In 1972, the superhero called Luke Cage was introduced to the world by Marvel Comics. Created by Archie Goodwin and John Romita Sr., Cage was the recipient of superhuman powers as a result of experimentation performed on him during a wrongful imprisonment. Many years after his creation, Cage would become the leader of a group with the word “Avengers” as their team identification.
“Avengers,” as in “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” as in People Who Avenge.
There are a few handfuls of Black superheroes in mainstream comics, and the number is growing, although a number of them have come and gone — or at the very least, gone on a long hiatus or two.
This year is the 42nd anniversary of Luke Cage, and a number of people have surely wondered how the character manages to keep coming back, staying on the scene, like the friend who has your back even when he or she isn’t in close physical proximity to you.
What is the quality that makes it natural to keep Luke Cage in the periphery at the least, and the center at best?
For one possible answer to that question, you have to look at the MO of Marvel Comics, a company that endeavors, at various times, to reflect “the world outside your window.”
Luke Cage was created in 1972.
Four years earlier, in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed.
Five years before that, in 1963, Medgar Evers was shot and killed.
Eight years before that, in 1955, a young Black man named Emmett Till was tortured, then shot and killed.
These events, and numerous others with frightening similarity, happened in a line, and in the early years of the first decade to reap the social benefits of the Civil Rights Movement, Marvel Comics gives the fans (and the world) a Black male superhero whose primary superhuman aspect… is that he’s bulletproof.
Not flight, or super speed, or a power ring.
The superhuman ability of being impervious to bullets.
Superheroes. Action heroes. Fantasy heroes.
Is there any doubt the power fantasy of the Black man in the years following multiple assassinations of his leaders and children by way of the gun would be superhuman resistance to bullets?
In American society, the Black man has come a long way from the terrors of the past handful of centuries, only to crash right into the terrors of the 21st century. Some of those terrors being the same exact ones their grandparents had to face and survive — or not.
There are Black men who are wealthy, powerful, formidable and/or dangerous. They can affect change undreamt of by their parents, and their parents’ parents. Their children will be able to change the world in ways we can intuit and others we can barely begin to try and predict.
But a bullet can rip through their flesh and their future with no effort whatsoever.
And so we look at Luke Cage, a man who gets shot on a regular basis, whose body language is such that he is expecting to be shot at, prepared for the impact — because he knows he can take it.
In the earliest days of his exploits, in the alternate reality or “Marvel Noir” titles in which he is alive during the Harlem Renaissance, in the present as the leader of a team of superheroes, and soon on computers and mobile devices throughout the world, by way of the upcoming live-action series on Netflix.
Fantasy is connected to fears superficial and deep, and our heroes represent what we can be, what we hope to be, and sometimes what we can never be.
And maybe, in the subconscious of the uni-mind of Marvel Comics, is the understanding that Luke Cage may unfortunately always be a relevant fantasy idea for the Black man.
2012 – Trayvon Martin is shot and killed.
2013 – Jonathan Ferrell is shot and killed.
2014 – Michael Brown is shot and killed.
2015/2016 – Luke Cage premieres on Netflix.
I look forward to seeing if the Luke Cage of that show will have a true understanding of his power and what he symbolizes.