Story? Engaging, mysterious, suspenseful, and wonderful characterizations by Jim Owsley, soon to be known as Christopher Priest. What I didn’t know is that no one had ever had a better handle on Luke Cage. Here, he’s blustering, intimidating, funny, caring and insightful. His best friend’s dying, and he’s willing to dare the unknown, as is Colleen. If anything, Cage has been to K’un L’un before, city of Danny a.k.a. Iron Fist’s youth, and he knows it to be mystical and dangerous. Even Dr. Druid, the most remote of the seven main characters here, is inobtrusive in his help, substituting for a Master of the Mystic Arts. Luke’s lines are often funny, but not clownish; you can’t help respecting his courage and his intelligent observation of his friends. And what great tough guy cadence.
We open with Gordy, Agent of S.M.I.L.E., spying on the Heroes for Hire, a great way to drop us in with informative observations and draw us in, through his curiosity and posture of over-confidence, to the circumstances of their visit to Boston. Soon, we’re given a mystical threat in the form of Druid speaking tongues while summoning a vision of Danny’s extra-dimensional home. In fact, DR. Druid’s home itself has a TARDIS-like disconnect between modern outside and “Bela Lugosi flick” inside- noted by Power Man. His familiarity with the superhero world trappings and street-wise demeanor give us a colorful description that underscores that while this all is not shocking to him, it’s unmistakably weird- perfect identification point for the reader!
The concern for radiation-poisoned Iron Fist, as also reflected by his teacher, Lei Kung the Thunderer- one of the only two survivors of ravaged K’un L’un upon arrival, gave the issue its emotional hook. Luke’s additional concern for Colleen’s edginess gives us the title: “What’s Eating Colleen..?”
The superior characterization of Luke was probably the most appealing factor for me on first encountering the book. I was very excited to share how good this comic was with my best friend, my first genuine friend at school, a fellow comics fan. I remember seeing my comic passed around at the lunch table- we were in separate classes- happy to share a big hit. And what’s not to love?
The concepts won me over. In my racially-divided rural society, the idea of a black man and white man being best friends was nearly subversive- but hopeful! A tough woman able to stand on her own bravely was also still somewhat culturally revolutionary. She was really pretty, too- I didn’t catch on that she was of partial Asian heritage. The line associated with her twice, “the samurai sword...only drawn to be used...only used to kill”- so tough! Martial arts in pop culture was enjoying a surge in popularity, too, so an insight like that, even if it rings now of pulp fiction, felt so macho and cool. How amazing was it that a female character should bring it my way? Pretending you knew things about fighting and martial arts was the order of the day, so I’m pretty sure even shy Me had something to share about that one. The notion of self-healing through spiritual power was also imparted to me here. Mystic cities? Out of sight! When comics and books are a gateway to new, strange ideas that hint of more possible than seen in day-to-day life, you can’t help but fall in love.
I found myself anticipating certain lines as I turned the pages- solid proof of how many, many times I must’ve read this comic originally. How unfortunate I was discovering the title both at its creative height, but also, this height had been reached by a new creative team that had, in fact, few issues left in which to make their point. Was it sales, or simply how connected to images and concepts of the 1970’s like blaxploitation and kung fu action, that put it on the block for the chop?
OH, and the title’s a double entendre: not only does she finally unburden herself about her best friend’s secret and its sorrows, but on the last page we do find out what’s very likely to be “eating” Colleen. Great cliffhanger!
I’d found PM/IF issues purchased on Ebay in California, of late. Completing the last of these I had handy, #120-122, I had to go looking at the local comics shop, What If? I talked to my old friend- I told him “easy on the ‘old’ compadre!”- on the way there, and we agreed about the high quality with which this overlooked series had ended. The two dollars each I gave for PM/IF’s #118 and 119 was money well spent. Reading the story out-of-order didn’t bother me much- that’s the way comics fans in the old days usually discovered their respective comics universes. I’m sure I’ll have more to say in another installment- you know how Integr8d Fix loves to dig out the lost gems!
Probably, the new issue earns a post all its own. I’ve got space slated in July to go back to the first year of PM/IF, if I’m not covered up writing Hero Duty from IDW and Z-Monkeys.
Maybe I should write-up both ‘first years as a new title’?