Friday, September 16, 2016

Bad Debts (Marvel)
Cage #3 When: June 1992
Why: Marc McLaurin How: Dwayne Turner

The Story So Far...
Having been wrongly accused of the murder of his best friend Iron Fist: Luke Cage is officially exonerated when the authentic article reemerges alive and well - the victim of an elaborate identity theft!

Stepping out of the shadows with a new look, new attitude, and new life as Hero for Hire in Chicago - Cage is dropping the "Power Man" name and going solo!

The price of one death may have been lifted from Cage's mighty shoulders, but the spectre of another will haunt him in the form of another double! The son of late villain Bushmaster has hired a mercenary to wage war on Cage! The result is a team of Untouchables led by Hardcore, who descend upon Dakota North in an effort to steal sensitive information she's learned about Cage's past.

Too bad for The Untouchables that Cage is wise to their plans and is about to take the fight to them!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Draw 5 (Super-Human)
Intelligence: Luke Cage 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Tombstone 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Luke Cage 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Draw 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Nitro 6 (Mass Destruction)

Be still, my beating heart! What we have here is a good old fashioned dream match! Why is it a dream match? Because for several years these guys were stomping on opposite sides of the mean streets, but they didn't butt unbreakable heads until '92! They're the perfect enemies - and here's why:

Luke Cage is the self-marketed Hero for Hire also known as Power Man!

Growing up in Harlem, Cage's family and friends knew him as Carl Lucas. When he joined The Rivals gang as a young man, Lucas was tempted into a world of crime -- eventually leading to a frame-up that sent him to Seagate Prison!

In prison, Lucas became a subject for super-soldier experiments on inmates. When the process was tampered with, he accidentally gained super-human strength, and skin as strong as steel! He used his powers to escape prison and forged a new identity for himself, choosing to fight crime - for the right price!

The Untouchables are: Tombstone, Nitro & Kickback.

Tombstone is career criminal Lonnie Lincoln. Like Cage, he was born and raised on the streets of Harlem. As an albino, he was ostracized as a child and took to using his physical strength to dominate others. This eventually led him to street fighting, petty crime, and a career as a hitman.

Lincoln cultivated an intimidating persona as Tombstone, filing his teeth and nails into points. He accidentally gained super-human strength when Daily Bugle reporter Robbie Robertson exposed him to experimental gas in an Osborn Chemical facility! The incident also granted him incredible durability!

Even before gaining increased strength, Tombstone has been a regular nemesis for Spider-man [eg; Spectacular Spider-man #142]. We've also seen him go toe-to-toe with Daredevil for a win and a loss, and take on Iron Man and The Avengers as one of the short-lived Sinister Twelve [Marvel Knights: Spider-man #11]!

This is the Secret Wars on Infinite Earths debut for both Nitro and Kickback. We don't have any example data, but the auto-exploding powers of Nitro were responsible for the tragedy in Stamford that kicked off the Avengers' Civil War!

As an eventual member of the New Avengers, we've seen Cage develop as a serious heavyweight! He's battled the likes of: Juggernaut [Thunderbolts #150], The Hood [New Avengers #54], Ms. Marvel [Civil War #3], The Hand [New Avengers #27], and even symbiote possessed Avengers [New Avengers #36]! On the streets, the mutant Unus the Untouchable proved difficult to defeat thanks to his forcefield protection [Power Man & Iron Fist #90]. None of The Untouchables wields any such barrier, despite the name.

Cage is running solo at this point, even though Iron Fist had made a recent and miraculous return from the dead. That means it's three-on-one and that could potentially be a problem!

If Cage can break the fight down, he definitely stands a better chance. Nitro's ability to expel a full body explosion is dangerous, but Cage's unbreakable skin should be able to handle it. Kickback might negotiate a tactical advantage with his time travel powers, but his ability to follow through is limited.

Tombstone is basically Cage's equal - the shadow-self that makes this such a perfect, scintillating dream match. That said, Cage's peak strength usually trends higher than Tombstone's, a high 5 with occasional tendencies to drift tower a low 6, by our measure. We saw that in the Juggernaut fight.

The Untouchables haven't been a unit for long, and are working for mercenary rates. That team instability could be exactly what Cage needs to exploit, enduring long enough to pick them off one by one.

The Math: Nitro Ranking: Luke Cage (#12)

What Went Down...
Tipped off to know all wasn't right at the Chicago branch of North Investigations -- the man called Cage launches into the building! He catches hostage Teague as he explodes through the window, knocking Tombstone off balance!

Time traveller Kickback has already seen the fight three minutes into the future, arriving in our present to watch himself and the other Untouchables surround Cage! Tombstone talks business, but Nitro chooses a more offensively minded strategy -- charging up his powers for a strategically directed explosion!

Cage uses his unbreakable skin to shield Teague from the blast. He eats a boot to the face from Kickback, who appears suddenly having time shifted to avoid the explosion. He teleports away as quickly as he appeared - leaving Cage to swing at empty air!

Tombstone rushes Cage, taking him off his feet with a charging tackle!

The chalk-skinned hitman notes the innate similarities between he and Cage. Thick skin and business acumen aren't enough to compel the Hero for Hire to bond with his foe. He hammers home the differences with a one-two combo of a right hook and uppercut!

The mighty blows rock Tombstone, but he remains on his feet! Nitro calls for him to drop down to give a clear shot, but Cage uses the distraction to grab Tombstone by his feet and send him hurtling into Nitro!

Nitro is floored, but rock-hard Tombstone recovers instantly! He squares off with Cage, lamenting his hopes for a business-like resolution. He charges at the Hero for Hire once again -- more than happy to call upon his days as a street fighter!

The two super-tough combatants smash through the North Investigations exterior wall! Bricks crumble and shatter as they spill onto the street outside - Cage using their momentum to get the upper hand!

An unexpected player arrives on the scene by van: The Punisher! Tombstone tries to tell Cage he's the "Mr. Big" bankrolling The Untouchables, so Cage picks Tombstone up and runs him into the grill of the oncoming vehicle!

The sudden impact throw Punisher face-first into the dashboard! He takes the brunt a lot harder than the bulletproof duo he smashed into.

Cage shakes down Tombstone, demanding the truth about the team. Tombstone gives up the real plan: to gather sensitive information on Cage uncovered by Dakota North! He  also warns that Nitro may be mentally unstable and a danger to the investigator, who may still be inside. This prompts Cage to take his victory and run as Tombstone laughs!

The Hammer...
Nitro does indeed lose his cool, believing Tombstone and Kickback have turned against him. He explodes - destroying the North Investigations building before Cage can get back inside. Cage has no way of knowing Dakota North is safe with Kickback, casting his victory in a grim afterglow as The Punisher arrives.

In a curious twist, Punisher thinks his former acquaintance is actually working with Tombstone. A cliffhanger to be resolved in the next issue - and a future installment of Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, I'm sure!

As you may've already gathered, I was pretty excited about getting around to this issue! I've always been a sucker for Tombstone, as I'm sure I've gushed in the past. There's just something fantastic about the simplicity of the character. A granite faced hitman with aspirations for pin stripe suits and working his way up the criminal ranks.

I've often thought about the perfect match Tombstone presents for Cage, whose history before The Avengers was on the streets. I like that Marc McLaurin's script calls their similarities out, even as it highlights the differences. Yes, they're both rock-hard, super-strong guns for hire - but Cage is no hitman!

Tombstone has had one or two more run-ins with Cage since this initial meeting, but sadly, the chemistry hasn't quite produced a new arch-villain scenario. I live in hope that the option is still there, with history to build upon, though!

It's worth noting that "Cage" was specifically the moniker of choice, at this time. He was still a hero for hire, but gone was the "Power Man" handle, soon to be appropriated by another - a villain. A thorough relaunch of a dormant character.

The silver tiara, yellow silk shirt, and chain belt were gone as well. The seventies-tinged remnants of kung fu and blacksploitation fads weren't looking so cool by the late eighties. Cage had toiled in obscurity for a few years by the early nineties, running from the cancellation of Power Man & Iron Fist in 1988, which told the story of Danny Rand's apparent death.

At a glance, there wasn't a lot to tell you this was the same character when Cage launched in 1992. I always appreciated the classic Power Man look, so it surprised me to see him wearing black and red, even if I could appreciate the aim to match a modern style. He shared an aesthetic with a handful of street level characters of the time. Beneath the surface, it was the same character with the same history. The kind of reboot you can appreciate.

The tragic irony of relaunching when they did is simply that Tarantino and anime would bring blaxploitation and kung fu back into style in a major way! Both characters were tailor made to ride the wave of millennium trends, but Marvel struggled to fully capitalize on any kind of relaunch. They're arguably only just getting to the peak now, with a stylish new comic series by David Walker and Stanford Greene, and the character's live-action debut in Jessica Jones.

September 30th marks the release of Luke Cage on Netflix - the first time the character will star in his own TV series! Here on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, we're celebrating that fact by dedicating a month's worth of Friday Night Fights to the man with the bulletproof skin!

If that wasn't exciting enough, today's feature fight comes with unforseen repercussions! Long time readers know every battle on The Comic Book Fight Club contributes to an on-going record. With this win, Luke Cage becomes the first hero in a long time to upend the Top 10 rankings!

Rising to #9, Cage leapfrogs two heroes with whom he has close ties: Daredevil becomes the new guardian at #10, while The Thing is shockingly pushed out out of the Top 10 to #11! Check out all the rankings changes at the bottom of this post! As of 2016, all feature fights end with rankings updates.

If you'd like to get the full experience of today's feature battle, you can use Amazon purchase links provided to pick up a collected edition!

If you want to see more Luke Cage, Punisher or other featured characters, use the character links dispersed throughout this post. Or, jump straight to your favourite battles from legend or obscurity using the Issue Index Archive!

Stay tuned as Cage Month continues with a grudge match that changed his life forever!

Winner: Cage
#9 (+3) Luke Cage
#65 (--) Punisher [+1 Assist]
#362 (-1) Tombstone
#804 (new) Kickback
#805 (new) Nitro

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