Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tales From the Vault: POWER MAN #17

Hey everyone, grab your yellow wife-beater because today we're taking a look at Power Man #17 starring the inimitable Luke Cage!

Details: This issue is dated February, 1974, and is written by Len Wein with art from George Tuska and Billy Graham, but presumably not that Billy Graham. Though that would be awesome. This is the first issue under the Power Man title following a change from the original Hero For Hire title. Of course, the title would also later change yet again into Power Man and Iron Fist; I’m a little sad the series didn’t last long enough to try A Moon… A Power Man… ROMANCE. Ah, missed opportunities.

Synopsis: The story starts with Cage reading a newspaper and shouting "Of all the freakin', mother-lovin' CRUD!" Man, don't you wish this were a MAX series or something so the writers could actually drop some F-bombs? Of course, that would also allow writers to have his girlfriend request a “Sweet Christmas”, if you know what I mean, so maybe it’s just as well. Not that anybody would actually do that in a Luke Cage comic, of course.

So why is Cage upset? Well, it's because he solved a big case and didn't get any press for it. He decides that this is because he doesn't have a catchy superhero name like Spider-man and Captain America do. While he's thinking about this, a client comes in who says that he is from Stark Industries and that Tony Stark wants Cage to try to steal a suit of armor so they can test their security measures. In order to make it realistic, though, nobody except the three of them would know about the deal, not even Iron Man. Cage, of course, agrees.

NO, LUKE, NO!!! IT’S A SETUP!!! DON”T… arrgh. Dammit, isn’t Luke Cage supposed to be the “streetwise” hero? Seriously. Unless it’s Sesame Street, this has setup written all over it and even Snuffleupagus would have been like, “Stay frosty, homes.” But, whatever. Cage, it seems, is too distracted by a subplot about some chick who found out he’s an escaped convict. How will she react? I’d like to tell you, but I can’t because this is never mentioned again. Maybe she got snuffed by Mr. Fish before she could confront Luke.

Anyway, Cage heads to Stark's factory, where he sneaks around. He decides he'll just hide in "the shadows. With my complexion, don't think anyone'll notice me there." Sure. They might notice the giant neon yellow shirt and reflective metal headband, though. But no, Cage manages to break in without incident, gets to the suit and then Iron Man shows up. Of course, Tony has no idea what this is about, because it was, in fact, a setup. The two of them start pounding on each other, then realize that... IT'S A SETUP!!!!

No kidding. Good work. Anyway, the client is there and he's stolen the suit while they've been fighting. He jumps in some ridiculous shuttle plane and flies off. Unfortunately, Iron Man's jets were damaged during the fight so he can't pursue. So, Cage grabs the plane and jumps aboard. The two of them go at it, with the guy shouting stuff like "Common black fool!" Yikes. Hey pal, could we go easy on that stuff maybe?

Anyway, they're fighting, and Cage gives the guy a kick -- and the guy sails out the window and apparently plummets to his death. Cage calls down to Iron Man and says "Er -- he sort of dropped out of the picture". In reply, Iron Man calls him an "idiot". Geez, why is everyone being a dick to Luke all of a sudden?

Here's what Iron Man says:

"You mean he jumped from the skate? Idiot, the star suit is equipped with jets for short distance flying. Once he flies out of our tracking range, we'll never find him." Oh, so he didn't fall to his death after all. Or...

Cage: "Oh, you'll find him. Somehow I don't think he flew very far -- without these circuits in the front'a his suit".

So... wait, let me see... he had jet boots, but they wouldn't work because Cage ripped out all the wiring from the suit, so... he actually did fall to his death? I'm telling you, that guy is not doing any flying, he's just dropping like a stone, screaming his lungs out. If stones had lungs, that is.

And then... the issue ends with Cage deciding to call himself Power Man. No mention whatsoever of the fact that Cage apparently just killed a guy and covered it up. Oh, and how did he come up with the name Power Man? During the fight with the client he says this: "Just chalk it up to Black Power, man", then thinks in a thought balloon "Black Power, man? Power Man? Yeah -- that's it!" Oh, god. Even Chazz Palminteri’s office wall could have provided a more meaningful random name than that.


Extras: I wanted to mention how completely weird and wrong the cover blurb for this issue is. It states that Luke Cage is the first black superhero. This is strange considering that Marvel had introduced the Falcon in 1969, three years before Hero for Hire #1 came, and had long since promoted him to co-headliner status in Captain America. Not to mention other precursors like Black Panther (1966) for one, who is “black” though he’s African rather than African-American, if that’s what they were trying to get at. And if they were in fact suggesting that Luke Cage is the first black hero because he's the first one that acts "street" and uses black slang, then... yeah. That doesn't sit real well with me to be honest. Anyway, here’s a thoughtful exploration of African-American characters in comics, where you can learn about the forerunners that this odd blurb is completely ignoring.

My Grade: Surprisingly, I'm giving this issue a B. Yeah, the blaxploitation dialogue was over the top, and the plot was pretty simple, but I enjoyed it anyway. Wein knows what he's doing. And I do appreciate the fact that Luke's rationale for the name change is pure marketing; it's a nice meta touch.

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