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Essential Luke Cage/Power Man Volume One
posted April 12, 2007

imageCreators: Roy Thomas, John Romita, Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Tony Isabella, George Tuska, Billy Graham
Publishing Information: Marvel, softcover, 544 pages, March 2005, $16.99
Ordering Numbers: 0785116850 (ISBN), 978-0785116851 (ISBN13)

The one thing that leaps out about reading a bunch of Luke Cage comics from the 1970s is how attractive the scale of the comic remains after all this time. Except for a trip to Latveria that stands out as crazy because of its extravagance and a trip to California that the lead takes on a bus, the Hero for Hire seems content to work about a 12-block grid around his office with occasional stabs to different parts of New York City or slightly outside it to meet the demands of the case. Living and working over a shady New York revivals movie theater seemed pretty cool to kid version me: one of those living arrangements that sounds like a superhero hideout (or at least a private eye's headquarters) even when you come across the possibility in real life. Most decent superhero comics have that sense of scale that maybe only Daredevil has now. It grounds the character, and provides a recurring standard against which to measure that month's adventure -- a less abstract reality where we can more easily track the consequences and stakes of actions that take place within it.

The comic itself is B-Level 1970s Marvel comic book adventures, which seemed to fall into a pattern of presenting television crime story plots and plopping a superpowered protagonist in its midst who makes it imbalanced. In most cases, that imbalance then shifts the other way teeter-totter style by introducing a superpowered antagonist which our hero either figures out, overcomes by repeated applications of strength through willpower, or escapes by matter of chance or the bad guy's hubris. It's pretty crude stuff if you have anything other than other superhero stories to use as a standard. Still, the character is appealing enough, and he sports a concept that's not keyed into his secret origin. And in a tiny way it's a postcard from a very different New York City; I can't imagine a Times Square headquartered Luke Cage living over the ESPN Sports Zone.