Ever wonder how Luke Cage got his unbreakable steel skin? The big man explains it himself.
From: Power Man and Iron Fist #50 (1978)
Carl Lucas, the man to be later known as Luke Cage, was born and raised in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. Lucas spends his youth in a gang called the Rivals. With his friend Willis Stryker, he fights the rival gang the Diablos and commits petty thefts, often on behalf of deformed crime lord Sonny Caputo / Hammer. In and out of juvenile homes throughout his teens, Lucas dreams of becoming a major New York racketeer until he finally realizes how his actions are hurting his family. He seeks to better himself as an adult by finding legitimate employment. Meanwhile, Stryker rises through the ranks of crime, but the two men remain friends. When Stryker’s activities anger the Maggia / Syndicate, he is badly beaten in a mob hit, saved only by Lucas’ intervention. When Stryker’s girlfriend, Reva Connors, breaks up with him in fear of his violent work, she seeks solace with Lucas. Stryker is convinced that Lucas is responsible for the breakup, so he plants heroin in Lucas’ apartment and tips off the police. Lucas is arrested and sent to prison where contact with his family is sparse due to the resentment of his brother James, Jr., who intercepts Lucas’ letters to their father James and eventually leads each to believe the other is dead.
Lucas is consumed by rage over Stryker’s betrayal and his father’s supposed death, engaging in frequent brawls and escape attempts. Eventually transferred to Seagate Prison off the coast of Georgia, he becomes the favorite target of sadistic guard Albert “Billy Bob” Rackham, whose brutality ultimately leads to a demotion that he blames on Lucas. Later, research scientist Dr. Noah Burstein recruits Lucas as a volunteer for experimental cell regeneration based on a variant of the Super-Soldier process he had previously used to empower Warhawk. Burstein immerses Lucas in an electrical field conducted by an organic chemical compound; when he leaves Lucas unattended, Rackham alters the experiment’s controls, hoping to maim or kill Lucas. Lucas’ treatment is accelerated past its intended limits, inducing body-wide enhancements that give him superhuman strength and durability. He uses his new power to escape Seagate and makes his way back to New York, where a chance encounter with criminals inspires him to use his new powers for profit.
Adopting the alias Luke Cage and donning a distinctive costume, he launches a career as a Hero for Hire, helping anyone who can meet his price. He soon establishes an office above Times Square’s Gem Theater, where he befriends film student D. W. Griffith. Burstein, aware of his friend’s innocence, also relocates to New York and opens a medical clinic, assisted by Dr. Claire Temple, whom Cage begins dating. Although Cage is content to battle strictly conventional criminals, he soon learns that New York is hardly the place to do so. Stryker himself has become a Maggia agent known as Diamondback and dies battling Cage. Subsequent opponents included Gideon Mace, an embittered veteran seeking a U.S. takeover; Chemistro (Curtis Carr), whose Alchemy Gun is a weapon later used by others, including his brother after Curtis reformed; and Discus, Stiletto, Shades, and Commanche, all criminals with ties to Cage’s prison days who face him repeatedly over the years.
Although Cage has little in common with most of New York’s other superhumans, an ill-conceived attempt to collect a fee from a reneging Doctor Doom leads him to befriend the Fantastic Four. Via a later retcon, Cage also befriends Jessica Jones, a young woman whose superhuman strength and unconventional style match his own. During a mission in which Cage and Iron Man track down Orville Smythe, who had duped him into stealing an experimental starsuit from Stark International, Cage follows the example of his new peers and takes the codename of Power Man. Cage battles a rogue Erik Josten for the use of the Power Man name, winning the right.
Shortly afterward, Luke Cage begins associating with the loose-knit super-team the Defenders, alongside whom he battles the Wrecking Crew and the Sons of the Serpent. Called to assist the Defenders against the Plantman, Cage begins to complain that his participation in their group is interfering with his paying work. Wealthy Defenders member Nighthawk solves this problem by placing Power Man on retainer, giving Luke a steady paycheck for his Defenders activities. For some time thereafter, Power Man serves as a core member of the Defenders. Together, they defeat minor threats including the Eel and the Porcupine, and major menaces such as the Headmen, Nebulon, Egghead’s Emissaries of Evil, and the Red Rajah; but Cage feels out of place in the often-bizarre exploits of the Defenders and eventually resigns.
Having obtained proof of Cage’s innocence in his original drug charges, the criminal Bushmaster abducts Burstein and Temple, using their safety and the hope of acquittal to blackmail Cage into abducting detective Misty Knight, who humiliated Bushmaster in an earlier encounter. Cage’s efforts lead to a fight with Knight’s boyfriend, the martial artist Iron Fist, who had spent most of his life in the extra-dimensional city of K’un-L’un and was unfamiliar with Earth society. Upon learning of Cage’s situation, Iron Fist and Knight help him defeat Bushmaster and rescue his friends. Cleared of criminal charges, Power Man legally changes his name to “Lucas Cage”. He briefly works for Knight’s detective agency, Nightwing Restorations, but soon elects to join Iron Fist in a two-man team, Heroes for Hire, founded by attorney Jeryn Hogarth and staffed by administrative wunderkind Jennie Royce. Although the streetwise Power Man and the unworldly Iron Fist seem to have little in common, they soon become the best of friends. Cage’s relationship with Claire Temple proves less durable, and he instead begins dating model Harmony Young.
Power Man and Iron Fist achieve great success with Heroes for Hire, earning an international reputation and fighting a wide variety of criminals. They have several struggles involving the nations of Halwan and Murkatesh, including incarnations of Scimitar and the Black Tiger. Their partnership’s downfall begins when the mysterious government agency S.M.I.L.E. manipulates Power Man and Iron Fist into the employment of Consolidated Conglomerates, Inc.; during their first CCI assignment, Iron Fist suffers radiation poisoning. Cage takes him to K’un-Lun for treatment. Iron Fist apparently recovers, and soon after their return to the outside world, he encounters a young boy named Bobby. Bobby can change the molecular structure of his body because of a meteorite that fell from the sky, granting him superhuman powers and calling himself Captain Hero. The meteorite that gave him the powers also gave him a deadly spore that was killing him. During a painful episode caused by his illness, Bobby transforms into Captain Hero and pummels Iron Fist, apparently killing him. Cage is charged with the murder of Iron Fist and flees.
After a one-night stand with a drunken Jessica Jones, now a private investigator, Cage’s life is briefly thrown into disarray by Jones’ reaction to the fling. The two make peace while working as bodyguards for Matt Murdock. Cage extends emotional support to Jones when she is forced to revisit past abuses by the villainous Purple Man, and Cage’s feelings for her grow. When Jones reveals that she is pregnant from their tryst, she and Cage move in together. Soon afterward, Jones becomes a superhuman consultant with the Daily Bugle. After she is attacked by the Green Goblin during a Bugle investigation, Cage, helped by Spider-Man, deliberately attacks Norman Osborn in order to provoke him into revealing he is the Goblin.
Months afterwards, Cage is present at the breakout at the super villain prison ‘The Raft’ and becomes a founding member of the re-formed Avengers. Soon thereafter, following the birth of their daughter, he and Jessica are married.
After the Superhuman Registration Act is enacted, Cage refuses to register, comparing the act to Jim Crow laws. He sends Jessica and his newborn daughter away to Canada where they can be safe, though he himself refuses to leave. S.H.I.E.L.D. forces come to arrest Cage. He fights his way to safety with the help of Captain America, the Falcon, and Iron Fist (posing as Daredevil), and joins Captain America’s “Secret Avengers”. He fights alongside them in opposition to the act until Captain America surrenders to U.S. authorities.
Cage does not comply with the amnesty offered to the Secret Avengers, going underground and reforming the New Avengers alongside Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Fist, and Spider-Woman. Luke assumes leadership of the New Avengers after the assassination of Captain America, with the team now operating underground and provided with secure accommodation by Doctor Strange. Cage names his daughter Danielle, after Danny Rand.
Following a Skrull invasion, Captain America (James “Bucky” Barnes) organizes a meeting with the New Avengers at his home, offering it as a base of operations. Cage is offered the role as leader of the New Avengers, but turns it down, giving the role to Ronin.