Five years ago, when the Avengers was relaunched, Luke Cage became a central player in the Marvel Universe as a founding member of the New Avengers team.
In April, the character is getting his own mini-series by John Arcudi, the writer best known for his work on The Mask who recently won accolades for the Superman story he did in Wednesday Comics for DC.
The four-issue New Avengers: Luke Cage, with pencils by Eric Canete, tells a street-level story that returns Luke to his roots and ends up being an adventure involving a few familiar villains.
Newsarama talked with Arcudi about the mini-series and why this character appeals to him as a writer.
Nrama: John, just coming off the experience of Wednesday Comics, what is your overall impression of how that project came together?
John Arcudi: I was really happy about how Wednesday Comics came together, and especially happy that I was able to do the Superman segment with Lee Bermejo. The anthology ran the gamut from serious crime drama to fun, goofy super-heroics. It was a great, diverse package that editor Mark Chiarello put together, and from what I can see, fans loved it, which is also gratifying.
Nrama: What brought about the opportunity to do some work with Marvel on this Luke Cage series? Was it something you pitched, or something they offered to you?
Arcudi: The short answer is “yes.” The long answer is that editor Tom Brennan came to me and said he had an opportunity to do a Cage miniseries, and would I be interested? Obviously I was, so I pitched him my story, and here we are.
Nrama: How did you come up with the idea for the story?
Arcudi: Where do any ideas come from, really? But I will say that I got to thinking about what I liked in the early Luke Cage comics, and thought it might be fun to look at that same sort of street-level story in a modern setting. Snowballed from there, I guess.
Nrama: Were you familiar with the character? Or have you done a lot of research to catch up on what's happening with Luke Cage?
Arcudi: I love Luke Cage, but I was not familiar with what he’s been up to the last couple of years, so Tom Brennan had to catch me up with some copies of New Avengers. It was nice to see that Luke was still very much the character he had been, but in a new setting, and with a new family. The family thing struck me as odd at first, but the way I see it, if Luke didn’t have that family, it would be very difficult to keep him true to his character in the superhero world he’s now living in. It allows him to act like a human being and still remain committed to the group.
Nrama: What's your take on Luke Cage? Who is he and where is the character's head when we start this series?
Arcudi: My take is not so different from what he’s always been, or from how Bendis depicts him. He’s a guy with a strong sense of personal responsibility who is more sure of himself than maybe any other Marvel character. In this series, that sense of responsibility is aimed more at a specific community rather than at the larger sense of universal justice; that’s all.
Nrama: What's the story you'll be exploring in New Avengers: Luke Cage?
Arcudi: Luke discovers that an old friend, or rather the son of an old friend, has been following in his own footsteps down in North Philadelphia in a kind of “Hero-for-Hire” business. The young man, Leodis, has set up in the worst part of the city to help out people who couldn’t find help anywhere else. For his trouble, Leodis is beaten to a pulp. So now Luke feels that since this poor broken kid tried to be like him, he’s got to do something about this, which is to say, go kick some ass. But once he gets there, the facts are revealed to be a bit more complicated than what I’ve just told you. Ha haaaa. Psych!
Nrama: The solicitation for this mini-series talks about the "seedier side of the Marvel U." Does the comic have a darker feel to it? Or what makes it "seedy?"
Arcudi: “Seedier” is really a better word than “dark” here because Luke’s sense of right is not challenged. It’s just that the “bad guys” aren’t from another planet , don’t use robot suits, or shoot rays out of their eyes. They have dirt under their fingernails, you know? Well, more than just dirt. Drugs, too.
Nrama: What other familiar Marvel characters will we see showing up?
Arcudi: You’ll see Spider-Man and Ronin in the first issue, and Hammerhead, too. Later on in the series, another “repeat-offender” shows up, but he’s sort of a surprise, a little treat for long-time Luke Cage readers – reeeeally long time.
Nrama: Who plays the part of villain?
Arcudi: We have a few villains, actually – some you’ll know, some you won’t – but it’s up to the reader to decide who’s the worst of the bunch. My personal vote is for heroin and its sale and distribution. Obviously the person selling it is whom Luke has to strike out at, but in a way that I hope both surprises and satisfies readers.
Nrama: Brian Bendis hasn't made a secret of the fact he loves this character. Since he's active in New Avengers, is this mini-series working in conjunction with anything going on in that series (and did you have to arm wrestle Bendis for the chance to write this character)?
Arcudi: No, this series is sort of stand-alone. We wanted to go that way so that any new readers could simply jump on board without worrying about what they might have missed. And fortunately, Brian doesn’t seem to have the time to write everything so I snuck in on this one. We’ll see if I ever get another chance.
Nrama: Eric Canete brings a unique style to this comic. How does his art influence what you're writing, and what does he bring to the story?
Arcudi: Eric’s work is phenomenally graceful AND powerful, so I’m free to write pretty much anything. He can give North Philly all the rubble and broken windows it needs and still make it look beautiful, and then show you Luke’s fist hitting like a wrecking ball. He’s everything you’d want in an artist for this sort of story.
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell fans about New Avengers: Luke Cage?
Arcudi: Just that I’m really happy Luke Cage is a popular character again (thanks, Brian). He was in limbo for a while, and few characters deserved that fate less that Luke. Eric and I are hoping to add another layer to this complex character’s world – borrow from his past to flesh out his future, if you will. I’m sure readers will let us know if we succeeded.