Obviously, Luke Cage is the man of the hour at Marvel right now thanks to the tremendous success, both critical and commercial, of the Netflix series bearing his name, so it’s only logical that their editorial brain trust would be ready in advance to capitalize on his small-screen superstardom with a solo series featuring the Hero for Hire on the printed page, as well. Unfortunately for us all, David Walker and Sanford Greene’s usually-awesome Power Man And Iron Fist monthly has been hijacked, like so many other titles at the moment, into the dull and derivative Civil War II fold, but fear not — while we’re all anxiously waiting for that crossover debacle to mercifully limp to its conclusion so that we can finally have our books back, the latest (and fourth, by my count) Marvel Now! initiative has kicked off with Cage!, a new four-parter from the mind and pencil of Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack creator Genndy Tartakovsky that blows off continuity altogether in favor of a stand-alone, self-contained adventure set in 1977 Harlem that new readers are sure to find immediately accessible.
Oh yeah — it’s also every bit as awesome and infectiously fun as you’ve probably already guessed it would be.
This first issue is a briskly-paced and breezy affair that sees our guy Luke make quick work of a bandit gang known as The Bank Rollers, lay down some Dr. J-esque streetball jams with a group or local kids that might as well come straight out of a Spalding ad from the period the book is set in, and then discover that all the super-heroes in New York have gone missing — barring himself and a handful of X-Men, which leads to a confrontation (of sorts) with a typically-distraught Cyclops. It’s magnificent to look at, magnificent to read, and all over in the space of about five minutes. But at least those are five minutes you’ll spend smiling from ear to ear.
Really, all a Cage-centric book has to do is show our man kicking lots of ass and having fun doing it, and while there are creators — most notably Brian Azzarello and Richard Corben — who have attempted, with much success, to do “something more” with the character, he always has (and probably always will) come out best when folks just stick to the basics. Tartakovsky does that here, and does it with considerable flair, thanks not only to his own inventive page layouts and the fluid pacing of his action sequences, but to the contributions of inker Stephen DeStefano and colorist Scott Wills, as well. DeStefano, for his part, leaves his own ego in check and brings out the dynamism of the pencils, while Wills employs a suitably vibrant and dare-I-say-it fun color palette that really makes the art “pop” off the page. Sure, the story is fine and Tartakovsky has Cage’s dialogue and rolling internal monologue nailed to a “T,” but let’s not kid ourselves for a minute — this is a book you’re buying for the art, and it’s on that score especially that Cage! #1 really delivers.
In many ways, this book hearkens back not so much to 1977 as it does to late-’90s, Bill Jemas-era Marvel, when the company, fresh out of bankruptcy, was throwing a lot of different shit at the wall to see what would stick (remember? We even had Peter Bagge working on Spider-Man there for a minute). Now that the so-called “House of Ideas” is ruling the roost across all media, though, and views their characters as “brands” they need to “protect,” this sort of free-wheeling, “fun-first” comic simply isn’t something we see much of anymore, and that’s a damn shame. Hopefully the sure-fire sales success they have with this series will encourage them to break the mold more often.
Here’s the kicker you didn’t see coming, though — I’m not necessarily recommending that you actually buy this comic. Yeah, I loved it — but it’s too insubstantial a read to warrant its $3.99 cover price, and since we know it’s only going to last four issues going in, and that the others are certain to be equally quick reads, I’m not sure I can in good conscience tell you that the whole package is going to be worth 16 of your hard-earned dollars. I definitely think you should both purchase and read Cage!, don’t get me wrong — but for the sake of your wallet, you would probably be wise to wait for it to come out in trade paperback, which I’m sure it will within weeks of the fourth installment’s release. Am I picking it up singles? Of course. But you’re smarter than me.