After being without a comic book baring each of their names in the title since 1986, Luke Cage and Iron Fist are back on the streets once again! One of Marvel Comics’ most anticipated (and arguably overdue) relaunches continues to over deliver on action and comedic banter from the team of writer David Walker, artist Sanford Greene and colorist Lee Loughridge. At just two issues in, it already has become one of Marvel’s best books out there!
Much as with the previous issue, Walker displays an uncanny ability to blend decades worth of characters and continuity with very modern sensibilities. Former “heroes for hire”, Avengers teammates and longtime friends, Luke Cage and Daniel Rand (who once again prefers masks and spandex to street clothes) teamed up once again to help their friend (and ex-con) Jennie Royce recover what she claimed was a “lost heirloom” from Tombstone (one of New York City’s most dangerous crime lords). While this reunion has gotten the perpetually immature and nostalgic Rand eager to reunite their band, Luke Cage is now a family man with little interest in a trip down memory lane. Unfortunately, the pair have been set up by their former friend (alongside another old enemy), and now Tombstone has spread the word about them to the rest of his underworld contacts. Soon what seems like a simple lunch at a diner turns into a melee with two super villains, and now the pair may be reunited for longer than Luke Cage intends to figure out what’s what.
There are more references and characters (and cameos) for even the most eagle eyed Marvel Comics fan to be pleased! Everyone from Gorilla Man to both current Spider-Women seem to turn up in time for the melee. Although the main draw (and the series’ central strength) remains in the interaction between the wildly contrasting Luke Cage and Iron Fist, this issue also scores with an extended sequence involving two of Tombstone’s bumbling henchmen, Henry and Gilbert Manigo. Seeing themselves on the very low end of the costumed criminal totem pole, they prefer to avoid being needlessly pummeled. Decades worth of history is flashed back to between the “heroes for hire”, with Luke Cage’s stern refusal to curse and admit that their partnership has been revived remaining one of the series’ best bits. The artwork by Greene and Loughridge is also perfect for the series, giving everything a very stylized “urban” flair while still allowing for all of the infamous characters to be recognizable. A few villains get some redesigns here and there (such as Thunderball of the Wrecking Crew) and on the whole they are successful.
In fact the series’ only flaw remains the same as in the first issue; Iron Fist’s immaturity is taken just a notch too high considering the experience which has been laid out for him. He’s currently wearing a costume from last year’s Kaare Andrews run, which was akin to “The Dark Knight Returns” for him. While Daniel Rand has always seemed to have his head lost in the clouds (or in Asian philosophy or other dimensional mysticism) compared to the street wise Luke Cage, here he almost acts like a teenage sidekick. To a degree this does play into the contrast between the characters that Walker is playing with. Out of the two, Luke Cage is the one who has evolved and moved up, while Rand at best has remained stagnant aside for a few new moves and yet another leotard design. Cage has settled down, had a daughter, and even led his world’s biggest superhero team. On the other hand, Daniel Rand did lead a superhero team of his own in the Avengers’ stead during the “Heroes for Hire” run by John Ostrander in the late 1990’s (which Cage eventually joined). His life has arguably been far less stable than Cage’s has over the last twenty years; he’s seemingly died, been resurrected, and seems to struggle between running the corporation he inherited along with martial arts schools for poor kids, and having a crisis of conscience if a fight with a random street gang goes wrong. He also is unable to commit to a woman long term (to the point that he has apparently slept with so many women that a running gag of his last series was Danny forgetting what his current lover’s name was), while Cage has proven to be an incredibly loyal man. Yet even despite all this, Walker does at times take it a bit too far and it clashes with his references to past adventures (where, ironically, a much younger Danny acted far more maturely). His Luke Cage is spot on, though, with “fiddle faddle” hopefully becoming the 21st century version of “Sweet Christmas!” for him! Usually a hero needs to be on the Fantastic Four to have so many cool catch phrases attributed to him, which is another team that Cage was once a member of!
On the whole this comic book series is the near perfect double team of everything that makes a fun buddy adventure story work! The “heroes for hire” are back together as if they’d never left, and readers are all the better for it!
Below is an honorable mention. Old Jack Burton always knows what’s what, but not even the Pork Chop Express could overcome the tag team above!
Big Trouble in Little China #22: Writer Fred Van Lente, colorist Gonzalo Duarte and the latest artist Victor Santos continue to work on what is the final arc for BOOM! Studios’ magnificently funny ongoing series based on the cult hit film by John Carpenter. This time it’s big trouble in old China as the unflappable Jack Burton and his long suffering comrade Winona Chi (the teenage daughter of his best friend Wang Chi) have found themselves sent back in time by a spell to California circa 1906. With a younger Egg Shen a hapless opium addict, their only hope of returning to the present may be a young David Lo Pan, who Jack knows will soon become a powerful sorcerer and the source of all of his problems. Yet he’s not their only enemy at the turn of the 20th century; the corrupt (and racist) businessman Mr. Whist is set to destroy all of the honest businesses set up by the Chinese settlers through underhanded dealings and manipulating the gangs (or Tongs) against them! Mr. Whist is an incredibly timely satire of the Republican frontrunner for the 2016 election, as well as named after a 19th century card game. While Winona is willing to trust this younger Lo Pan, Jack sets off to wet his whistle, all while his death seems to literally be stalking him – and thankfully for him, it proves just as unlucky as Jack is! As with most genuine satire, there is a lot of truth in some of the details of this story – such as the fact that anti-immigrant fury was ginned up by those in power just as much a century ago as it is now. However, the main focus is on comedy and as usual, the gags and banter by Van Lente comes fast and furious, with there being a good laugh around every other panel. Santos’ artwork acts in skilled tandem with the humorous script. The comic book market will be a little less fun without this series within it, but at least it still has one final arc to close out on.