Like a good number of folks, I was sorely disappointed when Marvel Comics decided to pull the plug on David F. Walker and Sanford Greene’s superb Power Man And Iron Fist series after an all-too-brief run, but at today’s “Hollywood First, Comics Second” iteration of the so-called “House Of Ideas,” I guess it was too be expected — after all, Luke and Danny both have “stand-alone” series going on at Netflix, and are apparently only “allowed” to team up as part of the forthcoming The Defenders, so it only stands to reason that the same set-up would would be making its way over to the printed page. On the plus side, Walker is still writing the new solo Luke Cage book, but still — you knew damn well going in that the light-hearted, comedic tone of Power Man And Iron Fist would probably go by the wayside in favor of a more sober-minded, tonally-similar-to-the-TV-show iteration of everyone’s favorite bulletproof Hero For Hire, and sure enough, there’s not a single “fiddle-faddle” to be had in this new comic.
That being said, it’s still a fun and engaging read, even if it’s a bit more buttoned-down. Walker makes a surprise move by taking Luke out of his familiar NYC environs and transplanting him to New Orleans (at least for the opening story arc), and that proves to be a smart storytelling choice given that a new (if temporary) locale certainly lends itself to a new approach, and goes some way toward putting his protagonist in the same situation his readers are in — navigating through unfamiliar, perhaps even uneasy, but ultimately exciting territory.
The plot here revolves around Luke heading to The Big Easy to attend the funeral of the borderline-mad doctor who gave him the imitation super-soldier serum that turned him into a hero in the first place only to find that he’d made some less-than-savory contacts as he continued his experimental work in subsequent years, and one of these shady characters may have had a hand his demise, which is being sold to his friends and acquaintances as a suicide. Luke is pretty quick to smell a rat, of course, street-smart guy that he is, but there are those even more powerful than him who don’t take too kindly to his snooping around — isn’t that always the case?
We’re looking at pretty tried and true Chandler-esque stuff here, it’s gotta be said, but hey — it’s executed well, and nobody has a better grasp on Cage than Walker, obviously. He makes the cardinal mistake of telegraphing his cliffhanger halfway through the book (come on, whenever you mention a character who hasn’t been heard from in forever and a day you know they’re bound to turn up at the end), but even that plays out as more of a “yeah, I should have seen that coming” moment rather than a “hey, I saw that coming” moment, so it’s all good in my book. Do you really go into a comic like this looking to have the wheel re-invented before your eyes, anyway?
Unfortunately, I’m a little less enthusiastic about Nelson Blake II’s art than I am the script. It’s certainly clean, crisp, and reasonably expressive, no question about that, but it all feels a bit too meticulous for a “street-level” hero in my own humble estimation, and he skimps on the background details (when he even bothers to include any) to a degree that I find both irritating and, I’m sorry to say, lazy. Marcio Menyz redeems the visuals somewhat with his cinematic color palette that enhances the storytelling quite nicely (see the above sequence for proof of that which I speak), and Rahzzah’s powerful, dynamic cover is “Classic Cage” all the way, but the line art in this book just doesn’t give you enough for your $3.99 (which I paid out of my own pocket) to make you feel like it was necessarily money well spent.
Odds are that I’ll stick around to see how the first arc plays, out, though, and go from there. Luke Cage #1 didn’t knock my socks off, by any means, but the story, while predictable, was engrossing enough to pique my curiosity and Walker, in my experience, always delivers a payoff that rewards your continued reading. I don’t see myself loving this comic the way I did Power Man And Iron Fist, but I liked it well enough, and there’s no shame in reading comics you like.