Your run on Deathlok seemed to be full of allusions to the black experience. The lead character’s trapped in a cyborg construct and has his body stolen from him. His fear and shame at how his family would see his new form keeps him from them. He’s literally separated from his own humanity. And the dialogues between the cyborg’s computer AI and Michael Collins riffs on the twoness that W.E.B. DuBois spoke about. How much of this was explicitly in your and Greg Wright’s pitch and how much did you slip under the radar?
None of it was in the pitch, but all of it was intentional. Invisible Man was, and still is, my favorite novel. I’d just read The Souls of Black Folk and was explicitly thinking about Skip Gates’ The Signifying Monkey. Godel, Esher, Bach and Derrick Bell’s dialogues about race and law sort of crashed in my head. Deathlok was a way of sharing some of my thoughts about all of this.
Foremost, though, Deathlok was supposed to be a modern-day take on Marvel’s The Thing (a man alienated by his surface appearance), as well as my own commentary on the “grim and gritty” trend in comic book heroes. Contrary to the fashion at the time, I wanted to do a superhero who was more moral than I, not less. [...]
You’ve talked about how the character of Buck Wild came about as a commentary on the complicated love/hate relationship you had with Luke Cage. Do you still feel the need to address that relationship today? Did doing those issues with Buck help work that stuff out?
I’d worked those issues out even before I started Milestone. I just wanted to share those ideas with the comic book readership in an entertaining matter. Interestingly, those stories are about to be reprinted this summer as Icon: Mothership Connection. The excesses of Blaxploitation comics characters like Cage is the past, though. I’m much more interested in dealing with the stuff that’s going on now: more green characters with their own monthlies than black characters, a criminal lack of people of color in writing and editorial positions on mainstream books, et cetera… The last time I tried to write about that stuff in a mainstream book, my story was bounced (by the same people who asked me to write about it, mind you), and my editors wanted to replace it with clichés from twenty years ago, clichés that not coincidentally shielded mainstream readers and comicbook creators from any responsibility for the current state of affairs. I passed on that. I’ll write about those issues again when I have more control over the content.
—“Race, Sci-Fi, and Comics: A Talk with Dwayne McDuffie,” Interview by Evan Narcisse for the Atlantic