Power Man #18
Issue(s): Power Man #18
Sometimes it's said that Cage's power levels are very uneven in his series, but usually you can come up with a plausible explanation for that. There's cases where he isn't knocking out non-powered bad guys in one punch, but that's because Cage would have to be pulling his punches in a major way to avoid crushing skulls. It's not too different than Spider-Man in that regards. And there are cases where he gets knocked down and even knocked out, but it's rare and there are usually extraordinary circumstances that help explain it. I think some of the resistance to Cage was due to the fact that he chooses to spend his time among ordinary people in Times Square instead of being the full-fledged super-hero that he always had the potential to be. He's "slumming it", in other words. I use the phrases "street level" and "slumming it" deliberately because i know they have a different connotation when applied to Cage than, say, Spider-Man (about which all of the above could also be said) and, consciously or not, i think people's impression of Cage is influenced by the fact that he's been presented as a ghetto character rather than a traditional super-hero, and that obscures his power levels. (And i am not calling you a racist if you don't think Cage should be an Avenger; i'm just saying in my reading of the character, he was usually written to be at that power level.)
(As an aside, to be fair, a lot of the criticism of the New Avengers was due to the overall composition of the team, not just Cage's membership. But i'll get to that much, much later. I'm just focusing on a subset of the criticism specific to Luke Cage's power levels here.)
Anyway, i bring all of this up because this issue is a very clear counter-example to everything i've just said. In this issue, Cage fights what is, at least as far as everything we are told, an ordinary construction worker. The guy, Steeplejack, has created a super-powered rivet gun, to be sure, and the fact that his super-hot rivets can burn Cage is no problem at all for me.
But he's also able to toss Cage around and tussle with him like an equal.
And while Cage can pull his punches...
...it's difficult to argue that he can "pull" a flying jump kick. So how is this guy still even talking after taking 300 pounds plus momentum to the chest?
Even in this issue, though, Cage doesn't act like he's at all threatened by Steeplejack physically...
...and the real challenges are keeping Plumm and ultimately Steeplejack from falling off the building (he fails in the latter, and Steeplejack dies), and the rivet gun.
Cage is fighting Steeplejack because he's protecting a Maxwell Plumm, the owner of the building that Steeplejack and his two brothers were killed on.
Steeplejack claims Plumm used substandard safety conditions. That claim isn't really investigated in this story, but we'll see Plumm again as Steeplejack II.
Steeplejack throws out a really heavy handed amount of "boys" and at least one "stud". Cage even gets in on the act, calling himself "Captain Afro American" (judging by "strikes again" maybe Cage has used that expression earlier and i missed it?).
This issue also has a turning point in the relationship between Luke and Claire Temple. The two have been moving towards a romance, but in this issue it's formalized, with Cage even seeking the blessing from his dead girlfriend, Reva.
My partner min always says that comic book writers really ought to read cheesy romance novels because they clearly need help with their romance writing. That "Oh Luke...Luke" stuff will get her rolling with laughter.
I do like the line about the headstone shuddering and then growing still, though.
With Claire and Luke now officially together, Doc Burstein suggests that Cage get serious about clearing his name by finding the rival gang that was competing with Diamondback prior to the start of issue #1. Since Diamondback is dead, the only people that can confirm that Luke was innocent is the other gang. This results in Cage talking with a number of colorful informants.
But it's the series' regular informant, Flea, who actually learns the identity of the other gang, and he's killed, although he's first able to tell Luke that it's Cottonmouth.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showClaire Temple, D.W. Griffith, Flea, Luke Cage, Noah Burstein, Steeplejack, Steeplejack II, Wichita Kid
Part of the reason why people think of Luke Cage as a street-level hero is the Official Handbooks had him as weaker than Spider-Man. The other reason, (and that relates directly to this issue) is Len Wein. Len Wein didn't think that Cage had super-strength, and as a result had him getting tossed around by "normal" human opponents.
Posted by: Michael | April 16, 2013 7:47 PM
For whatever reason Marvel takes awhile to decide just how strong a super-strong character is. The Thing gets stronger over time, I believe, and I know Colossus does. In the latter case the excuse is he was just a teen when he started, but even beyond that I think his power was discounted too much for too long in the Handbook and other reference works.
What's this about Cage being as strong as Wonder-Man, though? Wondy's fists hit as hard as Thor's hammer, supposedly. He's in the same league as Thor and the Hulk. My preference would be for Cage to be in about the Rogue/Ms. Marvel class or a bit less, class 50. The authorities all used to say he could only press about three tons, though.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | April 16, 2013 9:53 PM
You're right of course about Danny being portrayed as several tiers below Cage in their shared book. It's one of the things I dislike about PM&IF. Once I read Iron Fist's own series and saw why he was called the Living Weapon, a guy who can take on half the X-Men by himself, PM&IF seemed belittling to its co-lead.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | April 16, 2013 9:57 PM
It's interesting. I've always felt cage was too strong to be a street level hero but works well as one. But its not his strength (which ive always seen as equal to spidey due to their blow for blow exchange in ASM 123). But his invulnerability. He can't be hurt by conventional means really, unlike say Spider-man or iron fist who, if he makes a mistake, could get shot like anybody else.
Posted by: Kveto from Prague | April 17, 2013 3:28 AM
I didn't mean to turn this into a stack-ranking of super-characters (although that's fine!) but i used Power Man / Wonder Man because Luke will beat Erik Josten in a few issues and Josten was created with the same technology that created Wonder Man. And, like Luke, both are ordinary-looking people that are super-strong and invulnerable. I know Roger Stern later decided that Josten had been losing power over the years but i don't think that was the intent at this time and i expect that Cage's defeat of Josten was a big part of the reason Stern thought he needed to do that story, which gets back into some of the issues i talked about above (along with the reason the Handbooks rank Cage as low as they do).
Maybe the issue here is that while, as Walter mentions, a lot of characters' power levels have increased over time, Cage's powers remained stagnant or even decreased. But reading these stories (well, except for this one!), it's clear that Cage always had the potential to be up there in the true super-strength category.
Posted by: fnord12 | April 17, 2013 9:25 AM
But now you've got me wondering if Wonder Man---no pun intended---is really as strong as I think he is, or if the first Wondy stories I read happened to be written by someone who wrote his power levels upwards, much as some writers seem to have personally raised or lowered Cage's power level. It's like the how strong is Mr Hyde question---wildly different and incompatible answers over the years. It's possible that there were no standard rules for this kind of thing before Gruenwald (and Stern/Byrne---their sensibilities matched Gru's at just the right moment).
One of the oddities of comics is that one's idea of a character and his abilities depends, usually, on how the character was written when one first encountered him. To me, depictions of the super-Skrull as super-nasty are out of character, because I first encountered him in Engelhart's Silver Surfer, where he was written nobly. But it was Engelhart who wrote out of character: the Byrne version is closer to the original, but always feels off to me.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | April 17, 2013 11:50 PM
Cage's invulnerability is problematic as well as his strength: his skin is steel hard, but guys like Sabertooth are said to be able to rend steel with their muscles and claws or whatever. Steel isn't a very tough material even by Iron Fist villain standards. Shouldn't Cage be at least diamond-hard?
Posted by: Walter Lawson | April 17, 2013 11:57 PM
Well, Sabretooth has had a power-up in recent years. Originally he lost to just about every hero and no talk about "rending steel" in those early appearances.
I've never believed the "Wonder-man hits like Thor's hammer" nonsense. Remember, it was notorious liar Baron Zemo who first said that line that Wondy often repeats. After coming out of his coma, Wondy got knocked out cold by the Beast (not exactly a Thor level foe)
Your comment about how you feel about a character when you first encounter them is dead on. Case in point, I first met Klaw in Secret Wars, so it's hard for me to get behind the "evil genius" Klaw, even if that is his real personality.
Posted by: Kveto from Prague | April 18, 2013 4:02 AM
Maxwell Plumm's name may be a reference to the then-famous Manhattan restaurant Maxwell's Plum
Posted by: Omar Karindu | May 24, 2018 5:41 PM
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