Luke Cage burst onto the pages of Marvel comics in 1972, and became the first African-American character to receive their own series at the publisher. Also going by the name of Power Man, Cage has used his bulletproof skin to fight crime on the streets and as the leader of the Avengers. While he’s had mostly a cult following, his own Netflix series, as well as appearances on Jessica Jones, have boosted his popularity to new heights and exposed him to millions of people.
If you’ve seen him kicking ass on Netflix and are curious about the comic books he has starred in then this is the list for you! In it, I’ve put together 7 Luke Cage stories you should read. From his blaxploitation roots of the early 70s to team-ups with Iron Fist and some of his more recent outings, this list includes some of the best stories to sink you teeth into.
Out of Hell — A Hero!
Written by Archie Goodwin. Art by George Tuska.
In prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Luke Cage (known back then as Carl Lucas) is a victim of a racist and corrupt prison system. This has forced him to act out in violence, which only makes him more of a target. Cage’s only salvation is partaking in a risky experiment which could score him parole, but could also easily kill him. The experiment goes sour when one of the corrupt guards tampers with the experiment. Luckily, this doesn’t kill him but instead gifts him bulletproof skin. He manages to escape and make a life for his own being a hero in exchange for money – or also known as a Hero for Hire.
Not only is this the “sensational origin issue” but also the very first Luke Cage story.
Unlike modern Luke Cage stories, this one from all the way back in 1972 is steeped in blaxploitation. It’s has plenty of black stereotypes from the time, especially in the dialogue. And just like many exploitation and blaxploitation stories of the time many of the motivations revolve around revenge. It’s worth reading as a curiosity – especially if you’re interested in his origin or how he was in his early comics.
Out of Hell — A Hero! is told in Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #1 and is collected in Marvel Masterworks: Luke Cage, Hero For Hire Volume 1 or Marvel Firsts: The 1970s Volume 1.
Avengers Origin: Luke Cage
Written by Adam Glass and Mike Benson. Art by Dalibor Talajic.
As well as covering his origin, as seen in Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1, this one-shot also covers what happens afterwards when he returns to Harlem to exact revenge on Willis Stryker – the man that framed him. But unlike the original story, which due to it’s blaxploitation roots is a straight revenge story, Glass and Benson use these events to flesh out Cage and give him a direction to being a true hero. The icing on the cake is an epilogue, which has a really nice moment which successfully shows these motivations to be a hero in motion. I won’t give it a way, but it’s a nice addition to his origin that the original sorely missed.
If you’re looking for a Luke Cage origin story that has modern sensibilities and digs deeper into the character then this 2011 one-shot is what you need.
Avengers Origin: Luke Cage is collected in Avengers: Mythos.
Just a Man Called Cage
Written by Gerry Conway. Art by Gil Kane and John Romita.
This is one of the earliest Luke Cage stories outside of his own comic, Just a Man Called Cage sees Luke Cage take on Spider-Man. Why would the two heroes take on each other? Money and a misunderstanding, of course. In the wake of Norman Osborn’s (aka The Green Goblin) death, J Jonah Jameson is quite certain, as he often is, that Spider-Man is responsible. The police are less certain and so Jameson takes the law into his own hands by hiring Luke Cage to bring Spider-Man in.
Apart from dealing with Gwen Stacey’s funeral, the encounter with Luke Cage and Spider-Man is a fun romp. It’s full of action, one-liners and is one of the earliest examples of Luke Cage fitting into the larger Marvel Universe.
Just a Man Called Cage is told in Amazing Spider-Man #123 and is collected in Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks Volume 13.
Crescendo!/Where Angels Fear to Tread!
Written by Steve Englehart. Art by George Tuska.
In what seems to be a simple job of tracking down some criminals who have something of his clients becomes a bit more complicated when he discovers these criminals are actually robots. To make matters even worse is that his client is Dr Doom! But hey, a job is a job thinks Cage and does what he has been hired to do. But when he comes back to collect his pay, Doom has skipped out on paying him his $200. (That’s back in 1973, with inflation that’s the equivalent to $1,084.92). Not one to get ripped off, Cage borrows a rocket from the Fantastic Four and takes off to Latveria, Doom’s homeland, to collect this money. In the process of collecting what is owed to him he is caught in the middle of a robot coup.
This is a fun two-part story, and another one which shows how Cage can be used in the wider Marvel Universe. Plus, who wouldn’t want to see him take on Dr Doom?!
Crescendo!/Where Angels Fear to Tread! are told in Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #8-9 and is collected in Marvel Masterworks: Luke Cage, Hero For Hire Volume 1.
Fist of Iron — Heart of Stone!/Seagate Is a Lonely Place to Die!/Freedom!
Written by Chris Claremont. Art by John Bryne.
This trilogy of comics combine to tell the first team-up of Luke Cage and Iron Fist aka Danny Rand. Why is this a big deal? Well, back in 1978 the pair’s respective comics were on the verge of cancellation. Instead of axing both of them Marvel decided to combine them together with to form Power Man and Iron Fist! The result is a mixture of street level toughness and kung-fu fury and formed the greatest duo in Marvel Comics history.
Bursting with action from the get-go, this classic story shows Cage burst into the home of Danny Rand to kidnap Misty Knight – Rand’s partner in their detective agency. After the customary superhero fight at first meeting, Cage comes to his senses and it is revealed that he has been blackmailed by the villainous Bushmaster. Bushmaster has some of his close friends as hostage and is threatening to kill them if he doesn’t bring Misty Knight to him. Rand and Knight decide to help him out and embark on a mission to Bushmaster’s lair at Seagate prison. It also happens to be the place where Cage was incarcerated and was given his powers. By the end Cage will not only have saved the day, formed a new alliance but also obtained proof of his innocence.
This story also made it into the Iron Fist list.
Fist of Iron — Heart of Stone!/Seagate Is a Lonely Place to Die!/Freedom! are collected Power Man #48-49 and Power Man and Iron Fist #50 and collected in Power Man & Iron Fist Epic Collection: Heroes for Hire.
Luke Cage Noir
Written by Adam Glass and Mike Benson. Art by Shawn Martinbrough.
Between 2009 and 2010 Marvel did a string of miniseries which took their characters and gave them noir characterisation to create some very interesting stories. One of these was a four-part Luke Cage story set in prohibition-era Harlem. After coming out of a stint in prison Cage visits his dear friend Willis Stryker, who in that time has gone from a small-time criminal to a big-time players. But during his visit he discovers something is amiss. He has been told that pre-incarceration girlfriend is dead, but when he digs in a little deeper he discovers that might not be the case. He’s also been hired by a richman in investigate the murder of his wife. Yet again, the digger he deeps the more he finds something is fishy.
Out of all the stories discussed Luke Cage Noir is the darkest and most grounded. The the prohibition backdrop and private detective storytelling this story successfully explores race, segregation and poverty. The result is an action-mystery, with much more meat on the bones than your standard story set during this era.
Luke Cage Noir #1-4 is collected in a trade paperback of the same name.
The Boys Are Back In Town!
Written by David Walker. Art by Sanford Greene.
The bromantic pair of Luke Cage and Danny Rand are back, in this current comic book series. It’s been a long time since the pair have shared a comic together, but this series is worth the wait.
When their former Heroes For Hire secretary is released from jail the pair are tricked into retrieving a necklace from the villain Tombstone. The problem is that it’s not any old necklace, but one with powerful street magic for those who can unlock it. To make their worries even worse Tombstone has put a reward out for anyone who can get the necklace back.
The Boys Are Back In Town is the opening story in the current series starring Luke Cage. It’s fun, humourous and action-packed, while also exploring the friendship between Luke Cage and Danny Rand.
If you’re looking to read a current series featuring Luke Cage this is the one to read.
The Boys Are Back In Town is told in Power Man And Iron Fist #1-5, which collected in Power Man And Iron Fist Volume 1: The Boys Are Back In Town!