Hero For Hire #14-16
Issue(s): Hero For Hire #14, Hero For Hire #15, Hero For Hire #16
After a few issues with super-villains (including lion- and casino-themed ones), we get back to Luke Cage's roots for the last issues of the series with the Hero For Hire title.
Unfortunately the arc is a mess. There were deadline issues, resulting in much sketchier art than we've been getting from Graham, especially in issue #15...
...which also only has 11 pages of new story; the rest of the book was a reprint of a story from Sub-Mariner Comics #35. It's a shame, especially since it starts with Graham doing full art plus scripting on the first two issues; it's pretty amazing but also totally as it should be for Marvel's (i think) only black creator to be nearly fully responsible for this book. Additional strange credits indicating the extra help needed include "Camp counselor" for Steve Englehart on issue #15 and a "special thanks" to Len Wein and Marv Wolfman on issue #16. McLaughlin comes in to ink #16 and Graham doesn't get any kind of writing credit.
These are also among Tony Isabella's first issues at Marvel.
By "back to Luke Cage's roots", i mean it. The plot of these issue features the return of Billy Bob Rackham, the racist prison guard from issue #1. And it also has Cage's former fellow inmates Shades and Comanche escaping from Seagate prison.
Shades and Comanche are actually really interesting here, especially to me, since i first encountered the pair as super-villains (despite their costumes, they don't have powers yet).
In this story, they have escaped from prison not to go after Cage, but to go after Rackham, since he made life in prison as miserable for them as he did for Luke. In fact, Cage reluctantly partners with them when the going gets rough (more on that when i get to the proper plot summary)...
...and at the very end of the story, when the police arrive, Shades and Comanche get arrested, but they don't tip off the cops to the fact that Cage is really Carl Lucas, also an escaped prisoner.
Another curiosity in this arc is Big Ben Donovan. Mrs. Frank Jenks shows up at Luke Cage's office again; she's being pursued by her lawyer, who was supposed to be helping settle the affairs of her late husband, but instead started taking her out on the town and getting drunk.
And when Mrs. Jenks wouldn't put out, he started getting violent and she had to run.
He literally bursts into the office...
...and gets into a big brawl with Cage.
He's described as being 330 pounds and all muscle, like the Kingpin.
Cage finally pounds the guy into submission, and then later in the story Cage is referring to Ben as his lawyer. I know times are tough all around, but i'm not sure having a rapey violent drunk as your lawyer is the best move.
Donovan will have a number of additional appearances.
Anyway, the main plot. Rackham hooks up with reporter Phil Fox, who knows that Cage is an escaped convict. Fox's plan is to blackmail Cage into working for him...
...but of course Rackham is just out for revenge since he was fired as a prison guard after the incident that seemingly killed Cage. Rackham kidnaps Mrs. Jenks under the impression that she's Claire Temple, and when that turns out to have been the wrong move he starts beating her relentlessly (i don't care that she was snooty about her dead husband; this poor woman has been through a lot).
When Fox intervenes, Rackham shoots him.
Claire shows up after the shooting and gets accused of the murder and put in jail. She also learns about Cage's history.
Rackham flees with Jenks...
...while Cage visits Claire in prison to learn what happened. Despite the rough art in issue #15, this was a cool panel where Cage is hiding from the police at the prison so that he can talk to Claire through a window six floors up.
It's at this point that Cage hooks up with Shades and Comanche. With Claire in jail, Jenks kidnapped, and his cover in jeopardy, he is feeling desperate.
It also introduces another new character, a vigilante whose full backstory isn't shown but who clearly has a thing for ex-cons.
The character is mercifully wearing pants, unlike his picture on the cover. Stiletto attacks while Cage and his allies are inside the house that they've tracked Rackham to.
As the house collapses around them, we get (i think, unless i've missed something) an early Christmas. It's still not sweet yet.
(See the comments from Silverbird and Erik below. I originally thought this was the first not-yet-sweet Christmas, but it's not.)
Everyone survives the house crashing, but while Cage is fighting Stiletto...
...Rackham gets hit by the ambulance that is coming for Mrs. Jenks, and dies.
I would love to know if this panel, from issue #14, was scripted by Englehart or Graham. I think i need the nun from Airplane! to help me translate.
The art in issue #16 is much more together. Stiletto feels both underdeveloped (his vigilante philosophy and relationship with his father are only hinted at) and tacked on to the Rackham story, and he's kinda lame, but otherwise this is an interesting end to a chapter in Cage's life, with both Phil Fox and Billy Bob Rackham killed, and Marvel maybe bowing to market pressure a bit by advertising a guest-appearance by Iron Man next issue along with the title change to Power Man.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (4): showBig Ben Donovan, Billy Bob Rackham, Claire Temple, Comanche, Flea, Luke Cage, Mimi Jenks, Noah Burstein, Phil Fox, Shades, Stiletto
I kinda like this arc. It feels more meaningful than the last few one or two part stories recently. It felt like Cage was really in danger of being exposed.
I do find it interesting that the most over-the-top stereotype in this comic is the buck-toothed white Southerner Billy Bob.
I kinda like Stilletto and his vigilante angle. He thinks he's the good guy. But I do laugh that he chose one of the few heroes that his powers are completely useless against. I mean any other hero would be in danger from flying razor blades, except the guy with steel skin. It surprising that he became a steady antagonist of Mr Cage. Almost as silly as the Masked Maurader taking as a nemisis the one hero immune to his power.
Posted by: Kveto from Prague | March 27, 2013 6:09 PM
Stiletto's problem was that he had a mysterious "third partner" (other than Discus) hinted at in later issues of Cage. When Stiletto's patron was eventually revealed to be Justin Hammer, it was difficult to reconcile with the vigilante angle.
Posted by: Michael | March 27, 2013 7:53 PM
true. Hammer financing Stiletto makes zero sense. I doubt that was the original intention.
Posted by: Kveto from Prague | March 28, 2013 3:16 PM
Given what the Village People's costumes were supposed to represent, I'm guessing Comanche's "village' comment was a jab at gays.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | March 30, 2013 3:11 PM
I think the village comment was meant to be about Greenwich village, the artist capital, not anything "village people" related.
Posted by: Kveto from Prague | March 31, 2013 5:05 PM
True, the Village People didn't exist at this point, but Greenwich Village was indeed known as one of the centers of gay culture back then(I think the infamous gay bar The Anvil was located there).
Posted by: Mark Drummond | March 31, 2013 5:09 PM
You surprised me there by saying this issue featured the first "Christmas!". You must have missed something. I don't own any of these early Luke Cage issues but I noticed in just the pictures you put up that he started to say it a while ago. Even twice in two consecutive panels, from issue 11 I believe.
Posted by: Silverbird | November 30, 2014 10:58 PM
If you saw it, i'm happy to accept that i missed something. I did notice instances of Sweet *Sister* in issues #4, #10-11, and #12, and i remember very carefully reading issue #7 since it was a Christmas issue. But it's possible a Sweet Christmas (or several) slipped past me since it's such a "natural" thing for Luke to say.
Posted by: fnord12 | December 1, 2014 3:25 PM
I didn't notice any sweet christmas's either. I'm sorry if you miss understood me or I you, but you made it sound as though this was the first time Christmas was spoken at all, sweet or unsweet.
Posted by: Silverbird | December 1, 2014 10:17 PM
Just to close the loop, yeah, i actually meant that this was the first time that i saw Luke say "Christmas" (not just "Sweet Christmas") as an epithet. But it is possible that i'm wrong. One day i'll give these issues another read-through and try to find the ones i missed.
Posted by: fnord12 | December 3, 2014 11:20 AM
Based on what he said, I looked at the page for #10-11, and yes in the scan where Senor Suerte dies, Luke exclaims Christmas two panels in a row.
Posted by: Erik Robbins | December 3, 2014 9:01 PM
Thank you, Erik (and Silverbird!). I've updated the entry here and on the #10-11 entry, but i think i still need to go through the issues at some point in case i missed a Christmas that i didn't include as a scan.
Posted by: fnord12 | December 5, 2014 7:50 AM
Comments are now closed.
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