Ten years ago Luke Cage was already a very well known man in Harlem but now that he has been released from Rikerâ€™s Island his fame has been greatly increased due to a prison experiment that left him with indestructible steel skin. Cageâ€™s only objective now is to find out what happened to his girlfriend, Josephine Ball, but it appears that some powerful men have other ideas about Powermans future.
There are two classic ways of opening a displaced person story. The first way is to have the reader follow the main character as they move into a brand new location. As the adventurer discovers more about their situation and the other people who inhabit it, the reader is also simultaneously enlightened. The other path is to take the exemplar back to a space that they previously inhabited some time ago. The dramatic tension there comes from the changes that have occurred in that particular location since the hero/heroine has last been there. This is the route that the writers of this book decided to embark on.
So we the reader, after witnessing a young womanâ€™s brutal murder, follow our hero Luke from his jail cell, where he is listening to the inimitable Cab Calloway performing â€˜Minnie the Moocherâ€™ all the way to 8th Avenue and 125th where the soundtrack changes to a street singer knocking out a rendition of the traditional lullaby â€˜Mamaâ€™s going to buy you a Mockingbird.â€™ Now most adult people after being released from a decade long prison stretch would immediately go for a drink, or perhaps coitus, but the phlegmatic Mr Cage decides to have a shave first and catch up on some old neighbourhood gossip before going for an alcoholic beverage at the local speakeasy.
You know how it is. You are waiting in line to get into some hot nightclub and the bad tempered guy working the rope line takes an instant dislike both to you presence on the planet in general and walking on his turf in particular. Well the next time this happens you should follow Lukeâ€™s lead and stick two fingers up the guys â€˜nose and then bang his stubborn head against the establishments front door because it certainly looks great on the comic book page and after all whatâ€™s the worst that could happen?
Anyway, you would think that after that performance, everybody would just steer clear of whoever was coming through that portal but instead we find several unfriendly types wielding Thompson submachine guns in Powermans general direction. Now these goons obviously havenâ€™t been down to the barber shop lately but luckily their gang boss, Stryker, is well up on local lore and he informs them that shooting their visitor would only damage the clubs chic decor and do nothing good for Cageâ€™s temper. So they desist and Luke finally receives his illegal libation.
Yeah it can be good to catch up with old friends after a long period apart. Everyone knows how that particular scenario goes. Its all the usual questions:- â€˜So howâ€™s business?â€™ — â€˜Not too bad. Extremely unlawful of course but everybodyâ€™s doing it so what the hell.â€™ — â€˜Do you have a job yet?â€™ — â€˜Well considering I only got out of prison seven pages ago I really havenâ€™t really had the time, although I did have a nice shave.â€™ — â€˜Have you seen my girlfriend lately?â€™ —Â â€˜Oh wow! You mean to say that the prison authorities didnâ€™t tell you she was a crispy critter?â€™ — â€˜Sheâ€™s working as a short order cook now?â€™ — â€˜No. I mean she died in a fire dummy.â€™ — â€˜Thatâ€™s really sad. Iâ€™m totally shocked.â€™ — â€˜Cheer up. It happened ages ago and by the way I have this necklace that she wanted you to have. I have carried it around with me all this time just in case you got out of prison and then decided to come in here for a drink.â€™ — â€˜Wow that was extremely lucky for me you did that. Imagine if I had gone to another illegal bar instead and missed you altogether.â€™ — â€˜That wouldnâ€™t have happened. This is only a mini series and we have to keep the story moving.â€™ — â€˜So you got this from her own dying hands in hospital?â€™ — â€˜Yeah. I did. Well no actually to tell the truth I sent a couple of the boys round to do it for me. I just canâ€™t stand hospitals. They are full of whining sick people and I usually wear silk suits. You understand donâ€™t you.â€™ — â€˜Completely man. Donâ€™t give it a second thought.â€™
At this point the writers of this tale tap into that well known mystery story trope, by way of real life detective Dashiell Hammett and move the plot forward by introducing a guy with a gun. Now all I can imagine is that this character, with the wonderful name of Charlie Tuna, has just entered the speakeasy a few minutes previously because otherwise he would have noticed that nine Tommy Guns didnâ€™t scare his target so the chances of his six shot revolver doing the trick is very unlikely. If Mr Tuna had just gone to the eponymous barber shop he could have learnt all about Cageâ€™s abilities and perhaps avoided wetting his pants in terror but instead he ends up losing both his gun and his very fine hat. Cage is so cool in this scene he manages to make cucumbers look sweaty.
Taking the very fine hat but not putting either it or his suit jacket on, Cage strides out of the club into an extremely rainy night. Now the reader might think that Luke had relatively important things to do. As far as we know he doesn’t have a place to sleep yet and we certainly havenâ€™t seen him eat either. Instead he quickly takes a job offer from a rich white man to find out who murdered his late wife. During the subsequent investigation Luke manages to point out a significant fact about the victimâ€™s body state that any half competent mortuary technician would have noticed anyway. Câ€™est la morte.
During the last few pages of the story we see Luke go to the local cemetery and dig up the casket of his lover only to find that it is completely empty just like the feeling I had when I finished this story. I hope that people believe me when I say that I really wanted to like this comic book. Luke Cage is one of my all time favourite characters and I was more than willing to suspend disbelief to get into the story but I kept finding myself tripping up time and time against such ludicrous scenes and dialogue that it made even just finishing the book at all a total chore.
The only bright light in the tepid piece is Shawn Martinbroughâ€™s competent art, which to my mind nicely captured the feel of the period. I very regretfully give this book only two stars.