Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #16: "Shake Hands With Stiletto!"

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #16
"Shake Hands With Stiletto!"
December, 1973

Tony Isabella: Writer
Billy Graham: Penciller
F. McLaughlin: Inker
Tom Orzechowski: Letterer
L. Lessman: Colorist
Roy Thomas: Editor
With Special Thanks To Len Wein And Marv Wolfman

The Hero For Hire has been having a rough time.  His girlfriend has been
charged with the murder of a Daily Bugle reporter.  Billy Bob Rackham has
got both Mrs. Jenks and a diary which reveals Luke Cage as being an
escaped prisoner.  The local stoolie has brought Cage to Shades and
Comanche, who were with him at Seagate Prison.  Like we said, a real
rough time.

He had been spending the morning in search of a way to clear Claire
Temple of the murder charge against her.  He is not in the mood to have
two runaway fugitives making more of a mess than it already is.  Since it
was Flea who brought him to the liquor store, it is up to him to explain
how things stand.  He had already "helped" Cage with the Suerte case, but
this time, the little bird is ready to sing.  Phil Fox's time as a
Broadway columnist was over and out, but he still had some influence with
Jameson at the Bugle.  It just so happens that the reporter and Flea had
met one another at a bar one night.

Fox needed some help to get home, and after the stoolie has brought him
to his residence, he became privy to the book which was in the reporter's
possession.  The Hero For Hire thinks this might be a sign of a
shakedown, but the unlicensed private detective doesn't make enough bread
for blackmailing purposes.  Flea would either lose a client or his own
life.  He, Shades, and Comanche have got a plan which would benefit them
all.  The stoolie had spotted them on the roof of the liquor store, and
overheard them mentioning the prison guard named Rackham. Since one of
them wore goggles and the other had a big "C" on his chest, Flea figured
them to be the Shades and Comanche from Doc Burstein's journal.  When
asked what he was doing on the rooftop, the stoolie chooses to remain

Since the three men escaped from Seagate, maybe the four of them could
come to an understanding, and Flea was quite a fast talker.  Shades and
Comanche want Lucas to join them, and as a member of their club, they
will help him save Claire.  The two escaped convicts are planning a
protection racket here in Harlem, but the stoolie had told them about a
man named Morgan who is running the business.  Once he is out of the way,
the Hero For Hire will protect their clients from criminal reprisals, but
not from them.

They can lead him to the murderer of Phil Fox, with Flea aware of his
whereabouts, and Shades dropping the name of Rackham.  The dreams of Luke
Cage have been shattered.  In order to save Claire Temple, he must make a
fateful decision, and pay the eventual price.

Rackham is the first order of business, and Luke must make a phone call
before anything else.  When asked by Comanche who he's gonna call, he
tells them it's to his lawyer about Claire's welfare.  If they only knew
why he was calling "Big Ben" Donovan, Shades and Comanche wouldn't be
okay with the idea.  As the four of them leave the liquor store, they are
unaware that their every movement is being watched from a neighboring
rooftop.  Just as he had told his father, a convict is always a convict,
no matter what.  The Hero For Hire and his crooked cronies will be taken
down by Stiletto -- one way or the other.

In the suburbs of New Jersey, a fateful showdown is about to take place.
Mrs. Jenks is amused by the sight of Rackham trembling each time he looks
out the window.  She tells the ex-prison guard how Luke Cage is able to
bend steel with his bare hands.  A sudden noise spooks Rackham, but as he
returns to the window, the ones he was expecting have entered by the back

The ex-prison guard has got a gun to Mrs. Jenks's head, with Cage
striving to keep both Shades and Comanche back.  If anything happens to
Rackham and Mrs. Jenks, Claire will suffer the consequences.  Stiletto
has arrived, and after peering through the window, he sees that all of
the players are in one place.  After pressing a button on his belt, he
opens fire on the house.  THWIP!  THWIP!  THWIP!  THWIP!

BA-THOOM!  The entire roof is collapsing upon them.

Luke is the first one to recover, with the stoolie sustaining not so much
as a scratch.  Although her hands are still tied behind her back, Mrs.
Jenks begins walking towards Cage.  Seeing that the woman is about to go
free, Rackham opens fire, and shoots at her three times.  BA-DOW  BA-DOW
BA-DOW  The shots fired also succeed in bringing more of the house down
on him.  CHOOM!  KRASH!

Flea is able to get Mrs. Jenks to safety, and urges the Hero For Hire to
save both Shades and Comanche.  It is a mystery why the place fell down
on them, just as why Lucas finds himself aiding the ones who could return
him to Seagate.  As he hauls them out of the wreckage, he muses on the
free samples he has given since starting his own business.  The woman
needs a doctor, but as Cage tells Flea to get an ambulance, another makes
his entrance.

Stiletto is determined to take Lucas in.  THWIP!  THWIP!  THWIP!  THWIP!
THWIP!  THWIP!  After shielding Mrs. Jenks and Flea from the mini-knives,
Luke charges the shooter.

THWIP!  THWIP!  THWIP!  THWIP!  THWIP!  THWIP!  Stiletto now directs his
line of fire at the ground, PA-DOOM!, causing the Hero For Hire to fall.
KRACKLE!  ZAPSST!  Now, Lucas is in for a shock, courtesy of Stiletto.

KA-Z-APST!  The convict will surrender or die.  Cage knows that he might
not be able to withstand another zap, and braces himself.  PA-ZAPST!  The
offensive weapon is torn from its wielder's grasp.

With the lives of two people hanging in the balance, the ones who can
clear the name of the one he loves, Luke Cage is in the mood for a fight.
Stiletto is unimpressed and deploys another of his weapons.  PLOOSH!
The gas attack catches the Hero For Hire off guard, but after using a
bush as a fan, he is able to breathe again.

SWAP!  Although he is pulling his punches, Luke is through dancing around
with Stiletto.  WHEEEEE  WHEEEEE  WHEEEEE  Rackham has extricated himself
from the wreckage, and hears the sounds of fast-approaching sirens.
WHEEEEE  WHEEEEE  He will not be taken back to a place like Seagate.  He
will not find himself in a cell with convicts, and guards who will beat
on him.  In a way, Billy Bob Rackham is about to get his wish.  THUD!
The ambulance has arrived.  SCREECH!  The ex-prison guard has his date
with destiny at long last.

The two attendants could not stop in time when he ran in front of them.
Rackham will never chase ambulances again.  While the Hero For Hire
continues to pull his punches, Stiletto reaches for a special cryogenic
weapon, and freezes Cage in place.  The round is over, with Stiletto
vowing to return.

Minutes pass, with Lucas wondering if he'll still be around for the
return match.  His phone call to Donovan had the authorities on his tail,
with both Shades and Comanche now under arrest.  He is in for a surprise
when the police congratulate him on the capture of the two escaped
convicts.  Since Lucas had saved their lives, Shades promises to keep his
secret, just before both he and Comanche are led away.  Both Rackham and
Mrs. Jenks are dead, but just before she died, she confessed to the
murder of Phil Fox.  "Big Ben" knows that she didn't do it, but the three
men agree that she was quite a woman.

After a morning of sadness, the afternoon is filled with happiness, as
Claire Temple is freed from prison.  The two police officers watch as the
woman kisses her savior, and both smile at the sight.  A frowning Flea
kicks a can, as he realizes that he will not make a dime from what has
happened today.  He could try to shake Lucas for some money, but then
he'd rather keep on breathin'.

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

This concluding chapter of "Retribution" features the works of Tony
Isabella and Tom Orzechowski.

As seen on the splash page, Shades and Comanche are in for a surprise
from an angry Hero For Hire, and things aren't going to go as easy as

The reference to Luke Cage -- Hero For Hire #11 mentions Senor Suerte, a
character who managed to return from the dead after events in said issue.

In the panel where Phil Fox shows Flea his special book, we see the eyes
of the stoolie above the cover, and darned if he doesn't look like Eddie

Morgan, the then-current king of Harlem, was seen in the pages of Captain
America and the Falcon.

The panel which stands out for me is where Lucas is hanging down his
head, while the smug faces of Shades, Comanche, and Flea are viewing him
with smug satisfaction.

The aura of shock around his head looks almost like a halo, as if the
writer were telling the reader, "Hey Effendi! Don't worry... Luke will
get things right in the end."

I don't know if this was deliberate or not, or if it was due to Billy
Graham, but it was a nice touch.

If one studies the word balloons which introduce Stiletto, his true
identity, and relationship to Luke Cage isn't too hard to figure out.

It's far from being a "Sweet Christmas" when the entire place is coming
down on our cast of characters.  That Santa dude and his reindeer could
stand to lose some more weight.

The sound effects are greatly improved from the first installment of

"Big Ben" and his dancing shoes going "CRUNCH" in every other panel
didn't quite do it for me.

Part II had the Hero For Hire throwing aside the precinct's door with a
"CRASH!" and leaping across tall buildings with a "THU-BOOM!"

A flagpole proves less than faithful when it goes "CRACKK!" and a falling
Hero For Hire goes "CRUNNCKK!" through the roof of a parked bus.

In Part III, there is no doubt where the "BA-THOOM!" is when the roof
starts to fall in on them.

Stiletto's weapons go "THWIP!", while Spidey's web-shooters go "THWIPP!"
A subtle difference, but a pleasant sound effect made possible courtesy
of Isabella and Orzechowski.

I'm guessing that Tony has a little more time to write Part III, compared
with Part II.

I'd like to ask the Tigerish One if it took long to figure out what the
sound effects would sound like, or for that matter, what takes the most
amount of time when you're writing up one of these stories against the
Dreaded Deadline Doom?

Was the creation of Stiletto influenced by the Silver Age Marvel villain
known as the Porcupine?

I wonder if Stiletto made the weapons himself or if they were built by
the Tinkerer?

It's too bad for Rackham that he's not as resilient with ambulances as
Lucas was with parked buses.

It's nice to see that there is some honor among thieves, as Shades and
Comanche promise to keep Cage's fugitive status a secret.

While Luke and Claire kiss and make up, Flea is kicking a can.

When Lively Len Wein would begin writing his issues of Power Man, the
stoolie would soon be kicking the bucket.

This Review Is Dedicated To Tony "The Tiger" Isabella and Tom "Wizard Of"

Steve Chung
"Shake Hands With Review!"