For decades, Luke Cage was a stereotype. Let’s call it like it is. It wasn’t just the way he talked. Everything he did from the way he carried himself to the villains he fought was a symptom of the era. A time where Marvel Comics was capitalizing on Blaxploitation movies to sell a character. Without the genre, why would anyone care about Luke Cage? Well, they didn’t. After a few years, Luke Cage became just another character. Mostly because some of the people who wrote the character didn’t care about him. You can tell the difference from then to the way he was written in the early 2000s. The difference was superstar Brian Michael Bendis.
Bendis took Luke Cage and made him a phenomenal hero. He wasn’t just some guy with super strength and unbreakable skin. There are dozens of characters like that in Marvel Comics. The difference was Bendis cared about Luke Cage and it showed. At first, he was just another Avenger. Sure, being an Avengers is a big deal. But, let’s be honest. There are a lot of heroes that shouldn’t have been among Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Bendis made him stand out among the legends like Captain America and Iron Man. What changed Luke Cage forever was issue No. 22 of New Avengers. The best Luke Cage story you may not have read.
“Because the world ain’t so nice outside your ivory tower, bub.”-Logan
This story came out at the beginning of the Marvel Comics event Civil War. Anyone with superpowers had to register their powers with the United States Government. Not only that, but they also had to register their secret identities and fight whoever they were ordered to. This rubbed a lot of heroes the wrong way. Some of them refused and rebelled. A few even quit. This split the superhero community down the middle. Some of them signed on with Captain America and continued to be heroes by fighting the way they knew was righteous.
Before the Superhero Registration Act became law, Luke Cage was on the fence. He didn’t know if he should fight or oppose. During a meeting of all the heroes, people discussed whether or not they should fight the act. Someone said they should and was confused about why they should just sign on. Logan simply said, “Because the world ain’t so nice outside your ivory tower, bub.” That piqued Luke’s interest.
Later, Luke went to Wolverine and asked him why he felt that way. Logan explained what the government is doing to mutants. There was a Sentinel parked on their front lawn. Luke said it was there to protect the mutants. Logan explained that, to mutants, a Sentinel on their front lawn is like a burning cross. That hit Luke in a way that a lot of Black people would understand. It’s a sign of oppression. the government should know better.
In New Avengers No. 22, he let Iron Man and Ms. Marvel know that he wasn’t signing on. Iron Man explained that if he didn’t, people were going to show up and drag him out of his home. Luke immediately asked if this was the 1950’s in Mississippi. When Iron Man said it wasn’t the same, Luke hit him with this,
“Getting pulled out of your home in the middle of the night for being different is the same now as it was then.”
Luke decided to stand up for what he knew was right. Luke told Jessica that he didn’t want his daughter to grow up and find out that her father buckled down to the man. This was the moment where Luke Cage went from stereotype and a leader without even knowing it. The people in his community looked up to him before this moment. But this was something different. Luke was standing up against seemingly insurmountable odds. The key phrase here is that he “stood up.” Luke Cage didn’t bend his knee when things looked bleak. He continued to ball up his fists and fight.
It wasn’t just the people in his community. Cap’s team of Avengers followed him as well. They didn’t have to. Each of them had other things going on. However, there was something about Luke Cage. His aura was powerful. He didn’t just fight for the people who couldn’t. He found himself fighting for the people who wouldn’t. A lot of heroes took the amnesty after Steve Rogers surrendered.
For those who knew something was rotten, they had someone to look up to. He was an inspiration to everyone who continued to fight. If not for him, Echo would have been a member of the Hand and controlled by Skrull Elektra. The Secret War would have gone a different way. And who knows what would have happened with Norman Osborn being in charge. The funny thing is he didn’t consider himself a leader. He was just being an example and people followed him.
If not for that one issue, Luke Cage wouldn’t have gotten the recognition that he’s gotten in pop culture. It started the ball rolling on a lot of moments. Some that weren’t mentioned here like Mighty Avengers No. 1 when he and a group of people stood up against Thanos’ hordes. The one thing that’s for certain is that New Avengers No. 22 is an issue that every comic book fan should own. It showcased a hero doing more than just fighting villains. It showed a black man, a man of integrity, and a hero above many. This issue will always hold a special place in my heart.
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