Monday, March 14, 2011

Luke Cage

I never knew what to make of Luke Cage when I was a kid. I loved the iconic look of him, courtesy of John Romita, all primary colors and buccaneer boots. But the villains he fought were so off-the-wall outrageous (Black Mariah???) and, like Thor, the way he talked was so foreign to me that Cage might has well have been from Krypton. I grew up in rural Virginia and our house was nearly a mile from the nearest paved road. The African American kids I knew in school and played football with never once, to my knowledge, referred to anyone as a "jive turkey" or "sucka." So, whenever I opened a Luke Cage comic, I was like..."What the hell is this supposed to be?" It was like watching a French film without subtitles.

But there must have been something there because the book lasted nearly 50 issues before it merged with IRON FIST (itself only reaching, what...15 issues on its own?) And it was nice to see Marvel producing a book about an African American hero who didn't have the word "Black" in his name. (Even as a kid that was glaring and I remember wondering if anyone found it insulting.) But then they went and made him an escaped convict. Sigh.

Romita's Cage design is so eye-catching, though, that I've been wanting to do a sketch of him for a long time. I mentioned that to Christian while we were at one of our occasional Drink 'n' Draws at Legend last week. He promptly loaned me Brian Azzarello's MAX CAGE miniseries. While I appreciated the loaner and loved Richard Corben's typically beautiful artwork and Azzarello's clever reworking of the FISTFUL OF DOLLARS plot, the character of Cage left me cold. It seems to be a recurring theme with Marvel's MAX line that they take a popular character, strip away anything "comicbooky" (ie. costumes and selfless heroism) and give them a shattered psyche. Throw in R-rated dialogue and graphic sex and you got y'self a MAX book. It was a good read but it sure wasn't Luke Cage. Gone was the yellow flair-collared shirt, wrist and head bands and chain-belt. This time, Cage's "costume" was a puffy vest, jeans and ever-present headphones. And there were f-bombs and n-words aplenty. Ugh. I get that this is a sort of "Elseworlds" Cage, thanks.

Anyway, I hope you like the drawing. I loved doing it. And it went really fast. For me, anyway. I really miss this version of Luke Cage. I can see why Marvel has felt the need to redesign him but this look will always be Cage to me. I think it may be fun to try redesigning his costume for a modern audience and seeing if I can retain the feel of Romita's design in the process. Something to think about.



Josh said...

There was a time in the past year that I thought Luke Cage being a superhero in civilian clothes was cool. That was because of the ABC TV show No Ordinary Family, about a regular family who gains superpowers. However, I think it would be cool if he had some kind of costume. Not a cape or a mask or anything like that. Something more like the Fantastic Four uniforms, or The Punisher's actual costume. As for The Punisher, I think either the costume or just the civvies with the skull shirt look cool. Back to Luke Cage, I think they should give him his own series again also. He hasn't had one since the '70s or '80s has he?

Josh said...

I'm talking about an ongoing Luke Cage series.

Warren said...

I would sneak and watch bits of Shaft and Superfly at a B-movie theater in the town my Jr. High was in. They also showed Bruce Lee movies, and Billy Jack. (A popular joke in Jr. High was, "If Billy Jack riding came up and was wounded and couldn't get off of his horse, would you help him? Yes or No?") So when Luke Cage came out, I knew exactly what they had in mind. I loved it. I probably had all of those original 50 issues.

Nice drawing, Matt! :)

todd said...

did you want to draw luke cage...or did you just wanna draw that awesome luke cage sneer...?

i remember luke cage's origin as being the first one they ever really tweaked--i was always under the impression that he dug his way out of prison with a spoon. did that ever happen? i think a friend told me that when i asked "who is this guy?"

what was his real official origin? and is that the official one today? also i heard jason statham was going to play him in the movie.