Following the shock of his death, well-justified remembrances of Dwayne McDuffie flowed out yesterday. A few words kept appearing over and over: respect and honesty. In a business where pettiness and jealousy are motivations far more than we’d like to admit, McDuffie seemed to rise above all that.
His writing and love of storytelling — and his security in its quality — allowed that. DAMAGE CONTROL, a Marvel miniseries from 1989 by McDuffie and Ernie Colón, came at the heels of the superhero deconstruction trend made popular by WATCHMEN and DARK KNIGHT, but with a lighter touch: Superheroes and villains were always destroying property in their epic battles. Who cleaned up the mess? It’s still fondly rememberedd.
McDuffie went on to work as an editor at Marvel until going freelance in 1990. During that time he wrote the memo reproduced above and posted all over the place yesterday. As well it should be. Comics isn’t an industry that handles racial issues very well, and it certainly wasn’t doing it in 1989, when the memo was written. And in the memo is everything that made McDuffie great — instead of getting angry or accusing, he calmly and humorously showed up well-meaning silliness for what it was. Silliness. Someone HAD to say these things. Someone still does.
If you watched the video I posted yesterday where McDuffie spoke of what it means to be a black writer in comics, you see how he dealt with constant silliness and pigeonholing: with intelligence and the ability to just keep doing the work he wanted to do. Instead of wasting time with bitterness or complaining, McDuffie actually did something about making comics a more diverse, welcoming place. Along with Derek Dingle, Mike Davis, and Denys Cowan, he co-created and co-owned Milestone Media, a fully formed universe of characters, which they then got DC to publish as a line of comics. McDuffie served as Editor-in-Chief and created many of the characters, including Static, a new, youthful superhero character whose adventures led to a successful Saturday morning cartoon several years later.
Static Shock ran on the Kids WB for four years, until 2004. In all that time there was never a Static Shock comic tie-in. You can say that DC just didn’t want to do more kids comics, and it would be true. I’m sure you could come up with other reasons, as well.
But I want to go back to the fact that Dwayne did something about what he believed in instead of just complaining. Respect. And by doing something he helped create a pantheon of characters that did inspire readers and made comics a better, more humane place.
Aside from being enjoyable cartoons, his work on JUSTICE LEAGUE and JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED also helped make comics a better place, keeping the characters in front of a wider audience with good stories that didn’t talk down. It was hard work. Years ago I was visiting a friend who worked on the Batman show and was surprised to find Dwayne sitting in an office — I had forgotten he was a story editor at WB. We chit-chatted for a while and I commented on the giant joke-sized bottle of “Headache pills” on his desk. He just rolled his eyes. “I need a king-sized supply for this job,” he joked back.
Over at The V, a nerd-themed message board that McDuffie frequented, members mourned him and posted an iconic series of pages, starting with the opening scene of HARDWARE, one of the original Milestone titles:
And later yet in MILESTONE FOREVER #2, part of a truncated Milestone revamp.
CBR has some remembrances of McDuffie from his comics colleagues and friends. They are hard to read, the loss was so sudden. For even more heartbreak, there’s his message board — he was generous with his time and insight and just as blunt and honest there. A thread called “Ask the Maestro” is a model of candor and accessibility. If it is too sad to look at now, I hope it’s left up as a memorial to his dignity and intelligence.
If there’s anything at all good about this awful event, it’s that Dwayne went out on top — the ALL-STAR SUPERMAN movie he wrote had just debuted to strong reviews, and he’d been out and about promoting it, seemingly healthy and happy.
Dwayne fought a lot of battles and didn’t always win, but he knew they had to be fought. I think in that way he was ultimately the victor, and that’s how I’ll remember him. Respect.
McDuffie photographed by Seth Kushner, February 13, 2011.