4thletter! is one of the best comic blogs around. They are doing a fascinating series of posts on race and comics during Black history month. Please head over there and check it out if you want to edify yourself. Anyway, regarding the dearth of complex characters of color in comics, David said
The thing is, the noble savage portrayal really isn’t better than the ooga booga bone-nose nigger savage stereotype. Both are equally unrealistic. Both of them treat black people as something outside of the norm. “Look! They aren’t stereotypical! They’re super-advanced! They’re sci-fi savages!”
There’s a line from Black Star’s Thieves In the Night that applies here. Mos Def says, “I find it distressing there’s never no in-between- we either niggas or Kings, we either bitches or Queens.” It’s a sign of the gulf between blacks in comics and blacks in real life. You’ve got your unrepentant villain or mugger (more likely the latter) and then you have your heroes, who do it because it’s right.
You don’t have that in-between guy, who tries to be faithful to his girlfriend, but man, he can’t quite make it. You don’t have the girl who strips to pay for her degree in botany. You don’t have that guy who comes home from his high paying job, rolls a blunt, and zones out for a couple hours
Now David is referring to characters like Black Panther, the quintessential sci-fi savage. And curiously, the current reboot of Black Lightning seems to be rubbing all the rough edges off the character. Black Lightning is, after all, a man who was content to work for Lex Luthor when he was president. That was a true “we wear the mask” moment that the writers at DC didn’t do enough with.
Which brings me to Luke Cage. Luke Cage, as written by Brian Michael Bendis, is the most human Black character in comics-well- ever. It’s shocking to see Cage reinvented as this complex person, especially when you consider his origins.
Bendis’ Luke Cage couldn’t be more removed from the Blaxploitation Cage of the 70s. Seriously, pick up New Avengers #47 and take a look. It’s truly powerful stuff.
I guess the point to all of this is that it’s actually not that hard to write compelling and human characters. You just have to think of them as human first.