1/04/2011. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
pub: Marvel Comics, 2005. 544 page black and white graphic novel softcover. Price: about GBP 12.99 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-0-78511-685-1.
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This sturdy book reprints, in dead black and white, issues # 1-16 of ‘Hero For Hire’ and # 17-27 of ‘Power Man’. Although the title of this volume is 'Luke Cage - Power Man', our hero only took that name in issue #17 of the comic. Before that, he was Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, which is better if you ask me. Being for hire and poor and black and an escaped convict is what makes him stand out from the crowd of middle-class suburban heroes like Spider-Man or rich, elitist ones like the Fantastic Four. Luke isn't a super scientist or a rich playboy, just a street smart dude who acquired some super-strength and steel-hard skin while being experimented on in prison. Obviously, he was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted but he escaped when the opportunity came. This lack of faith in the judicial system would not go down well with Matt Murdock, Daredevil, but that's life.
Although he tangles with Doctor Doom at one point, amusing the evil King of Latveria by chasing him for a $200 dollar debt, Luke mostly deals with low-life ghetto gangsters, as you would expect. These are: Diamond-Back, a knife-throwing snake; Black Mariah, a sort of female Kingpin; Senor Muerte, an electrifying Hispanic gangster; Morgan, a black gangster who troubled Captain America and the Falcon, and Cotton-Mouth. There is also an ex-army nut called Mace trying to take over America and a few lesser oddball villains.
Every Marvel hero must have a private life and a love interest. Luke's friend is D.W. who runs the cinema over which he has his very basic office apartment and his love interest is Doctor Claire Temple who works in a charity clinic. Claire's boss is Doctor Noah Burstein, who performed the experiments in prison that gave Luke his powers. Burstein's relationship with Cage is understandably strained.
The stories are by a variety of Marvel writers of the day. The series started strongly with Archie Goodwin and Steve Englehart then maybe dipped a bit in quality with Tony Isabella and Len Wein. George Tuska did a lot of the art, so no complaints there, inked by Billy Graham who also took over the pencils for a few issues. No complaints there neither as Graham emulates Paul Gulacy nicely in one issue and Gene Colan pretty completely in another. A couple of later issues are pencilled by Ron Wilson, alas. If Herb Trimpe is the poor man's Jack Kirby then Ron is the poor man's Jack Kirby drawing with his arm in a sling after too much beer. I suppose he did his best.
‘Hero For Hire’/’Power Man’ is not a first-rate Marvel title and lasted for fifty issues before being teamed up with Iron Fist in ‘Power Man And Iron Fist’. This book is essentially that, a good second-rate super-hero romp, enjoyable enough and good value for money, too, since it can be picked up second-hand for under ten pounds on the Internet. A new copy is hard to get because, like many other ‘Marvel Essential’ and ‘DC Showcase’ tomes, it seems to have sold out at major online retailers. This is either a testament to their popularity or a sign of limited print runs.
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