RETRO REVIEW: Luke Cage, Hero For Hire # 1

Hey out there, it’s time for another RETRO REVIEW, so what do you think of that?  Hopefully, you’re in favor of it, as today, I bring you Luke Cage, Hero For Hire # 1, cover dated June 1972, from Marvel Comics!  Though in the indicia, the title is listed as simply; Hero For Hire.  This book features the first appearance and origin of the character, Luke Cage.  The comic features a very striking front cover drawn by John Romita Sr.  Take a look at it:

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire # 1

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire # 1

Now that’s a cover, if you ask me!  It pops right out at you, screaming Sensational Origin Issue!  And it features, clearly, a black super-hero!  There were not many around in 1972, let alone, starring in their own comic book!  So you’ve got to give Marvel credit for pushing the envelope back in the day!

The main character, Carl Lucas, soon to adopt the street name, Luke Cage, was created by Archie Goodwin, Roy Thomas and John Romita Sr. and brought to life in this initial tale by Archie Goodwin who provided the script, George Tuska, who provided the pencil artwork, and Billy Graham, who provided the inks over Tuska’s pencils!  The story itself was entitled; “Out Of Hell — A Hero!”  I’ve never been a big fan of artist, George Tuska, but Billy Graham’s inks over Tuska’s pencils, really showed promise, and at times almost made Tuska’s pencils good looking, especially on the splash page to this story.

But back to this first issue, the story begins in Seagate Prison, sometimes called “Little Alcatraz” by it’s inmates, if you believe Goodwin!  We see a prisoner named Lucas being released from solitary.  The story then follows him as he interacts with his fellow inmates, as well as, the prison guards.  We then see the head of the guards, Captain Rackham, try to recruit Lucas to play stool pigeon against his fellow prisoners prior to a new warden reporting.  Lucas refuses, and a guard, Quirt, is brought in to break Lucas.  He beats up Lucas, who doesn’t fight back.  It’s at this precise moment that the new warden arrives.  He fires Quirt on the spot and finds Captain Rackham in his office, smoking cigars and drinking.  He busts him down to a regular guard and gives him a week to shape up, or he’ll be gone too!

We then are introduced to Dr. Noah Burstein, who patches up Lucas.  AT this point Goodwin gives us a five page flashback to how Lucas ended up going to prison.  He was “tight” friends with Willis Stryker and they grew up together in a local gang.  But as they aged, Stryker got “harder and harder” and Lucas eventually got sick of the bloody rumbles and the continuous running.  Stryker joined “the rackets” and Lucas joined the establishment, where he met Reva, a co-worker.  Then Stryker saw Reva, and then they both were in competition for her!  Of course, Stryker had money and Lucas didn’t, and Reva seemed to be falling for Stryker, until she found out about how he made his money!

So she once again found time for Lucas, and eventually they were to be married.  Only to have Stryker plant drugs in Lucas’ apartment.He then tipped off the police and Lucas ended up going to prison.  While there, Reva again began seeing Stryker, until she was gunned down by a rival “dope-smuggling” outfit who was actually gunning for Stryker!

Once Lucas finds this out, he volunteers to be a “guinea pig” for some research being conducted by Doc Burstein, in the hopes to gain a parole.  And it is while he is in a chemical bath that is suppose to only last a few moments that Rackham makes the scene again and locks Lucas into the bath and sabotages the controls.  Eventually the contraption explodes and Lucas emerges with superhuman strength, stamina and what appears to be “bullet-proof” skin!  He then escapes from Seagate Prison and goes into hiding.

It’s at this point he becomes “Luke Cage” and decides to hire himself out to people in need.  Of course he swears on Reva’s grave to bring, his once best friend, Willis Stryker, to justice and clear his name!

A pretty strong first issue and one that convinced readers to come back for more!

About Greg Turner

Greg Turner (@gregturner16) is Back to the Past’s archivist and an auctioneer. He writes the columns “Fabulous Finds” and “Retro Reviews” on alternating weeks for the website and spins classic 45′s each week for Vinyl Tuesdays.


  1. When will there be a Greg Turner SENSATIONAL ORIGIN ISSUE?

  2. Sean Pigeon says:

    I was never a big Luke Cage fan until he became an Avenger (no reason other than lack of exposure for me) but I grew to truly love that character, and the last page of the most recent New Avengers showed just how far as a character he’s come.

    Nice article Mr. Turner!

  3. I must admit Luke Cage was never a favorite character and after buying the first couple of issues, I stopped picking it up in the 70’s, until it became Power Man & Iron Fist, as I was a fan of Danny Rand, so that prompted me to pick it up once again. Then I grew to enjoy Cage, and he certainly has received a lot of “face time” and good storylines within Bendis’ New Avengers, so I’m still a fan!

  4. To have a black super hero as a boy was up lifting for me growing up in the 70’s. Luke Cage made it possible for me to believed i could take on anything. He is great black super hero that should have a movie or regular t.v show so more kids would know him. He’s great!!!!

  5. Greg Turner says:

    Al, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. It’s great that Marvel Comics could publish a black super hero in his own comic even back in the 70’s! Obviously, you were not the only one that took pride in Luke Cage, as his book lasted a lot longer than say, Marvel’s Black Goliath comic! I think he was finally killed off, but Luke Cage is still going strong today!

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