Character Issues: Black Characters

Sweet Christmas!


Back for another week of Character Issues.  This one is not about an individual character.  This week’s issue is about the common issues that seem to plague the black characters of Marvel and DC.  This piece is meant to address general issues and not offer a case by case analysis of EVERY black character.  Let’s get into it….

Excels at:

Filling the quota.  Spouting Catchphrases (70s-80s), being a black friend.

Fails at:

Being distinguishable from white characters.

The Characters:

Where do I begin?   Luke Cage was a product of Blaxploitation era cinema.  Black Lightning was a walking Racial Trope Machine.  Falcon is a palette swapped white guy, same goes for John Stewart and Mr. Terrific.  Storm and Black Panther are difficult to relate to.  Steel is forgettable, just like the Blue Marvel. and Captain Marvel II…

The Issues:

Let take a look at Black Lightning.  Raised by a single mother in Suicide Slum…with the assistance of a white man who was his male role model because…no father.  Great Athlete. Obsessed with escaping the slums.  Failed marriage to a black woman. Spews platitudes about education. If there is a stereotypical struggle attributed to black men, Black Lightning has experienced it.

Have you noticed that there are rarely any black neighborhoods that aren’t slums in Marvel or DC?  How many black characters have successful marriages to other black characters?  Is there even a Black community within the superhero communities of Marvel and DC?

There seems to be a lack of the nuance that defines the American Black experience.  Either the characters are raging stereotypes or completely indistinguishable from their white counter parts.  The characters ring false because they don’t really act in a manner reminiscent of any Black people in the real world.

If you want a non-black example of how horrific the results are when white writers appropriate youth culture of non-whites…look no further than Vibe from the heroin withdrawal spawned fever dream that was the Justice League of America: Detroit.  Vibe was a Puerto Rican teen-aged superhero from Detroit. He was a break-dancer.  He spoke in slanguage.  He was a gang member.  He was a goddamned embarrassment.

Everlasting Fuck???
Everlasting Fuck???

Mercifully, Vibe  was killed off after three long years.  Not a moment too soon for the legendary George Pérez, who as a Puerto Rican creator, who reportedly HATED the the character.

The Fix:

Recruit black writers (or any writers who aren’t white males for that matter).  A black writer can add some legitimate real world perspective to these fictional universes. They can flesh out black characters in ways that resonate with readers.  Believe it or not, there is a huge fandom of black comic book fans looking for characters that are black in more than just appearances.  I’m not saying only black writers or creators can handle black characters.  Having a diverse group of writers helps the overall product.  It prevents the echo chamber of bad thinking that makes shit like this possible….


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