Remembering Dwayne McDuffie

Itwas never Watchmen or Dark Knight that opened up the possibility of superhero comics for me, but Dwayne McDuffie’s Damage Control, the Marvel series looking at the people who cleared up the physical and legal damage done by superhero actions. It was genuinely witty, self aware and just so well written. At the time I knew it was something special. It remaind one of my favourite comics. And it kept me reading the genre until everyone else could catch up.

And he did it again years later over at DC, co-founding Milestone Media, writing Static, Icon and Hardware, books that challenged so many assumptions about character and race, dispelling  assumptions of tokenism over ethnic characters in comics by creating rich and multilayered ensemble character books.

I just thought the books were really, really cool and I have the longboxes to prove it.

And as Static gained huge success as a TV animation, it felt shocking that it never got decent publisher support as a comic book. Deals made with DC over the future of Milestone fell away, as promised plans were never lived up to, and even the quotes in captions in Milestone Forever, his final Milestone title decades later were deleted due to vague “copyright concerns”, despite DC actually owning one of them, which dulled Dwayne’s final statement about a creator’s relationship with their work and those who publish it.

Dwayne didn’t settle well with DC Comics. A promised extended run on Justice League Of America was cut short. Dwayne had written at length on the DC boards answering questions over the creative procedure of a franchise book  and answering them honestly and self critically, still an insightful and wise guide to the process. When I collected them into a post on CBR’s Lying In The Gutters, Dwayne was summarily fired, an act I felt incredibly guilty about, something Dwayne refused to let me be. And that next month it would have been over the colour of Dwayne’s tie.

But Dwayne looked forward – he had already found real, financially beneficial success, working in animation. Whether writing and producing the likes of Static Shock, Ben 10, JL Unlimited or the recent Warner Bros animation projects such as All Star Superman, he found more freedom, respect, satisfaction and financial reward working on these characters than he ever seemed to find in the comics. Not that this stopped him coming back to the panels when the offers were made.

And after writing to each on and off for years, we met for the first time this summer, at San Diego on the William Morris boat and spent a very pleasant evening exchanging war stories with Peter David. Dwayne was charming, witty, engaging and tall. His plans involved feature films, he had fingers in many very interesting and profitable pies – but he felt attached to comics despite feeling badly treated over the years, a complete opposite to his experience with moving pictures.

Dwayne McDuffie died ths Monday, after complications from surgery. Days earlier he had attended the All Star Superman animation premiere, seemingly in fine fettle.

And his legacy will live on. So many black comic book fans and creators were drawn to the medium through his work on Milestone, and his prescence as a prominent and critically lauded black comics creator for both Marvel and DC. Whenever people complain this summer that Green Lantern isn’t black, look to Dwayne McDuffie for making John Stewart so iconic in the role in JLU. And, for me, he wrote Damage Control.

My sympathies go to his wife, family and close friends, and to all the people his work touched over the years. But dammit, there just weren’t enough of those years.