BHOC: POWER MAN #38

This issue of POWER MAN, my first, would have been another comic that I got from by grade school friend Don Sims, likely in a trade involving multiple books. I say that because I wasn’t especially interested in Luke Cage at this point. I knew who he was, based on his appearance in FANTASTIC FOUR #170. But he didn’t really seem like a genuine super hero to me, for all that he had the name. (I’d later learn that the name Power Man was an add-on, to address readers feeling exactly the way that I did.) So this book was likely a bit of “sweetener” in a larger exchange between myself and Don. That’s a nice cover by Ron Wilson, though–and it reverses the typical Marvel formula of the period. Many of the covers of this period had the hero lamenting to themselves that they were on the ropes and about to be defeated–somebody thought that jeopardy was the way to sell more comics. But her. even though he’s in danger, Cage is still defiant, a welcome change.

POWER MAN was something of a troubled title. I think the basic set-up of Luke Cage is pretty great, but at some point as the 1970s continued on, people up at Marvel seem to have lost faith in the character. His creative teams tended to rotate in relatively short order during this period (a problem faced by a number of midlist books in this era), and consequently it was difficult for any one creative team to grab hold and make a definitive statement about the character. It was also a book that didn’t tend to be drawn by the firm’s star artists. Bob Brown, seen here, was a veteran creator, but at the end of his career at this point and not really considered an exciting option. He could draw the story clearly and well, but he wasn’t going to dazzle anyone.

So what was Luke up to? As the issue starts, he’s in combat with his old foe Chemistro, who has him sinking into quicksand. Luke’s able to get out of this by diving to the bottom and smashing his way into the subways that run throughout Manhattan, but he’s no closer to finding out who this new Chemistro is. After a quick stop back at his office to pick up a change of clothes, Cage heads over to Curtis Carr’s place. Curtis was the original Chemistro, until he wound up blowing his own foot of with his alchemy gun. Now, somebody else has taken up the mantle, and Carr says he thinks it’s his old cellmate Arch Morton, and promises to hook Cage up with a gizmo that will turn the tide of battle.

But before that can happen, Cage falls through te floor, Chemistro having tuned the stairs to paper. Chemistro warns Cage off from investigating Big Brother, a crime figure whom Luke is looking into, and another battle breaks out between them. With his transmuting abilities, Chemistro is able to knock Luke around a whole bunch, but the steel-hard hero just keeps coming, eventually making Chemistro once again turn tail and flee. But Cage isn’t about to let him off that easily, and he gives chase.

After a few more pages of battle, Luke gets the upper hand on Chemistro, crushing his hands under his heels. The defeated Chemistro has no choice but to give up the location of Big Brother’s bolt-hole to Power Man, warning Cage that the place is set up like a fortress. Luke proceeds to march Chemistro off to the police–but not before cold-cocking him in the face and warning him never to mess with Cage again. I can’t say that I liked this moment as a kid, as much as I can relate to it as an adult. It felt too much to me like Cage was being a bully here, smacking down on a defeated foe.

Cage heads back to his office once more to do some bookkeeping on his regular subplots. He has a quick exchange with his girlfriend Claire about the state of their relationship–she’s not happy with him running off all the time to do hero stuff, leaving her standing there. But their spat is interrupted by the arrival of the tax man, Oliver P. Sneagle, who serves Cage with a subpoena for tax evasion. Cage also has a run-in with his nemesis, the soda machine outside his office, which in this instance dispenses him a cup of hot chicken soup. The machine and Cage’s inability to get anything worthwhile from it was a running bit in the series.

But then it’s time for the wrap-up. Midnight, and Cage is on the move across the city, headed for Big brother’s stronghold. He bursts in and kicks his way through a small army of goons, only to be confronted by Big Brother himself–who looks like he shops for clothing in Jack Kirby’s castoffs. To Be Continued! Unfortunately, the letters page informs the readership that the next issue was going to be handled by yet another completely different creative team, so the storyline would continue but in different hands. This situation plagued POWER MAN for the longest time, pretty much up until is title was merged with that of IRON FIST and things settled down a little bit for awhile.

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