I've decided to spotlight some comic stories that have gained my interest for whatever reason throughout my time reading them. Whether they be good, back, or just interesting in general, they will likely end up on here. These won't necessarily be the most acclaimed or despised stories from the years; everyone has said their piece about Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, or hated stories like The Clone Saga or Cry for Justice (that does not disqualify any of these from being on here at some point, especially if I have a diverging opinion on them). If they seem interesting to talk about to me, I may revisit them.
Let us ponder for a moment the state of comic books in the 1990s. It was a…different time. Everything was EXTREEEEEME and RAAAADICAL. Spider-Man had a clone. Superman had a terminal mullet. McFarlane and Liefeld had free reign. Night Thrasher had a skateboard. It was a weird time, and it generally isn't remembered fondly by people.
There were some cool things that happened, though. Grant Morrison had a solid tenure on Justice League of America that started in the late '90s. Kingdom Come was published. The Thunderbolts were born.
I also knew that one of my dearest loves, Luke Cage, had a solo comic that was published in the '90s. My love of the Power Man has been well broadcast by myself in my time here on Bleeding Cool. Being interested in reading anything that has Luke Cage in it, but having a healthy fear of '90s comic books, I was a little concerned about reading it. I saw the costume he wore then, and that didn't help my concern.
That being said, I was kindly given the aforementioned collection, Luke Cage: Second Chances, as a Christmas present last December, and I just finished reading it (I would have read it sooner, but I'm constantly collecting graphic novels. I have a schedule by which I read these things. I just got to this one last month. Don't judge). It is a collection of the first 12 issues of his '90s comic series, Cage.
Apparently, another good thing that happened to comic books in the '90s is Cage.
I'm not saying it's a perfect comic book. It certainly has its flaws. It is dripping in the extreme '90s culture. The dialect that they give to Luke Cage himself is a bit distracting. Two of the villains that face down Cage in this comic are called Hardcore and Kickback. The second of those rogues has massive legs.
However, Luke Cage: Second Chances was a comic that someone wanted to write. Now, I don't know all the details of the behind-the-scenes stuff, but this comic reads like Marc McLaurin wasn't just saddled with Luke Cage. He wanted to give his take on Luke Cage. He brought this character back from the brink of oblivion after the end of Power Man and Iron Fist and gave him a top-down redesign. This comic has a lot of heart and sincerity in it. It reads like a series that someone truly believed in.
The premise for Luke Cage: Second Chances is Luke Cage has moved to Chicago after being absolved of his alleged murder of his former partner, Danny Rand, AKA Iron Fist. He's disillusioned with the hero business, and has reestablished his Hero for Hire venture in Chi Town. He's also trying to drop the "Power Man" moniker in favor of simply being called "Cage."
After setting up his new business, he is approached by the local news rag, the Chicago Spectator, which is represented by their lawyer and his former colleague Jeryn Hogarth. They suggest a joint partnership where they hire Luke to go out and bust up criminal enterprises, but the Spectator gets exclusive rights to the story. The company also employs P.I. Dakota North and reporter Mickey Hamilton, the latter of whom is assigned to follow Cage and pick up his stories.
From there, Cage comes face to face with a myriad of villains from Rhino, to Nitro, Chicago street gangs, armored white supremacists, other "Power Men," a new and deadly foe named Hardcore (yep, it was the 90s) and many other enemies. He even has run-ins with the Hulk, the Punisher, and his old pal, Iron Fist.
He's also forced to face demons of his past. He has to question whether his decision to shut everyone out is the best one. This is further complicated when he is asked to look after a young man named Troop, his old pal Iron Fist returns, and a mystery relating to his family surfaces.
Luke Cage: Second Chances is an action-packed journey for Luke Cage, but it's also an emotional one. A lot of the emotion shown is anger, but that's sort of part of the character arc Luke Cage is going through. He feels rejected by the world, and he is grappling with a solitude brought upon by that anger.
Like I said, the book isn't perfect, but it has a lot of spunk. It has ideas that it wanted to convey. It says a lot about gang violence, the causes and what doesn't work when dealing with it. It makes a statement for the at-the-time budding gangster rap genre and denounces its encouragement of violence. It even discusses the abuse of power by law enforcement, which is a conversation still just as relevant now.
Whether or not you agree with its opinions, you have to respect its dedication to putting out a message of substance.
It also has a surprising amount of character development for Luke Cage himself. He's at a rough time in his life, with the loss of Iron Fist and feeling completely alone in the world. He is actively resisting connecting with anyone else, but he knows he can't turn away the young Troop. This creates an internal conflict for Luke.
The action is constant enough to keep the book exciting, and the fight scenes do a fine job of showing the strength being thrown around.
Where Luke Cage: Second Chances falls short is primarily in the dialogue. It's more tell than show and over-expository at times. The art is overall…alright. The visual design is lackluster. It was the '90s, of course. Luke's uniform leaves a lot to be desired, and the villains Kickback and Rapidfire don't look much better. There is a lot of grain and grit that reminds you the era this was printed in, and there is a lot of shading attempted to be conveyed through lines. That doesn't look too great, and it was another trend of the time. Also, the color art is a little too bland. It's not the worst thing to look at, but it isn't great, either.
However, what makes it work above all else is how genuine the book is. If you're interested in Luke Cage specifically, in getting to know lesser known super heroes, or discovering the star of the upcoming Marvel Netflix series, you should check Luke Cage: Second Chances out. It's rough around the edges, and, like I said, far from perfect. However, it has a lot of heart, and it's engaging. The pacing is good, the characters are relatable, and the action is awesome. Try it out if you see this on the shelves.
Forewarning though, he doesn't say "Sweet Christmas" once during the entire 12 issues. So, that's another mark against the series. It's still worth reading, though.