Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cage (1992) [Comics]

In the 1970s, Luke Cage was the co-star in a long-running Marvel series, Power Man and Iron Fist. When the series was suddenly cancelled, Cage floated around in the background of the Marvel Universe forseveral years before being awarded his own series in 1992. The book only lasted twenty issues, and its cancellation sent Cage to limbo (figuratively speaking) for several more years before he became a star in New Avengers and other recent books.

The premise of the 1992 series is that Cage, recently exonerated in the death of his former partner, lives in Chicago and is a "Hero for Hire." When a new newspaper, the Chicago Spectator, needs a hook to distinguish itself from competitors, it offers Cage a sizable fee in return for getting the first scoop on all of his adventures. Fashionistas out there should know that Cage no longer wears the bright yellow open-vest shirt and headband he sported in the 1970s. However, and although I'm somewhat color-blind, I think he's running around in skintight purple pants in this series.

The first four issues set up some elements that recur throughout the series: Cage's poor relationship with his father, whom he thinks is dead; supporting characters like Dakota North (a private investigator) and journalists from the Spectator; and a mystery villain named Hardcore who seems to have insights into Cage's past. Hardcore is a weapons expert of some kind with an odd (Jamaican?) accent and is the villain for the first issue, while # 2 features Nitro, Tombstone, and a kinda-goofy limited time-travelling character named "Kickback" as antagonists. Issue # 3 is the inevitable guest appearance by an established star, intended to bring in readers from other books. You can guess what era a Marvel Comic was written based upon who the third-issue guest star is; today, it would probably be Deadpool; a few years ago, certainly Wolverine; in the 1980s, Spider-Man. But in the early 1990s, there were really only two options: Ghost Rider or Punisher. The Big P gets the call for Cage, and his appearance continues in issue # 4.

Issues 5-8 feature a storyline titled "The Evil and the Cure." Cage rescues a boy named Troop and is hired to find the kid's guardian. The search takes him out to Colorado, where Cage is lured into a trap by villains who have been trying to duplicate the "Power Man" process that made Cage invulnerable and super-strong. Even with the help of the West Coast Avengers, Troop's guardian is killed. There's some interesting mixture of current and flash-back narratives in this story-arc, and the big reveal at the end is that Dakota North has discovered that Cage's dad is alive.

Issues 9-10 involve Cage getting mixed up with the recently-escaped Rhino in a fight against the Hulk. A well-done slugfest between Cage and ol' Greenskin takes place on the Chicago El. Issues 11 and 12 see Cage trying to find the recently-runaway Troop, but getting captured by Hardcore. Dakota North and Iron Fist race to rescue Cage, but not before an old villain's son (Cruz, spawn of Bushmaster) steals some of Cage's power and becomes "Power Master." From the letters pages, I think a lot of fans were expecting a big deal out of the years-in-the-making reunion of Cage and Iron Fist, but the book didn't do a whole lot with it.

Crappy art begins in issue # 13. Was the writing on the wall and the Powers That Be decided to save costs on the book? Issues # 13 and 14 involve Cage linking up with the Tinkerer's son ("The Agent") to battle the Corporation. If my notes are correct, Cage's brother becomes a super-villain named "Coldfire." They could be wrong. Issues # 15 and 16 are parts of the "For Love Nor Money" crossover with Silver Sable and Terror Inc., discussed here.

Issue # 17 is an "Infinity Crusade" crossover, but actually has some important plot points. The Chicago Spectator prints Cage's real name ("Carl Lucas") and details of Cage's mom's murder by gang members are revealed. In addition, we see the first clues of a mysterious killer of homeless people, the resolution of which will see the series through to the end. It turns out the mysterious killer is an entity capable of possessing people and is named "Bogeyman." Yes, apparently an old Power Pack villain, but all the same fairly well-done here. Cage ends up getting possessed and tearing up Chicago. When he finally manages to break free,
he flees to New York and hides out with the Fantastic Four. Johnny Storm goes "semi-nova" and burns Bogeyman to death (or the equivalent). Cage is presumed dead by the mainstream media, and Dakota promises to help him "tie up [his] loose ends back in Chicago."

Cage is actually better than the standard super-hero comic it may seem at first blush. The creators worked hard to give some depth to the creator by telling stories about his family and background, and his unique angle, being a "Hero for Hire", could have had potential. Unfortunately, Cage is simply somewhat bland as a super-hero--basically, he can punch stuff real good and get punched real good. The character needs a certain attitude and edge to really come alive, and his more recent appearances reflect this better than the 1992 series.

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