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Marvel Noir

Luke Cage: Noir Hero

The hero with unbreakable skin goes back to the Prohibition in LUKE CAGE NOIR

Preview art by Shawn Martinbrough
By Marc Strom

Beginning August 5, LUKE CAGE NOIR #1 re-imagines the Hero for Hire in the Prohibition era as writers Mike Benson and Adam Glass offer up a new, hard-boiled conception of one of Marvel's toughest heroes.

When it came time to re-think the character of Luke Cage, though, the writers divulge that they sought to change very little.

"He's a little bit different, but very faithful at the same time," says Glass. "We'd like to think that our version of Luke Cage is close to what his original creators would have birthed if they'd enjoyed the same creative freedoms that we do today. We can make Cage morally ambiguous. We can make Cage more violent. We can make Cage a sexual being.

"Don't get me wrong; [Archie] Goodwin and [George] Tuska did a fantastic job-otherwise we wouldn't be having this conversation-but they were still laboring under the restrictions of the Comics Code Authority and had to deal with contemporary racial attitudes. We have a black president today. That was unthinkable in 1972."

Preview art by Shawn Martinbrough
"Adam and I tried to be faithful to the essence of the character," adds Benson. "For example, Luke Cage still has the same wry sense of humor, but it's a little more world weary, a little more cynical. We also kept as many of the broad strokes of his personal history as possible, translated for Prohibition-era Harlem: Cage is still an ex-con, but he's not released after he volunteers for a scientific experiment. We meet many of his supporting characters from his origin also."

After coming out of prison, Cage will discover that both he and Harlem have changed quite a bit in the intervening years.

"Luke Cage is kind of a hometown hero for what he was sent to prison for, but I can't get into that too much now," Benson continues. "He's also become something of a living legend: 'Luke Cage, the Power Man.'"

"As to how Harlem has changed, well, it's become a hell of a lot poorer," Glass chimes in. "Cage went to prison during the Roaring Twenties and came out in the depths of the Great Depression. Also, this was the period of the rise of organized crime in the U.S. The gangs made so much money off Prohibition. They became very powerful. It's a darker, more dangerous world that Cage enters when he gets out. He becomes the pawn of some very powerful men, but Luke Cage is not the type of man to be anyone's pawn for very long."

Preview art by Shawn Martinbrough
As for the story's setting, Benson wanted to place Cage into the heart of the Prohibition for a number of reasons, adding to the noir flavor of the series:

"Yes, the story is set after the Great Depression begins, but before Prohibition ends. There's a window of about four years where you have soup kitchens and speakeasies coexisting on the same streets. That's the world we wanted to put Luke Cage into: extreme poverty rubbing shoulders with wealthy excess, and Cage navigating between the two worlds."

The opportunity to write a noir take on Luke Cage also appealed to both writers as fans of the genre.

"We're both big fans of film noir," Benson shares. "'The Big Sleep.' 'Sunset Boulevard.' 'The Maltese Falcon.' 'This Gun for Hire.' The whole catalogue. And we think Luke Cage makes a perfect noir protagonist. He's a flawed hero, morally ambiguous, and trapped in a web of forces beyond his control. The question is, can he fight-and think-his way out? Well, that's the fun of it, right?"

Beyond Cage, fans can also expect to see at least one other familiar face from Luke's adventures in the regular Marvel Universe.

Preview art by Shawn Martinbrough
"Yes, Luke Cage's childhood friend Willis Stryker is featured pretty prominently in the story," reveals Glass. "But here he's a mobster, not a super villain, the 'Godfather of Harlem.' He and Cage have some great scenes together. There's so much history between these two characters. They're like brothers. And nobody fights harder-and dirtier-than two brothers."

"There is one other villain from Harlem that we're giving the noir treatment to, but if I told you who it was I'd have to kill you," Benson teases. "All I will say is that he makes a perfect antagonist for our invincible man."

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