It probably won’t shock anyone to learn that I spend a lot of time reading through old Marvel comics. I’m constantly on the look for new, weird stories to share with everyone, and that means plunging the weird depths of some of Marvel’s most famous characters. I have a couple standbys, characters like Spider-Man, Doctor Doom, and the Juggernaut are frequently really great sources of insane stories, but there are some characters that I find myself actively seeking out stories that can be featured, because they’re oddly hard to come by. Luke Cage is one of those characters. I love Luke Cage. Over the years I’ve become a bigger and bigger fan of the guy, but I’ve run into a problem with his stories, one that I also run into with Doctor Strange. All of his stories are kind of weird, which means I’m either going to have to talk about all of them, or hold out for one that’s extra-weird, which is kind of rare. But, while working my way through the old Power Man series again lately, I came across this little gem of a story. Apparently this was meant to capitalize on a TV movie, which later became a TV series, the Night Stalker, which was about a private eye dealing with a case which may or may not have involved vampires. Writer Steve Englehart was apparently asked to write a story that could serve as a rip-off of that concept, and we ended up getting this weird-ass little tale where Luke Cage meets a vampire. Or, at least that’s what it seems like…
The story begins late one night while Luke Cage is hanging out with his friend and landlord, D.W. Griffith. See, back in the day Luke rented an office out of a small, run-down movie theater on 42nd Street in Manhattan that exclusively played Western movies, and was operated by a young hippie kid, who was one of his only friends. DW had just recently repaired the theater after a massive fight that Luke brought to the office, and the two men are catching up, talking about Luke’s adventures he’s had since he saw saw DW, when the two men hear a loud creak coming from the offices above them. Luke is pretty wary about weirdos breaking into the theater to fight him, so he decides to nip things in the bud and run right upstairs, which is when he catches sight of a man in a cape running through the halls. Luke chases after the man, and watches as he run into Luke’s office, slamming the “self-locking” door behind him. And, choosing not to wait for a gentler form of entrance, Luke just runs through the door like the goddamn Kool-Aid man, giving DW more repair work. The lights are still out in the office, but Luke manages to find the mysterious intruder, and grapple with him a bit. The man seems surprisingly strong, and when Luke does manage to push him closer to a moonlit window, he’s shocked to find a pair of red eyes glaring back at him. And, that shock gives the intruder enough leeway to get out of Luke’s grasp, and throw himself out of the window. Luke is pretty caught off-guard by the entire thing, but it gets even weirder when DW notices a note left on the wall.
So, yeah. Luke has put all of his context clues together and has assumed that he just got in a tussle with a goddamn vampire, and said vampire has asked him to track him down before he kills again. Which, seems like an odd request from a vampire, more of a wolfman thing if you ask me, but whatever, I’m not a professional superhero/private eye. And, as a sort of confirmation of his assumption, Luke notices that the caped intruder has left behind a hundred dollar bill, seemingly paying for Luke’s services. And, since Luke takes such things very seriously, he decides that the next morning he’s going to get to work trying to stop this vampire. Because Luke Cage is nothing if not a consummate professional.
Luckily for Luke the note, which was signed in blood by the way, had the identity of the vampire plain as day. So, the next morning he looks through a phone book, finds Janus Trevorik, and heads to the address listed for the man. But, when he gets to the apartment building he finds that Janus is apparently gone, but his landlady is more than willing to let Cage in and investigate. She is clearly not a fan of Janus, what with his weird behavior and frequent night-chanting. Plus, she recognizes Luke Cage as a superhero, so she figures she can trust him. So, the two head into the small apartment that Janus Trevorik rents, and find something more than little alarming.
This vampire is not subtle. Luke seems to take this all in stride, probably because he’s already made peace with the fact that he’s tracking down a Nosferatu, but the woman who own the building starts freaking out, realizing she’s been giving living-space to a creature of the night. And, while the landlady is freaking out, Luke starts doing his job, and snoops around Trevorik’s belongings, finding some brochures about a local magical society. And, since Trevorik is apparently a recluse, and isn’t at home, he figures that checking out this magical society is as good a next step as any. But, before he can make his leave both he and the landlady’s attentions are drawn to her television, which is reporting about a string of recent murders throughout New York which are being attributed to some sort of “Vampire Killer,” due to the lack of blood on the corpses.
Which this fire lit under him Luke takes his leave of Trevorik’s apartment and heads to Greenwich Village in search of this magical society, which apparently just operates out of a small store-front. Luke ends up barging into the back-room of the shop, searching for whoever is in charge of the operation, and ends up meeting a man named R Lambert Martinson, the head of this magical society, and apparently one of the few people who actually knows Janus Trevorik. Martinson explaisn that Trevorik is one of the most knowledgeable people in the city regarding the occult and macabre, but is also an incredibly strange person who rarely talks to people and only comes to the center to use their occult library after dark. This is obviously lining up with the whole vampire thing, but Martinson has no idea where Trevorik might be. So, Luke heads back to Trevorik’s neighborhood, pounding the pavement and interviewing all sorts of neighbors about Trevorik, until night begins to fall. Which is when this happens.
Luke Cage has now been jumped by the vampire who presumably hired him to stop him, which seems a little bit like some mixed signals. Which, Luke picks up on, but the Night Shocker ends up explaining himself, telling Luke he hoped that he might be the person to destroy his curse, but it’s that very curse that is forcing him to defend himself, in constant search for bloody sustenance. And, after a sucker punch knocks Luke to the ground, the vampire decides to fulfill those desires, and chomps down on Luke’s neck. Which, was a bad call, because as we all know, Luke Cage has unbreakable skin. So, the vampire’s teeth just kind of shatter against Luke’s neck, giving Luke an opportunity to just sock the vampire in the face, sending him careening down into an alley. Luke tries to chase after him, only to see a bat fly off into the moonlight, out of Luke’s clutches.
So, this is definitely a vampire, right? Coffin, blood, red eyes, fangs, turns into a bat? All checks out, right? Well, guess again! Turns out this whole thing has been a massive, elaborate scam. Janus Trevorik is not a vampire, and he’s certainly not the vampire who has been attacking Luke Cage. That’s actually been Martinson, the leader of the magical society, working with Trevorik’s landlady. Martinson dressed up as a vampire in order to frame Trevorik. And, why did he do that? Well, apparently Janus actually is interested in the occult, and has acquired quite a collection of books and artifacts. So, Martinson seduced Trevorik’s landlady in order to get her support, and has concocted this whole insane plan, hoping that Luke Cage will kill Trevorik for him so he can steal his stuff. And, with their plan going so well, they decide to move onto the next phase, which requires them to get the actual Trevorik out of the closet.
But, obviously, Luke Cage isn’t aware of any of this. He still thinks that he’s going to be dealing with a vampire again in the near future, and has decided he needs to get some research done. One would think he’d seek out someone like Doctor Strange, but instead he just heads back to the theater and asks DW if he knows anything about vampires. And, surprisingly, he does. Well, movie vampires at least. He gives Luke some books about Dracula, and the Hero for Hire just stands there, reading them all in silence. And, when he’s done, he seems to have gotten one main take-away. He’s going to need to make a stake. So, Luke cracks a leg off of a table, whittles it into a stake, and gets ready to kill him a vampire.
Luckily, right as he gets ready to cosplay Blade, he gets a phone call from Trevorik’s landlady, telling Luke that she’s pretty sure Trevorik is lurking around the apartment. So, Luke heads out to the apartment, ready to kill himself a vampire, only to find the landlady waiting for him outside the apartment. She tells Luke she saw Trevorik, and that he ran off down the street and into an abandoned building. So, without asking any more questions, Luke runs off to find Trevorik, breaking into the building himself, and stomping around, all while “Trevorik” watches, ready to pounce.
As Luke is racing around the abandoned building, he takes a corner too quickly, and Martinson swings a hunk of wood right into his face, knocking Luke down and giving him a moment to pull a switcheroo. Martinson quickly goes into the next room over and drags out the hogtied Trevorik, dressing him up in the vampire costume and injecting him with some sort of amphetamine to drive him insane. And, with Trevorik nice and junked out, Martinson sends him out to fight Luke Cage, which obviously isn’t going to go well. Luke sees a crazed vampire and reacts as anyone would, by punching Trevorik right in the face. Trevorik is launched into the air, crashing into a heap, and Luke approaches his prone form, wielding the homemade stake. And, as Martinson listens behind a door, Luke brings the stake hard down into the ground.
Inside the closet, Martinson is thrilled, his plan having gone off without a hitch. Which is when Luke Cage’s fist comes bursting through the door, grabs Martinson’s head, and pulls him through into the room. Luke has figured it out, and is ready to punish Martinson for all of his misdeeds. And, how did Luke piece it together. Why, because he noticed that the vampire who attacked him with the hunk of wood and the vampire who ran out at him in a psychotic state were wearing different shoes. So, Luke decided to break the stake, and look for the first vampire who attacked him, leading to his discovery of Martinson. And, met with just a bit of resistance, Martinson spills the beans, and tries to attack Cage, which doesn’t go well. Luke knocks the man out, and wakes the real Trevorik up, who tells Luke all about his collection of artifacts while the police arrive to arrest Martinson. But hey, at least Luke made a hundred bucks!
Okay, I’m not going to lie. I do wish that this was actually a story about Luke Cage fighting a vampire. There are vampires in the Marvel universe, I’ve spent the last few Halloweens talking about the various insane exploits of Dracula himself, so there’s no real reason why Cage couldn’t have deal with a real Nosferatu. But, the fact that Luke Cage got involved in a crazy case with a possible vampire is still pretty great. I love Luke Cage, and I really like these early stories, which were basically superhero noir. He operated as a private eye on 42nd Street, taking weird cases that usually involved superhumans, which is something that I very much enjoy. So, while it would have been even crazier if Luke Cage actually did get hired by a remorseful vampire who wanted Luke to stop his reign of terror, the fact that Luke got drawn into an insane plot to kill a rob an introverted albino still makes this a story that’s incredibly weird and fun. I guess the fact that there never actually was a vampire makes the fact that Luke heard about a real vampire killer a little worrisome, but who knows, the New York of the Marvel Universe is a terrible place. A real vampire might have been out there killing people, and it would have just been someone else’s problem.
Power Man #26 “the Night Shocker!” was written by Steve Englehart, penciled by George Tuska, inked by Ricardo Villamonte, colored by Petra Goldberg, lettered by Tom Orzechowski, and edited by Len Wein, 1975.
Categories: Marvel Madness