Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #14: "Retribution"

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #14
October, 1973

Steve Englehart: Plotter/Co-Scripter
Billy Graham: Co-Scripter/Artist
Charlotte Jetter: Letterer
Petra Goldberg: Colorist
Roy Thomas: Editor

In the case of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth... we have...
"Retribution!"  In the course of his life, Luke Cage has swollen many
eyes... and taken many teeth.  His foes are many, and each of them await
the time for... Retribution!  Until this moment, none of them have
confronted the Hero For Hire... but his stroke of good fortune is over.
A quartet of his enemies are gathering together, with each of them
sharing the same thought... Retribution!

A fallen building is the site for Luke Cage's latest heroic deed, with
three construction workers being pulled from the rubble.  They had been
surprised  by the sudden fall, with the foreman at a loss as to what to
do, and the front office looking over a certain calling card -- with the
Hero For Hire making the rescue in record time.  Two other men are making
their own escape... from Seagate Prison, a place where only an inmate
known as Lucas made his own break for freedom.

The boat left by guards now serves the needs of the two escaped convicts
-- Comanche... and Shades.  Each of them can't wait to get their hands on
Rackham.  With the firing of the new warden, the prison guard took out
his rage on the two who had been friends with Lucas.  Someday...
someday... they would get Rackham.

While they came up with a plan of escape, the warden had returned to
Seagate, and the prison board fired Rackham for his brutal treatment of
the prisoners.  The loss of his job was nothing compared to the loss felt
by both Comanche and Shades.  Their lives were devoted to their escape
and freedom from a six-year stay in prison.  The following weeks found
them taking clothing, funds, and food as they trailed behind Rackham --
and retribution.  The long and winding trail for the prison guard has led
them to New York.

Rackham places an ad in the Daily Bugle for a job as a guard in a bank or
prison.  Phil Fox hears the words "Seagate" and "Rackham" from Sol, then
catches a cab after his quarry.  Among his many possessions is the diary
of Dr. Noah Burstein, which contains information about the experiment at
Seagate Prison -- and the escape of the man known as Luke Cage.

Being a Hero For Hire, there are many quiet periods between jobs.  At 3
A.M., Luke Cage mulls over the circumstances which have brought him to
the third floor walk-up office of his own.  As he catches the sights and
sounds of the city from his window, there is a visitor at the door.  Mrs.
Jenks has arrived in search of him, but Cage isn't in the mood to see

She had a business date to settle the matters of her late husband, but
the attorney was more interested in giving her the business over dinner.
When the shyster came up with a certain line, she decided to walk out,
but the drunken man has been following her since 49th and Broadway.
Seeing how the Hero For Hire reacts to one of his old clients, Mrs. Jenks
isn't so sure that it was a good idea to come to the office.  CRUNCH!
The attorney has caught up with his client, as he breaks down the door,
and is determined on getting his money's worth from the woman.

CRRUNCH!  Taken by surprise, Luke Cage is tackled by the drunken man in
the purple suit, and slammed against the wall.  Big Ben Donovan weighs
three hundred and thirty pounds of solid muscle, and he is about to begin
his opening remarks.

Billy Bob Rackham was surprised when the reporter said that he wanted to
do a story about being a prison guard.  He savors the chance to tell his
side of the story, about as much as the drinks Phil Fox has been giving
him.  In the hotel room, the Daily Bugle reporter asks about the dead man
named Lucas, and pours Rackham another drink.  The prisoner wanted to
spend time in the library, but the guard put him in the hole, instead.
Phil Fox makes a mistake when he mentions Doc Burstein, and realizes this
when Rackham grabs him by the front of his shirt.  The booze hadn't
deadened his senses that much.

Fox isn't much of a fighter, and he tells Rackham about this "Lucas"
being the same guy as Luke Cage, Hero For Hire.  The diary described the
doctor's cell regeneration experiments, with Luke Cage being the only
survivor.  The prison guards had shot at the convict when he tried to
escape, but the reporter knows that he had survived.  It was Rackham
himself who was responsible for turning a prisoner into a Power Man.

The prison guard took advantage of the doctor's absence to tamper with
the controls, but Burstein had returned, and Lucas was transformed by
those runaway chemicals.  His very bones and flesh were changed.  As his
fists struck against metal, the machine exploded, and the test subject
was freed.

After making his way from Seagate, he turned up in New York, and met
Doctor Burstein once again.  For a moment, Rackham dreams about turning
Lucas in to the police, and get his old job back.  Phil Fox realizes the
futility of such a thing, and tells him about a much better plan.  They
could blackmail him, but Fox was thrown out by Cage when he first tried
it.  The former prison guard knows that they have to find his girlfriend,
and make him dance to their tune.  The reporter is starting to have
second thoughts, but Rackham's mind is made up.

Phil Fox has lent his car to his newfound partner, but as Rackham drives
along 42nd Street for the address of Claire Temple, he sees something
interesting playing outside the Gem Theatre.  As the Hero For Hire
escorts Mrs. Jenks to a waiting cab, the former prison guard recognizes
him as Lucas, and drives after the cab -- with the wrong woman.  Big Ben
Donovan is recovering, listening to Luke Cage telling him that the
punches were all pulled.

HRUMMF  A swift leap and the sly lawyer knocks Cage to the floor once
again.  WHUMP  He applies his steel-tipped boots to the side of the Hero
For Hire.

BLAM!  After grabbing onto Donovan's leg, Cage sends the lawyer for a
ride towards the nearest wall... KERRASH!  SMAK!  WHUNKF!  Big Ben's
boots aren't made for walking, when Luke Cage's fists are doing the
talking.  SOK!  BAM!  CRAK!  The lawyer is still up, but not quite out
yet.  The aches and pains get to him, with Big Ben Donovan throwing in
the towel.

Shades and Comanche have got plenty of money in their pockets.  Their
plans of leaving town have changed, with a perusal of the Daily Bugle's
advertising section.  The two escaped convicts don costumes so that the
former prison guard won't recognize them until it's too late.  Rackham
calls Fox from an apartment on 83rd, and tells him to come over quick.

Sunday morning finds the Daily Bugle reporter telling his new partner
that they've gotten the wrong woman.  He knows that Mrs. Jenks was a
former client of Cage, but Rackham is sure that Lucas will come acallin'
soon enough.  WHAM!  SMACK!  Soon, Phil Fox is trying to pull Billy Bob
Rackham away from the bound figure on the chair.  Claire Temple has just
come from the Gem Theatre, after learning from the ticket-seller that
Luke wasn't home, and that Mrs. Jenks was with him just before dawn.
This is why the young lady has found herself going up the front steps of
the apartment building on 83rd.

Claire is about to knock on the door of Mrs. Jenks's apartment when she
hears... SMAK!  SLAP!  Two male voices arguing with each other.  SLAP!
SLAP!  SLAP!  One of the voices tells the other how they'll send Cage a
picture of the woman's face when he's done with it... and a note...  Noah
Burstein's diary, which mentions the Hero For Hire being a wanted
criminal.  Claire Temple hears this coming from the other side of the
door, and as she tries to cope with this new piece of information...

How many moments is it before the sounds of a struggle subside into
silence, and Claire gathers together her courage before entering through
the door.  She recognizes the figure on the floor as Phil Fox.  As she
kneels beside the dead body... her hand reaches out unconsciously for the
murder weapon.  This is when the police make their entrance, with guns
drawn, and tells Claire Temple that she's now under arrest for murder.

This story was reprinted in Giant-Size Power Man #1 (1975).

The splash page shows the angry Hero For Hire lashing out at an
unsuspecting wall.  KRATOOM!

The art by Billy Graham is very dramatic.  I can see the styles of
Severin, Ploog, and Cardy within various panels.

Comanche wears a native American headband, while Shades wears sunglasses
(even in the moonlight boat trip from Seagate).

Phil Fox wears a green shirt, purple tie, and brown pants.  Although the
Daily Bugle reporter is quick as a fox in catching up with Rackham, he is
most certainly not smart as a fox.

I'm guessing that Sol in advertising is a reference to Marvel's Sol
Brodsky from Steve Englehart.

Mrs. Jenks is a jinx for both Luke Cage, Phil Fox, and Claire Temple.

Whereas the Hulk wears purple pants, Big Ben Donovan prefers a purple
coat, a white tie, and a white shirt.  One wonders if Donovan's
performance in court mirrors his ability in courting the fairer sex.

Billy Bob Rackham swigs drinks as much as he swings his baton.

Another character who believed in 1970's fancy footwear was the

The costumes worn by Shades and Comanche make them look like a gunslinger
and a dime store Indian.

With a cliffhanger like this, how could readers possibly pass up the next

Steve Chung