Monday, September 19, 2005

This Comic Was Not As Bad As You Would Think - Cage: The Evil and the Cure

Generally speaking, when you remember a comic from Marvel in the early 90s being pretty good, when you reread it, you are almost always disappointed, as often books that seemed good at the time really were not all that good, but you were just judging them by context (compared to the REST of the garbage being produced, the book seemed good...stuff like that). So when I picked an old Cage story arc from 1992 to re-read (#5-8), I was not expecting much, because I remembered DISliking the story at the time, so who KNOWS how it would hold up today.

Surprisingly, the comic really is not THAT bad. It is bad, but that is generally due to two factors: 1. Dwayne Turner turns in the worst art of his career and B. The story just collapses midway through the arc.

However, there are more things to recommend in this issue than you would expect.

Writer Marc McLaurin deserves some respect of any fans of Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, because it was McLaurin, in his editorial capacity, that helped give us Marvels.

Says Busiek:
He'd [Alex Ross] done a bunch of presentation paintings of Marvel characters he liked the most, with an eye toward doing an ongoing anthology series of painted stories, with him being one of the painters. I talked him into the idea that he'd have better luck if what he was pitching was a mini-series, with a single overarching story, where he'd do the whole thing -- a newcomer wasn't likely to sell Marvel on a new ongoing anthology series. Anyway, we'd batted around ideas for how such a mini-series could work, when Marc McLaurin at Marvel saw Alex's samples and wanted to know what these Marvel paintings were, was there a project in that?

So we ended up pitching MARVELS to Marcus, and it went through several versions (all the different proposals are in the Tenth Anniversary Hardcover) before it got accepted. But once it did, away we went, and that was the result. I think we had a lot of freedom on the project because nobody knew it was going to be such a hit, so they didn't pay too much attention to what we were doing.
So, as they would say in Caddyshack, he's got that going for him.

However, his Cage has some interesting points. The premise of the series is that Cage teams up with a newspaper. He checks out leads and uses his muscle to help people, and they cut him a percentage of the money they make from the story. Not the greatest premise, but McLaurin sells it, I think. In addition, there is a fight in the beginning where Cage keeps a community watch (which he likens to a lynch mob in their rabib enthusiasam) at bay and explains to them that to live outside the law, you must be honest. See! A Dylan quote! Already this book is shaping up well!

In any event, a young supporting cast member shows up with money to hire Cage to help find his legal guardian, who apparently was working with the mob. Cage and his photographer friend, Micky, drive from Chicago to Colorado to check it out. Once there, Cage is attacked by a man with the same powers of his!!

Taken prisoner, we learn that some bad guy is experimenting with the process that gave Cage his powers (in case you didn't know, Cage was in jail for a crime he did not commit. He was released early after he volunteered for an experiment. The experiment ended up giving him super strength and skin as hard as steel). The man that Cage is tracking down is jailed along with Cage (although he thinks Cage is sent by the mob, because he was skimming off the top).

The plan is simple enough. They pull over people driving rental cars with no family, then they prison them and experiment on them. If the experiment is a "success," they work as guards, because since they have NOT yet managed to duplicate the process, all the subjects will eventually "power out." So they have to work for the bad guys, or else they are signing their own death warrants. Still, there is some interesting thought in there about the concept of "guards" and "prisoners" and how the roles are so close to each other. Cage also gets to shout out lines like "If all you're trying to do is stay alive, then you've already lost."

The story falls apart in part 3, when the West Coast Avengers get involved, and the story just loses ALL coherence. The next two issues are just filled with lots of explosions and fights and terrible Dwayne Turner art (I don't think it is Chris Ivy's inks, so I don't know WHAT the deal is...I habe never seen Turner's art look this bad). The West Coast Avengers have absolutelt no personality, and really, when you're bringing in the WEST COAST Avengers, you're in trouble already, creatively.

Dakota North was also a supporting character, and she is tracking down a mystery involving Luke's dead father. Her plot was lame, except that she gets to read some letters Luke wrote to his father in prison. They were good, giving us insight into Luke below all the bravado.

The letter column for the first issue had a complaint about Luke Cage being just "another NWA," and expressing disappointment with the series. I have to say, surprsingly enough, I really did not think that Luke DID come off that bad in the series. I think McLaurin did a good job, especially with the dialogue, as Luke seemed "street-level" without seeming over the top. And his relationship with Micky was quite nice. Two black men have intelligent conversation. Good to see in a comic book that some might worry was "blaxplotation." Trust me, this book is nowhere NEAR Azz' Cage.

So yeah, I would not recommend these comics, but if you are really interested in Luke Cage, as seen in New Avengers, I think you would be pleasantly surprised at how "not that bad" these comics are.

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Blogger T. said...

I started this book in the 90s and after a few issues I dropped it, even though I was enjoying it overall. Can't remember exactly why? I remember finding Luke Cage's appearance weird as his skin tone and appearance were totally different than previously, even taking into account the different costume. He was lighter-skinned and really stocky, I think the idea was to make him look like Mike Tyson since Tyson was a popular celebrity at the time.

9/19/2005 01:23:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Excellent point.

They DID mess with his look, and since he DID sorta look like Mike Tyson, I guess that's as good of an explanation as anything.

9/19/2005 06:19:00 PM  
Anonymous thekamisama said...

I always thought Ostrander's Heroes for Hire was superior. The first four or five issues of that were pretty good.
Given a run for the money, I'd put my bets on Marvel's African American 90's heroes over those Milestone guys anyday!

Deathlok baby!!!!

9/19/2005 06:32:00 PM  
Blogger Goody said...

This was hardly the worst art of Dwayne Turner's career. His Authority run killed the title.

10/05/2005 01:50:00 PM  

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