Marvel's resident Hero for Hire, Luke Cage, is ready to go solo when his very own Netflix series debuts on September 30. While this will be many people's first taste of Cage, the character has actually been around for more than 40 years, and his impact stretches well beyond the streets of Harlem. From his debut as one of Marvel's only minority comic book characters, to his obscure connection to a Hollywood star, here are five facts you need to know about Luke Cage.
1. YOU CAN THANK BLAXPLOITATION MOVIES FOR HIS CREATION.
In the early 1970s, Marvel saw that pop culture was changing as more ethnic diversity found its way into TV and film. To make sure it didn't fall behind, the publisher made an effort to introduce more African American superheroes into its books, and for inspiration the company had to look no further than the film movement that defined the early parts of the decade: blaxploitation.
Over-the-top, anti-establishment films like Shaft and Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song featured black characters in urban settings that audiences could actually recognize. The unique tone and gloriously violent flair of these movies attracted audiences of all races, so it was only a matter of time before the comic book industry got its own black hero to root for. To capitalize on this movement, writer Archie Goodwin and artists John Romita Sr. and George Tuska created Luke Cage, who made his debut in his very own series Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 in 1972. The book was also Marvel's first solo title starring an African American hero; the Black Panther's creation preceded Cage's, but he didn't receive a solo book until he starred in Jungle Action in 1973 and his own self-titled book in 1977.
Set in Harlem, Cage uses his superhuman strength and bulletproof skin—which he gained in an experiment—to protect the people of his old neighborhood, as long as they could afford his services (he was a hero for hire after all). Over the decades, Cage shed his '70s blaxploitation schtick and transformed into a full-fledged part of the Marvel Universe, eventually becoming an Avenger and TV star.
2. HE WAS PAIRED UP WITH IRON FIST BECAUSE THEY WERE BOTH UNPOPULAR.
Today, Luke Cage and Iron Fist may be one of the most popular duos in comics, but the only reason these two characters were ever paired up to begin with was because, well, no one really bought their books. Iron Fist's solo comic book title was canceled in 1977 due to low sales, but Marvel didn't want to give up on the character so easily. So that same year, Fist was teamed up with Cage, whose own comic wasn't exactly a cash cow for the publisher.
Together, the duo saw a renaissance, as Cage's solo comic book title was renamed Power Man and Iron Fist starting with issue #50 and sales went up. Separately, Fist and Cage weren't moneymakers for the House of Ideas, but together, their team-up book lasted nearly another decade, ending with #125 in 1986.
3. HE PUT THE "CAGE" IN NICOLAS CAGE.
Nicolas Cage is a notorious comic book junkie—he has owned some of the most expensive issues in the world, he's a regular sight at comic conventions, and he even played a superhero in the Ghost Rider movies. Comic books are also his namesake.
Nicolas Cage was born Nicolas Coppola, part of the famous Coppola film family that includes director Francis Ford Coppola. To avoid the murkiness of nepotism in Hollywood, though, he decided to change his name to Nicolas Cage, getting his inspiration from Marvel's Luke Cage, one of his favorite comic characters.
4. HIS SIGNATURE CATCHPHRASE WAS A QUESTIONABLE ATTEMPT AT AUTHENTICITY.
Luke Cage's creator, Archie Goodwin, wanted the African American roots and street slang of the character to feel authentic, especially in the wake of a successful movie like Shaft. Well, the Marvel comics don't use the type of real-world profanity used in blaxploitation films, so Goodwin had to be creative, while still retaining that "authentic" feel of the streets. His solution became Cage's oft-mocked catchphrase, "Sweet Christmas!"
As the Cage character evolved, the catchphrase was dropped, especially as he was put into more serious books that didn't rely on his exploitative '70s roots. Though that won't stop Luke Cage star Mike Colter from saying it a few times in the new show.
5. QUENTIN TARANTINO WANTED TO MAKE A LUKE CAGE MOVIE IN THE 1990S.
Quentin Tarantino isn't the type of director to adapt someone else's story too often, but he almost made an exception in the 1990s, when he entertained the thought of bringing Luke Cage to the big screen. Cage is apparently a favorite of Tarantino's from his childhood, and after 1992's Reservoir Dogs the director briefly thought about going to Marvel with his idea for the character. But during an interview with Nerdist, Tarantino said it was actually his comic book fan friends that turned him off the idea:
"In the case of Luke Cage, it was my comic geek friends that almost talked me out of it, because I thought Larry Fishburne back in the day would’ve been a great Luke Cage, and they were talking about Wesley Snipes. And I could see them both, but it was like ‘I think Fish would be better.’ And they go ‘Yeah … he could work out and everything, but he doesn’t have the bod that Wesley Snipes has, and Luke Cage needs to have the bod.’ "And I literally was so turned off that that would be their both starting and ending point, that it literally put it in my head that, if I do a comic book movie, it should be an original character. It should be something I create rather than try to fit in."
Though the idea of a Tarantino-directed Luke Cage movie is intriguing, film fans can't argue with the project that he actually decided to go with next: 1994's Pulp Fiction.