I want to write an article on the passing of Dwayne McDuffie but I can’t. I didn’t know him as well as I should have. Comics, the small industry that it is, has its celebrated names like Bendis, Morrison, Johns and Alan Moore. But there are writers in the industry that remain relatively unknown, letting the work speak for itself. And now, looking back on the legacy of Dwayne McDuffie, I see a man who has influenced me tremendously.
Looking up his name I see Marvel’s Damage Control, a comic series about the company that rebuilds all the destruction caused by superhero battles, was his first major work. He was also an editor at Marvel, and frustrated with Marvel’s depiction of black characters, even proposed a satirical black comic Teenage Negro Ninja Thrasher. He worked for Marvel, DC, Harvey, Archie, writing endless amounts of comics across the spectrum of the industry from 1989 to 1992 before making his big move.
I first remember seeing his name attached to Milestone, a new imprint in early 1993 that was being published on the side of DC Comics. Seeing as I was new to comics and thirsty for something new, and a fan of all the comics that would become DC’s Vertigo imprint, I bought every Milestone comic that came out. I wanted to be in on the ground floor of something new rather than the far end of endless continuity.
Static (you don’t start none, there won’t be none) is by far one of my favorite comics. The original issues are the greatest and closest any writer has gotten to the magic of the early Spider-Man comics. Virgil felt like a real kid, not a black kid, but any kid, even if he was black. Race was never even an issue, despite the more urban aspects of the other comics like the superhero gang Blood Syndicate. Icon and Hardware were also solid superhero stories that never crossed the line of pandering to the reader and letting race dictate the audience.
This was an entire publishing line based around the concept of an African-American superpowered populace formed not long after Image Comics was founded. This was a time of true change in comics, when new things exploded out of old publishers. [All starting in the late 80’s of course (check out Haywire, Shade the Changing Man, The Question from DC to see the origins)]
And these were good, no, great comics. All of Static was awesome, Blood Syndicate went strong for 20 or so issues, Hardware was solid for awhile, I never got into Icon, but my friend Tim loved it. Even the underrated comics like Xombi and Kobalt were really unlike anything else out there and a lot of fun.
These comics were so well done and established a Universe so strongly that they eventually had a crossover with the DC Universe in a series called “Worlds Collide” , which I remember had a Colorform cover. These were all black creators behind this venture and it was more successful than most comic endeavors. And even though the artwork was top notch and production values were the best you could ask for, the writing really did draw you back.
To this day I haven’t read a comic that has that Milestone vibe. The comic industry was like the Wild West after Image was founded, so all this brilliant material was coming from every direction, from any genre, and all beyond the big two stock. There was something urban about it, but not in an exploitative way. I mean, granted I’m not black nor a gang member, but I can’t imagine any depiction I’ve seen is truly accurate.
From these comics McDuffie took his creation Static and developed it as an animated series that would eventually go on to win an Emmy and also help introduce Static as part of the established DC Continuity through the Justice League Unlimited animated series. That Justice League cartoon was by far some of the best DC stories told in the last 20 years and as much as it drew influence from the comic books, it gave back just as much, especially in the form of building up Green Lantern John Stewart as a character.
His work in animation lead him to the opportunity to bring Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely’s groundbreaking work All-Star Superman to the animated feature format. The movie has been receiving rave reviews despite Warner Brother’s other lackluster animated features (Green Lantern: First Flight, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse), but Mr. McDuffie would never see it come to light as he passed away the day before it was released from complications due to a surgical procedure.
We lost a talented writer ten days ago, who made real significant change, breaking down barriers like no other comic creator has done in the past 20 years. I think this weekend, before writing my next comic script, I’ll break out my Milestone Comics and give them all a thorough re-reading so I can learn how to do it right.