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Monday, January 15, 2007

Luke Cage Needs To Know: Where's My Money, Honey?

It should be pretty obvious by now, but on the off chance that this is your first day at the ISB, here's the score: When it comes to the mid-70s silk shirt and tiara-sporting Heroes For Hire version, I love some Luke Cage. Even as mired in the stereotypes of the time as he was (and often continues to be, albeit with updated stereotypes), he's a lot of fun, and as someone who considers seeing Shaft in high school to be a life-changing event, there's something immensely satifsying about seeing him beat the living bejeezus out of pretty much everyone who steps to the plate.

But this, of course, is the problem: If there's one thing that really held Luke Cage back, it's his truly abysmal rogues gallery. If he wasn't fighting some low-rent joker like Stiletto and his amazingly bad costume, it was the pure genius that is Mace (the villain), whose right hand was a mace (the medieval weapon) that shot mace (the chemical spray).

Of course, sometimes he fights Doctor Doom.

Yes, it's Hero For Hire #9's Steve Englehart/George Tuska classic, "Where Angels Fear To Tread," and it is quite possibly the single most ridiculously awesome Bronze Age Marvel story not written by Bill Mantlo, brought to you tonight in rich, monochromatic Reprintovision, courtesey of the Essential Luke Cage v.1.

But first, a little backstory: In the previous issue, Luke had been hired by a shady character to take down a few guys who stole his boss's "company secrets," and as these things so often do, they naturally turned out to be robots created by Dr. Doom who escaped to America after fleeing his decidedly nonrobocentric regime. So why bother with getting Luke Cage for the job? Well, according to von Doom, the robots have disguised themselves as black men, none of whom live in Latveria, and therefore he--and I quote--"needed a black, and I needed to hire him. Enter: Luke Cage."

Of course, Luke does the job and beats up the robots in question, but not before Dr. Doom skips town to avoid paying his fee. This, as you might expect, was a bad idea.

And that should bring you right up to speed for Hero For Hire #9, which opens with Cage taking the sensible route when you have a problem with Dr. Doom: He fights his way into the Baxter Building, punches out the Thing, and then demands that Reed Richards loan him a rocketship so that he can go to Latveria and give Doc Doom the business. Fortunately for Luke, he's been getting some positive press in the Daily Bugle lately--yeah, that Daily Bugle--and Reed decides hey, what the hell, and gives him a spare pogo plane that he had laying around.

An hour later, and Luke's entering Latverian airspace, and thanks to Doom's security forces, he crash-lands just in time for the Thursday afternoon revolt. And this time, it's robots!

But more importantly, this is where the story starts to go completely off the rails:

Apparently, Mysterio's older brother up there is a holdout from Astonishing Tales, and he's made it his mission in life to help a ragtag group of slave robots to rise up against their master, which, really, just begs the question of why Dr. Doom went through the trouble of programming an aversion to being robot slaves into his robot slaves. Either way, Luke flat-out refuses to be manipulated by the alien's talk of putting an end to robot slavery, and decides to pitch in while they assault the castle, causing a distraction while he kicks in the door of Doomstadt to face down the Marvel Universe's deadliest villain.

And that is how we arrive at a scene that eclipses even PMIF #75's contender for the single greatest Luke Cage panel of all time:

Even better is the next panel, where Dr. Doom is utterly shocked that Luke Cage flew halfway across the planet in a rocket plane to recover $200. Even in 1972 dollars, that's a little extreme, but, well, it's the principle of the thing.

Clearly, there can be only one outcome:

...and that goes on for four glorious pages where those two dudes just wreck a good portion of Doom's castle, right up until Luke's able to gain the upper hand by discovering Dr. Doom's secret weakness:

"I forged my armor to withstand anything--except repeated stress on a solitary point!

So essentially, Dr. Doom's armor is completely impenentrable, unless you punch him a lot. Suddenly, the robots programmed with a "violent rebellion" subroutine start to make a lot more sense.

Anyway, before Luke can capitalize on his tactic of, y'know, punching Dr. Doom a lot, the bubble-headed alien from seven pages ago shows up with a laser pistol and a plan to blast Dr. Doom into several pieces. Luke, of course, wants no part of a cold-blooded murder, and ends up saving Dr. Doom's life by dropping a balcony on the offending extra-terrestrial, which Doom thinks is an absolute riot.

So Cage gets his two hundred bucks, Doom wanders off to crush a robot rebellion, and everything pretty much works out okay. Because in Latveria, first you get respect. Then you get the money.

And then you get the women.

BONUS FEATURE: Is George Tuska Marvel's Aparo?!

I've made a lot of references to the work of legendary Batman artist Jim Aparo, whose major claim to fame for me is the fact that when he draws Batman punching someone, it looks like they are permanently wrecked, to the point where they're often drawn with their heads exploding under the force of Batman's fists. Imagine my joy, then, when I read the following panels from Hero For Hire #5, by George Tuska and Billy "Presumably Not The Televangelist" Graham:

Sweet Christmas!

(Special thanks to Phil Looney, who pointed this issue out to me)


Blogger Filthy McMonkey said...

Ah...Sweet Christmas indeed.

I was wondering how long it would take you to do a piece on Luke's Latverian escapades. It was all I had hoped for, and more.


1/16/2007 2:27 AM

Blogger McGone said...

This Cage story seems to be about 18 different shades of ape-shit crazy.

1/16/2007 3:12 AM

Blogger LaRue said...

This...is astonishing. I'm in awe of the coolness of this issue.

Or at least, the coolness of your review of it.

I don't know whether to assume that this Doom is the geniune article or the Doombot imposter. Either way, awesome.

1/16/2007 3:52 AM

Blogger LurkerWithout said...

The world needs more Luke Cage. Sure thanks to Bendis' giant man-crush, 616 Luke Cage is getting plenty of panel time. But what about Ultimate Luke Cage? Or 1602 Luke Cage? Or Luke Cage 2099?!?

1/16/2007 4:01 AM

Blogger Steven Hardina said...

Stiletto's ridiculous costume aside, that cover for Hero for Hire #16 is awesome because it shows that Luke Cage can fight a z-lister who throws tiny knives in what looks like the middle of nowhere and still utterly demolish the only building around in the course of beating on him.

1/16/2007 4:28 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tuska is the bomb!
His long work on Iron Man should solidify that fact. Cripes, just look at the old Shellhead/Herc battle you posted a few days ago.
Nobody can draw a punch like Tuska.

That panel of Doom laughing and getting ready to throw back a few beers with Cage is most excellent.

1/16/2007 6:49 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If there's one thing all comic geeks can agree on, it's this..

That "This is a sample of my fist!" is the most awesome line of pure badassery ever lettered in a superhero comic, and should be the official motto of the Invincible Super-Blog.

1/16/2007 7:48 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, Cage punched that one guy so hard, not only did his head explode, but the sleeves of Cage's yellow shirt were damaged by the blast. I think Tuska just out-Aparo'd Aparo.

1/16/2007 8:26 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Cage-Doom story is also fun because of the slight meta-fictional tone it has. As this was the first time in his publication history in which Luke had really interacted with an established part of the Marvel Universe, Doom asking him how long he thought he could operate in his little circle without running into the rest of the world is very amusing. It was almost as if the creative team was saying, alright, we've got a good concept on our hands, time to open things up a little bit.

"Hero For Hire/Power Man" was always a book you could count on for seeing someone getting their face re-arranged. I always thought getting cracked in the skull by Luke Cage would probably leave you with a headache for the rest of your (now shortened) life.

1/16/2007 8:32 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Dr. Doom really call Cage "the ultimate" or did you do a little pannel tweaking there?

1/16/2007 8:39 AM

Blogger gravitybear said...

"Ridiculous costume" and Stiletto...
Why did I imagine he would be wearing heels?

1/16/2007 8:48 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is probably my favorite Marvel comic of all time.

This issue also features the awesome scene where Mr. Fantastic is so impressed by Luke Cage breaking into the Baxter Building that he gives Cage a rocketship.

Then again, Luke's argument can be pretty convincing: "You have a rocket and Luke Cage doesn't."

1/16/2007 9:46 AM

Blogger Kevin Church said...

Gosh, talking about that comic is so 23 months ago.

Of course, you have the patience to, you know, scan pages and stuff...

1/16/2007 9:55 AM

Blogger Nathan P. Mahney said...

I picked this up for 20 cents a few years ago (along with a whole lot of other Power man comics), and this was the best of 'em. I remembered Luke went there for his 200 dollars, but I'd forgotten the aliens and robots...

1/16/2007 12:38 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great observation about the Aparo/Tuska comparison. I think you're onto something there, Chris.

Outside of Tuska's tendency to give many of his guy characters huge buck teeth, his action artwork is some of the best. And who can forget the unique Tuska "finger array", where fingers on male characters were usually drawn stuck together while splaying down at an angle. It's not hard to spot....he did it all the time.

By the way....did George Tuska die...or is he still among us?

1/16/2007 2:51 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, also, just recently got this, though in my case it was for 50 cents.

And man, is it a doozy. (And I like to think that even I'd read it when I was 12, that "repeated pounding to one point" part would have made no sense.)

1/16/2007 3:20 PM

Blogger Chud said...


I love the 70s, but I have a request for reviews of two 80s comics. That is, if you ever get your hands on them. The first is the Wolfpack, about a gang of anti-drug kids in New York. They definitely had their own limited series, and they were also often a feature in Marvel Comics Presents.

The other comic is the X-Terminators... the teen offshoot of X-Factor that featured Rictor, Boom-boom and a kid with a mutant wheelchair.

In fact... both teams had wheelchair bound members.

I swear I don't have a fetish.

1/16/2007 4:43 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Y'all remember Damage Control? Dwayne McDuffie's series in the late '80s about a company in the Marvel Universe that fixes up all the messes left by superhero throw-downs. It's popped up in recent Wolverine issues as a part of the whole Civil War affair. Y'all remember that?

Anyhow, there was an issue where the company sent comptroller Albert Cleary to settle a bill at the Latverian Embassy. So, with intern in tow, off Albert goes. After getting some static from the staff, the DC people meet Dr. Doom himself and lay the bill on him.

Turns out the good Doctor is unfailingly polite and courteous in paying his bill, even paying a small late fee without any qualms. He even offers Albert a job with Doom, doing Lord knows what, and is courteous and understanding when the offer is politely rejected. Off goes the DC people, with bill paid and Doom's admiration.

The character Albert Cleary is African-American. So is Dwayne McDuffie, now that I think about it.

Makes you think, don't it.

1/16/2007 5:56 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I first heard about this issue from an old Basement Tapes column on CBR. It sounded like the most awesome comic of all time.

http://comicbookresources.com/columns/index.cgi?column=tbt&article=2175 -- about a fifth of the way down.

After seeing your take on it, Chris, I am happy to agree with Messers Casey and Fraction.

1/16/2007 6:45 PM

Blogger Richelle Mead said...

No, Chris. You are the ultimate.

1/16/2007 10:44 PM

Blogger Chris Sims said...

Rock rockin' it!

And for the record, I didn't do anything to these scans but balance the colors: Doctor Doom really does say that to Cage.

As for making "Here's a sample of my fist!" the official motto of the ISB, I might just do it. Even though I'd have to replace old motto.

1/16/2007 11:05 PM

Blogger Chance said...

What Matt T. said...

As awesome as this issue is --- and it's damn awesome --- I'm not sure the writer fully grasped Doom's character. Dr. Doom wouldn't stiff anybody, and learning that he did owe money, would promptly pay up. Sure, he'd sell his loved ones to Satan (and did), but Doom's word is his bond.

1/16/2007 11:35 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

I have the overwhelming need to point out that in the Finnish language "tuska" means distress or agony.

Thanks for a great blog!

1/17/2007 9:14 AM

Blogger Jeff Rients said...


My rather uncharitable reading is that Doom thought promises to black people didn't count. Until Mr. Cage taught him the error of his ways.

1/17/2007 12:03 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tuska has 901 penciller credits at comics.org, starting in 1938. Everything after 1985 appears to be a reprint. His wikipedia entry does not list a date of death, so apparently he's still with us but no longer working.

1/17/2007 12:29 PM

Blogger nightfly said...

Not only does Cage actually break Dr. Doom's armor, he hits him so hard HIS MASK LOOKS SAD. Holy crap!

Word verification: "uzxcszs" - the noise Doom's armor made when the weapons shorted out.

1/17/2007 12:51 PM

Blogger Steve Goble said...

I have tears in my eyes, thank you.

1/17/2007 6:30 PM

Blogger Martin Wisse said...

The comics Billy Graham was Black, which the preacher man wasn't, so they are unlikely to have been the same person.

IIRC Billy Graham had quite a long career, starting in the forties or fifties up to the late seventies.

1/18/2007 7:59 AM

Blogger Steve Goble said...

...and the preacher man isn't a televangelist either! :)

1/18/2007 12:31 PM

Blogger Chance said...

jeff's reading is perhaps right... That would be an interesting subtext. Fight the man, Luke!

1/18/2007 7:25 PM

Blogger Alexander Wolfe said...

Lord almighty, that was wonderful hilarious. Linkage indeed.

1/19/2007 10:25 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the coolest things I have ever seen.

5/25/2007 4:24 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nice post!

9/09/2007 7:18 AM

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12/13/2008 1:25 AM

Anonymous Martin Wellington said...

doom is the real cold villain and i love his Costume he looks very scary

4/17/2010 1:12 AM


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