Contains Cage #1-12 (1992) and some of Marvel Comics Presents #82 (1988)
Marc McLaurin (W), Dwayne Turner, Rurik Tyler, Gordon Purcell, Sal Velluto (P), Chris Ivy, Josef Rubinstein, Andrew Pepoy, Brad Vancata (I), Mike Thomas, Kris Renkewitz, Marc McLaurin (C)
Front Cover: Dwayne Turner, Chris Ivy, and Matt Milla
Back Cover: Dwayne Turner and Chris Ivy
Let us ponder for a moment the state of comic books in the 1990’s. It was a…different time. Everything was EXTREEEEEME and RAAAADICAL. Spider-Man had a clone. Superman had a terminal mullet. McFarlane and Liefeld had free reign. Night Thrasher had a skateboard. It was a weird time, and it generally isn’t remembered fondly by people.
There were some cool things that happened though. Grant Morrison had a solid tenure on the JLA that started in the late 90’s. Kingdom Come was published. The Thunderbolts were born.
I also knew that one of my dearest loves, Luke Cage, had a solo comic that was published in the 90’s. Being interested in reading anything that has Luke Cage in it but having a healthy fear of 90’s comic books, I was a little concerned about reading it. I saw the costume he wore then, and that didn’t help my concern.
That being said, I was kindly given the aforementioned collection, Luke Cage: Second Chances, as a Christmas present last December, and I just finished reading it (I would have read it sooner, but I’m constantly collecting graphic novels. I have a schedule by which I read these things. I just got to this one last month. Don’t judge). It is a collection of the first 12 issues of his 90’s comic series, Cage.
Apparently another good thing that happened to comic books in the 90’s is Cage.
I’m not saying it’s a perfect comic book. It certainly has its flaws. It is dripping in the extreme 90’s culture. The dialect that they give to Luke Cage himself is a bit distracting. Two of the villains that face down Cage in this comic are called Hardcore and Kickback. The second of those rogues has massive legs.
However, this was a comic that someone wanted to write. Now, I don’t know all the details of the behind-the-scenes stuff, but this comic reads like Marcus McLaurin wasn’t just saddled with Luke Cage. He wanted to give his take on Luke Cage. He brought this character back from the brink of oblivion after the end of Power Man and Iron Fist and gave him a top-down redesign. This comic has a lot of heart and sincerity in it. It reads like a series that someone truly believed in.
The premise for this series is Luke Cage has moved to Chicago after being absolved of his alleged murder of his former partner, Danny Rand aka Iron Fist. He’s disillusioned with the hero business, and has reestablished his Hero for Hire venture in Chi Town. He’s also trying to drop the “Power Man” moniker in favor of simply being called “Cage.”
After setting up his new business, he is approached by the local news rag, the Chicago Spectator, which is represented by their lawyer and his former colleague Jeryn Hogarth. They suggest a joint partnership where they hire Luke to go out and bust up criminal enterprises, but the Spectator gets exclusive rights to the story. The company also employs P.I. Dakota North and reporter Mickey Hamilton, the latter of whom is assigned to follow Cage and pick up his stories.
From there, Cage comes face to face with a myriad of villains from Rhino, to Nitro, Chicago street gangs, armored white supremacists, other “Power Men,” a new and deadly foe named Hardcore (yep, it was the 90s) and many other enemies.
He’s also forced to face demons of his past. He has to question whether his decision to shut everyone out is the best one. This is further complicated when he is asked to look after a young man named Troop, his old pal Iron Fist returns, and a mystery relating to his family surfaces.
This is an action-packed journey for Luke Cage, but it’s also an emotional one. A lot of the emotion shown is anger, but that’s sort of part of the character arc Luke Cage is going through. He feels rejected by the world, and he is grappling with a solitude brought upon by that anger.
Like I said, the book wasn’t perfect, but it had a lot of spunk. It had ideas that it wanted to convey. It says a lot about gang violence, the causes and what doesn’t work when dealing with it. It makes a statement for the at-the-time budding gangster rap genre and denounces its encouragement of violence. It even discusses the abuse of power by law enforcement, which is a conversation still just as relevant now.
Whether or not you agree with its opinions, you have to respect its dedication to putting out a message of substance.
It also has a surprising amount of character development for Luke Cage himself. He’s at a rough time in his life, with the loss of Iron Fist and feeling completely alone in the world. He is actively resisting connecting with anyone else, but he knows he can’t turn away the young Troop. This creates an internal conflict for Luke.
The action is constant enough to keep the book exciting, and the fight scenes do a fine job of showing the strength being thrown around.
Where it falls short is primarily in the dialogue. It’s more tell than show and over-expository at times. The art is good, but the visual design is lackluster. Luke’s uniform leaves a lot to be desired, and the villains Kickback and Rapidfire don’t look much better.
However, what makes it work above all else is how genuine the book is. If you’re interested in Luke Cage specifically, in getting to know lesser known super heroes, or discovering the star of the upcoming Marvel Netflix series, you should check this book out. It’s rough around the edges, and, like I said, far from perfect. However, it has a lot of heart and it’s engaging. The pacing is good, the characters are relatable, and the action is awesome. Try it out if you see this on the shelves.
Forewarning though, he doesn’t say “Sweet Christmas” once during the entire 12 issues. So, that’s another mark against the series. It’s still worth reading though.
Until next time, keep reading comics!