Slay bells ring – are you listening?
Remakes of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” are more common than mutants this time of year. Even “Sanford and Son” and “The Jetsons” retold the tale.
But few have told the tale focusing on Scrooge’s damned business partner Jacob Marley.
Luke Cage, hero for hire, finds himself trapped in a Dickensian nightmare right on Christmas Eve – can he convince a madman not to blow up the world?
It’s a Steve Englehart tale – so expect something a tad grittier than a Hallmark card!
In “Jingle Bombs,” in “Luke Cage, Hero for Hire” No. 7, cover date March 1973, our street gladiator just wants to enjoy a holiday night out with his beautiful girlfriend Dr. Claire Temple.
They keep getting interrupted by weirdness in the neighborhood.
Luke finds a man beating a kid who is selling newspapers. The guy claims the boy deserves a thrashing because he dared charge him fifteen cents – and he’s only used to paying two!
Luke saves the boy, but the assailant – Marley – is intrigued.
On this special night, he’s looking for proof of human kindness – so he will test Luke again.
If he is worthy, he will spare the world.
Not long after, Luke and Claire encounter a homeless Vietnam veteran who goes from sympathetic and psycho in a blink.
Luke handles that threat with concern for the vet’s well-being.
Finally, Luke encounters a guy claiming to be from the future – all the way from 1984! – who demands his identification card and then shoots a laser gun at him.
Marley ultimately manages to capture our hero – and here, with Luke having faced down twisted versions of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future as only Marvel can make them – you think this story will end on a happy note –
– Luke will convince the holiday fruitcake that humanity deserves to live.
Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!
Marley decides Luke has proven himself worthy all right. Humanity? Oh, that so needs to go.
After all that, he’s still going to drop an A-bomb on Manhattan.
There’s a long expository scene explaining how he got an A-bomb, but seriously, who cares? He’s a Marvel villain, threatening with the usual bombast to end the world. We’ll take his word.
Our hard-luck hero struggles to free himself from his chains, but he’s going to be too late –
Suddenly from the chimney there’s a rustling –
– could it be –
– Santa Claus to save the day?
Well, it is Christmas, and comics have printed weirder stuff …
No! It’s a burglar there to rob the place!
But he gives Luke a distraction long enough to free himself and to save the city.
Luke and the would-be robber enjoy the sunrise. The image is beautiful; the story coda is, umm, bittersweet. Our narrator tells us:
“It’s been a hard year for Luke Cage, and for the world. Both have survived, and Cage has even gotten a little more together – maybe … but the world hasn’t changed a bit.”
Yeah, and that and some Lexapro will put you in a holiday spirit. But the bittersweet note captures the ’70s something perfect.
You can find this offbeat seasonal tale in the Marvel comics app and in “Marvel Masterworks: Luke Cage, Hero for Hire: Volume One.”
Season’s beatings, everyone!