At a time when a classic black superhero, Luke Cage (aka Power Man), is being featured on Jessica Jones, Netflix’s hit superhero TV series, amid plans for the character to have his own TV series in the fall, it’s impossible to deny there’s growing demand for more diversity in the superhero genre.
Two of the more high-profile African-American superheroes making the rounds right now are written by David Walker, a veteran African American pop culture writer who, after a long career in other forms of media, is now making a name for himself in the comics world by providing thoughtful and entertaining contexts for his super powered characters.
Walker produced the 2004 blaxploitation documentary Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered and Shafted; founded the long-running black pop culture zine turned blog BadAzz Mofo; and wrote Shaft’s Revenge, the series’s first new novel in in 40 years. Walker has also collaborated on a variety of African American-focused projects with director Quentin Tarantino, Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder and filmmaker/comic creator Reginald Hudlin.
But he’s only recently broken through as a regular comics writer, working on Cyborg, DC Comics’s African-American half-man/half-machine superhero. Now a lead character in DC’s Justice League alongside Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, Cyborg will be featured in the upcoming Justice league film and is slated for his own film in 2020.
Published in March, Cyborg Volume 1: Unplugged by Walker and artists Ivan Reis and Joe Prado (published in March), finds Cyborg hunted by an alien race out to harvest his cybernetic limbs. A second Cyborg volume by Walker, slated for December, will pit the black superhero against his Justice League allies after the government asserts ownership over the technology that now comprises his body.
Walker is also writing a comics revival of Power Man and Iron Fist, a 1970s series starring Cage and fellow hero for hire, Danny Rand, a mystical white-guy ninja. It’s a comedy and action superhero comic straight out of the blaxploitation and martial arts crazes of the period. Marvel will publish Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 1: The Boys are Back in Town by Walker and artist Sanford Greene in October.
PW: Why have so few comic book writers of color worked for the Big Two: Marvel and DC?
Walker: I think the answer is different for everyone. In some cases, we’re still dealing with an “old boy’s network” that excludes people of color and women. But there’s also the factor that most people don’t really take into consideration, which is patience and tenacity. I meet writers and artists all the time that want to work for Marvel and DC, and they think that somehow that desire translates to deserving it, even if they haven’t put in the work. Look at [Brian Michael] Bendis, he put in more than a decade of self-publishing and indie work before he ever got his “big break.”
PW: How important was it to have an African-American writer launch Cyborg in his first solo series?
Walker: It really isn’t for me to say. If there is any significance to be found in my brief time writing the character, it was my insistence that we push the human side of his story. I also pushed to have little moments here and there that I knew would resonate in a special way with African-American readers. None of this was overt, but it was there.
PW: What kind of foundation did you and artists Ivan Reis and Joe Prado want to establish narratively and visually for Cyborg amidst heightened interest in the character due to his Justice League status and upcoming film?
Walker: To be honest, we never really talked about it until the book was well under way. It just so happened that we have some similar thoughts about the character, and one of those main thoughts is that Cyborg doesn’t have the luxury of a secret identity. Superman gets to hide out as Clark Kent. Spider-Man gets to go back to being Peter Parker. But Victor Stone is a cyborg as much as he is Cyborg, and there’s no hiding it. In that regard, he becomes a metaphor for being the racial minority in America. Ivan and Joe are both talented and smart men, and they understood that Cyborg represented something a bit deeper, and they were picking up on some of the more subtle moments in my scripts.
PW: What was your approach to updating Power Man and Iron Fist?
Walker: I knew there would be two types of readers. First, there would be the old school folks like me, who'd read the original series back in the 1970s and ‘80s. Second, there would be the readers that were fans of one or both of the characters, but had no real knowledge that they had ever shared a title. From the very beginning, I knew that the heart and soul of this series was going to be about friendship, and that if done properly, with the proper balance of superheroics and humor, it would appeal to readers across a wide spectrum.