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Soundtrack: Public Enemy—“It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back”

Well, until I hear different, I’m going to assume the M.A. is done. And high time too… After all of that agonizing about Wallace Stevens, I didn’t need him. The people who composed the essays were quite charitable, and I actually got to respond to three questions I cared about. I wound up writing on the use of Romantic “dark ladies” in The Blithedale Romance and Pierre, or the Ambiguities; on the treatment of the sublime in Moby Dick; and on Dashiell Hammett, T.S. Eliot and the “death of God” in the early twentieth century. Now it’s over and all I have to do is go to the bookstore four days a week and work on my doctoral proposals, plus try to put in some time on my novel. I’m looking forward to this autumn…

After finishing the exam, I went for lunch with a friend and treated myself to a celebratory comic book—Luke Cage, Hero For Hire, #7. Only four bucks!! Of course, the pages are a classic yellow-to-brown, but that’s how I like ‘em. I’ve never seen the appeal of “mint” stuff. When I get something old, I want it to look old—that’s part of the fun. Anyway, this particular issue was always a favourite of mine—a Christmas issue written by Steve Englehart. (Yes. I used to own it. Back in the late eighties, I delivered so many Montreal Gazettes that I was able to get a good percentage of the non-key sixties Marvels, and an even larger pile of seventies comics… I don’t like anything about the seventies, except for punk and the mainstream comics—but those two pretty much make up for all the FM rock and the damned male-male buddy movies. I used to have one hell of a comic book collection—until some, uh, MOTHERFUCKERS, broke into my parents’ house—this was in 1992—and stole the electronics equipment plus all my old-to-oldish comics. But that’s a story for another day, dear reader—perhaps a day when I am really in need of your sympathy…) So. I’ve always loved Christmas-themed comics, even though most of them aren’t very good. I just like seasonal material. I don’t know why. Somehow, it makes the artifacts seem both closer (because the events they commemorate are in red on my calendar too) and further away (because it’s not just 1973 anymore, but a specific month in 1973—yeah, obviously all comics are dated, but only seasonal comics draw your attention to the fact) and I like the tension that produces. (I love that short-lived Hallowe’en in Rutland, Vermont tradition that Marvel and DC couldn’t sustain past 1974—have they done anything with that in the nineties? If anyone knows, please tell me! I don’t buy new comics, but I would buy those!)

Okay. I bought the comic and brought it home and read it and it’s still great. Even the art–by George Tuska (whom I normally don’t like) and Billy Graham–is nice, with some very good quiet scenes between the protagonist and his girlfriend Claire Temple, and nice storytelling all-around. Luke Cage was the first African-American super-hero (the Black Panther, despite his ripped-from-the-headlines name, was a prince from the mythical kingdom of Wakanda, and that doesn’t count—and to be fair about the name, I think Huey Newton et al., in 1966, were about a year away from making their big splash, weren’t they?) Cage usually came off as a thug, mumbling bad Blaxploitation dialogue, and beating on “specially”-created ghetto devils like, uh, the Piranha…. Englehart’s Cage is completely different. Sure, he talks “jive”, but he’s also well read, romantic, and something of a detective—he’s everything, in fact, except for the smash-mouth enforcer that every other scripter made of him. The story in issue #7 is about a former O.S.S. agent who stashed away an atom bomb for himself after the Big One ended, fearing that society was tending toward a degree of degeneration that, one day, would become intolerable. This guy, who calls himself “Madman” (Peter David later used a villain, in the Hulk, with the same name, and the same crazy executioner’s hood–is there a connection? I can’t remember…) He poses as various figures from the past, present and future, testing Cage, expecting him, at every turn, either to be indifferent to the suffering of others, or to succumb to bloodlust whilst ostensibly protecting the innocent(a critique avant-la-lettre of the imminent Punisher/Wolverine Age?). But Cage passes every test. The Madman, however, loves his bomb-New-York-City-and-start-World-War-Three plan so much that he decides to go through with it anyhow, even though he claimed (in a few early asides to the audience and his own crazy-ass self) that evidence of human decency in the world would cause him to reconsider. As the issue pressed toward its’ conclusion, I started to find the tableaux and the dialogue somewhat familiar, and then it hit me, the whole thing was very reminiscent of Fight Club (the movie—there’s no way in hell I’d ever read that book). Of course, because it’s Englehart, there is absolutely none of the film’s glamorization of this nutjob’s mindless atavism…

Okay, that’s it for tonight! Tomorrow: The Greyness of the Husk! Stay tuned!

Good night friends!

By the way, if you are interested in Englehart, you must read Darren Madigan’s piece on the man. (I just looked back at it, and he seems to share my opinion of the author’s work on Cage). Here’s the link:

http://www.angelfire.com/ny3/docnebula/stainlss02.htm

Enjoy!

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7 comments

  1. Maggie!

    Thanks for the good vibes Maggie. Now we’ll have to get a Master(‘s) of the Universe reading group started–I’ve got dibs on the Orko hat!

    Dave

  2. I just found your blog. Your taste in music, comic books and pop culture is excellent. I have to go back in your archives and look around.

    Sleater-Kinney rocks.

    Peace out

    Sullivan

  3. The Christmas “madman” Luke Cage story is excellent. I’ve always liked that story because it may be the only place in comics where Cage is depicted as a somewhat thoughtful, even intellectual, man… his comment about the villain obviously having more on his mind than playing the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future is extraordinarily lucid and insightful, and the villain himself is quite impressed by it.

    The final twist… the villain being distracted by someone coming down the chimney (on Christmas Eve, no less) letting Cage get the drop on him, and the chimney crawler turning out to be a would be burglar, is simply perfect… a wonderfully concise summation of the serendipity of Cage’s seemingly hopeless world, where something bad can turn out to be something good without even meaning to.

    Alas, even Mary Jo Duffy could see little to do with Cage beyond making him a brutish bruiser, and years later when I pointed out those Englehart issues to Kurt and suggested he give Cage those intellectual depths once more, he demurred… something I always felt was a pity.

    I think you’re wrong when you say T’Challa doesn’t ‘count’ as a superhero. If anyone isn’t a ‘superhero’, it would be Cage, who was much more a seedy private eye type who happened to have super powers. T’Challa is many things, but he’s definitely a hero (if one in the Doc Savage tradition) and he’s definitely super.

  4. Hey Darren!

    I didn’t mean T’Challa’s not a super-hero. He is! (I like the character quite a bit actually) I just meant that he was a bit of a cop-out in terms of American racial politics (since he’s not American).

    Dave

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