This post may stand alone for most of the week, and I’m honestly okay with that. I’ve been working on a new story, and I think it’s only fair to leave my tribute to one of the greatest inspirations to me as a writer on this site. Perhaps dedicating my creative drive back to fiction writing is the most fitting tribute I can give to Mr. McDuffie.
Dwayne McDuffie died yesterday, just a day after his forty-ninth birthday. I’ve been a regular follower of Dwayne in comic books pretty much as long as I have been a fan of superhero comics.
At ten, my fandom of G.I. Joe grew out to the rest of the comics field, and my first two picks for series to regular pick up were Speedball and Damage Control (I was a weird kid). I bought that second book with a nervous glee: I thought the idea of a comedy set around the entire Marvel Universe was so cool, even if most of the jokes went way, way, way over my young head. I missed his run on Deathlok (until only a few years ago), but when Milestone Media came around, I reacted with the same glee that I first picked up that issue of Damage Control.
When Milestone debuted I was fourteen, attending a Christian school in Southern Iowa, and horribly unaware of how the world really works… even if I would never have agreed to that statement. I remember seeing Icon and realizing even before its release that it might be one of the greatest comic ideas ever created. At the same time, my young mind was worried about two other Milestone books: the super-powered gang of Blood Syndicate and the Malcolm X-hat wearing Static. I thought the gang idea and the hat marked both as dangerously radical ideas, especially around a small group of comic-reading peers that heavily frowned on gangs and Malcolm X’s rhetoric.
Man, that hat bothered me far more than it should any sensible human being.
But I liked Milestone’s debut series Hardware
quite a bit. Coming from a kid whose main purchases up until this point had been the collected works of Rob Liefeld, all the year one Image titles, and all ten issues of Speedball
punched me in the gut with good storytelling.
With some trepidation I gave the next two books a try as I waited for Icon. Though only co-created by Dwayne, both Blood Syndicate and Static proved my trepidation to be ill-founded. (Even my dislike of the X hat Static wore was assuaged by a letter column contest to find the character a new, less clichéd ball cap.)
Then I finally got around to Icon. Oh, Icon. A book that wasn’t about the hero it was named after. Tricky move there, Mr. McDuffie. While I loved the idea of a Lincoln Republican African American superhero, it was Rocket that took over my headspace from that book. Icon made me rethink pretty much every idea I had about how reality worked… not unlike how Rift terrorized the Milestone universe in the company’s single crossover with the Superman titles.
Not the best Icon cover, but a good picture of both leads.
DC killed my ability to buy a lot of the Milestone books when, after just over a year of publication, they took all the books direct market only and threw them on glossy paper. With my access to an actual comic shop still limited (as it would be until I graduated high school) and my budget too strained to pay for a $2.50 comic book (ha!), I fell away from the titles.
I knew their fate anyway. They would go the way of the first Valiant Universe, the Ultraverse, and any number of other great attempts at making new superhero comics: it was doomed to be killed by the market itself.
I followed Dwayne over to the second incarnation of the Valiant Universe and picked up a few issues of his X-O Manowar. He did his best with a concept that wasn’t great to begin with, but it was only to last a couple months anyway. It was at about this time I actually started trolling the comic shops of Des Moines. Within a year I had built up a huge collection of all the Ultraverse and Milestone series that I missed out on.
In his later years, McDuffie turned Static in to the award winning and popular (though not all that much in comic circles until years later) Static Shock cartoon. The series heavily edited the original Milestone universe, but it also made a huge move, being one of the first original animated action series to have a primarily black, and mostly multi-racial cast. He parlayed his work on that show in to work on Teen Titans, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and Ben 10.
He returned to Marvel to write Beyond! and Fantastic Four, both excellent books worth reading if you can find them. He wrote the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths film and followed it up with All Star Superman, a movie released to DVD today, just a day after his untimely death.
His work helped to change my view of both comics and the world completely.
Static shaped how I saw teen heroes completely. It made me realize that a comic could work in a high school setting. I created Arc before I ever heard the name Static (though as a teenaged white male), but I am more than willing to admit that Static helped me to realize that straight up superheroics shouldn’t be what a teenaged superhero comic should be.
Legend and Backoff gelled for me at about the time Icon first appeared, but it was almost certainly the relationship between Icon and Rocket that caused me to take them from their team-based origins in to the realms of partnership in my early works. The book helped me frame where I wanted the dichotomy of my heroes to be. The political and social issues in the book also helped frame where I want many of my own heroes to go in the future, especially as I expand stories like American F.O.R.C.E. outward.
While those issues of X-O Manowar may not have went very long, it was scripts to an issue of the book and one or two other ones floating around the web that helped me learn exactly what I was doing in writing comic scripts (not to mention taught me that there was no one “set” format for comic script writing).
Probably most importantly, Milestone made me reframe my worldview from something that wasn’t quite a small town, conservative Christian mentality. It made me realize that even as I continued to practice my faith, living in an insulated protective mindset did nothing to help me or to promote any of my values to the world. It only made the group seem standoffish and cliquish, which seems contrary to the mission laid out in the New Testament.
More importantly he made me realize that while I never saw myself as racist, that didn’t mean some of my views at the time weren’t. My little white world came crashing down around me as I started to build a reality away from that small town worldview. My young self had no problem with the idea of an interracial marriage, but to actually be part of one…
Well, I can’t say for certain that these comics helped me come out of that insanity. And that without them, I might never have started the relationship that has culminated in nearly twelve years of marriage and two beautiful daughters.
Let’s just say I owe Dwayne McDuffie a lot.
You will be missed, Mr. McDuffie. You will be missed.