With the news of Luke Cage getting his own brand-new ongoing series in May, we thought it would be nice to look back upon Luke Cage’s history and celebrate his greatest victories. Luke Cage, generally speaking, has had two very different careers as a fighter in comics. He has always had bulletproof skin and super strength, but after a second experiment in the ’90s, his strength levels jumped considerably.
Thus, Cage went from being mostly a street-level hero to being able to tangle with much stronger villains. That’s not to say he had not already had some impressive victories beforehand, but when his power level went up, so too did his “superhero weight class,” as it were. So, as we count down the greatest Luke Cage victories, please note that most of them come from the last 25 years’ worth of Luke Cage stories.
15. BULLSEYE AND VENOM
After “Civil War,” Norman Osborn was given control of a group of supervillains called the Thunderbolts who helped to hunt down unregistered superheroes. During the Skrull invasion in “Secret Invasion,” Osborn became a public hero fighting against the Skrulls. Coupled with Iron Man very publicly being taken down by the Skrulls, Osborn was named his replacement as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. (he re-named it H.A.M.M.E.R.). Osborn then took his Thunderbolts and, after adding a few new members, formed his “Dark” Avengers.
Luke Cage had been on the run with the real Avengers when he cut a deal with Osborn to help find Cage’s infant daughter, who had been kidnapped by a Skrull. In exchange for finding the girl, Cage would agree to work for the former Goblin. Osborn found Danielle and her Skrull captor, and had him killed. Cage decided that he could not put up with working for a killer like Osborn, so he sucker-punched two of Osborn’s Avengers, Venom (the “Dark” Spider-Man) and Bullseye (the “Dark” Hawkeye) and then escaped from Avengers Tower. Since they weren’t expecting the attack, and thus, were not prepared, this fight (while satisfying for Luke, of course) is less impressive than other ones on this countdown.
While he is now most famous for being Wolverine’s arch-nemesis, Sabretooth not only first appeared in the pages of “Iron Fist” (by a creative team who would later become much more famous for their work on “X-Men” together, Chris Claremont and John Byrne), but he then went on to be a recurring foe in the pages of “Power Man and Iron Fist.” Amusingly enough, for quite some time, Sabretooth was one half of a supervillain duo, as he was partners with the villain Constrictor. In “Power Man and Iron Fist” #78, Sabretooth tried to kill the wrong woman, as he was surprised by the fact that his victim, Misty Knight, was packing a robotic arm.
Six issues later (in a story by Jo Duffy, Denys Cowan and Steve Mitchell), Sabretooth came back to get revenge on Misty when he instead almost murdered her roommate, the supermodel Harmony Young. Harmony was dating Luke Cage at the time, and Cage did not take the attack well. He hunted down Sabretooth and then nearly beat him to death before his partner and best friend, Iron Fist, convinced him to be content with Sabretooth’s arrest.
The villain who became known as Orka was originally just a soldier in the army of Krang, a nemesis of Namor who kept trying to conquer Atlantis. At one point, Krang decided to experiment on one of his soldiers to help take down Namor. The volunteer was given a treatment similar to what created the powerful villain, Tigershark. Here, the soldier was transformed into a powerful being known as Orka, with the strength of a killer whale! Later experiments increased his size and power even more. In fact, in a battle with the Avengers, Orka actually knocked Thor out at one point!
Years later, Orka ran afoul of the Heroes for Hire, a group that was a successor, of sorts, to the original Power Man and Iron Fist two-man team. This group included Hercules, Black Knight, Ant-Man and a new White Tiger (along with Power Man and Iron Fist, of course). While in battle, Black Knight blasted Orka, which helped soften him up a bit for Luke Cage to knock him out. Cage insisted that he could have handled him on his own, and it did look like that was the case at the time.
One of the strongest beings on Marvel’s Earth is the Juggernaut, who tended to back up his famous boast, “Nobody Stops the Juggernaut!” However, that was when he was powered by the famed Crimson Gem of Cyttorak, which was what gave Cain Marko the power of Juggernaut in the first place. On more than one occasion over the years, however, he found himself split from the power of the gem. He was still quite strong, but not nearly as powerful as he was when he was fully charged by the gem.
It was during this period that Juggernaut went to work for the newly-reformed Thunderbolts (following Norman Osborn being taken out of control of the team), which was led by Luke Cage. At one point, Juggernaut turned on his new leader, and Cage made short work of him, knocking him into submission. The fact that he was not fully-powered at the time is why this fight is relatively low on the countdown; at the same time, even knocking out a non-fully-powered Juggernaut is an impressive victory for Cage.
11. DOC SAMSON
Introduced in the pages of “Incredible Hulk” during a period that Bruce Banner had taken control of his Hulk transformation by siphoning off the gamma radiation, Doctor Leonard Samson was Banner’s psychiatrist, helping him to cope with a very stressful period in Banner’s life. Samson, though, grew fascinated with the idea of having the power of the Hulk, only in a safer fashion than what befell Banner, so he found a way to use some of the siphoned gamma radiation to turn himself into the super-strong Doc Samson, noted by his long green hair.
Samson became a longstanding “Hulk” supporting cast member, but also became the go-to psychiatrist whenever comic book writers needed to use one for a comic book. He was also one of the most prominent Jewish superheroes. A noted follower of authority, Samson often worked for the government in various capacities. Thus, when the Superhero Civil War broke out, Samson was clearly a supporter of the side in support of the government’s plan to register superheroes. In “Black Panther” #25 (by Reginald Hudlin, Marcus To and Don Ho), Samson and the Pro-Registration side took on the Anti-Registration heroes, which included Luke Cage in their number. With some advice from the Black Panther, Cage was able to knock Samson out, and since Samson was a guy who typically held his own against the Hulk, that’s really saying something!
Karl Lykos was a teenager when he accompanied his father on a journey to a mysterious part of the world where his father served as the bodyguard for a rich man and his daughter. While there, they were attacked by mutant pterodactyls (as you do). Karl saved Tanya, the daughter of the rich man, but in the process was bitten by one of the mutant pterodactyls. As it turned out, the bite transformed Karl and made him a sort of energy vampire. He could literally suck the life out of people. After his father’s death, Karl actually moved in with the rich man and he and Tanya fell in love. Her father would not support the marriage because Karl was not successful enough, so Karl went off to become an acclaimed scientist.
It was during this period that he first met the X-Men. When sucking the life force from Havok, the mutant energies transformed him into a mutant pterodactyl himself! Sauron took on the X-Men by himself a number of times and once even successfully fought off the X-Men and Spider-Man! In the opening “New Avengers” arc, Sauron was the main villain that a mysterious group requested be freed from prison. The newly-reformed Avengers tracked Sauron to the Savage Land. In battle, Iron Man softened Sauron up a bit, but it was Luke Cage who knocked him clean out in one punch!
When the Wrecker was introduced, he was specifically designed to take on Thor himself, courtesy of Loki casting a magic spell on the Wrecker’s crowbar that put the villainous bruiser on a similar power level to the mighty god of thunder. However, the Wrecker discovered that he could split the power from his crowbar to empower a crew of villains. The Wrecking Crew debuted in an issue of “Defenders” that happened to guest-star Luke Cage. Since then, Luke Cage has tangled with the Wrecker a number of times. Most of the time, it was as part of a team, like when Spider-Woman, Wolverine and Luke Cage took care of the Wrecker in “New Avengers” #8.
However, Cage took the Wrecker out solo in “Fantastic Four” #168 (by Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott), when Luke was hired by the Fantastic Four to take over as their fourth member temporarily, at a time when the Thing has turned back into just normal, human Ben Grimm. The Wrecker was being controlled by the Puppet Master, which is why, although it was a very impressive beat down by Luke, the fact that the Wrecker wasn’t in control of his own faculties lessens the impressiveness of the fight a tad.
8. LIVING MONOLITH
Originally a foe of the X-Men, who gained his powers by leeching off of Havok’s mutant powers (that’s two villains on this list so far that gained their abilities by leeching off of Havok. That’s kind of odd), the Living Monolith has gone on to take on most of the Marvel Universe. In fact, in one memorable graphic novel (“Marvel Graphic Novel” #17), he almost took over the Earth itself by absorbing enough power to grow to monstrous size. Ultimately, Thor had to send him off-planet period, where he briefly became his own living planet, a la Ego.
However, before that fight, the Living Monolith tangled with Power Man and Iron Fist, with a little help from the X-Men (as Cyclops was sort of dating Power Man and Iron Fist’s friend, Colleen Wing, at the time). It turned out that the Monolith was specifically using three special people to absorb their energies to power the gem that gave him his abilities. Luke Cage amazingly knocked the Monolith down while the people that the Monolith were absorbing were freed, which took away the Monolith’s powers.
The Rhino is a fascinating villain. He was the very first Spider-Man villain designed by John Romita Sr. after Romita took over “Amazing Spider-Man” from Steve Ditko. However, he quickly moved past being a Spider-Man villain and was, for a time, best known as being one of the Hulk’s recurring nemeses. That speaks to the theoretical power level of the Rhino, that he was worthy of being a recurring foe of both Spider-Man and the Hulk.
We say “theoretical” power level, however, because the Rhino also seems to lose a whole lot of fights to lesser-powered heroes. It has happened so many times over the years that a win over the Rhino is a bit less impressive than it should be when you consider that he used to routinely go toe-to-toe with the Hulk. In the pages of “Cage,” Luke fought the Rhino to a standstill, while in “Avengers Origin: Luke Cage” (by Adam Glass, Mike Benson and Dalibor Talijac), he knocked the Rhino out cold.
6. GREEN GOBLIN
One of the most amazing things about Norman Osborn’s rise to power following “Civil War” is that he had been publicly revealed to the world as Green Goblin in a unique story that was mirrored between two comic books, “The Pulse” #5 and “Marvel Knights Spider-Man” #1. In “The Pulse” #5 (by Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley and Scott Hanna), the Daily Bugle had been working on an investigative report that was going to prove that Norman Osborn was the Green Goblin. Jessica Jones was working as the bodyguard for Ben Urich as he led the investigation, which had merit when they were able to prove that Osborn was the Green Goblin, just in time for Osborn to almost kill Urich and severely injure Jessica, who was pregnant at the time.
When Luke learned that his girlfriend, Jessica, was almost killed and that their baby was almost lost, he put it upon himself to take Osborn down, which is exactly what he did in a memorable fight where he beat Green Goblin senseless in front of a mass of people in New York City. Cage made it clear to everyone that Goblin was Norman Osborn; and yet, Osborn was still able to get out of it eventually and become beloved by the American people for a short period of time.
After years of being bonded with the alien symbiote as Venom, Eddie Brock learned that he was dying from cancer and just wanted to retire. He auctioned off the symbiote for $100 million and then donated all of the money to charity. The symbiote went to the son of a ganster, but it rebelled from the pairing and literally dropped the punk while in mid-air, letting him fall to his death. The symbiote then ended up choosing Mac Gargan as its next host. Gargan was a longtime Spider-Man villain known as the Scorpion.
This new Venom went to work for the Thunderbolts under the direction of Norman Osborn. When Osborn took control of S.H.I.E.L.D., Gargan moved up in the ranks and became Spider-Man as part of the Dark Avengers. Ultimately, Osborn could not keep control of himself for too long and he overplayed his hand by invading Asgard without authorization from the President of the United States. A bunch of superheroes came in to fight Osborn’s villain army, and in “New Avengers” #63 (by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike McKone), Luke Cage took out Gargan as Venom. This time it was a fair fight, so it wasn’t just Cage sucker-punching him out of nowhere.
4. ORIGINAL POWER MAN
A longstanding tradition in Marvel Comics is comic book characters taking on the names of other superheroes (or supervillains), a tradition going all the way back to “Fantastic Four” #1 and the Human Torch being named after Marvel’s Golden Age character of the same name. Sometimes the transfer of name goes smoothly, like when Monica Rambeau gracefully ceded the name “Captain Marvel” to Genis-Vell, the son of the original Captain Marvel. Other times, it can lead to fisticuffs, like with Luke Cage and the original Power Man.
The original Power Man was Erik Josten, a mercenary who was given an ionic treatment that gave him powers similar to Wonder Man and joined up with the Masters of Evil. Power Man took the Avengers on single-handedly and won! Well, after a couple of years of being called just plain ol’ “Luke Cage,” Marvel felt that Cage should have a superhero name, so they came up with Power Man. The original Power Man did not like this very much, so he forced Luke to fight him for the rights to the name in “Power Man” #21 (by Tony Isabelle, Len Wein, Ron Wilson and Vince Colletta). Luke won the fight easily and got to keep the name. Josten eventually gained the ability to grow and became the new Goliath and then Atlas of the Thunderbolts.
One of the most fun ways to invent new comic book characters is to introduce riffs on already famous characters. The Squadron Supreme are famously riffs on the Justice League, as was the team of heroes introduced in “Stormwatch,” whose sole surviving members were Apollo and Midnighter (who were analogues for Superman and Batman). The U-Foes, then, were Marvel’s answer to “What if the Fantastic Four were evil?” The U-Foes were four people who were exposed to cosmic rays while in outer pace and crash-landed on Earth with new powers.
Their members are Vector, who can push people away with telekinesis; Vapor, who could turn into any gas she wanted; X-Ray, who could fly and shoot blasts of radiation; and finally, the super-strong, covered-in-meta, Ironclad, who was essentially the Thing of the team. Ironclad had gone toe-to-toe against the Hulk and yet, in the same issue, he took out Orka (“Hereoes for Hire”#4 by John Ostrander Pascual Ferry and Jaime Mendoza). Luke Cage easily laid out Ironclad, as well.
2. TOMBSTONE AND NITRO
Tombstone was a gangster who had a vendetta against Robbie Robertson, the Editor of the Daily Bugle, who he had known since they were both children. Growing up, Tombstone had used threats to keep Robertson from ever reporting on his ill deeds, but when Tombstone showed up in New York City, it was finally too much for Robertson and he got Tombstone thrown into jail. When he escaped, he hunted Robertson down, but Robertson was able to trap him in Osborn Chemical Plant, where Tombstone was exposed to chemicals that gave him super-strength and super durable skin (he liked his new powers so much that he forgave Robertson). Nitro, meanwhile, had the power to explode.
Together with a lesser-known villain by the name of Kickback (who could travel in time in short bursts), they were a villain team called The Untouchables. That did not prove to be the case when they showed up in “Cage” #3-4 (by Marc McLaurin, Dwayne Turner and Chris Ivy), where Cage very much “touched” them, as he defeated them with some help from the Punisher and Dakota North.
1. DOCTOR DOOM
In one of the most famous (or perhaps infamous) issues of Luke Cage’s original series (“Luke Cage, Hero for Hire” #9 by Steve Englehart, George Tuska and Billy Graham), Luke Cage was hired for some mercenary work by someone who turned out to be an agent for Doctor Doom. Despite Luke getting the job done, Doom stiffed him the $200. Cage insisted on getting the money back, so he went to visit the Fantastic Four, and Mister Fantastic agreed to loan Cage a rocket that would take him to Doom’s home in Latveria (you’d think that alone would be well over $200 in expenses, but whatever). Cage landed in Latveria, which was in the middle of a coup against Doom.
Cage fought his way to Doom’s castle and then took Doom on, exclaiming “Where’s my money, honey?” Doctor Doom was one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel Universe, having taken on all sorts of teams of heroes by this point. In this fight, though, Cage did something no one else had thought of up to this point — just punch one spot on Doom’s armor over and over again. He eventually broke through. Now that he had Doom, Cage was going to get his money, right when Doom was about to be killed by the head of the coup: the Faceless One! Cage helped Doom escape and Doom finally paid him.
What’s your favorite Luke Cage victory? Let us know in the comments section!
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