During the early 1970s, the subgenre of blaxploitation films began emerging across the United States. While this popular genre was initially limited to films, in 1972 blaxploitation inspired the new comic character, Luke Cage. Luke was actually the first black superhero to star in his own comic book series, and is celebrating his 50th anniversary this year.
Luke, the brainchild of comic legends Archie Goodwin and John Romita, Sr., made his debut appearance in Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #1 (June 1972). Born Carl Lucas, Cage was raised in New York’s Harlem neighborhood, and spent most of his youth with the Rivals gang. Throughout his teen years, Luke worked for deformed mobster Sonny “Hammer” Caputo with his childhood friend, Willis Stryker.
Eventually, Luke saw the effect his poor behavior was having on his life and decided to make a change. While Luke began getting his life together, Stryker stuck with crime and became increasingly more violent. After a fight between the two, Stryker planted heroin in Luke’s home which resulted in him being arrested. While in prison, Luke’s brother intercepted letters between Luke and his father, leading each to believe the other is dead.
Consumed by rage over his father’s “death” and Stryker’s betrayal, Luke repeatedly tried to escape lock up. Eventually, he was recruited by Dr. Noah Burstein for experimentation based on the Super-Soldier process. Luke’s treatment accelerated past its intended limits, resulting in body-wide enhancements, giving him superhuman strength and durability, unbreakable skin, and an accelerated healing factor.
After escaping, Luke made his way to New York and used his newfound powers for profit. Luke donned a distinctive costume, established an office above the Gem Theater, and launched a career as a Hero for Hire. During this time, Luke faced off against criminals like Gideon Mace, Chemistro, Discus, Stiletto, Shades, and Comanche.
While Luke intended to battle only conventional criminals, New York proved to be a breeding ground for villains of the super variety. Throughout his heroic escapades, Luke became friends with the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Jessica Jones. Following the example of his super peers, Luke adopts the codename of Power Man.
Despite being a solo hero, Luke later begins associating with the loose-knit super-team, the Defenders. Alongside this group, he battled super groups like the Wrecking Crew and the Sons of the Serpent. The Defenders later defeated the Eel, Porcupine, Headmen, Nebulon, Egghead’s Emissaries of Evil, and Red Rajah. Luke eventually began to feel out of place with the bizarre exploits of the Defenders and resigned. Later on, Luke entered into a romantic relationship with Jones, eventually moving in together, having a child and getting married.
When the Superhuman Registration Act went into law, Luke and Jessica refused to register, comparing it to the Jim Crow laws of the past. Jessica took their baby girl to Canada while Luke stayed behind to join Captain America’s Secret Avengers. When Cap surrendered to the government, Luke went into hiding to reform the New Avengers, with the backing of Doctor Strange and new Captain America, Bucky.
Later when Steve Rogers returned, he and Tony Stark persuaded Luke to reform and lead the Avengers. In this role, he helped Doctor Strange, Brother Voodoo, and Daimon Hellstrom to stop Agamotto from destroying all of existence.
After he left the Avengers, Luke reunited with Jessica, Daredevil, and Iron Fist as the Defenders, along with Strange, Spider-Woman, and Cloak and Dagger, to fight the Army of Evil during “Secret Empire.” Luke and Jessica worked with Iron Man and Spider-Man in the “Hunt for Wolverine,” which leads them to a submarine where genetic material is being auctioned. The pair is shocked to learn that the genetic material isn’t from Wolverine, but instead from their daughter, Danielle. The team defeated Mister Sinister on the submarine and attacked his base to destroy the database holding information on Danielle and others.
In addition to various comic book series, Luke has made several appearances on animated television shows. They include The Super Hero Squad Show, The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers. He has also appeared as a playable character on nine video games, while appearing as a non-playable character on a few others. In 2015, Mike Colter made the debut live-action appearance as Luke on Netflix’s Jessica Jones series. He later reprised this role as the titular character on Netflix’s Luke Cage series. This show serves as Marvel's first TV series headlining a black superhero. Colter is set to reprise his role on Netflix’s crossover miniseries The Defenders, streaming on August 18, 2017.
From being the first black superhero to star in his own comic book series to leading Marvel’s first TV series headlining a black superhero, Luke Cage’s legacy continues to have a lasting impact.