What are Luke Cage’s notable weaknesses?
Does the Answer-Man have Luke Cage fever? You betcha. Did you see Misty Knight? I’ve had the fever since 1972 when Luke Cage hit the streets, baby. Cage first appeared in Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 (June 1972) and was created by Archie Goodwin, John Romita, Sr. and George Tuska.
Today, the question which appears in the Answer-Man’s mail forces us to consider all that we know on Luke’s outstanding powers of superhuman strength and nigh-invulnerability.
Does Luke Cage have notable weaknesses?
Luke’s physical capabilities are a particular slice of nigh-invulnerability centered around damage resistance, superhuman strength, enhanced stamina and recovery. However, this invulnerability does not cover environmental extremes or psychological behaviors which can be used as handles to manipulate Cage. To understand Cage, we need to map the range of his powers. We are going to discuss Luke Cage, from the canon Marvel Earth-616
Though we have no confirmation of his involvement, Dr. Noah Burstein appeared to be creating another variation of the super-serum which lead to the creation of Captain America.
Dr. Burstein believed his serum alongside Luke’s physical immersion process would boost regenerative capacity in soldiers. Soldiers who can regenerate from physical injury at two or three times the normal rate would have immeasurable value both in overt and covert warfare.
Burstein offers Luke a pardon if he accepts the treatment neglecting to mention only one other candidate had ever survived the process and this was before he came to work at Seagate Prison. No candidates in Seagate had survived the process, but Burstein was confident Luke was his ideal subject.
At the height of the experiment, Burstein is unfortunately interrupted by the racist corrections officer Albert “Billy Bob” Rackham. Cage was overexposed with settings that should have killed him. Instead of dying, the treatment gave him several superhuman capacities.
- Increased density: His muscle and bone density were increased to nearly 2.5 times the Human norm with a corresponding increase in weight. He is six feet, six inches tall, weighing 425 pounds.
- Superhuman strength: This first treatment increased his strength significantly allowing him to lift effectively about 25 tons (though he has lifted more when under extreme stress). This is sufficient strength to lift an armored personnel carrier over his head or throw a conventional car about 25 yards. Later enhancements boosted his strength and invulnerability further.
- Incredible damage dealing capacity: Cage also had an uncanny ability to damage materials which should be beyond his strength class. He has proven to be able to punch through four inches of plate steel with just his fists. He punched his way out of prison which was two feet of reinforced concrete.
- Tougher than Steel: In addition to his increased molecular density, his dermal layers and underlying tissues have become super-humanly durable, with a corresponding increase in his pain threshold while having the equivalent durability of the hardest conventional metals known: Titanium steel. His skin can resist high-caliber bullets, puncture or penetration wounds, (steel weapons shatter on impact), explosives, corrosives, and extremes in pressure and temperature without sustaining damage. A later exposure to said experiments further enhanced his strength and durability.
- Superhuman stamina and recovery: In addition to his other superhuman attributes, he has a faster-than-normal recovery time from injury. He also has an incredible level of stamina, producing almost no fatigue-poisons making him capable of using his abilities full out for twenty-four hours. While his abilities are not-quite a healing factor, Cage recovers from trauma at three times the normal rate, which can be handy, since conventional surgery is all but impossible with his hardened skin and dense organs. A Stark-grade medical laser can do the job if necessary.
- Excellent fighting prowess: While Cage’s strength seems below the heavyweights of the Marvel Universe, even before he was enhanced, he was a gifted athlete and an above-average fighter. His superhuman attributes only increased his capacity for fighting and he had mixed it up with the best of the Marvel Universe. Many of them early in his career before he had received any formalized training in martial arts. After training with Iron Fist, Cage’s fighting capacity linked to his strength and durability make him an opponent capable of fighting against the likes of Prince Namor, the Rhino, the Hulk and Wonder Man.
Luke Cage’s Weaknesses
Strangely enough, despite his superhuman durability, Luke is still fundamentally human. Anything capable of killing a normal human can, with sufficient magnitude, injure or even kill Cage.
- Essentially Human: Despite his perfect cellular regeneration (which hints at a form of immortality or at least reduced aging) Cage still appears to need to breathe, eat and drink and excrete normally. He may be able to go for longer periods than a normal Human without food, water or air, but without them, he will eventually die. Sealing him in a 55 gallon drum, dropping him in the ocean or binding him to prevent him from using his strength and sealing him in concrete would eventually deny him of oxygen.
- Brute Force: While Cage has mixed it up with some of the strongest heroes in the Marvel Universe, he has learned there are limits to how much damage even his nigh-invulnerable form can withstand. He can be stunned if he received too much damage to his brain, though his recovery rate allows him to repair any damage that isn’t instantly fatal. His eyes, nose and mouth are vulnerable to attacks. While they are stronger and denser than normal Human eyes, Luke has been known to shield his face indicating a degree of vulnerability there.
- Radiation: Short-term exposure to lesser levels of radioactivity will not kill Cage but exposure to intense radiation such as gamma rays or cosmic rays may overcome his recovery factor and if he is not taken someplace shielded he will eventually die. During the Age of Ultron storyline even the enhanced Luke Cage was unable to survive combined Ultron robots radiation attacks. While there was debated at to which of the two was more durable, it seems She-Hulk was less able to resist the Ultron robots’ concentrated attack.
- High energy attacks: While Luke can bounce normal bullets and other standard weapons, exotic technologies such as armor-piercing rounds, powerful explosives, crushing forces, and other exotic energy technologies like Stark’s repulsor technology can knock him for a loop if he isn’t prepared. He probably won’t have his skin broken but he may be knocked out by the force delivered to a pinpoint location. High energy attacks can also break his bones. (Which do recover on their own if he can rest long enough.)
- Lasers with sufficient power have been known to be able to penetrate his skin. Which can be an asset if he needs surgery since conventional metal surgical tools cannot. While this was true before Cage received a second augmentation, it appears a laser would need to be significantly more powerful than what was once needed. In a battle against an augmented Living Laser, Cage was mostly unaffected by his powers.
- Hard exterior, chewier center: While Luke’s exterior is extremely resilient, his inner body, his eyes, his mucus membranes are far less durable than his exterior. Though he may be able to withstand and recover from chemical attacks like mace in record time, he can be affected by them, if he is caught off-guard.
- Psychological Handles: Cage has a strict code of honor. Once he gives his word, he keeps it. Cage will pursue an issue no matter who has caused him to lose face or damages his reputation. Once, Doctor Doom refused to pay a debt to Cage. Cage found his way to Doom’s Castle and confronted the monarch, demanding payment. Cage is also highly protective of his family and will confront any enemy who has threatened them.
- In extremis: Adamantium should do the job. There is one other way on the canon Earth-616 which could lead to his demise. Sharpened weapons made from adamantium. Since we know Adamantium is capable of cutting any material that isn’t adamantium, Luke should be vulnerable to weapons made from it. It may also be the only material capable of cutting him should he need necessary surgery in the future. Since we know Adamantium has cut the Hulk, Cage should be able to be affected by it as well. His invulnerability has been compared favorably to the Hulk’s.
In the MCU:
Most of the abilities Cage possesses in the comics are transferred over, at a reduced capacity. He still has superhuman durability, enhanced strength, and an increased recovery rate.
- While normal bullets still won’t penetrate his skin, it does appear if he is struck by a powerful weapon at short range he can suffer brain injuries if he is struck in the head. During the Jessica Jones series, after taking a shotgun blast at point blank range, Cage suffered a brain injury requiring medical attention. To reduce cranial pressure he has to have spinal fluid drained through his sinus cavity behind his eye.
- The Judas Bullet, an alien-derived technology appeared to be able to strike, and enter his body. My suspicion is the bullet uses Antarctic vibranium to destabilize his body’s metallic-like resilience and penetrate his body. This is, as yet unconfirmed in the MCU, but such materials do exist in the canon comic Universe. There was also an artificial version of vibranium with similar explosive capacities called Reverbium.
- There is also speculation of the material being used for the Judas Bullets being derived from the remnants of the Chitauri Event from the Avengers. Given the Chitauri have a level of technology beyond that which can be found on Earth, it is conceivable these bullets could be derived from such technology.
- Considering the special effects of the bullets, I would be inclined to believe they are derived from alien, possibly Chitauri technology and changed to work with Human weaponry. But they would need to be CREATED with the same technology since most normal Human technologies should activate the material’s features during the manufacturing process; this implies there is potentially an arms dealer in possession of alien technology or an alien weapons manufacturer on Earth.
If you are looking for something a bit more in-depth on Luke Cage, you can read another article I’ve written on Quora with a bit of history and my viewpoint on the Earth-616 version of the character.
The Answer-Man’s Archives are a collection of my articles discussing superheroes and their powers in relationship to their respective universes. We deconstruct characters, memes, profiles and how superheroes relate to real world culture. You can find other Archives on Quora and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange or at The World According to Superheroes.
Thaddeus Howze is a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding. You can follow him on Twitter or support his writings on Patreon.