A fluff-coated article about Luke Cage
On screen, Cage favors a shaved-head look and street clothes, which is more or less how he's depicted in the comics, where he's a valued member of various Avengers teams. He's also been, in the past, a fill-in member of the Fantastic Four, as well as an occasional part of the informal pseudo-team known as the Defenders -- of which we'll have more to say anon.Although the article does mention later on (albeit very half-heartedly) that Luke did grow his hair normally in better days, the way this part's written down could easily make you think TPTB made drastic changes to his physical appearance pretty quickly, when it really happened post-2000, after Brian Bendis took over and resorted to some lazy cliches. Which, in fact, is an even worse problem with this column - there's no opinion given on whether the most recent takes on Luke's appearance are even in good taste. Personally, I think the shaved-head look is very unappealing, and makes Luke out to look like he doesn't have much self-respect. Just a nod to a degrading form of subculture, IMO.
His initial outfit was an eye-opener, to say the least. Black Spandex leggings were matched with a yellow, chest-baring silk shirt; yellow boots; a chain belt and a metal headband/tiara. Much has been made of the chain imagery and the name "cage," but probably more thought has gone into it by readers than by the creators. For me, though, the baffler was the tiara (topped with the requisite '70s Afro). As they say in the comics, "What th-?"Yawn. He's not the only hero or combatant to wear a headband, and it actually did look pretty cool for a vigilante. The open-shirted look was considered a macho idea during the 70s/80s, and probably helped appeal to girls, so what's his point? There were some movie stars and celebrities who dressed that way back in the day.
Speaking of euphemisms, "Luke Cage" strove for an urban, street-level grittiness, and -- surprisingly -- often succeeded, despite its G-rated nature. But one thing Cage couldn't do was cuss, so his go-to phrase was -- and I am not making this up -- "Sweet Christmas!"And Superman's was "great guns/Krypton", and either he or Perry White's was also "great Caesar's ghost". Wonder Woman's was "suffering Sappho", "great Hera", and "merciful Minerva" (Donna Troy may have used at least one of those to boot pre-Crisis). Robin's was "holy fill-in-the-blank". And Kid Flash's was "jumpin' jets". What's the big deal if Archie Goodwin and John Romita Sr. wanted to do their own variation on DC's own exclamations coming from at least a few of their heroes? Were they supposed to be cussing too? Oh, and I don't see what's so G-rated about a book that did involve issues like race relations, drug trafficking and deaths when it originally began in the early 70s.
Some of this made the Li'l Capn -- a middle-class white kid in the South, all too familiar with ugly racial stereotypes -- a little uncomfortable. Anecdotally, though, the black kids I knew didn't mind the cringe-worthy elements in "Luke Cage." They were just so happy to see a superhero that looked like them that they loved the book. It's possible they felt like I did when I first saw nerdy, bullied Peter Parker, and felt the electric shock of recognition.Umm, what stereotypes are we talking about here? Would that include the new shaved-head look Cage sports today, which is ludicrous? Why do I get the feeling it doesn't?
So "Luke Cage" could get away with "Sweet Christmas" and a chain belt. And a supervillain named "Black Mariah," who was a hugely fat black woman who stole from ambulances. And black thugs who spoke and dressed like Huggy Bear on "Starsky and Hutch."Okay, I can concur that the idea of an overweight black woman in itself does sound insulting. But since when didn't anybody living in that era ever dress like Antonio Fargas on the notable 1975-79 police series (one of the first at the time to feature a sense of humor) in real life? Now that I think of it, there were other people on the same show who could dress in street clothes not all that different from his, so I don't see what the point is here either. (I guess the clown who wrote this column won't even thank the producers for an episode in the 1st season where a motel manager was seen reading a copy of Werewolf by Night either, eh? I should know, I've seen all 93 episodes!)
Even that didn't keep Cage's sales viable forever, so with issue #50 he got a partner -- Danny Rand, a.k.a. Iron Fist. Raised in the extra-dimensional city of K'un Lun, Rand was a world-class martial artist who could also channel the power of his chi, turning his fist "like unto a thing of iron," as the text kept reminding us.Which it did. But hold it, what's this about a "privileged" white guy? Danny may have grown up in an all but other-worldly city where he was raised by the local leadership to become a master martial artist, but going back home, he was anything but a true millionaire, and initially got framed for the murder of businessman Harold Meachum, which put him in a position not all that different from what Luke Cage had to live through for a time. That's hardly what I'd call a privileged kind of life.
Now, to normal people, teaming a streetwise black superhero with a privileged white superhero might be like unto a thing of crazy. But it made perfect sense to fans, who recognized what the two had in common: Both were the products of fads that had faded (blaxploitation, kung fu films), and both had books on the verge of cancellation. Combining them might reap the readership of both fan bases, and keep both characters in print.
The new Power Man TV show may find success, but this column doesn't do either that or the source material any justice with its pretentious approach.