Marvel and Netflix are set to release Luke Cage, the latest installment in their Defenders franchise, on September 30, 2016. From the positive early reviews, it seems that we will be in for a real treat when the series is finally available for streaming at the end of the month.
But, what do audiences really know about Luke Cage? Sure, we got a glimpse of the character in last year’s Jessica Jones, but there is a lot more to him. Although he doesn’t have the same storied history as some of Marvel’s other heroes, he has had an interesting and varied career as a superhero. We thought we would showcase what he’s done and where he’s been, for those that are interested to find out more about the character. As a warning, this list may contain spoilers for the upcoming series.
Here is Screen Rant’s Complete History Of Marvel’s Luke Cage:
In the early 1970s, films like Shaft, Super Fly and Cleopatra Jones took audiences by storm. Never ones to turn their back on a hot trend, Marvel comics developed their own version of a character for the blaxpoitation movement, and Luke Cage was born. Although part of the overall Marvel Universe, his corner of it was portrayed as a dirtier and grittier, and more crime infested, New York City than the other Marvel heroes at the time. Luke Cage was also the first black superhero to headline his own ongoing title.
As the blaxploitation genre faded, Marvel decided to team Cage up with another hero whose genre was also on the decline, Iron Fist. This match up was basically to prevent both titles from being cancelled, and it was officially retitled Power Man And Iron Fist. Over the years, Cage has evolved as a character, ditching his old costume and catch phrase (“Sweet Christmas!“), for a more updated audience appeal.
First Appearance And Title Changes
Luke Cage made his first appearance in Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 (June 1972). He was created by Archie Goodwin, John Romita, Sr. and George Tuska. Not happy that the superheroes were getting all the attention, Cage decided that he needed a secret identity and adopted the code name, Power Man, which has its origins in the phrase ‘Black Power.’ The title of the series was officially changed to Luke Cage, Power Man with issue #17 in 1974.
When Iron Fist was brought into the mix, the title remained the same until issue #50, where it was once again re-titled, this time as Power Man And Iron Fist. The title remained the same until it was officially cancelled with issue #125 in September of 1986. When Luke next received his own ongoing series, it was simply entitled Cage. Released in 1992, it lasted a total of 19 issues. Throughout most of his career, he has appeared in a variety of different titles and has been a member of numerous Marvel teams.
Born and raised in Harlem, New York, Luke Cage was actually born Carl Lucas. He was a member of the gang, the Rivals, who were often at odds with another gang called the Diablos. Carl was a petty criminal who spent a lot of his time as a youngster in and out of juvenile detention. His dreams of becoming a big time New York City racketeer ended when he realized how his actions were hurting those he loved. In order to get rid of the embarrassment and shame he brought to his family, he attempted to go legit, but was framed for a crime by his best friend, gangster Willis Stryker, over the latter’s jealousy in regards to his ex-girlfriend.
Carl eventually ended up in Seagate prison on drug charges, where he was targeted by a ruthless guard named ‘Billy Bob’ Rackham. Recruited by scientist Dr. Noah Burstein to participate in a cell regeneration program (similar to the Super Soldier program that created Captain America) the experiment was sabotaged by Rackham in hopes of killing or damaging Carl beyond repair. This experiment is what gave the future Power Man his superpowers.
The Burstein Experiment caused body-wide enhancements in Carl, giving him super strength, increased durability and invulnerability to most attacks. Cage is able to lift in the ballpark of 25 tons, and can punch through the equivalent of four inches of steel. He has extremely dense muscle tissue and virtually impenetrable skin, making him resistant to most injuries. This includes, but is not limited to, puncture wounds, bullets, biological weapons, corrosive materials and extreme temperature fluctuations.
He also has increased cellular regeneration, giving him an enhanced healing factor. His recovery times are usually one-third that of normal humans. A second exposure to the experiment that initially gave him his powers only further enhanced his abilities. He was already a gifted athlete before his change, and is an excellent hand-to-hand combatant, with years of street level fighting to his credit. He used these enhancements to escape Seagate prison and return to New York City, where he adopted the name Luke Cage and became a hero for hire.
The Defenders And Heroes For Hire
Once Cage adopted the Power Man persona, he came to be associated with the Defenders, a New York-based super squad that was less a team and more a bunch of outsiders thrust together to get a job done. When he complained that the time he spent saving the world was cutting into his freelance work, he was put on retainer by Nighthawk, giving him a steady paycheck. He eventually became disillusioned with the team’s bizarre exploits and retired.
The criminal Bushmaster, having obtained proof of Cage’s innocence on the drug charges, then blackmailed Cage into kidnapping detective Misty Knight. This brought him into contact with Knight’s boyfriend, Danny Rand, aka Iron Fist. The two eventually come to an agreement, and work together to defeat Bushmaster and obtain the proof of Cage’s innocence. This leads the two heroes to create the two-man team codenamed Heroes For Hire. Even though they have very little in common, the two developed a great rapport and soon became best friends. But a lasting partnership wasn’t meant to be, as Iron Fist was killed by the villain Captain Hero and Cage was charged with the murder.
After Cage was blamed for the death of Iron Fist, he packed up and headed out to Chicago. Although he was later cleared of the murder charges (once Danny Rand showed up alive and well) Cage decided that he needed a new start and stayed in the Windy City. He dropped the Power Man code name and became Luke Cage, Hero For Hire once more.
This was where he battled Cruz McIver, the son of his enemy Bushmaster. Cruz was determined to become super-powered and kept trying to replicate the Burstein Process. Things went awry when he tried to steal the powers bestowed upon his father, and instead empowered his father even further. He was then killed by a revived Bushmaster, who was now calling himself Power Master. His body wasn’t able to handle all the power it accumulated in such a short time, and he exploded, exposing Cage to the Power Man virus. This exposure enhanced Cage’s powers even further, making him near invincible.
Hero For Hire Again Round 2
While investigating the death of his ex-girlfriend, Harmony Young, Cage teamed up with Ghost Rider to defeat the demon, Darklove. But it was the move back to New York City that would truly change things up for him again. Although he was recruited into the Secret Defenders, Cage decided his heart was no longer in the superhero game, and retired to become co-owner of the Gem Theatre. When Iron Fist wanted to get the band back together, suggesting a new incarnation of Heroes For Hire, Cage declined. It was only after the villain, Master Of The World, suggested that he infiltrate the group as a spy, that Cage agreed to play along, knowing that he would never betray his best friend.
Although he sympathizes with Master, ultimately, the group sabotages his plans for world domination. Cage, enjoying his return to the superhero world, briefly revives his Power Man persona. Once he realizes that, although he has international fame as a superhero, his name is virtually non-existent at the street level, he gives up his superhero ways, buys a bar and decides to be more active in his own neighborhood and leave the world saving to the rest of the supers.
The New Avengers And The Super-Human Registration Act
By this time, in the larger Marvel Universe, The Avengers have disassembled and gone their separate ways. By chance, Matt Murdock and Luke Cage are at The Raft (a max security prison) when the power is cut and a riot breaks out. Along with Spider-Woman (who is really Veranke in disguise), Captain America, Iron Man and Spider-Man, they manage to stop the uprising, but not before 42 of the inmates manage to escape. Cap names them the new Avengers, and all but Daredevil join the team.
All is well until the government tries to enact the Superhuman Registration Act. Cage refuses to register either himself or his family, and sends Jessica and their newborn daughter to Canada. When S.H.I.E.L.D. comes to arrest him, he is aided by Captain America, Falcon and Iron fist, who is posing as Daredevil. Cap then forms the Secret Avengers, and the team resolves to fight back against the Registration Act until Captain America surrenders to authorities after realizing that he was no longer fighting for the people. Cage refuses the amnesty offered to him by the government, and forms a new version of the team who continue to fight underground. When Captain America is assassinated, he assumes leadership of the team, but refuses the offer to lead the team when they transition over to become the New Avengers.
Secret Invasion And Dark Reign
While all of this Registration act stuff was going on, and the Civil War divided the heroes of the Marvel Universe, the Earth was quietly being invaded by the shape-shifting alien race known as the Skrulls. By the time this all came to light, the Skrulls had secretly taken the place of many Marvel heroes, leading to plenty of distrust and suspicion among everyone. As heroes and villains all over turned out to be Skrull imposters, Cage found himself separated from his family, (who had returned from Canada after Captain America’s assassination) when Jessica refused to leave Avengers Tower due to safety concerns.
As the battle with the Skrulls came to a head in Central Park, Jessica finally came to her senses and joined the heroes. But, just as the enemy surrendered, the Skrull impersonating Jarvis grabbed Danielle and promptly disappeared. The Marvel heroes came together and eventually found the baby, but it wasn’t without consequences. Cage, who betrayed Norman Osborne during the search, went into cardiac arrest and needed Osborne’s help during the surgery, due to his unbreakable skin. Osborne instead planted a bomb in his heart, and it was only through the assistance of Doctor Strange and The Wasp that he survived.
Heroic Age And The Avengers
When Steve Rogers once again took over as leader of The Avengers, he offered Cage a spot on the team. Cage declined, not wanting to be associated with another government-run group. Tony Stark worked an interesting angle with Cage, however, selling him Avengers Mansion for a dollar, and let him recruit and run his own group of Avengers, with minimal interference from the government. This new team consisted of a core group of heroes: Cage, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Mockingbird, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, The Thing and Wolverine.
At this time, Cage also accepted the role as leader of the Thunderbolts, a new incarnation of villains who were trying to redeem themselves. At one point, the Thunderbolts get lost in time and the Dark Avengers (mostly villains posing as heroes) are sent in to take their place, with the entire series being re-titled Dark Avengers. Cage volunteered to supervise them, but they outmaneuvered him and somehow managed to get sent to a different dimension. Once they returned, the team was seemingly disbanded.
Avengers vs. X-Men
Around this time came word that the Phoenix Force was headed back to Earth. While the X-Men believed that the Phoenix Force’s return would herald a new era for mutants, the Avengers were convinced that it would destroy the planet. Thinking they were doing the right thing, Cage joined Captain America and the Avengers in an invasion of Utopia, the island that was once Asteroid M and the new home of the majority of the world’s mutant population, in order to take Hope Summers into custody.
As X-Men battled Avengers all over the world, a number of Avengers were captured, including Cage. After he is freed, he has a heart to heart with Daredevil, (who is growing more and more unstable as time passes), and realizes what his priorities are. He decides that his being a superhero isn’t safe for his wife and child and resigns from the Avengers, along with Jessica, Squirrel Girl and Iron Fist, once the conflict with the X-Men is finished.
Being associated with so many different superhero groups over the years means that Cage has come up against many of Marvel’s villains. From Doctor Doom to a Phoenix Force-infected Namor, he’s pretty much battled them all. There are, however, a number that were reserved specifically for him (especially in the early days).
The most interesting of Cage’s villains are the ones that he has personal ties to. An early antagonist, and one that we will see in the Netflix series, is Cornell Cottonmouth. A drug kingpin, it was Cottonmouth’s drugs that were planted on Cage and the reason he went to prison in the first place. Cage did join Cottonmouth’s criminal organization later on, but only as a way of trying to clear his name of the drug charges. It didn’t work, however, as Cottonmouth was imprisoned before Cage could prove his innocence.
Another of his main adversaries early on was the man that set him up, Willis Stryker, aka Diamondback. While Cage was in prison, Diamondback climbed the ranks of the Maggia crime syndicate and became an agent. Cage battled with his old nemesis over his wrongful imprisonment and hoped to get Stryker to confess to setting him up. Unfortunately, Stryker was killed before Cage could convince him to help. Other recurring villains include Bushmaster, Scimitar, Black Tiger and Tombstone.
Marvel Now! And The Mighty Avengers
During the Infinity event in the Marvel Universe (which occurred during the Marvel Now! initiative), Cage was brought in as the leader of the Mighty Avengers, who were based out of the remodeled Gem Theatre in New York City. The members included Spectrum, Ronin, Blue Marvel, Power Man, White Tiger, Falcon (who was also a member of the main Avengers team, but as Captain America) and She-Hulk.
Enrollment in this group was completely voluntary, and their services were of the non-profit variety (though they would accept charitable contributions if their rescuees felt so inclined). They even went so far as to set up a hotline so that anyone who needed help could call for assistance. After teaming up with the Avengers on multiple occasions, and saving the Earth a number of times, the group was forced to disband and close their headquarters when an inverted Tony Stark sued them for copyright infringement for using the Avengers name and trademark. The members of the team went their separate ways, with Luke and Jessica turning their attention to assist a homeless shelter in their neighborhood.
Family And Relationships
As to immediate family, Cage’s mother, Esther Lucas, is deceased, although his father, James Lucas, is still alive. He also had an older brother, James Lucas Jr., with whom he has a tumultuous relationship. When Cage was in prison, James Jr. tried to cut all family ties with him, resenting the choices that Cage made and the shame that he brought to the family. James Jr. often intercepted letters that Cage and James Sr. wrote to each other, and eventually convinced them both that the other was dead. James Jr. was then recruited by the villainous Corporation, who turned him into Coldfire, a superhuman whose mutation consisted of a white hot flame surrounding his body. Jr. used his new powers to battle his brother, but ultimately perished when the brothers were forced to team up and rescue their father, whom the Corporation was holding hostage.
Cage also had a number of romantic relationships over the years, and has dated Claire Temple, Harmony Young and She-Hulk. He eventually married Jessica Jones of course, and they have a daughter, Danielle, named in honor of Cage’s best friend, Danny Rand.
All-New, All Different And The Future
When Marvel re-branded once again in 2015, following the Secret Wars crossover story line, Power Man And Iron Fist was one of the titles that was relaunched. Cage and Danny Rand are once again brought together when they meet up with Jennifer Royce, their secretary from their Heroes For Hire days. Recently released from prison, she convinces them to help her get a family heirloom necklace back from the mob. Unbeknownst to them, the necklace is actually the Supersoul Stone.
As the series is still currently ongoing, what exactly the Soulstone is hasn’t yet been revealed, but it is all but guaranteed to spell big trouble for the Heroes For Hire. The series is being written by David Walker, with art by Sanford Greene, and they promise to bring back some old-school Marvel characters like Black Mariah, who was seen with Jenny in the final issue of Vol. 3. It looks to be fun ride, showcasing both Cage and Rand’s past, but also showing how they’ve grown and changed over the years. All while they battle whatever the world is going to throw at them.
Conclusion And Required Reading
So there you have it, the condensed down and dirty on everything Luke Cage. If you’re interested in getting to know the character a little better, we do have some ‘required reading’ suggestions for you:
Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 – Out of Hell — A Hero
Amazing Spider-Man #123 – …Just A Man Called Cage!
Luke Cage, Power Man #21 – The Killer With My Name!
Power Man and Iron Fist #50 – Freedom!
Power Man and Iron Fist #125 – Hardball
Marvel Comics Presents #82 – Hero in Hiding
Daredevil #178 – Paper Chase
Cage #12 – The Death and Life of Luke Cage
Heroes for Hire #1 – Heroes and Villains
Alias #1 – Alias Investigations
Power Man And Iron Fist (2016) #1
If you’d prefer, you can just wait until September 30th to get your Luke Cage fix. There is sure to be plenty of backstory and character development when the series starts. Luke Cage may not have the flashy backstory and name recognition of some of Marvel’s heroes, but he has been a steady and reliable character for them for more than 45 years. It’s about time he got the recognition that he deserves. Is Luke Cage new to you? If you’re a Luke Cage fan, what are you hoping to see in the series? Let us know in the comments!