One of my first blog posts in a long (long) time and I’m writing about a subject that is dear to me; the passing of one of my favorite comic and screen writers, Dwayne McDuffie (Sunrise: February 20, 1962 – Sunset: February 21, 2011… just a day after his birthday).
So, you might be wondering “who was Dwayne McDuffie?” I sense that no one knew who Dwayne McDuffie was from just the name. Since only comic book fans knew his name, it’s even easier to overlook him. Well, he was more than just another black man in the comic industry. And I want to explain to you what he meant not only to the comic industry, but to me.
If I have to use a historical figure to describe what McDuffie meant to the comic industry, I would say Martin Luther King; McDuffie used his influence to diversified the comic characters within a universe. He also used his influence to give these characters non-stereotypical images. Unlike people who just talks about “black images and how they are portray,” he decided to take matters into his own hands.
McDuffie used to work at Marvel as an editor in the late 80s-early 90s. When he noticed that all the black characters were pretty much “filler characters,” McDuffie decided to write a spoof proposal for Teenage Negro Ninja Trashers. This wasn’t to bashed Marvel, but to get a simple point across… we’re more than just a skin color and popular stereotypes from the 60s.
A few years later, McDuffie decided to take his goal into his own hands by launching a company called Milestone Comics. He launched the company with this goal:
If you do a black character or a female character or an Asian character, then they aren’t just that character. They represent that race or that sex, and they can’t be interesting because everything they do has to represent an entire block of people. You know, Superman isn’t all white people and neither is Lex Luthor. We knew we had to present a range of characters within each ethnic group, which means that we couldn’t do just one book. We had to do a series of books and we had to present a view of the world that’s wider than the world we’ve seen before.
McDuffie went on to give us great black super heroes like Icon and Rocket. But the most notable one was a teenager named Virgil Ovid Hawkins. But you might have known him as simply… Static.
Static was more than just a superhero, he was a character that most black teenagers can relate to. If you ever got a chance to read his comic or watch the TV series, you’ll see how relatable he could be in your life. The TV series was pretty well-written. More surprisingly, you can learn from it. McDuffie managed to write a bit of comedy, a bit of a story line and a bit of lessons within the series without being too preachy. Most importantly, it’s one of the few cartoon series at the time that doesn’t insult the audience. While the early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was wacky, Static Shock was a bit more mature not only with the story, but with the continuity. This mixture would eventually lead into the gig that defined him as a writer as well as a master story-teller; McDuffie was the producer and writer for The Justice League/Justice League Unlimited.
The Justice League was a show that was not only written, it’s probably one of the few shows that would be able to entertained an adult audience as well as teenagers. Matter of fact, it wasn’t even marketed to kids. When the show premiered, it came on at 10 PM block, leading into the Adult Swim block. The humor in Justice League some times edges on adult jokes (most of them tasteful and might fly over a kid’s head if they were watching it). The storylines at times borders on other factors in past episodes, or even earlier DC shows. For an example, McDuffie managed to give Batman Beyond the ending to a series that many fans wanted to see by using an episode in the Justice League. There’s also a movie called Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths that explains the crossover between (aka the “sudden jump” between) the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited shows, a move that confused avid viewers of the show. It’s almost as if McDuffie knew was giving a wink to the audience that followed these shows and gave us closure… all without requiring the new audience to know about these shows.
McDuffie cared for the characters that he wrote about, no matter their skin color. He made them into believable characters with so much depth. And that’s a legacy that even his former employees took noticed. When the noticed was out that he passed away, Marvel acknowledged his passing on their website.
Dwayne McDuffie was a gifted writer and producer who considered everything when it comes to the story. He left no angles unturned and showed the took pride in his work. He’s a great writer to emulate because he was passionate about giving the world a bit more than just one color’s perspective; he’s about the whole story. And that’s why I respect him so much.
He’ll be missed.
P.P.S. – Isn’t it ironic that he passed away JUST as he turned 49? Shocking… and I’m not talking Static.