Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wonder Wednesday - RIP Dwayne McDuffie 1962-2011

Word passed quickly through the comics world yesterday of the shocking and untimely death of Dwayne McDuffie due to surgical complications. McDuffie began his career in the 80s working for Marvel Comics, writing The Fantastic Four and relaunching the title Deathlok, to strong fan reaction. He also created the humorous title Damage Control, about the construction firm whose job it was to clean up after super hero/villain battles. He also proposed a series called Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers, a spoof targeting Marvel's treatment of black characters. It would have starred two actual Marvel characters, Rocket Racer and Night Thrasher, both "black guys on skateboards," plus a new character Dark Wheelie, another "black guy on a skateboard" and their mysterious leader, also a "black guy on a skateboard." His notes include such elements as "Bizarre speech patterns, unrecognizable by any member of any culture on the planet," "a smart white friend to help them out of the trouble they get in" and "They're heroes that could be you (if you were black, I mean...)" Not surprisingly, Marvel passed, but the memo became legendary among professionals.He did write two one-shot comics starring one of Marvel's more prominent African American characters, Captain Marvel, in which he made a point of ditching the character's insanely outdated afro. The hope was that maybe the character could support her own ongoing series, but unfortunately, apparently the sales weren't there. You KNOW I bought them, though!
In 1992, McDuffie co-founded Milestone Media, a subsidiary of DC Comics, dedicated to providing more ethnic diversity in comics. Milestone published many titles including Hardware, Icon and most notably Static. The line lasted until 1997, with teenage hero Static going on to star on a popular Saturday morning cartoon Static Shock, with McDuffie serving as the series story editor.
While the Milestone comics did not take place in the regular DC Comics continuity, Static Shock actually shared the same universe as the characters from DC's animated world and crossed over, first with Batman and later the Justice League and Batman Beyond. In 2003, Static Shock won a Humanitas Award for the episode "Jimmy," which dealt with gun violence.
McDuffie continued working in animation, writing for Teen Titans and What's New, Scooby Doo? before writing for Justice League and becoming story editor when the series was revamped as Justice League Unlimited. The first series, Justice League was a hit, but quality-wise, it had its ups and downs. Because the episodes were an hour long instead of the typical 30 minutes, it seemed to take the creators a while to figure out how to pace the stories. But once they worked that out, it got better and better. Then, when the series was relaunched as Justice League Unlimited, the episodes were reduced to 30 minutes, resulting in a leaner, tighter, more action packed series. Anyone with a brain will tell you that Justice League Unlimited is the absolute finest comic book-based cartoon series EVER! McDuffie introduced the idea of season-long background stories that would come together at the end of the season, resulting in a huge climax. They were THRILLING!
In addition to utilizing John Stewart, the black Green Lantern, over the more famous Hal Jordan and the current-in-the-comics Kyle Rayner, JLU also included other heroes of color, most notably Vixen, which likely led to Vixen being repositioned as a more visible character in the comics.

McDuffie returned to comics, scripting for Marvel Comics a miniseries entitled Beyond! as well as returning to The Fantastic Four. For DC, he wrote Justice League of America and Firestorm as well as Milestone Forever, a miniseries that merged the dormant Milestone Media characters with DC Universe's continuity. A large number of Milestone's characters guest-starred in a Justice League storyline and Static joined the Teen Titans.

McDuffie continued working in animation, as a writer and story-editor of Ben 10: Alien Force, going on to serve as producer of the revamp Ben 10: Ultimate Alien. He also scripted the DC direct-to-home-video Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, which featured the first animated appearance of the new Firestorm, whose book McDuffie had written. Ironically, McDuffie's death came one day before the release of All Star Superman, which he'd also scripted (based on the comic written by Grant Morrison).

His contribution to comics and animation were profound and his determination to depict diversity should serve as a guide for everyone working in comics. He leaves behind a huge void.

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