Luke Cage: A Life In Stereotype
Not too long ago, Morgan Freeman made the comment that the idea of Black History Month is "ridiculous," and I can't say I blame him. The whole idea is to highlight a section of history that might otherwise go undiscussed, but a lot of times it comes off more as a confinement of something that should just be a part of everything else.
And really, if you're still a racist in two thousand and six, then no amount of elementary school reports on the many uses of peanuts is going to change it. You're beyond help.
That's why I think we should get rid of it, replacing it instead with a little thing I like to call Black Spring Break History Month: four weeks of study and discourse on 1998's forgotten classic of film. And its sequel. Because apparently... there was a sequel.
But until that glorious day when director Marlon Parry is hailed as the genius he truly is, I'll just have to work with what I'm given. Which brings me, in a ridiculously roundabout sort of way, to Luke Cage. Because what better way to examine Black History in comics than a look back at the history of the character with the uncanny ability to embody a stereotype whenever he appears.
Scott has this theory that Luke Cage is just one of those guys that we all know who runs out every few years, finding out what the kids these days are into, deciding everything he's done up to this point is stupid and reinventing himself in accordance with the new trends. That makes him seem like more of an affable dope than a self-renewing stereotype, especially when Brian Bendis is trying to write "street." Let's take a look:
Feast thine eyes on Hero For Hire #1, Luke's first appearance, kickin' it blaxploitation style as he uses the Man's own dastardly experiments to get over in the world of ex-con superheroics. Oddly enough, this one's going to end up being the least offensive version of Luke Cage, although there was that cringe-worthy time that Iron Man suggested he refer to himself as "The Ace of Spades."
Jesus, Tony. Just how drunk were you?
Anyway, Luke stuck with this basic look--which inexplicably included a tiara--for a while during his partnership with Marvel's other '70s genre hero and fan of the high-collar, Iron Fist, even sporting the look during the high point of his career, this panel from Power Man and Iron Fist #75:
Then came the '90s, and CAGE, the series where Luke decided to forego his yellow pirate shirt in favor of a leather jacket and metal shin-guards. He also started dropping the Flava Flav-esque "BOYEE" into his conversation with alarming regularity:
Yes, Cage. Yes it is.
(For the record, the story that panel is from involves the Punisher getting cut up by Jigsaw and having new skin grafted to his face by a former med student turned heroin-addict prostitute, which has the result of turning him black for three issues until a story called, and I'm totally serious here, "Fade to White." That, friends, is deserving of its own post.)
That revamp didn't stick either, leading to his appearance in Alias, where Brian Bendis re-established him as an anal sex enthusiast, which subsequently became his most defining characteristic in the past five years. Then came Brian Azzarello's version a few months later, where he hangs out in Harlem strip clubs demanding "a couple hunny" for his services and sporting a costume of sunglasses, gold chains, and headphones that he presumably uses to listen to the "rap" music that the kids like so much. Charming!
Apparently, that's what it takes to get a spot on the Avengers these days, because all he really does otherwise is hang out saying things like "Damn, Girl!" whenever Spider-Woman walks by, and dropping my favorite of Bendis's attempts at slang, "Man, if we wouldn'ta shown up in his face, he'd be wearing a Hydra robe and doin' the robot."
Yep. The Robot. That's what's hot on the streets, all right.
The whole thing adds up to make the current iteration of Cage the most grotesquely stereotypical we've ever had, even without cribbing lines from Public Enemy. And yet, the only person who seems to notice is Robert Kirkman's Invincible:
Maybe it'd be a little bit better if Luke's super-hero costume didn't look like it was cribbed directly from Ali G's closet. Booyakasha!