Brainwashed and buried. On his journey home from New Orleans, Luke Cage passes through a small town under the control of the villainous Ringmaster. Thinking that the hero is there to stop him, Ringmaster orders Cage’s imprisonment and wipes his memory. Cage and his fellow prisoner Gonzo are sentenced to mine toxic chemicals under the prison, which Ringmaster is using to magnify his hypnotic powers. In an attempt to escape from the mines, Cage is shot and the ricocheting bullets destroy the support beams of the mines and bring down the mine down on top of the hero.
LUKE CAGE #169
Writer: David F. Walker
Artist: Guillermo Sana
Cover Artist: Rahzzah
Colorist: Marcio Menyez
Publisher: Marvel Comics
What You Need to Know:
With regards to Marvel Legacy, this arc strips Cage back to his origins, no memories of who he is or what he can do, throughout this arc, it has been a key way of showing who Cage is without the strength and invulnerability that cements him as even more of a badass. However probably more interesting from this story arc is the villain, Ringmaster. The arc has focused primarily on Ringmaster’s scheme to amplify his powers to enable him to rule a small Southern state town and while this may not seem ambitious it really helps put supervillainy in perspective, showing that not every villain wants to carve up control of the world, most just want their own little corner.
What You’ll Find Out:
The issue opens with Ringmaster berating the prison guards for shooting the bulletproof Luke Cage in the mine causing it to collapse. One of the guards claims that Cage couldn’t have survived, which of course then cuts to Cage shielding Gonzo from the rubble from the cave in. While he struggles to hold up the rock Ringmaster’s hypnotic control on Cage begins to fade, giving him access to his memories. Now knowing the level of strength he has Cage manages to free himself and Gonzo and begins attempting to break through the rock wall separating him from Ringmaster. Ringmaster gathers the prison guards in an attempt to ensure that Cage is killed or to give him the chance to re-establish his mind control just as Cage bursts through the walls, his shirt tied around his head to prevent Ringmaster sound based hypnosis from being able to impact him.
Seeing that his hypnosis is now ineffective on Cage, Ringmaster attempts to flee, ordering the prison guards to kill Cage who, promptly beats down all of them, However Ringmaster is able to reach his command center and orders the entire prison populace to attack Cage, though this appears to push the limits of his mental control seeming to free the townspeople.
In the midst of this Gonzo leaves Cage, and follows Ringmaster, destroying his microphone through which Ringmaster issued orders. Ringmaster then attempts to strangle Gonzo, only to be confronted by a very angry Luke Cage, who then proceeds to beat down the villain.
The issue then moves to the aftermath of Ringmaster’s defeat, with the town being freed from control and reunited with their friends and families. Cage has a final conversation with Ringmaster as he is being escorted away and then moves to leave himself, finally returning to his own family.
What Just Happened?
I think everyone has their own idea when reading a comic that’s part of a story arc about how it should end or their own expectations of what would make the ideal ending. I’ll start by saying that overall for me I didn’t think that this arc ended as well as it could have but there’s a lot of things that I did enjoy and for the most part I’ll try and take the issue as it is, not what it should be.
Now onto the rest of the review.
Firstly, Luke Cage is a badass. An unstoppable badass! The sequence where Ringmaster throws wave upon wave of his minions against him is dynamic, and brilliantly drawn and then on top of that his beatdown of Ringmaster while berating him for control is savage! I think this arc has done well at highlighting numerous aspects of the character and this issue we finally get to see him as the tough as adamantium nails street brawler.
Next, Ringmaster. I felt most let down by Ringmaster. I think that so much emphasis was put on him trying to maintain his own little corner of the world and the lengths he went to achieve, having him be merely beaten and arrested doesn’t seem like a fitting end for the character. Having him lose everything should have had more of an impact on him. Aside from that Sana’s art for Ringmaster’s hypnosis is still fantastic and the close-ups of his face are still brilliantly creepy.
Looking back on this arc as a whole, as part of the Marvel Legacy rebranding, it covered much of what made Luke Cage a hero prior to his relationship with Jessica Jones and the birth of his daughter which is something that I think we’ll see explored in the upcoming story arc. I think to see the character like this works. While Cage in recent years has slotted more into the traditional superhero role, this arc and this issue, in particular, does give us a flash of a more angry and brutal character, someone not to be messed with. I also loved the reference to the Netflix series that the issue opened with. Something I found that both and didn’t work on some levels was how comedic this issue felt. It almost gives off a Tarantino-ish vibe where the moments of violence also carry a humorous quality to them. I think in some instances (i.e. Ringmaster questioning his henchmen in front of the collapsed mine) it works and in other instances (when Cage slaps Ringmaster repeatedly) it diminishes the impact of the scene.
Finally, this may just be me but I recently re-read Remender’s uncanny Avengers run and through one issue they had a back and forth between Captain America who had been deafened and Havok. There was a similar gag this issue and I enjoyed trying to work out where I felt I’d read the gag before.
Final Thought: Overall a solid conclusion to the Behind Bars arc. I feel a little underwhelmed at how they handled Ringmaster’s defeat but the action sequences were done superbly and had a really nice flow to them. It’s been great following Luke on his journey home and the following issues are surely not going to disappoint.
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