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Luke Cage #166: Great art propels a prison mystery

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From his humble beginnings as a street-level Harlem hero, Luke Cage has come a long way. Avenger, Defender, Hero for Hire, the man does it all. That’s why it’s a delightful surprise to have him in his own solo book once again. To mete out Luke’s particular brand of reluctant justice takes a light touch, and the creative team on this book is more than up to the task.

David F. Walker writes, with art from Guillermo Sanna and colors by Marcio Menyz in a great road-trip story that ends in further mystery. Luke Cage is a great hero in that he works just as well in a team as he does solo, so this departure from his usual surroundings makes for a new and challenging arena.

As we learn from the recap page, Luke was in New Orleans solving the disappearance of the man who gave him his powers, Noah Burstein. It did not go well, but at least the bad guys are in jail. Now, Luke is taking the scenic route back to Harlem, but as he meanders through Mississippi, he gets a bit more than southern hospitality.

Writing

David F. Walker does a terrific job in this issue setting the stakes without spelling them out. Each bit of narration and dialogue perfectly sets up tension while still maintaining an air of normalcy. Luke narrates that he has a bad feeling about driving back, but muses “what kind of trouble could someone like me possibly get into on a road trip?”

Almost immediately, he gets pulled over by a mildly racist cop, who then radios in that “we may have ourselves a problem.” Ratcheting up that tension with just a small scene is a great way to keep the reader invested, and it only continues further down the road.

In a roadside diner, a waitress recognizes famous hero Luke Cage and requests his help. Trouble is – she isn’t sure what she needs help with, only that something is off. Right on cue, a squad of police in riot gear enter to arrest the hapless Cage. All the man wanted to do was eat breakfast in peace, you monsters.

The fight unfolds dramatically, with some fine banter out of Cage and even a use of the word “insalubrious.” Never thought I’d see that in a comic, but here we are. Luke promptly hands the cops their collective asses until one lucky officer fires some knockout gas.

Cage awakens in the presence of someone he recognizes, Maynard Tiboldt, the Ringmaster. If that name means nothing to you, you’re not alone. He’s a C-List hypnotizing villain to which Cage remarks, “The $%#& Ringmaster? For a minute there I thought I was really in trouble.”

Choosing the Ringmaster, such a silly and underdeveloped villain, is actually an inspired choice here. Marvel has a host of characters to dust off for new stories, so taking one we – and the hero – underestimates makes the whole story more mysterious as it progresses. Cage awakes where his story began way back in the 70’s – prison. How he gets out will be a gripping tale, one only enhanced by the art team’s sharp work.

Art

There’s something to be said for art that doesn’t get too ambitious. In giant spreads with weird panel arrangement it can make a book difficult to follow, so it’s a blessing that Luke Cage keeps it tight. Sanna’s line-work on each panel is so clean, and it progresses in a way that carries the story forward in each instance.

Marcio Menyz’s colors deserve praise here too. The rich, full colors of the countryside really pop, and when the action kicks in the fullness of each panel helps create a cohesive scene.

In addition, there’s the contrast of Luke’s very presence. I might be wrong, but it seems like he’s the only black character to appear throughout the story. This adds an extra layer of conflict that the whole creative team deftly nods to without making overtly explicit:

Luke Cage (2017-) #166
Image: Marvel Comics

When Luke gets to the Ringmaster’s clutches, Sanna and Menyz throw in one final splash page that steps out of the stark realism in prior pages. Luke descends into a psychedelic spiral, leading us to wonder how the Ringmaster got so powerful and what his further plans are for our hero.

Overall this is a very impressive start to the Legacy run of Luke’s solo book, so here’s hoping its sales stay strong enough to keep the book on the shelves. To that end – head to Downtown Comics today to pick up your copy and other great titles!

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Nick Hedge

A longtime comics fan, Nick grew up reading the much derided comics of the 90's (Clone Saga! Liefeld! Pouches & Guns!) and has never looked back. Now an adult with literary prowess of his own, he uses his powers for good; reviewing comics for Pure Fandom and holding the beloved art form to a higher standard for all. Excelsior!

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