Quick Review: Luke Cage: Noir
The next in my series of Marvel Noir reviews, Luke Cage: Noir is a stylish and hip series by screenwriter (Entourage, the Bernie Mac Show) and comic book scribe (Punisher, Moon Knight) writer Mike Benson and Adam Glass (Deadpool Team-Up). Based on the street level pugilist Luke Cage (sometimes AKA Power Man), this has to be the most naturally adapted character into the Noir genre. A hard-luck hero, Cage of the Marvel Universe was incarcerated while his best friend grew a criminal empire and made time with Cage’s main squeeze. Given an opportunity to shorten his sentence, he agreed to take part in an experimental operation in conjunction with Stark Industries. One of the prison guards tries to murder Cage by messing with the equipment and transforms the convict into an indestructible super-strong human. After establishing himself with a new name, Cage also turns his abilities into a money-making idea by hiring himself out as a hero for anyone who can afford his services.
The Noir-style version of Luke Cage also has its origin in the character serving time and being involved with a no-good hoodlum. It uses the ‘indestructible’ angle in a very interesting way as well. In Luke Cage: Noir, the story concerns Cage coming home to Harlem after a long stretch inside. The city is intensely segregated and the only white people around are tourists attracted by the music and culture of the area. Cage is a legend in the area for being bullet proof, a mystery that is told out of sequence and only revealed at the close of the story. Cage is looking for his woman Josephine whom he has not seen in ten years and soon learns met a sticky end. In the course of his search, he is encouraged to leave town by his old friend Stryker (now a major player in the crime world). He is also approached by a rich white man looking to discover who killed his wife. Why Cage is hired as a private eye he cannot understand yet he also cannot seem to escape the case either and soon learns that it is not as straight forward as it seems.
The look and feel of the book is just as cinematic as the other Marvel Noir series, with characters and settings seething off of the page with a voice of their own. Artist Shawn Martinbrough’s line work is such a strong element in the comic book that it operates as a bass line to Benson’s lyrics. Think of Chinatown directed by a young hip Spike Lee. I have always been intrigued by the character of Luke Cage and while I’m happy that he has new found popularity in modern comics, I think that he has lost an essential quality that made him so unique and enjoyable. There are glimpses in the under-rated House of M: Avengers series but by and large, he doesn’t have the same intensity or character that he once exuded. Luke Cage: Noir captures the hero’s spirit perfectly and further develops him in a new way. The series utilizes the setting of a segregated Harlem during the age of prohibition so well that you wish it were a movie. But it’s something better, it’s a great comic.