So the segment of the Marvel Universe previously referred to as “Street Heroes,” comprised of Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Daredevil, White Tiger, and a few others, will now likely be referred to as “The Defenders” now that they’re being grouped together under that title by Marvel’s Netflix division. That’s fine by me, but to me The Defenders will always be a group of misfits brought together by Doctor Strange, not a group of street-level heroes operating out of the New York Burroughs.
In any event, by the time the Dark Reign event was winding down Luke Cage was a deeply ingrained member of The Avengers, having been a member ever since the start of New Avengers under Brian Micheal Bendis alongside Spider-Man and Wolverine. This also happens to be my favorite Avengers team, not a popular opinion among purists, but what can I say? Everyone has ‘their’ Avengers, ‘their’ Justice League, and ‘their’ Doctor. My Doctor is the 11th, my League is the DCAU version, and these are my Avengers.
But with that move to a main members of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes came a problem: what becomes of the classic duo of Power Man and Iron Fist? Not only does their dynamic not work the same when split among a larger group, but Cage didn’t even go by Power Man anymore, opting to instead go by… his name. No matter how you slice it, Iron Fist needed a new partner, and the Power Man name was up for grabs.
And so, this graphic novel uses the events of Dark Reign: The List and Shadowland to introduce us to a new Power Man, Victor Alvarez.
Victor was the sole survivor of Bullseye’s attack on the low-income housing unit in the Daredevil segment of Dark Reign: The List. As this series picks up, he’s working against Daredevil’s Hand Ninja to save a young prostitute and return her to her family. However, he’s not doing so out of some moral obligation or objection to Daredevil’s newly brutal treatment of criminals of any shape or size… but because the young girl’s family was paying him to. In this, he has taken up more than the name of Power Man, he has taken the mantle of the Hero-for-Hire.
Iron Fist is altered to the activities of the young man by The Hand themselves, who recognized some of the moves Victor used as being signature ones that Fist taught. Although Fist does not doubt their testimony, he does not recognize Victor as one of his students.
There’s good mystery here, and Victor is presented as a sympathetic character, if not yet a heroic one. His plight is similar to that of many American families that are still homeless after natural disasters and need to do what they can to get by. Making a character with such a status quo the focus of a graphic novel is a smart idea.
Iron Fist enlists in the help of Luke Cage, and they both track down and confront Victor, who reacts violently to their presence after Luke refers to him by the nickname ‘son.’
You see, while Victor was miraculously not killed in Bullseye’s attack, his father was. In fact, he was killed in the middle of a major argument between the two. This has given Victor a Spider-Man like guilt and need for penance, but because nobody besides Uncle Ben can give pithy one-liners like “with great power comes great responsibility,” Victor ends up lost, like Darkhawk back in Darkhawk Classic and Heart of the Hawk. The difference is, that was handled sloppily, and this is handled with great care and understanding of emotions. It also makes Victor’s outburst understandable, if not condonable.
See, we aren’t sure if Victor will be a hero or a villain yet. Right now, he’s skating the line. He hasn’t adapted the Power Man identity yet, and even if he had, a comic-book in the mid-2000s is by no means obligated to show its title character in a positive light. In fact, that’s kind of what the whole Shadowland arc is about. This ambiguity of the position of the main character makes for some great, gleefully tense scenes, coupled with the mystery of how he came to have the powers he possesses.
Make no mistake: Power Man – Shadowland has some smart writing.
Some old Power-Man / Iron Fist villains show up, and I’m sure that if I’d read those old issues from the 70s and 80s, this’d be a real treat. Here tho, it’d a little distracting from the main story. Because let’s not split hairs: Victor is the story, whether that’s hero or villain.
Daredevil’s Hand Ninja find out Victor’s true identity and target he and his family, forcing him to team up with Iron Fist to try and protect them. It’s here about that the pieces start to fall into place, when we realize that, while Victor was never a student of the Iron Fist… another resident of the building was.
Victor has the natural power to do what Iron Fist could always do — to channel his soul into something that could be used as a physical force. The reason this Power Man is so powerful, is that his power allowed him to absorb and channel the spirits of all those that died around him in the blast set by Bullseye. He absorbs the Fist’s student’s martial arts abilities. All those people, all those victimized New Yorkers — his father included — live on in him.
Newly empowered — and not just in the physical sense — Victor assists Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and the rest of the “Marvel Street Heroes” in their final assault on Shadowland as the series ends.
This book is engrossing and well written, as well as emotionally charged. It’s everything that Shadowland should have been, but sadly wasn’t. In a way this book suffers by its association to the main Shadowland arc. The points of it that are weak are the points where it has to arc back instead of branching out, as it is trying desperately to do.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“This book is engrossing and well written, as well as emotionally charged. It’s everything that Shadowland should have been, but sadly wasn’t. In a way this book suffers by its association to the main Shadowland arc. The points of it that are weak are the points where it has to arc back instead of branching out, as it is trying desperately to do.”