Luke Cage joins Marvel's Netflix roster
A noted Oklahoma creator had a hand in creating the street-smart ex-con Luke Cage, the Marvel hero often called Power Man, who gets his own Netflix series starting Friday.
In the series, Cage is played by Mike Colter. He first appeared in the Netflix original series “Jessica Jones.” Coming up on Netflix are “Marvel's Iron Fist” and “Marvel's The Defenders.”
Luke Cage was created in the comics in 1972 in reaction to films like “Shaft,” which created the “blaxploitation” genre in the early 1970s.
Archie Goodwin, a Tulsa native who died in 1998, is credited with co-creating the character along with artists John Romita Jr. and George Tuska. Roy Thomas, editor-in-chief of Marvel at the time, also played a role, suggesting the name “Cage” and the slogan “Hero for hire.”
“There was a perception there that there was a potential audience that wasn't being served,” said comics writer R.A. Jones, of Tulsa, who, like Goodwin, attended Will Rogers High School.
“There's some criticism, there was at the time and has been since, what does a middle-aged white guy from Oklahoma know about the black experience, and should he have been writing it in the first place?” Jones said. “Archie, as he always did, tried to do the best job he could.”
Billy Graham, not credited as a creator but first as inker and later as penciler, inker and co-writer of the series, was the only African-American creator involved in Cage's earliest adventures.
Norman-based Rob Vollmar, comics writer, critic and the book review editor for World Literature Today magazine, describes the early Luke Cage tales.
“He's an escaped convict with a heart of gold and a reason to take revenge on a crime boss that is ruining his neighborhood,” Vollmar said. “In that sense, he's got a lot in common with the earliest Superman stories, focused on exposing corruption and defending those too weak to defend themselves.”
Cage had a solo series, retitled “Power Man” with issue #17, through issue #50, where he teamed up with Iron Fist, another film-inspired comics character, this one inspired by the martial arts films of the 1970s. This pairing ran for an additional 75 issues, including some of the best-remembered for Cage, written by Christopher Priest, then known as Jim Owsley.
“The run is remembered fondly for the bickering salt-and-pepper buddy team of Luke Cage, a hardened, streetwise hustler, and millionaire Daniel Rand, a highly educated, refined, philosophical type raised in the fantasy realm of K'un L'un,” Priest writes on his website at DigitalPriest.com. “The chemistry between them made for great opportunities in dialog and plot, and re-energized the book in the fan community.”
After the end of “Power Man & Iron Fist,” Cage reappeared in a solo title in 1992, then as a guest-star in Priest's “Black Panther” series of the late 1990s.
“Luke has gone through something of a renaissance since the launch of the Marvel Knights imprint in 1998,” Vollmar said. “Priest, given Black Panther to write, brought Luke in as a major supporting character in the book. From there, Brian Michael Bendis used him regularly in books like ‘Alias' (the source material for the Jessica Jones Netflix series) and then into the big-leagues as a member of the New Avengers. He's maintained a fairly steady presence in the Marvel Universe since then.”
Jones said Cage is still around and still successful, which is in some ways a tribute to the work of Goodwin and many others.
Jones made note of one very public tribute visible on the streets of Tulsa.
“Just yesterday in Tulsa, I was driving on my way to an appointment, and my route took me past a tattoo parlor,” Jones said. “And one outside wall of the building that houses it has a large mural that covers the entire wall with a montage of images, one of which is that picture of Luke Cage from the very first issue.”
•Christopher Priest on "Power Man & Iron Fist": http://digitalpriest.com/legacy/comics/powerfist.html.
•NewsOK podcast with R.A. Jones: https://soundcloud.com/newsok.