Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hero for Hire no more: Luke Cage, Powerman!

When Luke Cage first appeared in 1971, it was such a big event that Stan Lee highlighted the character in his Bullpen Bulletins Soapbox column:

Hero for Hire in Stan Soapbox

When I think of Luke Cage, I also remember Richard Roundtree and Isaac Hayes.  Shaft.  The one movie I wanted to see, because it looked so damn cool in those movie posters, but I couldn't get in because it was rated R.  Then there was Shaft's Big Score, Shaft Goes to Africa, and eventually Shaft came to CBS in a series of TV movies.  But I digress. 

Shaft had taken off, and Marvel wanted a character who could claim some of that glory.  Hero for Hire #1 premiered.  Despite some great stories by Archie Goodwin and Steve Englehart, the sales must have not been as great as Marvel hoped.

In 1973, we saw this ad in Marvel Magazines...

Luke Cage Powerman house ad

I think the fact checkers at Marvel were out to lunch when this ad was being pasted together.  The "first and still greatest black superhero of all"?  We all know that the Black Panther appeared in 1966, making him Marvel's first black superhero.

Perhaps Marvel thought that "Hero for Hire" was way too mercenary sounding.  Luke Cage needed to be seen as more of a superhero.  His title was renamed "Luke Cage, POWERMAN!" with issue #17.

Luke Cage Powerman debut issue 17

This bombastic cover by Gil Kane really shows off Cage's invulnerable steel-hard skin.  To make it even more of a re-launch, this issue featured Cage fighting Iron Man.  Steel-hard skin against Iron-clad armor!  Of course, they kissed and made up by the end.

There is a funny story behind this name change. 

Stan Lee had a gentleman's agreement with DC Comics never to infringe on copyrights by making an opposite-sex version of a character.  Wonder Man, who seems like a male version of Wonder Woman from the sound of it, appeared in Avengers #9.  He was killed off by the end and Stan Lee assured DC he would never come back.

Power Girl first appeared in 1976 in All Star Comics #58.  It was not a one-time appearance, this was an ongoing character!  Stan was mad, the gentleman's agreement was off, and Wonder Man came back to life in Avengers #152.

Power Girl joke

Mark Gruenwald did this gag in What If #34 as an in-joke to this controversy, with a female version of Power Man--Marvel's Power Girl!  I kind of think she looks better in that outfit than Cage!

I have been surprised and pleased by Brian Bendis' love for Luke Cage, highlighting the character in Alias, the Pulse, and in New Avengers.  Bendis has given the character a great arc, from relative obscurity to a leader of superheroes..  And there is no need for tiaras or silly code names.  You can't have a name cooler than Luke Cage!  Nuff said.

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