Damn, how good was Marvel’s Jessica Jones? Marvel’s latest, darkly intense Netflix drama took the world by storm and many fans became acquainted with a number of Marvel’s most intense street level characters. Other than the titular heroine, the stand out character of the series was Luke Cage. Mike Colter played a stellar Luke Cage, a character who was equal parts hero, hustler, heart and hunk. Newer fans have fallen in love with Cage’s quiet intensity, but long time Marvel fans know that Luke Cage has long been one of Marvel’s coolest heroes.
But new fans may be wondering about the history of Luke Cage. To trace the history of Marvel’s premiere hero for hire, one could look to Luke Cage’s rouges gallery. Luke Cage, formerly Power Man, has the strangest, wackiest, and sometimes most offensive villains in Marvel Comics’ history. So join us as we take a look back at some of the strangest street thugs who went toe to steel toe with Luke Cage, Marvel’s newest TV star. Perhaps along the way we can explore some historical facts about the Hero for Hire himself.
Diamondback Created by Archie Goodwin and George Tuska
First Appearance: Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 (1972)
Luke Cage began publication life as Marvel’s response to the Blaxploitation craze of the early 70s. Characters like Shaft, Superfly, and Cleopatra Jones were filling inner city theaters and raking in big bucks and Marvel wanted in on the action. So the House of Ideas created a silver tiara wearing, yellow-shirted badass that was very much a part of this exploitative era. But there was something about Luke Cage. He wasn’t just a racial caricature, there was a depth of spirit there, something heroic- something very Marvel.
We begin our list of Luke Cage’s villains with Diamondback, a street tough whose history is tied into the origins of Luke Cage. Diamondback’s real name is Willis Stryker. He ran in a gang with one Carl Lucas and the two competed for the love of a woman named Reva Connors. Connors chose Lucas so Stryker planted stolen drugs in Lucas’ home. When the mobsters whom the drugs were stolen from went to retrieve their stash, they murdered Reva and Lucas was arrested for the murder. Embittered, Lucas changed his name to Luke Cage and volunteered for a Super Soldier-like experiment. The experiment went wrong after a racist prison guard sabotaged the serum dosage and Cage was gifted with steel-hard skin. Cage escaped prison and sought revenge on Stryker. Stryker gimmicked himself out with hi-tech switchblades (because it was the 70s) and became Cage’s first villain- Diamondback! Diamondback was quickly dispatched (he was blown up by one of his own switchblades-dork), but he launched the career of one Lucas Cage.
Gideon Mace Created by Archie Goodwin and George Tuska
First Appearance: Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #3 (1972)
You just can’t beat a villain with a mace for a hand. How the heck does he eat pretzels? Anyway, when Cage set himself up as a Hero for Hire, he fell afoul of this Bond-like, military themed villain. Mace’s big plan was to stage terrorist attacks on the US in order to make people appreciate armed forces veterans more. Strained logic aside, Mace was a skilled combatant and actually had a strange sense of honor despite the fact that he wanted to murder people so the United States would celebrate Veterans Day with more reverence. Cage was able to defeat Mace by tossing him in the water. Because Mace couldn’t swim very well. Because he had a mace for a hand. Mace was the first non-street oriented villain Cage faced and was a pretty cool addition to Cage’s growing group of evildoers. By the way, Cage was hired to take down Mace by a former gang buddy. After Cage defeated the military madman, the Hero for Hire donated the money to his friend’s widow. This was one of the early examples of the heart and compassion of Luke Cage, attributes that are front and center on Marvel’s Jessica Jones.
The Phantom of 42nd Street Created by Archie Goodwin and William Graham Jr.
First Appearance: Luke Cage: Hero for Hire #3 (1972)
And then we have this gem. If you thought that the Phantom of 42nd Street couldn’t get any sillier, let me drop some street knowledge on you: the Phantom was actually a vengeful midget. This was like a really street version of Scooby-Doo. Moving on
Black Mariah Created by Steve Englehart and George Tuska
First Appearance: Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #5 (1973)
And things get a little offensive with this entry. Of all the many Luke Cage villains that I thought might appear on Netflix, Black Mariah here would be the last. Thankfully, Marvel seems to be taking the tasteful high ground with this character as they cast master thespian Alfre Woodard in the role. It seems that Marvel will be presenting a very different, shall we say, more racially sensitive take on this early Cage foe. Black Mariah ran a racket where she and her men posed as ambulance drivers in order to loot the recently deceased. Cage brought an end to her racket. The whole thing was like if ‘Mama’ from What’s Happening went bad. Once again, moving on.
Doctor Doom First Appearance in Luke Cage: Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #8-9 (1973)
Story and Art by Steve Englehart and George Tuska
When Luke Cage is hired to take down a bunch of androids by a mysterious benefactor, the Hero for Hire discovers he was hired and then stiffed by none other than Doctor Doom. Cage flies to Latveria demanding, “Where’s my money, honey!” It is as glorious as it sounds. These issues are just two of many reasons that Marvel NEEDS to get the Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom rights back from Fox.
Senior Suerte/Senior Muerte First Appearance in Luke Cage: Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #10-11 (1973)
Story and Art by Steve Englehart and George Tuska
Get a load of this guy. Introducing Senior Suerte, otherwise known as Senior Muerte. He has a roulette wheel on his chest that will randomly electrify one of his hands. He’s a killer for hire that Luke Cage has to take down, and during a titanic struggle, Cage does just that. Actually, if one lets it breathe, this is a pretty cool high concept. By the way, we should mention that during many of these issues of hero for Hire, Marvel introduced Claire Temple as Luke’s love interest. Yes, the same Claire Temple played by Rosario Dawson on Daredevil. You can bet your silver tiara that Claire will be coming to Netflix’s Luke Cage and one has to wonder how Jessica Jones will feel about that.
Chemistro First Appearance in Luke Cage: Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #12 (1973)
Story and Art by Steve Englehart and George Tuska
Chemistro was one of the most powerful foes Cage faced in his early days. With his Alchemy Gun, Chemistro could convert one element into another. Instead of just turning Gobstoppers into gold or something, Chemistro decided to take revenge against the company that once stole his designs. Chemistro is actually one of Cage’s few classic archetypal villains; a tragic genius who could have been a benefit to humanity had things gone another way. Chemistro popped up many times over the years, most recently the pages of the New Avengers, and has the distinction of being one of Cage’s few enduring and classical foes.
Lionfang First Appearance in Luke Cage: Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #13 (1973)
Story and Art by Steve Englehart and Bill Graham
And then there’s this guy. Lionfang had the power to control, well, lions, And he did. And he died. One interesting note about this issue was that after Lionfang’s death, Cage was ravaged by guilt showing that here was a heroic and moral heart under that steel hard skin and gruff exterior.
Stiletto First Appearance in Luke Cage: Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #16 (1973)
Art and Story by Steve Englehart and William Graham Jr.
Well, lookee here. Luke Cage’s second villain that wields electrified knives. Stiletto actually was instrumental in the death of the racist prison guard that was responsible for giving Cage his powers, but other than that, this almost bare-chested knife thrower is pretty forgettable.
Steeplejack Created by Len Wein and George Tuska
First Appearance: Power Man #16 (1974)
What’s scarier than a super jacked-up masked construction worker with a hi-tech rivet gun? Well, lots of things actually, but here we have Steeplejack. Good old Steeple here has the distinction of being the first villain that Luke Cage faced when the Hero for Hire changed his superhero name to Power Man. That’s about the only distinction that this rivet shooting dummy would be able to achieve as he died in his debut issue. Shooting rivets at a brother with steel hard skin? What was he thinking??
Cottonmouth Created by Len Wein and George Tuska
First Appearance in Power Man #17 (1974)
By the by, Cottonmouth will also be appearing on the upcoming Luke Cage Netflix show, played by none other than Mahershala Ali of Hunger Games fame. Cottonmouth was the head of large heroine operation, dressed like a pimp, and had filed down gold teeth in his grille. But, there was something intense and frightening about this foe back in the day. So much so, that when looking at Luke Cage’s rouges gallery, the fine folks at Marvel chose Cottonmouth to follow Cage to Netflix. Unlike other villains that Power Man fought, Cottonmouth was a true master criminal and should translate well to modern day storytelling. Provided they lose the pimp duds, of course.
Discus Created by Tony Isabella and Ron Wilson
First Appearance: Power Man #22 (1974)
A few entries back, we discussed Stiletto, the dude with no shirt that thought hurling knives at a brother with unbreakable skin was a good idea. Well, other than being named after a high heel shoe, Stiletto also thought it was a good idea to partner up with a dude that hurls discuses on his second attempt to take down Luke Cage. The dude’s name was Discus because…what else would you call him? It didn’t work out well for either Stiletto or Discus.
The Night Shocker Created by Steve Englehart and George Tuska
First Appearance: Power Man #25 (1975)
Now don’t get ideas. The Night Shocker was some old dude that pretended to be a vampire. He wasn’t and never appeared again. Luke Cage teaming up with Blade against real vampires would have been very cool. Luke Cage against this toothless phony, not so much.
The Man Called X Created by Bill Mantlo and George Perez
First Appearance: Power Man #27 (1975)
The Man Called X might not be the most famous Luke Cage villain (not at all, really), but he had the honor of being created by the great George Perez, so X has that going for him. Usually, a Marvel character with an ‘X’ in his or her name goes on to become very famous, but not this former wrestler. X accidentally drank a steroid-laced protein drink and grew to tremendous size and strength. Surprisingly, he was actually a pretty nice dude and had a happy ending. He was never seen again, but there could have been some Marvel/WWE crossover potential with the Man Called X joining Degeneration X and fighting Weapon X. I’ll stop now.
Cockroach Hamilton Created by Don McGregor George Tuska
First Appearance: Power Man #28 (1975)
Look at this guy. With a souped up shotgun and pimp outfit, this Cockroach Hamilton is the most 70s villain ever. And Cockroach actually got the best of Luke Cage, dislocating Cage’s shoulder and knocking the Hero for Hire out with a blast of gas from his gimmicky six barreled shotgun. He kind of looked lame and even a bit racially offensive, but when it came down to it, Cockroach was kind of badass. By the way, Cockroach named his shotgun Josh because…of course he did.
Mr. Fish Created by Bill Mantlo and George Tuska
First Appearance: Power Man #29 (1976)
On this list we’ve discussed legends like Doctor Doom, foes that had staying power like Chemistro, lame-os like Steeplejack, bad-asses like Cottonmouth, and offensive wrong turns like Black Mariah. But now we come to something so gloriously silly, it has become the stuff of legend. Meet Mr. Fish, a villain with a fish head. No powers, just a fish head. And yes, this Lovecraftian nightmare fought Luke Cage. Where did Mr. Fish come from, you ask? Well, Mr. Fish was once a Mr. Person who stole a radioactive isotope. When he was pursued by police, the future Mr. Fish jumped in the East River and was mutated into a dude with a fish head. Mr. Fish became Mr. Dead after his first battle with Cage, but Mr. Fish remains a glorious example of pure comic book silliness.
Piranha Jones Created by Don McGregor, Rich Buckler, and Arvell Jones
First Appearance: Power Man #30 (1976)
Hey, two fish-themed villains in a row! Who would have thunk it?? Turned out Cockroach Hamilton and Josh were working for Piranha Jones, the second Luke Cage villain whose gimmick was nasty, razor sharp teeth. Man, before Cage teamed with Iron Fist or Jessica Jones, he should have teamed with a dentist. Anyway, Jones and Hamilton together were some of the most brutal and nastiest thugs Cage faced in his solo series. Thankfully,Cage came out on top, because that’s what Cage does even when faced with a dude with a personified shogun and another dude with crazy gingivitis.
Wildfire Created by Don McGregor and Frank Robbins
First Appearance: Power Man #32 (1976)
Wildfire was a typical inner city arsonist in a gaudy costume, but this story is actually pretty intense with a shocking amount of violence for a mid-70s code-approved comic. You gotta love that generic superhero costume on Wildfire who kind of just shows up, does horrible things, regrets them, and then gets his butt kicked.
Spear Created by Don McGregor and Frank Robbins
First Appearance: Power Man #33 (1976)
The cover of Spear’s first appearance declares him, “The Deadliest Assassin of All.” He wasn’t. Lessee, there’s Bullseye, Elektra, Sabretooth, and oh-so-many more. But to be honest, despite his really generic name, Spear was very scary even if he decided that shooting spears at a dude with an impenetrable epidermis was a fine way to spend an evening. He wasn’t the deadliest of them all, but Spear was no pushover. He should probably think about getting a better name. What’s wrong with Deathspear or something? Shakespear?
The Mangler Created by Don McGregor, Marv Wolfman, and Marie Severin
First Appearance: Power Man #35 (1976)
The Mangler is the brother of the Spear and is the second former wrestler to join Cage’s list of villains. And he was UGLY! The Mangler was a masked and incredibly hairy brute who took Cage to the limit. You just have to love that Marie Severin design for The Mangler. Look at him; he looks like he would be very hairy if you touched him. Anyway, Cage took down both the Spear and the Mangler but it took him like three issues to do so. It looks like he could have taken down the Mangler with some carefully applied Nair.
Big Brother and the Baron Created by Bill Mantlo, Bob Brown & Marv Wolfman
First Appearance: Power Man #37 (1976)
Big Brother and the Baron were two rival gang lords who involved Luke Cage in a territorial dispute. They both were obvious Blaxploitation character types even if they were rather generic crime bosses. Big Brother wore an exo-skeleton and was pretty strong but after Cage got done with both of them, New York was a bit safer from these two thugs. Big Brother had a weaponized super-helicopter, so he was kind of like a ghetto Airwolf which is kind of cool.
Goldbug Created by Bill Mantlo and Lee Elias
First Appearance: Power Man #41 (1976)
Goldbug had a special gun that allowed him to turn stuff into gold, and instead of doing just that and becoming very rich, he decided to steal gold instead. Goldbug used his high tech gold armor and gold gun to take on both Cage and little known hero Thunderbolt. Needless to say, Goldbug was defeated, but I guess he could have sold a gold stapler or something to make bail. Goldbug was also the last original villain created in the pages of Luke Cage’s solo comic, because after another prolonged battle with Gideon Mace, Cage would soon meet and form a regular partnership with Iron Fist!
So here you have it, the terrifying and the terrible, the myriad killers, thugs, and oddballs that are proud members of Luke Cage’s rouges gallery. We already have confirmation that a few of these villains will be appearing on Netflix when Luke Cage arrives ready to binge in 2016. Perhaps some of these other villains will make their live action debuts next year as well. We here at The Source are desperately hoping for Mr. Fish.