Luke Cage: Gang War #1 is published by Marvel Comics, written by Rodney Barnes, with art by Ramon F. Bachs, colors by Andrew Dalhouse, and letters by Travis Lanham. This is part of the Gang War crossover. Mayor Cage decides to take action against a group of bank robbers, though not from the comfort of Gracie Mansion.
While this is connected to Gang War through the character and the general theme of crime, much of this story is separated from the storyline. It appears to take place just before the Amazing Spider-Man: Gang War #1 events, although there are no reference points to clarify that. But the biggest hurdle within New York and how it affects the superheroes is the series’ driving force. The ban on superheroes within the city stifles crime-fighting and prevents anyone with a mask from getting involved, even Cage. This calls for another way. With Cage still finding methods of pursuing the robbers, the comic goes down a very interesting and personal road.
The pacing is pretty slow, and stuttering as Cage moves across the city. But there is a fascinating villain being set up against the man with unbreakable skin. Even that concept is being tested by what Cage comes up against. There are formative moments of fights that never truly allow Luke to throw a punch, merely forcing him to take them. There are some guest stars that appear in the final moments of the opening chapter, and the consequences of that could be more interesting than this first issue.
This is a very personal issue. When Luke Cage starts working on a plan to go after the bank robbers, it is those he trusts that he heads to to keep his anonymity. Not just other vigilantes but members of his community, the same people he used to ally with in his early days. It’s a brilliant demonstration of what Cage is about, always remembering where he came from. Luke Cage: Gang War #1 features several guest stars regarding heroes, too, although they are stunted in what they can do. Danny Rand appears a couple of times, serving as a confidant. This is also the first real series that features Luke as Mayor while he is the main character. Thunderbolts and other books have had him as this background figure, but there is a chance to investigate that role further. Barnes doesn’t do that with explicit depth yet, but the humor that it generates is appreciated.
The comedy in the book is consistently brilliant, especially in the middle of the book, to provide levity and energy. And overall, it is Cage’s personality that is the most important part of the issue. He has a passion and a drive, so it’s difficult to stop him from doing what he wants. That has been challenged in his position as Mayor, but it has not died.
The art has its great moments. It is at its best when it is moving, where there is chaos and fire and a sense of urgency. The robbers look terrific, clad in heavy armour, and the design of the villain requires a level of detail that Bachs is happy to enjoy. There are some thick shadows to the goons that make them surprisingly creepy. Cage is given a temporary costume that feels like a 90s concept, but with Cage’s history, there’s a charm to that. That constant build-up to some action for it to temper off is often managed by the artist. The expected impacts don’t come because it would lead to a reveal. However, there are a few occasions where the shape of a character’s head looks peculiar depending on the angle and can often appear squished.
The colors have one definitive moment where they shine. There’s a calm, cool blue for much of the issue as Cage moves in the nighttime, fitting well with his temporary outfit. But when he enters the hideout of his enemies, the whole page is bathed in a suffocating red. This makes the issue more intense and dangerous. If Luke Cage leaves the building, the colors revert, with the red only present, almost encased within the lair. The lettering has a uniformity to the font, making it very easy to read.
Luke Cage: Gang War #1 is strengthened by the power of its protagonist. Both isolated and connected to the rest of the crossover, it is the characters that keep it interesting. The comic has side plots and some that appear to be set up for the future of the crossover. But it is Cage’s personality that forms the heart of a book that can feel slow and detracted. As the Mayor, he deserves to be at the center of the Marvel Universe more, and this issue displays how he can be. It remains to be seen if the next issue will bring Cage closer to the rest of the crossover and if the rough details are ironed out.
Luke Cage: Gang War #1
Luke Cage: Gang War #1 is strengthened by the power of its protagonist. Both isolated and connected to the rest of the crossover, it is the characters that keep it interesting.