Apr 23, 2020
3 Luke Cage villains that probably won’t show up on his Netflix show
Outside the world of comic nerds, few people knew about the manly awesomeness of Luke Cage until Netflix decided to make him a cornerstone of its Junior Varsity version of the MCU (i.e., characters who don’t require the GDP of Paraguay’s worth of CGI). Having debuted on Jessica Jones before moving on to his own show and now The Defenders, Cage now enjoys far greater fame than anyone ever expected… which might present a problem when season 2 debuts next year. See, Luke Cage’s rogues gallery from his various comic book series has been so unbearably goofy they look like a Big Daddy Roth exhibit just rolled through.
The Luke Cage you’ve been following on TV is heavily based on his appearance in Jessica Jones’ 2001 debut comic series Alias, which would influence his later appearances in the comics. However, the original Luke Cage, debuting in 1972, was a painful attempt at cashing in on the blaxploitation fad by tossing a street-smart, jive-talking superhero up against the usual mix of comic book villains, which at the time were mostly campy, color-blind disco rejects. Even Netflix, which managed to turn fucking Richie Rich into something almost watchable, would have trouble making these guys seem threatening.
1. Mr. Fish
“Mr. Fish” is the actual name that a supervillain came up with to intimidate his enemies, and not a carnival goldfish won by an unusually lazy and uncreative first-grader. Originally a petty criminal named Mortimer Norris, Mr. Fish was turned into a freaky fishman after being exposed to radioactive material in the East River, which was really not that far-fetched of an origin story in the ’70s). For some reason, he decided gills were just the thing he needed to make it big in the Maggia, Marvel’s version of the mafia (they’re mostly the same, but this way, bad people wouldn’t show up at the Marvel offices and break an editor’s legs).
While Mr. Fish did get super-strength out of his ordeal, it still seems like a bad trade-off for looking like an ichthyophile’s lovechild. Marvel also thought that he needed a goofy dwarf sidekick named Shrike, having apparently forgotten that they were writing an urban action series and not an unusually racist episode of Fantasy Island.
Despite the comically offensive nature of the partnership, Shrike turned out to be the only one in the gang with any common sense (joining up with a gross fishman notwithstanding), as he wanted to skip the usual supervillain bullshit and just kill Cage while he was knocked out. Mr. Fish, being just as stupid as he looked, wanted to wait just to brag to Cage about his ridiculous origin story and master plan, because what’s the point of being a supervillain if you can’t get any acknowledgement for all the shitty decisions and freak accidents that brought you to this point? As an extremely predictable result, Mr. Fish ended up taking a dive off a building after his last-ditch effort of hitting Cage with a steel girder didn’t work out.
Marvel, never being a company to admit when something turns out to be a bad idea (how else do you explain goddamn Civil War II?) decided to introduce a new Mr. Fish in the pages of Daughters of the Dragon. This new Mr. Fish was the brother of the original, and had apparently not seen his brother’s fate as a cautionary tale, but instead ended up turning into the same damn fish mutant. He was introduced alongside the equally embarrassing supervillain the Walrus (presumably all the good supervillain names were taken by 1980).
The original Mr. Fish would eventually make his return as well during Marvel’s “All New, All Different” relaunch (which, in spite of the name, still mostly focuses on Spider-Man making crappy one-liners and defaulting on his rent). Unfortunately, in the 40 years he’d been missing, he hadn’t even bothered to learn any new battle cries.
2. Gideon Mace
Vietnam was tough on the good ol’ US of A (though obviously not as tough as it was on Vietnam), and comics of the era tried to reflect that. Granted, they didn’t do it well, but you kinda had to take what you could get during this period. Colonel Gideon Mace got himself court-martialed for an unauthorized attack on an enemy village, during which he lost his hand to a landmine. Bitter and filled with resentment and presumably some painful STDs he picked up in ‘Nam, Gideon did the most rational thing a handicapped ex-soldier could do: he replaced his lost limb with the clumsiest, most inconvenient tool he could think of, just so it’d match his last name.
Now looking like a proper crazy person, Mace recruited other ex-soldiers as part of a plot to get back against the society that turned its back on them. And this is a comic book, so instead of, like, media appearances or lobbying, they decided to do this through domestic terrorism.
Luke Cage stopped Mace’s original plan of assaulting Wall Street, so Mace moved on to his next brilliant scheme: creating Security City, a planned community where crazed ultraconservatives could live away from the rest of society, sort of the housing project version of an alt-right blog. This also failed, mainly because it was mostly a front to train a personal army, and also Cage tricked him into announcing his plan to the whole community. Turns out not even anti-Semitic gun fetishists like being lied to, unless the lie is about forcing Mexico to finance a border wall.
After his stint running a glorified summer camp for future Reagan voters, Mace fought Cage a third time over a cobalt bomb the US had managed to lose somewhere off the coast of Bermuda (your tax dollars at work, folks!). Then he moved on to running a murder racket for the Maggia, assassinating lower-level superheroes who were cutting into the mob’s business. This ended with Mace getting gunned down by his own men while fighting Spider-Man, allegedly because of friendly fire, but at this point, it’s not hard to imagine that it had more to do with Mace being so bad at strategy that he thought giving away your location to a superior enemy was the same as creating a trap.
3. El Aguila
It’s never a good sign when a comic writer comes into work one day with a huge boner for some new thing he’s into. Best case scenario, you’re going to get a gimmick character. Worst case, a gimmick villain. Legend has it this is the origin of our final entry: El Aguila.
At the time, the writers of Heroes for Hire (starring Luke Cage and Iron Fist) were big Zorro fans. Problem was, there already was a hero like Zorro. Namely, Zorro. The obvious solution was to make him a villain, but not change a single damn thing else; not even the tired old Errol Flynn-style dialogue that was already cliché at the time when the actual Zorro would have been alive.
El Aguila’s backstory might as well have been pulled directly from that crappy ’90s Zorro series the Family Channel insisted was the only sufficiently Christian kids’ programming around. Born in Madrid, El Aguila moved to America and became a swashbuckling vigilante (though, unlike the actual Zorro, Aguila was a mutant with some minor energy powers, presumably to keep Cage from just yanking him inside out in the first 30 seconds of a fight). If you don’t recognize the term “swashbuckling”, it’s a nicer word for “idiot who tries using a sword against people with guns.” But this is a comic book, so it doesn’t end with El Aguila getting turned into Taco Bell meat after confronting his first drug dealer.
El Aguila was technically only a villain in his first appearance, and even then only because Cage and Iron Fist had signed on to protect the various slum lords Aguila was robbing blind. (Well, also because Cage was pissed because his shirt got ruined taking a bullet meant for Aguila. I’m sure he’ll never find one quite as ugly again.) But it turns out 1970s slum lords are just as cartoonishly evil as all those grainy old detective shows made them seem, so when Cage and Iron Fist actually beat the guy, their employer tries to give him a bullet massage to the brain. When Cage objects, the slum lord shoots him. You know, the guy he hired specifically because he was bulletproof.
After that, El Aguila became a standard crimefighter, just not one you’ve ever heard of, because he’s such an obvious ripoff of an existing copyrighted character. Thankfully, TV is even more terrified of litigation than comic books, so it’s unlikely you’ll ever have to watch a Zorro wannabe try to make sword fighting look relevant in friggin 2018.