Hello, and welcome to my comic review for the recent Luke Cage Epic Collection: Retribution. This Marvel epic collection collects Hero for Hire (1972) #1-16, Power Man (1974) #17-23 and it is currently up for around $25.99 on Amazon when this post was written. So, let’s start talking about Power Man!
First, I want to write a little side note here. I am a huge fan of Luke Cage, even before he got his show on Netflix. I was first introduced to the character through Bendis’ New Avengers and found myself looking up reading orders online to see how I could get more comics with this character. The stories collected in this epic collection are the same ones that I read when I looked into the character. I got this book to relive those moments I had reading these bronze age stories. Now that I have said my piece, let me get to the review.
To start, I want to talk about how much I like the mapping for this epic collection. It collects the Goodwin’s origin through the Retribution three parter that the book is named after and collects Power Man #17-23. A minor annoyance is that it just sort of cuts off at the end and leaves readers on a big cliff hanger as to what happened with Claire Temple. However, I think that this epic collection is great because it makes enough room for Marvel to consider a second volume collecting Power man #24-47. Which would line right up to the Power Man and Iron Fist Epic collections that they just started reprinting. This is nice because it means that we, as readers, only need to have two epic collections of Luke Cage and then get the Power Man and Iron Fist ones as well. This is worth it unless Marvel makes the mistake of splitting up this potential second collection. Another great part about this book is that many, if not nearly all of these stories, have not been reprinted before so it is worth it for many Marvel fans to pick up these old stories. I think that this collection is a good deal for any fans of the Hero for Hire or for any Marvel fans that are interested in this era of Marvel.
As for the stories in this collection, there were a few standouts that every comic book fan should read. Immediately, Hero for Hire #1 is on that list because it is a perfect origin story that takes the reader away from the standard super hero story and gives Luke an entire issue to flush out what made him strong and explain why he is helping people in New York. It sets up so many of the big characters right off the bat, which is really impressive because most of the characters in the story come back multiple times as either villains or allies to Luke later on in his adventures. Overall, it is a strong and cinematic opening to comics first black superhero to helm his own book. Something that is mentioned over and over on the covers.
Another story, that I thought was a game changer was the Retribution storyline that the collection is named after. It calls back to Luke’s origin, that I just mentioned, and the fear of his secret life becoming public. It is a real nail bitter at moments and makes you wonder what will happen to Luke if his past does come out. It also does a great job showing the reader that Luke isn’t the type of man to run away which is very true to his character. My only issue with this story was the character of Stiletto, who I still haven’t decided whether or not is a good antagonist for Luke Cage. However, this little nit pick doesn’t bring down the story for me because I think it is well done.
Another story that I liked was Power Man #17. Iron Man vs Luke Cage was a really neat fight to read and made me wonder what the actual outcome would have been if this was written today. I am not so sure that Luke could have held his own. However it is the story that changed the title and adds a neat origin to his new name with Luke beating a villain and saying, “just chalk it up to Black Power, man.” It’s a funny little origin and shows what they were going for with the character. After that though there is an AMAZING story I need to talk about…
Power Man #21, may just be the second best Luke Cage story of all time. (SPOILERS AHEAD) The story revolves around the original Power Man, who was an Avengers villain gunning it for Luke Cage after Luke took his title. Luke clearly forgot about this dude, just like every other Marvel reader, but it made for some funny dialogue because this guy who clearly wants to be remembered but comes off as a nobody yelling, “I defeated the Avengers once!” You gotta love it.
However, the best part is Luke Cage. He initially goes to bring Claire some flowers and to finally confess his love for her, only to find that she left him a dear john letter and left for L.A. alone. Luke becomes distraught because he had gone through everything including confronting his past to be with this woman and to become a better man for her just for her to vanish. After this, Luke Cage thinks about giving up the hero business that day and his bad attitude is prevalent in the way he treats the people around him. But when he is confronted by the previous Power Man in the theatre, the best part happens. Luke Cage finds a little girl hiding and asks Power Man to stop and to let her leave. Power Man tells Luke that she doesn’t matter and at this moment, we get a second origin for the character in a way. He sees now that he wanted to help the little girl just like he helped Claire and Luke gets mad. Angrier than we have ever see him before and he charges in. After winning the fight Luke finds the little girl and they go get Ice cream. (Which is just a great ending for any superhero story!)
I think that this story does a great job acting as a rebirth for the character. His old reason for doing everything goes away and the point for being Luke Cage, Hero for Hire is gone. However, he still decides to help the little girl. He isn’t doing this for Claire and he isn’t doing this for money. He is doing this for the little girl and to finally help someone without looking for a paycheck. I think that this is the story where we first see Luke Cage become a hero and it is a must read!
Oh, and you may wonder what is the best Luke Cage story? It is the one where Luke Cage gets ripped off by Doctor Doom and Luke takes a Fantastic Four Jet to Latveria and DEFEATS Doctor Doom for $200. I’ll repeat that, he does all that and creates a robot revolution at Doomstadt for $200…
Anyway, I have shared that there are some classic stories in this collection that are really fun to read. The art at points is really good and I think anyone looking in this era can appreciate the artists that jump onto the book for periods of time. George Tuska and Billy Graham were the two that really stuck out for me as the ones to define the character.
I mentioned my only issue with these stories above in one of the stories I recommended. And that issue is the constant connection to Seagate prison with characters like Stiletto. The character, Stiletto, appears in a Power Man story, but again I feel like the character’s goal of trying to send Luke back to Seagate was a huge mistake and made Stiletto a confusing character. I like seeing people from Luke’s prison days pop up like Shades and Comanche, but I feel like bringing in the son of the second warden who appeared for like three pages was starting to stretch and become boring. Luke needed to start moving away from his past and confronting it for him to become a better character. Newer villains would have done a far better job. I was quite interested in the rivalry between Cottonmouth and Morgan for the drug ring of New York. I feel like they really wasted those characters and what could have been something really unique. In fact, the Crime Syndicate that Diamondback talked about in the second issue would have made a perfect group of antagonists for Luke to go up against and give the book a larger goal of bringing down the crime syndicate and cleaning up up the streets. At the same time, he could act as a hero for hire and help around with his neighbors and show that he is a true hero. But it is too late to think about that now as we got what we got and I am not complaining about it, I just see the opportunity to build more for Luke Cage.
Before I score the book, I want to say that I had a lot of fun reading it and I really hope that Marvel goes forward with another Epic Collection to follow this one.
(How good is the story? Does it stand up to others?)
(Does it tell the story? Does it work well with the character?)
(Does this story need to be told? Is it helping the Character?)
(Is the character represented well? Does the writer understand the character?)
Total: 17.3 / 20