Power Man, Hip-Hop & Luke Cage Noir Style

Artist Shawn Martinbrough talks about his take on the classic Black Marvel Comics Superhero, Luke Cage in “Luke Cage Noir”


Last year, after Marvel Comics began publishing Noir versions of their popular characters, Exec Editor Axel Alonso approached me about illustrating Luke Cage Noir. Axel had seen my art instructional book, How To Draw Noir Comics: The Art and Technique of Visual Storytelling and thought I would be a great fit for the project.

I’m a native New Yorker and in the early 80’s I remember going to my favorite candy store in Co-op City (in the Bronx) each week to buy my regular comics. Luke Cage: Hero for Hire and Power Man and Iron Fist were two of my faves.

For all of you non-comic book heads, Luke Cage was one of the early Black superheroes Marvel Comics started publishing in the 1970’s. He had his own book called Luke Cage: Hero for Hire. The origin for Cage was that he was locked up for a crime he didn’t commit. While in prison, Cage was experimented on and the unexpected side effect was bulletproof skin.  Cage gets released from prison and becomes a detective in Manhattan. Years later, Marvel paired Cage with the character Iron Fist who was a White martial artist with a lethal punch.  The two characters became partners and worked the streets of Manhattan. Luke Cage: Hero for Hire became Power Man and Iron Fist. When these comics came out, rap music was just being born.  I remember reading these books, eating Now and Laters while listening to the Sugar Hill Gang, Kurtis Blow, Lisa Lisa, Run DMC and LL (I could go on and on) on the radio.

Those were great times.

Fast forward 20-something years later and I’m offered a project to draw Luke Cage. It’s a trip.

Written by Mike Benson and Adam Glass, their Noir version of Luke Cage was different.

Instead of the 70’s, 80’s or present day, this story was set in 1920’s Harlem.  

In this alternate version, Luke Cage is a local legend who is believed to be invincible, returns to the mean streets of Prohibition-era Harlem after a 10-year stretch in Riker’s Island. All he wants is to be back in the loving arms of his woman, but certain powerful men have different plans for Cage.  Cage learns that coming home is never easy, and to survive he might just have to kill a whole lot of people.

Just the concept of a bulletproof Black man walking around in the 1920’s sounded cool as hell to me.  Even if it were just a rumor, that possibility would scare the crap out of many people on the island of Manhattan.

When I got the script for the first issue, I began to research the fashions and architecture of Harlem circa the 1920-30s. I drew studies of the hairstyles, the fashions, etc.  I took tons of present day photos of areas in Harlem. There’s tons of great architecture there. In designing this version of Cage, I really wanted to give him a sophisticated swagger. There’s nothing more intimidating than a diesel Black man in a suit. Back in those days, even if people were broke, they looked sharp.

Drawing this project was a great way to vibe off of rich history and to create something new for the reader. There are so many Hip-Hop fans and artists who grew up on comics, still own and collect them to this day. Hip hop and comics go together.  Rap blew up first, changed the face of music and now everyone is sweating those money-making Hollywood comic book blockbusters.

Now that’s what’s up or as Luke Cage would say, “Sweet Christmas!”

Shawn Martinbrough’s client list includes Coca Cola/POWERade, Playboy, Vibe, Bad Boy Entertainment, Penguin Books and McGraw-Hill. The bulk of Shawn’s work has been done for Marvel Comics, Vertigo and DC Comics which includes his critically acclaimed two year collaboration with author Greg Rucka on the flagship Batman title, Detective Comics. His art instruction book How to Draw Noir Comics: The Art and Technique of

Visual Storytelling is published by Random House. Shawn’s work has been covered by USA Today, Architecture Magazine, The Washington Post, The Washingtonian, National Public Radio, SIRIUS/XM Radio, AOL, Black Entertainment Television, Vibe, The Source,

AintItCoolNews.com and others.


artwork can be viewed at www.shawnmartinbrough.com and www.verge.tv

Shawn will be signing copies of The Luke Cage Noir hardcover collection at the Hue-Man Bookstore in Harlem on Wednesday, March 31st at 6pm. http://www.huemanbookstore.com/NASApp/store/IndexJsp and at Powerhouse books in Brooklyn on Thursday, April 1 from 7-9pm. The book is in stores now.


Related Stories