The Power Of Conviction Man by Jerry W. Vandal
NOTE: This was written in 2010 for Marvel’s Avengers Day which celebrated the relaunch of Avengers.
When Marvel announced that Brian Michael Bendis would be starting a new Avengers book entitled “New Avengers,” there was fear he would JLAize the Avengers team the way Grant Morrison had done in JLA in 1997. Longtime Avengers fans feared that the team would become solely comprised of the A-List stars of the Marvel Universe.
The original team, Ironman, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man and Wasp featured a combination of Marvel’s big names paired with much lesser known heroes. This began a tradition in the Avengers of pairing Marvels mightiest with Marvels lower card heroes who have often encouraged a following (I’m looking at you Clint Barton. Welcome back by the way).
Bendis chose an Avengers line up that for the most part conceded to the fears of many fans. In were the favorites of the masses like Spider-Man and Wolverine and out were characters like Wonderman, She-Hulk and Vision. The longtime Ultimate Spider-Man scribe, especially at the time of new Avengers had become a hot button issue among readers—some people love his writing, others hate his talking heads. And after disassembling and offing a few of Avengers he was setting up to turn Marvel’s premiere super hero team into an all-star team that was sure to sell out on a monthly basis.
But they weren’t all A-List. One of the New Avengers was the Clevelander’s man crush Luke Cage. Thankfully an updated Cage who wasn’t sporting a tiara or a yellow poofy shirt.
Which is why New Avengers issue 22 is my favorite issue. A Civil War tie-in, this issue did for me exactly what Avengers are supposed to do. It took a non-A list hero and made me realize that super powers and name value are great on the page, but conviction is every bit as important. As Luke Cage sat in his home, his wife and little girl having left the city he waited. It was the eve of the Super-hero Registration Act becoming law and Luke didn’t agree with it. He was ready for what was to come and he wasn’t afraid of the ramifications—he welcomed them.
The build up to the moment was intense and highlighted more than a difference of opinion. It wasn’t just build up to the Civil War. It’s wasn’t even a play on a “good guys vs good guys” story. It was idealism vs pragmatism. Heroes need to stand for something more than what the government said they stood for. And they needed to do so with the conviction that politics doesn’t allow. At the very same time they had to be held accountable to the very people they serve. The goal of the hero is to protect those who can’t defend themselves. But the best intentions are not always well met and the place of logic must be weighed against the dream.
Here Luke Cage got his defining moment. He got to let it all out. He was sternly against the Act and told Ironman he wouldn’t side with him. Ironman protested, but Luke believed so greatly that he should be free to protect others without the governement watching him that even with the threat of being hunted he didn’t concede. Why didn’t he back down? Because he didn’t want his daughter to know her father gave into something he didn’t believe in. He stayed behind even though the woman he loved begged him to come with her because he had to let the people he protected know he served them, not the government. He sat and waited for the Cape Killers in his home because he wasn’t afraid of what was to come. And he did all of that because he believed so greatly in something he couldn’t back down. Luke Cage’s idealism of super-heroics and the need to make sure his daughter knew that a belief in protecting people meant more than being liked by the public propelled him into the fight that took place in this issue and right into the full Civil War series.
Leniel Yu’s work was so spot on for this story. It was dark and gritty with action. I’ve always enjoyed his work, but Luke really came to life here. He believed in standing up for people, but Luke’s was in a dark place (as was the MU) and Yu’s pencils really drove the story home. This was a story about conviction and conviction in this case couldn’t be told through clear tight pencils. It’s not an easy, pretty thing to stand up for an ideal—especially when the people who needed to believe in it were willing to make compromises.
I was never a big Avenger’s fan growing up. I was an X-Men kid. Of course I also had to live off 1-2 comic books a month until my late teens so my reading didn’t stray far from a book without an X in the corner. I probably didn’t pay much attention to the Avengers outside of the occasional read until House of M…which was also an X-Men story hit the shelves. But, it was that story that made me pick up Avengers Disassembled and then New Avengers. Despite all the fears of Bendis screwing up New Avengers I found that I appriciated Cap, Tony and Thor’s place in the Marvel Universe and Luke Cage. Which in turn made me read Brubaker’s first 25 issues on Cap and Fraction’s awesome run on Ironman and makes me want to buy that Thor statue that’s hopefully still in the window at Carol and John’s Comic Book Shop. But it’s also made me realize the greatness of a straight shooter like Hawkeye. And, as this issue illustrates, that Luke Cage is a bad ass mofo who won’t back down to the man regardless of the consequences.