Review by From the Booth‘s own Ken
There are some characters that were born for the “MAX” universe. Ever since Luke Cage lost the tiara and stopped calling himself Power Man, he has been one of those characters. I was delighted to find that there was, in fact, a Luke Cage series put out in ’03 and it was written by Azzarello, who wrote the great series 100 Bullets and is currently working on “Before Watchmen”. As a bonus, Cage MAX was drawn by Corben who worked on IDW’s underrated Bigfoot and the over-the-top Heavy Metal.
The story opens with Luke Cage at a strip club (MAX universe, remember?) as he talks to a sobbing mother whose child was killed in the crossfire of a gang war. She wants justice, but Luke Cage is only interested in money. After being handed the dead girl’s meager college fund, he reluctantly accepts the case. Inserting himself into the gang war, he quickly starts playing each side against the other in pursuit of an even larger payday.
This book pretty much destroys anything that was likeable about Luke Cage. Yes, he’s got a rough exterior but “616″ Luke Cage also has a heart of gold. Seeing Luke Cage smiling while tipping strippers as a mother cries her heart out at his table immediately robs any virtue and empathy from the character. The case of the slaughtered girl is solved when one minor character shoots another one and says to Luke, “Case closed” leaving it ambiguous whether or not the murdered man was really the culprit. The gangs have some interesting characters but the playing each one off the other is a familiar trope and there’s nothing here that reinvigorates it. The book ends abruptly leaving pretty much every plotline unresolved, hitting its crescendo with the big reveal that Luke Cage is (Spoiler alert???) bulletproof even though his prison medical origins are retold in this mini.
The art of the book is excellent with the urban grittiness reminiscent of Heavy Metal. Each major player of the gang war has a unique character model with interesting quirks. Unfortunately, the art is not enough to save the book from its other shortcomings.