Luke Cage was born in the Blaxploitation era of the early 70s. There are those that say he is a stereotype himself. So why does he make the list? He is one of the first African-American superheroes to star in a comic series bearing his name. His powers were derived in a way that hearkens to historical experiments on African-Americans like the Tuskegee experiment. He has been a member of most of the biggest Marvel teams, the Avengers, the Defenders even the Fantastic Four. He has led teams as he does now in Marvel’s Mighty Avengers. I think he is also, more so than many other Black characters, absolutely, unapologetically a Black man and he demands to be accepted and respected as such.
Luke Cage was a street kid who ran with a gang, retrofitted in recent years to be the Bloods. Once he realized the pain it was causing his family he went straight but stayed friendly with the crime boss he once worked for. Unfortunately a woman came between them and the criminal planted heroin in Cage’s apartment. He ended up in prison, angry and betrayed. He is recruited for an experiment by a scientist using prisoners as subjects. The experiment was meant to use super soldier serum to boost the immune system but something went awry and Luke came out with super strength and impervious skin. He escapes prison and comes to New York City, where he becomes a “hero for hire”. He meets Danny Rand, Iron Fist and they become partners and best friends. As he comes more into contact with other superheroes he decides he too needs a codename and takes on the moniker, Power Man.
Luke Cage has bounced around the Marvel universe quite a bit. He is a trusted ally of Captain America and stood with him during Civil War. Cap has sought him out regularly to join and lead various Avenger teams. In Brian Michael Bendis’ Max series, Alias, Luke is a peripheral character initially. A friend to the damaged but surviving Jessica Jones. Jessica was a creation of Bendis’. A C-list superheroine who gave it all up and became a PI. Luke knows her weaknesses and does his best to give her a helping hand from time to time. This leads the friends to sleep together and Jessica ends up pregnant. She has now been added to the regular Marvel Universe and she and Luke are happily married and have baby Danielle, named for Danny Rand.
Luke Cage has grown from the angry young man he was in the 70s but the anger still simmers under the surface. As well it should. The world we live in is not an easy place for a man of color and even though his life is happy and complete with his family and his new team, this reality is still a huge part of who he is. During the events of Civil War he chooses to stand against the Super Human Registration Act because it reminds of Jim Crow laws. He sends his wife and child to safety in Canada but stays with Captain America to fight with the underground they form.
Netflix and Marvel recently announced they will be creating a series consisting of four 13 episode miniseries, culminating in a Defenders miniseries. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are two of the four characters, Iron Fist and Daredevil are the other two.
Luke is special because unlike many characters he’s been allowed to grow and change while still remaining himself. In fact he hasn’t really changed at all, he’s still the man he was, he’s just grown up, like we all do, but without comprising himself in the process. We can all learn that lesson from him.
Essential Luke Cage/Power Man:
Luke Cage – Hero for Hire #1 – first appearance
Power Man and Iron Fist series
Civil War mini-series