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Luke Cage, Hero For Hire 7
"Jingle Bombs!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND March, 1973
Steve Englehart: Author
George Tuska and Billy Graham: Artists
John Costanza: Letterer
David Hunt: Colorist
Roy Thomas: Editor

A year has passed since the man now known as Luke Cage escaped from Seagate Prison... and is now in New York, where he sees the snow fall on Christmas Eve. As he looks forward to spend time with Claire Temple, Luke sees the sight of a man beating a child outside the clinic window...

Telling Claire to prepare the bandages for an upcoming patient for Noah Bernstein, Cage dashes outside, and sees the Victorian-dressed man continue to strike the newsboy with his cane! Luke grabs the man by the collar, and delivers an overhand slap to the side of his head. This only serves to have the self-proclaimed member of her majesty's Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers to strike Cage in the face with his cane!

Luke is less than impressed, while the man holds onto what's left of his solid oak cane and mutters that the blow was enough to kill. Cage assures him that THIS is a blow which is enough to kill, as he wades into the Victorian refugee... In the middle of blows, Luke assures the man that the punch isn't one he'd normally use, otherwise it would drive business away. The Fusilier yields, and Luke tells him to sing about what happened. The man tells him that when the lad charged him fifteen cents for a newspaper, he thought that he was being hoodwinked since he's never paid more than two cents in his life! When Cage asks him for his name... the fusilier introduces himself as Marley, a dealer in chains. He hurries off for an appointment with his partner, who is a very stingy man with his time. Cage chalks this up to craziness on Christmas Eve.

A year has passed. Enough time for Luke Cage to establish himself, and listen as Claire asks him why Noah gets tense when he arrives at the clinic. He changes the subject and pauses to pick up a bit of snow. As Luke admires the winter residue, Claire knows that he's up to something, and she pushes his hand upwards so that the snowball goes off in his face! Luke dashes after Claire, who dances on the snow with fawnlike grace, and if any of Cage's opponents had seen him in this moment, they wouldn't have recognized him. He tackles her, and they tumble into the snow, where they share a kiss.

How much time has passed is unknown, but a policeman arrives, and Luke sheepishly asks if where they are is a no-parking zone. The officer tells them it's a no sparking zone, then wonders if they're old enough to get the joke. He wonders what Manhattan would be like if everyone started kissing... and figures that it's a very dumb piece of reasoning. The officer wishes the kids a Merry Christmas, then continues to walk his beat. Luke and Claire come across a beggar, who has considerably less of himself to freeze than he used to... after returning from Vietnam. He notes that the two of them have been the only ones to have stopped, and then he hears something... It's the enemy! It's Charlie who is all around them... or so it is in his mind...

The beggar turns and points his gun at them, and is intent on dealing with the two "deserters!" Cage tells Claire to get behind him, and the bullets bounce off of his steel-hard skin! The beggar considers this to be proof that Luke is the enemy, but Cage grabs ahold of the gun, sending the former soldier into hysterics. Cage tells the beggar to calm down, for there's no one there to hurt him...

Claire tells Luke that the man is sick and is not responsible for his actions, and Cage knows this. He crushes the gun with his two hands, blaming those who sent the beggar overseas to use it. Luke notes that there'll never be any peace on Earth if all the little people keep acting like big people, and all the big people keep acting like God! Luke throws the remains of the gun back to the beggar, and tells him that he's lucky that he picked on a bulletproof man this evening... or else he'd be even sorrier. As he watches them leave, the beggar lights a cigarette, and admires the speech. He feels lucky to have run into Luke back at the clinic, and he's the one man who might persuade the "beggar" to change his plans-- but he'll check him out one more time..

Cage doesn't hear the man's laughter, which falls away like snowflakes, and the only laughter he hears is at the party, where hundreds of people mingle at the bar, and enjoy themselves. The bartender announces that it's closing time, and both Luke and Claire head outside, where she's cold, but he's doesn't seem to feel the temperature anymore than he can feel pain. This is a gift from Doctor Noah Bernstein, and he wonders what he has become, and Claire wants to know what she can. She tells him that as a child, she enjoyed watching Gary Cooper movies, but a real-life strong, silent type can be annoying. She wants to know more as they walk...

A figure leaps out of the shadows and yells for them to halt! He points his gun at them and tells both to enter the alley, where no passerby will see them. Luke wonders what all the fuss is for a mugging, and the strangely-garbed gunman tells him that this is a security check! He asks them for their identification and authorization to be on the street. Luke is less than impressed by this and wonders why the man is playing like it's 1984?

The bizarre man claims that it's Christmas, 1984, and starting today, all citizens must carry authorization! He can see their resistance-- so the futureman intends to use his laser weapon against them, but Cage is less than thrilled at being fried by a laser, and takes a swift leap at him! The futurist delivers a blow to his head, then claims to be his superior, while Luke slowly rises, and remarks that the man could have said anything at all, and it would have been just talk...

But anyone who wants to be Luke Cage's superior is going to have to prove it! Cage emphasizes the point by slapping him with his left hand, while the futureman uses his wrist-laser, barely missing Luke! Cage notes the strange dance partners he's had this evening! The fusilier who could exist in a place like New York -- the vet who represents what the country is today -- but this third man -- he ain't going to believe him or the others, for that matter! The futureman rises from the debris he was thrown into, and shouts back at Cage in the speech patterns of the other two men...

As Luke realizes that this man is the same as the other two he's met, the man from 1984 plows into him, and delivers several punches. He believes himself to be strengthened by his madness and admits it, only to have reality crash into him, as Luke's steel-hard fist crosses his face! The futureman bids a hasty retreat!

The chase begins... with the madman in the lead, but Luke uses his science-spawned strength to narrow the gap, and tackle his attacker in the early pre-dawn hours... The two men continue their fight in the darkness of an abandoned building...

Out of the eight million people in New York City, there is one Selma Pennington, who lives in Apartment 4-G. She calls the police about the noise in their courtyard, while her husband dreams of sugar plums dancing in his head. On this Christmas, a policecar comes with sirens blaring, and two policeman see Luke Cage coming out of the building with an unconscious figure in tow. Cage shows the two cops his calling card which is known in the city and its citizens, and Luke fills Claire in on the details. It's Christmas morning, and both see a police car stuck in the snow, with sirens flashing, and Luke sees the two policemen who took the madman away, and who has now escaped!

Luke hails a cab for Claire, who tells him to be careful, and Cage knows that the day he has to be careful without being told, it will be the last time. He spots the trail of ridged soles in the snow -- and the other tracks are of galoshes and boots, which makes the tracks stand out. The tracks merge with the others on the main drag, and Luke knows that this could be the most dangerous man he's tackled since Rackham, the Seagate Prison guard. A wily adversary, whose true face he hasn't seen yet. He asks the street corner Santa Claus if he's seen a man in strange clothes go by, and it turns out that this Santa is hard of hearing...

CHUD! Luke is knocked out as "Santa's" bell crashes against his head! When he awakes, Luke sees the hooded figure he's been chasing, and learns that this master of disguise is an afficionado of the past -- because back then, people cared about each other. In the 19th Century, a man beating up a child would have drawn a crowd to denounce him, and he thought that nowadays, no one would care. Disguising himself, the man set out to prove his theory, only to run into Luke Cage, Concerned Citizen. The man then disguised himself as a soldier in order to see how Luke would fare against a gun... He was surprised to see that Luke displayed compassion, and not revenge. The third time, he set out with a challenge so bizarre, that he was sure that Cage would react with fear and hatred. Luke fought him, then turned him over to the police. The hooded man pours a drink to salute Cage, who is an extraordinary man in a dim world. Luke knows that there must be more to this than the man playing the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future...

The hooded man is impressed by Luke's analogy, then presses a button to open a sliding panel. The Emiad 230 Computer is behind it, and is in control of a U.S. Atomic Bomb! Luke is skeptical, but wants to hear more. In 1946, the then-soldier stole it from the army after the war was over, and security was nearly non-existant. Dismantling it into its component parts, he wrapped them into ordinary parcels, then walked out with them! Having been in the O.S.S., he had the run of the base, and was already a master of disguise, as well as having the know-how to work on the bomb. He had taken the bomb since he knew what was going to happen! None have learned from war, and man was about to become far less civilized. The soldier intended to put an end to mankind before it could do the job itself.

No longer seeing hope in the future, he longs for the past, since the present is unbearable. The device has been rebuilt in the heart of Manhattan, and at dawn, he'll set it off, and the third world war will begin! Luke yells at him, insisting that since he's admitted he's mad, he should also see that he's wrong! The hooded man turns, and tells him that he is unusual, in sharp contrast to the selfish, cold world. He is a fellow seer of the truth, and both of them should meet their end together. The man begins to activate the detonator, but is distracted by the sounds of someone coming down the chimney! For the past ten minutes, Luke Cage has strained to weaken the chains which have bound him -- and now, in a single moment -- he breaks free! Luke rips the hood off of his "host"...

He punches the former soldier in the stomach, then punches the computer out of commission so that no one will make his world into dust! Luke turns and sees the falling figure, who turns out to be a would-be burglar who was casing the place for two weeks, so he could rip it off. With no one at home, how could he have known that a certain hero for hire would be here on a holiday? It's been a year for both Luke Cage and the world. Both have endured, and Luke has gotten himself together, while the world continues to endure...

Steve Englehart gives us a modern-day Christmas Carol for 1973.

George Tuska and Billy Graham show us New York, and Luke's adventure against the man who uses the past, present, and future to reshape the world.

In the first issue of Hero For Hire, even Luke Cage admitted that the yellow shirt, chains, and buccaneer boots seemed a bit hokey, but for business purposes, it suited his needs in atracting attention.

The Marvel Max Line had released a Cage series, with him wearing raybans, and sporting a gold tooth. Thanks, oh House Of Questionable Ideas, but I think I'll pass, and stick with the first series, where the writing was done by folks like Englehart, McGregor, and Isabella.

Luke's Christmas isn't a lonely one since he has Claire and Noah as friends. He also has bullet-proof skin, which certainly came in handy for this issue.

Cage also used the snow to track his quarry, who got the upperhand on him, but temporarily.

Before he became Power Man, Luke Cage was a Hero For Hire who conducted business on 42nd St.

As his title went on, his most ferocious adversary was the soda vending machine in his building.

As a Hero For Hire, with Luke Cage, you'll believe a man can ply.

Steve Chung
"Jingle Reviews!"