Whenever someone creative or well-known dies, the Internet becomes awash with news stories, obits and RIP Tweets. Today, we’re all talking about Dwayne McDuffie, who died on Monday due to surgery complications. It’s unexpected, shocking and tragic — but let’s not forget that McDuffie had an impact before that. He was a writer and editor of comics and animation, and his work remains even though he’s gone.
Maybe you haven’t heard of Dwayne McDuffie. Maybe you’re a casual fan. Maybe you’ve seen or read his work and have no idea that he was the man behind that one comic book or that animated series you enjoyed. Either way, read on for ten notable entries in Dwayne McDuffie’s unfairly short career.
10. Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers (1989)
Back in the late ’80s, Dwayne McDuffie was an editor at Marvel Comics, and he noticed a curious trend in the books at the time — 1/4 of Marvel’s black superheroes rode skateboards, namely Night Thrasher and Rocket Racer. That only two characters account for a quarter of a superhuman minority is a different problem entirely.
So, to point out his obvious issues with this as well as Marvel’s treatment of black characters, McDuffie wrote up a one-page pitch called Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers. It is not only hilarious, but also signals McDuffie’s ongoing interest in sensible, non-offensive multiculturalism in comics — something he not only griped about, but actually tried to change.
9. Justice League of America (2007-2009)
Following a high-profile run by Brad Meltzer, Dwayne McDuffie took the reigns on Justice League of Americain time for the wedding of Green Arrow and Black Canary. The run started out fairly strong, but grew increasingly shaky due to inconsistent artists, editorial interference causing countless crossover tie-ins and major characters being unavailable to join the team until McDuffie was fired for revealing the behind-the-scenes creative decisions that drove the book. He did, however, get to introduce his Milestone superhero characters in the “When Worlds Collide” story arc. Ultimately, it’s a flawed run that forces readers to wonder what could have been had McDuffie been given more creative control on the book.
8. Deathlok (1990-1992)
It’s amazing that, in the year 2011, a cybernetic zombie has yet to truly catch on. The original 1970s Deathlok was created by Doug Moench and Rich Buckler, but Dwayne McDuffie created the second iteration in the 1990s: Michael Collins, a pacifist who was turned into Deathlok to battle South Americans rebelling against the corporation that created him until his human brain overcame his robot programming.
Not as beloved as Cyborg or as be-pouched as Cable, Deathlok isn’t the most original character ever created, but even from that above summary you can kind of tell that McDuffie was trying his damnedest to make the character interesting while Michael Collins is in his hands. Plus, Deathlok is still around, albeit in a more threatening “Dawn of the Dead meets Terminator” sort of capacity. Stilll the character’s owes his staying power to McDuffie keeping him afloat a bit in the early ’90s.
7. Beyond! (2006)
It’s totally insane that someone would even think to create a less toyetic, star-studded version of Secret Wars, but Beyond! is exactly that — a six-issue miniseries where the Beyonder abducts a ragtag group of Marvel characters including Spider-Man, Ant-Man, Medusa, Gravity and the Hood. Also, Deathlok shows up at one point.
I haven’t read Beyond! in years, but I remember it being insane. It helps that it was drawn by Scott Kolins, whose art is always weirdly manic and kinetic. It’s an underrated, forgotten kind of book that shouldn’t be too hard to track down if you know where to look. We can assume it wasn’t called Secret War because of the Brian Bendis book at the time, but Beyond! sounds a lot more fun to me.
Personally, I like the exclamation point.
6. Ben 10
Created by the comic book creator collective Man of Action, Ben 10 is a genius idea — the concept of a boy transforming into aliens with different abilities is particularly inspired already, but then you realize you can sell at least 10 toys at once while only needing to pay the cost of animating one of those 10 aliens on screen at a time.
Dwayne McDuffie was tasked with writing and producing the sequel series, Ben 10: Alien Force and Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, as well as serving as Story Editor on Ultimate Alien, putting to good use his experience doing the same on Justice League and Static Shock — along with his ability to write other people’s characters, a task all mainstream comics creators are saddled with — on another popular kid’s adventure cartoon.
5. Fantastic Four #543-553
Following the J. Michael Straczynski/Mike McKone run and the events of Civil War, Dwayne McDuffie (aided and abetted by artist Paul Pelletier) did something crazy yet logical: while Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman were patching up their shattered marriage, he replaced the two with Black Panther and Storm.
While it may seem like McDuffie may have been forcing his desire for multicultural comics by putting unrelated characters into the Fantastic Four, the two are actually a great fit. While Black Panther’s abilities aren’t all that impressive, he — like Reed — is a genius inventor from one of the most technologically adva
nced nations on the planet. Meanwhile, Storm’s ability to control weather is arguably pretty fantastic.
4. DC Animation
For the past decade or so, Dwayne McDuffie’s most significant output has been his work with DC’s animated properties, writing episodes for Justice League, Justice League Unlimited and Teen Titans, helping to create kid-friendly entertainment that was also mature and smartly written to appeal to the comics fans. I mean, how incredible were those two seasons of Justice League Unlimited?
When DC began putting out direct-to-video animated films, McDuffie had the chance to write two of them:Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and All-Star Superman. The latter, which ambitiously adapts the best Superman comic book of the last 20 years, was released on February 22 — a day after his death. Meanwhile, Crisis on Two Earths was a fun Justice League tale, complete with a hugely cosmic finale where Owlman threatens to destroy all of reality — easily one of the best entries in DC’s animated lineup.
3. Damage Control (1989-1991, 2008)
Damage Control might be the best concept Dwayne McDuffie ever came up with — a sitcomic about a construction company that fixes the damage after destructive superhero battles. They’ve appeared all over the Marvel Universe and starred in four miniseries — the most recent being in the aftermath (or, “Aftersmash” — seriously) of World War Hulk. For many readers, it’s an underrated cult favorite.
Damage Control is ripe for Hollywood exploitation, but nobody’s done it yet. Every so often someone tries to make an offbeat superhero movie — crazy ex-girlfriend turns out to be a superhero, wacky superhero family, comic fan decides to fashion himself a vigilante, whatever Megamind is about — and soon someone is going to get to “The guys who clean up after the superheroes” and you and I will scoff and think, “Damage Control did it better!”
So, Pixar: please make a Damage Control movie before Dreamworks beats you to it with Superfixers.
2. Static Shock (2000-2004)
Distinct from his DC animated work, Static Shock is surely one of Dwayne McDuffie’s greatest achievements — someone who spent his comic book writing career trying to establish diversity in the white-bread superhero world gets a chance to make a racially diverse cartoon that’s broadcast to kids every Saturday morning — alas, a much wider audience than comic books reach these days.
The show itself was a fun superhero cartoon about a real kid with regular real kid problems, as well as comic book kid problems in the form of superpowered gang members. Solid stuff that deserves to be rereleased on DVD sooner rather than later.
1. Milestone Media (1993-1997)
Dwayne McDuffie wasn’t just an advocate for racial diversity in comic books — he straight up made it happen with Milestone Media, a company devoted to creating comics by minority creators and featuring minority characters, headed by McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis and Derek T. Dingle, with Christopher Priest as an early figure (he invented the M) who went on to be the group’s liaison at DC Comics. The same DC Comics with whom Milestone managed to score an amazing deal where they retained creative control, copyrights and could make final decisions on licensing deals. Wow.
In the company’s four years of existence, they produced a ton of books — not only Static, but also Icon,Blood Syndicate, Xombi, Hardware, Shadow Cabinet and Kobalt — and helped launch the careers of folk like John Paul Leon, Humberto Ramos, J.H. Williams III and Tommy Lee Edwards. Unfortunately, the books didn’t sell well, and the company ceased making comics in 1997.
Milestone would go on to be folded into the DC universe proper in 2009, with the McDuffie-scriptedMilestone Forever coming a year later and concluding many of the stories’ dangling subplots. We can expect most of these characters to fade into obscurity (at least Xombi will be back for a while), but we can never forget Milestone as one of comics major, um, milestones.