Over the last couple of years I’ve really been getting into Luke Cage. I probably first came across the character in supporting roles, or maybe even as a playable character in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, and didn’t really know anything about the guy. And it was really Brian Bendis who got me interested in the character, because Bendis clearly loves him, and sticks him in as many projects as he can. Luke Cage is a wonderfully strong character, both literally and in the sense of his honor. He has strong character, and doesn’t like when people cross him. He has a very clear set of morals and a lot of dignity. He stands up for his family and friends, and does whatever he can to help people, because that’s what’s right. He’s a true hero to me, and he’s quickly become one of my favorite Marvel characters. So of course I became curious about his older appearances, and scrounged them up since they’re sadly not on the Marvel Unlimited app, which is usually where I get a hold of these crazy older stories. And they’re a lot of fun. He’s a pretty different character from the guy we know now, since he hasn’t had all the relationships and tribulations that have made him the character we all know and love today. He was a crazy blaxpolitation character that was essentially a superpowered private eye, a “Hero for Hire” as he put it, who had an office above a crappy movie theater on 42nd Street that only played Westerns, and talked all sassy to people who were hiring him. And yet, pretty much every issue ended up with him forgoing his fee, setting up the idea that the was doing this more as a hero than a businessman, even though he didn’t admit that to himself yet. It was a pretty fun run, and very emblematic of the times. But then I came across a very famous story, or, at least a story that has a very famous panel in it. You all know it, the one that has Luke Cage call Dr. Doom honey.
You’ve probably seen that online before at some point, and if not, congratulations, because it’s a pretty wonderful image. I’ve talked a lot about Dr. Doom on this site already, because he’s a truly perfect villain. And it’s kind of spectacular to see him demeaned in this way, because he’s usually such a regal and respectable villain, and here he is being pretty racist and is getting called “honey,” by a dude wearing a yellow blouse and a tiara. It’s a ridiculous little scene, and without context, often gets called out as being a an example of Marvel racism in the 70’s. All we get from this little clip of a panel is that Luke Cage has apparently traveled around the world to sass Dr. Doom, all for $200. I’ve seen people read this scene, without actually talking about the rest of the story, and make it seem like Luke is being dumb here, as if he didn’t think it was a stupid idea to travel all the way to Latveria just for a bill he got stiffed on. Just looking at this little scene kind of makes you think that maybe Luke is super cheap, and came all this way just for the money, which really diminishes his character. But that’s not actually the case. This story, viewed in it’s whole, is kind of wonderful. So let’s talk about it, and I’ll explain how this may actually be the first important story for Luke.
The story starts like pretty much all of the early Luke Cage ones do, with him complaining about being broke because he never actually collects on the money he asks for people, since so far he’s mainly been helping people down on their luck. He runs off and finishes up a plot from the previous story where he catches a guy involved in a killing, and as he heads back to his office, he meets some mysterious white dude that tells him he works for a secretive but rich person who wants to hire Luke. The guy tells Luke that he’ll pay him $200 to find four men who apparently stole some industrial secrets from his employer and bring them back to him. So Luke heads off, doing some legitimate detective work by shaking some people down, until he finally comes across the warehouse that the four men are hiding out in. Luke busts in, and starts fighting with the guys, who are shockingly strong, to the point that the only reason Luke survives is his bullet-proof skin. But during the fight, Luke accidentally punches one of the guys heads off. Luckily, that happened because it wasn’t actually a guy, it was a robot, which is a little odd to Luke since he’s mainly dealt with pimps and drugdealers to this point. The other robots escape, and Luke is a little pissed off that the guy didn’t mention the whole robot thing, so he ends up tracking him down. He finds the man who hired him at a fancy diplomatic party, and after punching some guards he comes face to face with the secretive employer to hired him, Dr. Doom. Turns out the robots had fled Latveria with some state secrets, and Doom has come to America to find them, and hired Luke Cage because…well, I’ll just post the panel, because it’s pretty nuts
Hmm. That’s odd. Luke is pretty put off by this, since he hasn’t really been introduced to the crazy world of superheroics yet, but Doom tells him that if he expects to live a life as a superhero, he’s going to have to get used to robots, and Luke decides that makes sense. So Luke leaves the fancy party and heads off to find the robots again, even though he’s still not really feeling like this is a good idea. Luke mainly chose cases up until this point to help people, which is why he usually reneged on his fee, but this time he’s doing it purely for the money, so he’s feeling a little odd, like his heart isn’t in this one. But he finds the robots, and after a couple pages of fun brawling with some truly spectacular Luke Cage lines, Luke is triumphant. He ends up destroying all three robots, even though it ends up ruining his awesome yellow blouse. But the job is done, so he heads back to the hotel to get his payment, only to find that Doom had bounced out of the country, apparently confident that Luke could finish the job, and has left without paying him. Which pisses Luke off so much, and he ends up swearing vengeance on Doom in one of the best cliffhangers in comics.
And now we get to the second issue of the story, which is where the whole “Where’s my money, honey?” line comes from. It opens right off the bat with Luke breaking into the Fantastic Four’s headquarters, pretty much just because he knows they deal with Doom. He fights with the Thing for a little bit, since they assume he’s a burglar, but Mr. Fantastic has apparently heard of Luke, and accepts his request for a “rocket” to get to Latveria. So Luke heads off to Latveria to collect his money, and gets shot down pretty much as soon as he crosses into Latverian airspace. And as soon as he crawls out of the wreckage of his rocket, he’s attacked by Latverian military officers, but is saved by a group of robots. He’s brought to their secret lair, because apparently those four robot he destroyed were just a handful of a larger group of Latverian robots who are trying to start a revolution in Latveria. So he talks with the robots and their weird alien leader (it’s a Marvel comic from the 70’s, of course it makes no sense) and ends up agreeing to help them break into Castle Doom. So the little team heads for the castle, and they end up getting into the compound, fighting their way to the throne room, which is where we get that classic panel I posted earlier. Dr. Doom gives him shit for coming all this way for money, and Luke starts to explain that it’s not about the money, it’s the principal of the thing. They had an agreement, and Doom didn’t pay for services rendered. Luke doesn’t care about the money, not really, it’s about the disrespect. He would have traveled to Latveria if the bill had been $10 or $10,000. Luke and Doom begin fighting, while Doom basically keeps calling him a moron, and Luke keeps trying to explain that it’s not about the money. And in the end, Luke is actually able to figure out a weakness in Doom’s armor (however accidentally) and actually ends up beating Doom in a fight, something that not many heroes can actually claim. And then, as Doom lays there, broken, the alien who runs the robot revolution (yeah, I know) shows up to kill Doom. And, in a shocking twist, Luke ends up beating up the alien too, because even though he hates Doom, and has traveled around the planet to find him, he doesn’t want anyone to die, not even Doom. So he beats the alien, who flees for his life, and actually ends up earning the respect of Doom. Doom is frankly shocked that Luke would &fight to save even his life, and lets Luke leave the country, complete with his $200. So Luke flies home, content that his job is officially over.
This story is great. I feel like it’s pretty common for superheroes to have a truly defining storyline a little bit into their run. Yeah, their first issues usually give you the origin of the character, and show how they got their powers, but it’ll take a little bit before we see them actually become heroes. The first issue showed Luke get superpowers, but I kind of think it was this story that showed him become a hero. Yeah, there was goofy things about this story, but in the end, it’s about Luke and his sense of honor. The money wasn’t what drove him to do the things he did, it was the fact that Doom disrespected himself. At this point, the only thing Luke truly has in his life is his honor, and Doom besmirched that. He treated Luke like an object, one not even worth paying. That $200 was a trifle to Doom, he didn’t give it to Luke out of spite, because he didn’t actually see Luke as a real threat. So Luke flew around the world to show Doom that not only is he a threat, but he’s a better man than him. He doesn’t kill Doom, nor does he let the alien kill him. It wasn’t about vengeance, it was about justice. Once of the best things about Luke Cage is his iron-hard principles. And I think this storyline really established that that was going to be a defining part of his character. Plus, it’s super silly and full of great action.
Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #8 & 9 were written by Steve Englehart and penciled by George Tuska, 1972.
Categories: Marvel Madness