By Genndy Tartakovsky, Stephen Destefano, Scott Wills, Clayton Cowles
With Luke Cage blowing the blogosphere and Netflix, it’s only natural Marvel try to capitalize on that as much as possible. Really not sure this was the best approach for that.
I know Tartakovsky from his animation work; Dexter’s Lab, Samurai Jack,etc, so I’m sure the idea of him doing a comic about one of Marvel’s B-listers was a great concept on paper. Or maybe not, the thing was put off for years. Which begs the question, was this just sitting in Marvel’s files or did Tartakovsky really come on and do a project that was delayed for over ten years that resulted in this?
The story is mindbogglingly simple, Luke Cage (in the 1970s) is stood-up on a date by Misty Knight and learns he’s the only hero in NYC who hasn’t disappeared (except for three of the X-Men), and a bunch of D-list villains (including the classic and unfortunate looking Black Mariah) teamed up to finish Cage off.
I can’t decide if Tartakovsky is doing an intentional pastiche of 70’s Luke Cage comics, or this material was really collecting dust and published without regard to how it might be received critically. It reads like a Ren and Stimpy cartoon and a few of the Black characters are depicted in a very confusing manner that makes The Spirit’s Ebony White look good in comparison. Really, it could be both, I don’t care for it either way.
I’ll say this much, Tartakovsky’s art brings a certain energy to Luke Cage that you really rarely see in comics now. His figures can change from page to page, Cage’s proportions reflect whatever the situation calls for (towering for fights, tiny and compact for running), and it fits into what Tartakovsky does in animation. His works are well-done genre takes, with maybe a sly homage here and there. In this regard, this issue may have Dexter’s cartoonish logic (where an eight year old boy builds a sprawling laboratory in his bedroom) and Jack’s action driven narrative sensibilities.
Here’s the problems that I have with the issue: one) the tone seems really out of place for both Cage and the story, two) the uncomfortable depictions of certain Black characters, three) and this is really a personal gripe, this is nothing like the show. Now that last one is probably really unfair to Tartakovsky and Marvel, they’re under no obligation to continue the work of their live-action adaptions. That said, they kind of do that anyway all the time. The reason there’s a new Jessica Jones book is because the Netflix show of the character blew up. Luke Cage is important because of its prioritization of depicting Black characters realistically in the starring roles with a compelling and relevant narrative. If Marvel wanted a miniseries to spoof the classic Luke Cage comics, I’m sure Gerry Dugan Mike Posehn could’ve done that and done it well based on their 1970’s Deadpool flashback issue. So that leaves this issue in this odd position where it’s supposed to be for some audience that I can’t determine. It’s not me, that’s for sure. I hope someone out there reads this book and likes it, but for a comic being published to coincide with the character’s TV show I can’t help but think of better approaches that could’ve been taken.
Rating: Poor, Fair, Good, Great, Excellent