Earlier this week, one of the great talents of the comics community left us when Dwayne McDuffie suddenly passed away. The comics internet is awash in much deserved tributes to him from colleagues, fans, and friends alike.
I was too young to enjoy his initial successes, namely Milestone Comics and his work on Marvel’s Damage Control, as it came out. I became familiar with him like most people my age, through his work on the Justice League cartoon. The second season of that show was the first where it really clicked and not so coincidentally, it was the first where McDuffie was on staff. He became as essential to the production of that cartoon as Paul Dini and Bruce Timm were to the Batman and Superman cartoons. I still think the second season of Justice League can stand alongside the very best that the DC Animated Universe has to offer.
Though he remained heavily involved in animated work on shows like Justice League, Ben 10, and Static Shock, I was excited when he came back to comics. His run on Fantastic Four and the Beyond miniseries are some of my favorite comics of the mid 2000’s. Like many comic fans, I was extremely excited when he was given the reins to the JLA, and I was equally disappointed when it became clear that DC was tying his hands to the point that the book became unreadable.
McDuffie, for me, came to personify one of the most frustrating things about the comics industry – an enormously talented creator that just didn’t seem to catch on. I could never understand why McDuffie wasn’t getting more work. He could be funny, touching, dramatic, and insightful within 22 pages. In retrospect this is a bit of a silly way to look at things.
For all the difficulty that DC gave him on his run on JLA, through his work on the Justice League cartoon, more people are familiar with his take on DC’s premier team than any other creator’s. In fact, I’ll bet that due to his success on that cartoon there will be more than a few kids this summer wondering why the Green Lantern movie isn’t about a black guy. His work on Static Shock was probably the most successful work on the young superhero archetype of the past quarter century and while it was on TV, it was probably seen by way more people than read Spider-Man.
If you read or watch anything by McDuffie, you get a genuine intelligence and sense of humor that is rare in comics. And perhaps nothing illustrates this more than his crowning achievement, Milestone Comics. Designed to bring more diversity to comics both on the page and behind the scenes, Milestone was responsible for some of the best comics of the 90’s as well as giving numerous creators an opportunity they would have never otherwise had. Go read McDuffie’s work on Hardware, Static, or Icon. He deals with difficult issues like race, gender, and creators rights. He never soft pedals his subject matter and he always keeps it entertaining.
With his successful career in animation (his adaptation of All Star Superman was released this week), McDuffie hadn’t been a regular presence in the comics industry for a while. And with DC’s manhandling of the Milestone property, he probably wouldn’t have been for a while. However, whenever he did find time in his schedule to work on the medium we all love, it was a breath of fresh air. He will be missed.
I can't think of a more fitting tribute to him than one of his favorite storytelling sequences, one he reused quite a few times over the years, from Hardware.