A few months ago, to coincide with the release of the new Netflix show, Marvel Comics released a Luke Cage miniseries by Genndy Tartakovsky to get fans excited. While it was a strong book that returned Cage to his Blaxploitation roots, it didn’t necessarily mesh with the style of the character strutting across screens.
Wanting to really capitalize on Cage’s new popularity, Marvel has launched a brand new series, appropriately titled Luke Cage, by David F. Walker and Nelson Blake II. While it doesn’t break the mold of what a Luke Cage comic can be, it does scratch the itch of seeing an entertaining comic featuring the character.
In my review of Tartkovsky’s miniseries Cage!, I wrote about how it felt more geared towards fans of Tartakovsky instead of viewers looking for something closer to Mike Colter’s portrayal of the character. This series hits on the latter by establishing within the first pages Cage’s “hero to the common man” status quo. He’s not about saving the world or fighting intergalactic aliens – here he’s more concerned with helping those that feel forgotten in a world filled with superheroes.
It’s clear that Walker understands the character better than most other writers currently working in comics (save for Brian Michael Bendis, who brought the character back to popularity through his New Avengers run). He wastes no time in making Cage instantly relatable even as he goes about his job. Even something as simple as having Cage talk with a girl about the power the word “love” has and its abuse by those with ulterior motives makes Walker’s rendition of Cage remain a strong carryover from his recently cancelled Power Man and Iron Fist.
Walker also hits on the physical strength and self-assurance Cage has gained from being a hero for so long. In this first issue Cage knows the extent of his powers and isn’t afraid to use them if it means keeping innocents safe. Walker gives Cage a swagger and bravado that aligns well with the character’s established personality. In one standout moment in the issue, Cage drops a (somewhat) traditional superhero monologue to a group of masked thugs that, though at times may veer towards the cliche, comes across as a fun build towards a great fight scene.
This, unfortunately, leads me to the biggest complaint of the issue, in that the book doesn’t seem to break any new ground story-wise. The basic plot of the first issue brings Cage back to his grounded roots as he heads to New Orleans to mourn the death of the scientist that gave him his powers. This leads him into a nefarious plot that tests the resiliency of his powers (specifically his invulnerability) and aligns him with a former enemy to save the day.
Not necessarily revolutionary storytelling material.
Now, this could all be a set-up to lure readers into buying the book. Have a story arc that aligns with the aesthetic of the kind of narrative new fans are looking for, then dovetail into some more intriguing and compelling stories is a possible route it’ll take. But the basic flavor of this first issue makes me wish Walker was still writing Power Man and Iron Fist. Despite that book’s sluggish sales, it did more with Cage early on than this first issue does. Hopefully this new series will have a guest appearance from Iron Fist soon enough to shake things up.
Blake’s art also brings a fun, if basic style to the series. There’s a sleekness to the way he renders his pages. One particular page is reminiscent of some of Jamie McKelvie’s images in The Wicked + The Divine, showcasing Cage fighting his way through several goons as he descends into the sub-level of a bar to rescue a hostage. Coupled with Walker’s prosaic writing and strong characterization of Cage, this first issue shows potential for what this series could blossom into.
But even the art makes me long for the days of Walker’s partnership with Sanford Greene on Power Man and Iron Fist (clearly you should check out that book, which I spoke about briefly here). Even a look similar to Luke Cage: Noir would be appreciated. The settings Blake renders have a strange antiseptic quality to them that doesn’t seem to fit the story. From a dive bar in Harlem to a New Orleans graveyard, one would think there would be some grit and grime to the background. Blake’s art is very nice to look at, but feels disconnected from what the real thing would actually look like.
Luke Cage doesn’t immediately get off to the strongest of starts. It sometimes veers into comic book cliche and feels like a watered-down spinoff to Power Man and Iron Fist (seriously, go check it out). But this first issue manages to hit several strong notes that make it very readable and worth sticking around to see where the creators take the character.