There’s a misconception that the late/great Dwayne McDuffie pushed for the John Stewart Green Lantern to be included in the roster for the Justice League animated series; in fact that decision was made long before his involvement began. The confusion is understandable (the easy narrative of Black writer + Black superhero notwithstanding) given McDuffie’s push for better representation in media. The interracial romance between Stewart and his teammate Hawkgirl that culminated in a kiss is still considered a groundbreaking moment in superhero animation.
It’s a testament to the success of the animated series that Stewart rose above simple tokenism to becoming the iconic GL in the hearts of many, best exemplified by the bevy of confusion from fans online as to why Green Lantern was played by a white actor when the first trailer for the 2011 Green Lantern film was released.
While McDuffie may no longer be with us, his legacy continues through his widow Charlotte (Fullerton) McDuffie, an accomplished writer in her own right. It’s rather fitting, then, that she and artist ChrisCross, a frequent collaborator with Mr. McDuffie at Milestone Comics, have crafted an 8-page story entitled “Reverse the Polarity” for this week’s Green Lantern 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular.
Along with an exclusive preview of “Reverse the Polarity,” we also had a chance to talk with both McDuffie and Cross about the story, their first collaboration which not only pays homage to the Justice League animated series by featuring a John Stewart/Hawkgirl team-up, but also serves as a tribute to Dwayne McDuffie.
TAIMUR DAR: Let’s start with the obvious question. What was the genesis of this project?
CHARLOTTE (FULLERTON) MCDUFFIE: DC approached me saying they were going to be doing this 80th Anniversary of Green Lantern and would I be interested in writing a short story that featured John Stewart because of Dwayne’s Justice League/Justice League Unlimited and my connection to Dwayne obviously. But also because I had written for the Green Lantern animated series.
I pitched them 3-4 different ideas. After they picked one, I started writing outlines and they asked me who I wanted to have draw it. I gave them Chris’ name, hoping that he would be available but not knowing that he would be.
CHRISSCROSS: I was working on two other projects at the same time and I happened to be looking through an email that had [DC editor] Andrew Marino’s name on it asking me to be part of the Green Lantern 80th Anniversary issue. When I saw Charlotte’s name and he asked me if I would be down with doing these pages I said, “Hell, yeah! I want to do this!”
Charlotte was on the bucket list of people I wanted to work with. They sent me a script and it turned out to be an old Marvel style script that we started working on.
MCDUFFIE: That’s right. Because we were so pressed for time and Chris had other projects, he ended up drawing the panels based on my outline and I ended up having to sort of rewrite to go along with the action that he had staged.
I mention this all the time but I love Chris’ work because it’s so dynamic. The way he chooses to stage things is amazing. I was so glad you were available.
MCDUFFIE: I’ve been wanting to work with you anyway and I knew the fans would love the Milestone connection. There’s actually a physical element in the story called “Meilstonium” that is very powerful and has an effect on everyone and cannot be ignored.
CROSS: And enhances everything near it!
When I started working on the project, it was a lot of going back and forth with the editor at first to make sure I was getting everything right. To make sure I had all the references because an artist is only as good as his or her references. I wanted to make sure that every panel and each page would have a really cool aesthetic to it and was free flowing and very dynamic.
They sent me the [finished] pages with the lettering and coloring and inking, and it really looked just like the cartoon.
MCDUFFIE: I’m happy to hear you say that because I started to write it clearly with the Justice League/Justice League Unlimited shows in mind. It features both John Stewart/GL and Hawkgirl together because it’s something I thought fans would want to see.
CROSS: It’s the first time I ever drew her.
DAR: That leads me to my next question. There seems to be some confusion among fans regarding the continuity of the story. So for clarification, is it meant to take place in the DC Animated Universe or the current DC Comics continuity?
MCDUFFIE: It’s a little bit of an amalgamation of both. They did send reference material of what John Stewart and Hawkgirl look like in the books. It’s not drawn in Bruce Timm’s style but I was picturing Bruce Timm’s style when I didn’t know who the artist was going to be and they told me they wanted to have that feel of the Justice League show. So it was a little bit of a surprise for me when [editors] Marquis Draper and Andrew Marino came along with photo references from the books for Chris to use.
CROSS: I don’t know if you picked this up, but I used Terry Crews as a model for John Stewart.
MCDUFFIE: Really? Oh my God, I did not know that. That’s awesome! Dwayne would have killed me for that because he knew how much I liked Terry Crews.
Dar: Funny enough, I learned from an Instagram post by JLU character designer Glenn Wong that apparently Avery Brooks best known for playing Hawk in Spenser: For Hire was the model for John Stewart in the cartoon.
MCDUFFIE: Really? I can see that. Certainly the voice, [deep voice] “A man’s gotta crawl before he can walk, Spenser!” Dwayne told me that he met Avery Brooks at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in L.A. and Avery was explaining to his kids how they were going to behave at this restaurant in his commanding “Avery Brooks” voice.
DAR: Gotta ask Charlotte if you managed to work in the Daily Show “Moment of Zen” line that Dwayne famously wanted to put into a Justice League episode was always rejected?
MCDUFFIE: Didn’t get in! It was something Dwayne always wanted to put into the Justice League show and always got shot down. So I tried but it got shot down yet again. One of these days we’ll get it in there and they’ll credit Dwayne with it! [Laughs]
CROSS: There were a lot of other characters that could have been in there. But I was wondering how they were gonna be able to fit in all those characters because I think the original script had the Manhunters and Superman, Martian Manhunter, and Wonder Woman.
MCDUFFIE: Yup, Manhunters were in it. And at the very end they wanted just to show them [Justice League members] coming back to the Watchtower.
DAR: While you mostly work in animation, this isn’t your first time writing for the comics medium which entails a different skill set than screenwriting. I know Dwayne said he found writing comics much harder for him because it requires you to distill distinct moments of time in single images. How was the writing process for you?
MCDUFFIE: You kind of nailed what I was going to say with that temporal process. And it obviously affects the art immensely. Having to capture a moment in time, you’re not getting to let a scene play out whole interactions between characters. You’ve got to pick that one pivotal moment that’s going to say the most about it and be the most passionate or telling moment in that scene or sequence.
That was up to Cross to decide what to be. I had suggestions certainly in my script. Some suggestions he took and some he just ran away with it and it was fantastic. Above and beyond what I could have imagined.
Would you mind if I ask Cross a question?
DAR: Not at all. Go for it!
MCDUFFIE: Since you worked with Dwayne in the Milestone days and looked up to him as a mentor, any lessons that Dwayne taught you about the comic book industry or comic book storytelling that you still use to this day?
CROSS: Between him and Denys [Cowan], he was always saying, “Never explain how good you are. Let your work speak for you.” We [Dwayne and I] were both made from the same cloth. We were both tall. We both had a certain presence about ourselves. He was always saying what kind of presence you had to be when you’re a big guy like that and everyone is looking at you. You had to be able to speak a certain way.
[He said] don’t become stale [and] always look for new stuff. My interests have also been in writing because I also write on the side. Dwayne would say when you come up with ideas, make sure it doesn’t speak over people’s heads and not be preachy either. Involve people into the process. Don’t be the person that’s preaching to people, just tell the story. Don’t worry about agendas. If the story winds up forming into an agenda, it is what it is. If you’re telling people something in a slick way and teaching them at the same time, it’s like their idea.
MCDUFFIE: But they internalize it so they feel like it’s their idea to take out into the world. That’s Dwayne all right!
CROSS: Also to try to find a way to tell the story in the shortest time possible and not to utilize too many words. I’m still trying to figure that out! When the concept is so big you have to say everything. He was able to do that in a paragraph or two.
MCDUFFIE: This was an 8-page story so we had limited time condense everything down to specific moments action-wise and visually.
Dar: Finally, what do you hope readers take away from this Green Lantern story?
CROSS: One, that I can actually draw Green Lantern and Hawkgirl. Even more so that we had fun with it. I was able to put my talents toward two characters I always wanted to play with on a regular basis. I kind of had in some cases with John Stewart but never with Hawkgirl. And that we were able to tell a story in 8-pages which is not easy.
MCDUFFIE: I guess I’d want to think that it’s not something Dwayne would have written himself. I didn’t go about it that way. It’s something that he would have enjoyed reading. I like to think he would have enjoyed having Cross and me working together. This is the very first time hopefully of many. And that he would approve the story. That’s all I can hope for. That he would read it and go, [pause] “Yup,” and pat me on my head.
Green Lantern 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular #1 is out Tuesday, June 23.