At San Diego Comic-Con 2018, Marvel Comics revealed a new digital-only initiative to tell different kinds of stories. Told in 40-page chapters, the stories allow for a more bing-like reading experience. Enter Luke Cage: Everyman, a three-part story focusing on Cage’s internal battle with CTE while fighting supervillains. It’s a different kind of story that breaks the mold in three important ways.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
With Harlem in the grips of an unprecedented heat wave, the people look to their hero–the unbreakable man, Luke Cage! But the heat wave turns out to be the least of Harlem’s worries. Someone has their sights set on the city’s 1%, and the rich and powerful are dropping dead from mysterious illnesses. It’s up to Luke Cage to stop the Everyman Killer–even though he’s just received a grim diagnosis of his own… By the time Luke discovers the true identity of the Everyman Killer he’s too late to stop them from abducting one of the most important people in his life. Can Luke neutralize the killer in time to save his beloved city?
Can I jump in easily?
Easily. This is a standalone story directed at anyone who has any interest in the character. It also introduces new threats for Cage to battle against. The first issue was a good start, which I detailed in my review.
Reason 1: A different way to write a comic book story.
This is the second Marvel Digital Original to be released offering 40-page chapters of a larger story. The first was Jessica Jones, which makes this a logical follow up. This breaks away from the usual 20-page comic book issues giving readers a longer story in digital-only installments. This changes how the writers and artists approach the story since they have more room to tell their tales. That not only changes how many stories you get, but also the pace. This collects the three installments and it’s obvious the storytelling is augmented from the format.
Reason 2: Different kinds of villains.
This series has three villains with the first being the most threatening and taking up the first two-thirds of the book. It’s particularly threatening to a man with unbreakable skin: that villain is CTE. It’s a bold choice to give Cage this disease particularly because there is no cure. It’s a logical thing for him to battle since he’s had his head beaten in so much (and being unbreakable I’m sure he can take harder hits than most heroes), giving this story a much more meaningful purpose. It’s creating awareness and also giving the hero something to deal with that he can’t possibly beat by punching.
There are supervillains in this story too, one of which I did not see coming. Omega Red, typically fighting mutants in the Marvel comics, ends up sparring with Cage throughout this story. Anthony Del Col’s choice of villain is an exciting one since we don’t typically see these two fight. It also puts into question who Omega Red is working for since he’s more of an espionage type character. That thrusts much of this narrative into a mystery since we don’t know who is pulling the strings. The actual villain pulling the strings is an interesting choice and it also feels a bit inspired since they are connected to the failing healthcare system in America. It’s a political element, much like CTE and the ongoing trauma football players endure, once again grounding this story in a reality that is relatable.
Reason 3: An art style that suits the street level hero.
Jahnoy Lindsay draws this book with Ian Herring on colors and together they give the book a realistic look that suits the grounded approach. The colors are also muted to add a layer of seriousness to the narrative. The style of art gives the book an indie feel, uncommon for big superhero stories. It also takes chances, like in the image below showing the layout of the building as Cage runs through. Characters like Omega Red have a larger-than-life, imposing look that enhances the danger whenever he shows up. Cage runs through a gamut of emotions in this story too, which Lindsay captures quite well. The guy is filled with doubt, fear, and anger, either because of the CTE itself or in reaction to it. Plus you got Iron Fist dying on a table putting Cage through a few very bad days.
Reasons to be wary?
Cage’s connection to Harlem and the people is an important element of the character, but it isn’t shown in a believable way. There’s a lot of telling to be sure–Cage tells the people he’s one of them, for instance–but you never see much interaction with them in a real way. It’s a bit of a failing for a book focused on Luke Cage.
The way Cage’s CTE is explained at the end of the story is a major letdown. I won’t spoil it, but know that all the attention is given to the ailment and what that means is reduced in how he got it. One of the most exciting elements of this series is how it grounds Cage in a reality we can relate to and also connects him to CTE survivors. This ending reduces his CTE to a superhero gimmick.
At 138 plus pages, I was hoping for a little more meat on this story. It’s decompressed at certain points, lacking action and more zip to get you excited to turn the page. Put plainly, the book can be a bit boring.
Is there a rationale to the reasons?
This is a book I liked, but never fell in love with. The CTE element is a bold move and it makes a lot of sense, but unfortunately is diminished by the end. The longer digital-only format also made this a brand new reading experience much more like reading collected formats. That makes this trade paperback, collecting all three 40 page stories, more episodic like a longer TV show when 20-page comics are more like 15-minute snippets. This is without a doubt an interesting take on the character that took some chances and might just surprise you.
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