey before him, and Malcolm X and Angela Davis after him, Walker was a silent guardian, a careful watchman, a dark knight.

One of the things I found fascinating about this essay, Invisble (Watch)Men: The Impossibility of the Black Superhero , which concludes,

“we can hope for a different kind of superhero tradition that might makes room for people of color and not be based on violent reinforcement of the status quo and its narratives of criminality which uphold a culture of tacit white supremacy. I want black and brown superheroes that don’t need to be invisible or silent, that don’t need to prove they are “one of the good ones,” but that address the racial underpinnings of the tradition they are a part of. I want social justice superheroes.”

In addition, I would add that for the tradition of real life vigilantism outside that of the white supremacist/George Zimmerman/racial profiling variety, we must look at those who have no had the luxury to “choose” to be outsiders. Rather, it is from the margins of society. those rejected by the world (like David Walker) that we see the potential force justice in vigilante/superhero imagery. This is why we not only discuss race and the superhero genre, but also religion, because you cannot talk about one without the other.

Take for example, Marvel’s soon to be published, the Mighty Avengers, a predominantly Person-Of-Color lead Avengers team; on the surface, this seems like a change of heart from the writer who says diversity can be contrived [RE: POC not invited to the table]. It looks like a step forward in the right direction until an unfortunate cover choice.

Image from Bleeding Cool

Why is this image problematic? Let’s look at it this way, in context. The purpose of Might Avengers is to supposedly make more POC feel more welcome to read Marvel Comics. One of the myths of white supremacy is the intellectual inferiority of African Americans, and how blacks are the closest to apes in the racist human evolutionary chain [thus, Africa is always going to be chosen as the face of cultural backwardness and dependency). Recently, in “progressive” Europe, Italy’s first black minister, Cecile Kyenge had bananas thrown at her. She has faced other moments of racism, but the underlying myth behind the banana throwing is the tale of King Kong (the dangerous black monkey run-amok in white civilization).

One of the more positive and constructive stories I have ran across was the fact that Superman was written as a radio during the 1940’s as a way to take down the Ku Klux Klan. Having listened to the story that you can find on YouTube here, Superman shoved the KKK into unpopularity. It was people like Stetson Kennedy who were the true heroes to expose how the KKK worked; as Chauncey DeVega put quite nicely,

“In the battle against white supremacy and Jim and Jane Crow there were so many heroes who did things quietly, in day-to-day ways, and also from the shadows. Most of them will remain forgotten and unacknowledged except by a small group of people who knew of their exploits. Stetson Kennedy was one such person.

The ugly ghosts of the past are still with us in post civil rights America. But people like Stetson Kennedy fought (and died) so that those voices would be marginalized and mocked. Despite the yearnings of the Tea Party GOP and bigots such as Ted Nugent, formal American Apartheid is dead; thanks to the Black and Brown Freedom Struggle(s) it has been permanently put in the refuse pile of historical anachronisms.

Superman’s help would have been nice. But, the civil rights movements showed us that regular folks are the real superheroes in American life.”

Who will be our heroes today in dismantling white supremacy?