Meet Carl Lucas, a down-on-his luck inmate at Seagate Prison who has been framed for cocaine possession. After suffering abuse at the hand of the prison warden, Lucas confesses to prison physician Noah Burstein that, he “is doing the time, but he didn’t do the crime.” Burstein offers Lucas a chance of parole if he agrees to be a participant in a beta-stage experiment. But in the Marvel Universe, “scientific experiments” sometimes lead to unexpected side-effects!
The story starts one year prior to present events, with Carl Lucas in solitary confinement, the victim of abuse from a guard named Quirt. Lucas is let out into the prison yard where Shades and Camanche, fellow inmates, try to recruit Lucas for their prison gang. Lucas refuses, smacking around the two and attracting the attention of Captain Rackham. Rackham tries to use Lucas as an informant after this, however he refuses and Rackham lashes out by having Quirt attack him in his cell. As the other guards try to stop Quirt, new prison warden Tyler Stuart sees this and has Quirt fired and thrown in with Cage so he can exact revenge. Doctor Burstein of the prison tends to Lucas and says that he will be seeing him again soon…
Shortly after, Lucas is brought to the Warden and tells the story of his imprisonment. After a rough childhood in the streets of Harlem, Lucas was friends with Willis Stryker, another poor child of the streets. As they grew older, Lucas gained efficiency with his fist and Willis with knives. After a run in with the Syndicate, Lucas saves Willis and wins over the heart of Reva Connors, a girl the two had been fighting over.
After healing up, Willis is infuriated that Reva no longer wishes to be a part of his rough lifestyle and throws the two out of his life. Shortly after, Lucas comes home to find the police in his apartment accusing him of being a drug-dealer. Believing this to be the work of Willis, Lucas is sentenced to jail and his current situation.
The warden, belieiving Lucas to be a prime, healthy candidate, reveals that Doctor Burstein is a scientist with a procedure to help the health of all mankind. Placing Lucas in a sealed chamber, liquids are poured in and engulfe Lucas, causing extreme discomfort. However, during the procedure, Rockham, having been demoted due to Lucas’s actions, powers up the machine past it’s intended levels and causes a chain reaction giving Lucas skin as hard as steel. Upon discovering this, Lucas breaks out of jail and is shot by the guards. Believing him to be dead, Lucas escapes and one year later stops a robbery in New York as he returns. Rewarded with money, Lucas buys a costume from a local shop and adopts the name Luke Cage, in respects to the man he once was and all he remembers of jail.
Little does Cage know though, that the robberies he is now stopping as a “Hero for Hire” are the pawns of Willis Stryker himself, now Diamondback!