Saturday, March 05, 2011

Dwayne McDuffie, the Giant

What more can be said about the man? His work speaks for itself. His work also speaks volumes. I am sure that there are many of us who have come across something he wrote and never knew. Take for example, one of the Deathlok series from Marvel Comics in the early Nineties. I thoroughly enjoyed that series right before I gave up on comics. I didn't realize it was Dwayne McDuffie until right after his passing. When I explained to people who he was, their eyes go wide.

To be honest, I read so many of his stories without really knowing who he was. My first real encounter with McDuffie as a geek was when he released his Milestone imprint under DC comics. It was a universe filled with African American super heroes. It was a Pan Africanist dream. I enjoyed the stories. Icon and Hardware were my favorite.

Yet everyone remembers Static which later became Static Shock, a cartoon many Generation Y'ers grew up on. Static Shock was probably one of the few cartoons that came out that I enjoyed. My oldest son who is now 16 years old, loved that show and we watched it together sometimes. Back then, I was going through my “nothing is as good as what I grew up on” snobby phase.

Fast forward a little over 12 years later, and our younger children are watching the Justice League and the Justice League Unlimited (JLU) which McDuffie played a huge hand in. They also watched Ben 10 which McDuffie created. In a nutshell, there are three generations in my family who were influenced by McDuffie's work. That says a lot. I enjoyed reading his blog posts. McDuffie was always opened to feed back. I had many opportunities to meet him but I pass each of them up. I regret all those decisions.

When I think of McDuffie, I immediately think of three things:

1. When he discussed the time that Justice Clarence Thomas invited him to DC to have a chat. McDuffie obliged him. Thomas goes on to wax poetic about how he is about the upliftment of the black community blah blah blah, blah blah blah, and blah blah blah. Then he proceeds to tell McDuffie that he gets a gang of inspiration from one of McDuffie's characters from the Milestone Comics line. That very character was Icon. McDuffie was flabbergasted. He couldn't believe that one of his heroes was inspiring a man who's political leanings were 180 degrees out of character with his own. This story is just too funny.

2. In the straight to DVD movie Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths which was written by McDuffie, he has Superman quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Rewind that!” was all I could say.

3. When the trailer for the live action Green Lantern movie was released, a gang of folks on twitter barked “I thought Green Lantern was black!” That was worth the price of admission.

We have no choice to show love to those who speak out in forums where many find that issues that many of us face on the day to day (racism, sexism, etc.) is rarely discussed. Let's face it, we in the comic book/fantasy/sci fi world are a racist and sexist bunch.

If there is an image that is stuck in my mind, it is that of a picture in Tony Browder's “Nile Valley Contributions to Civilization.” In this picture, a little black boy is standing in front of a bathroom mirror with is arms in akimbo. The reflection he sees is of a caped super hero that happens to be white. That's deep but for many of us black and brown folk, it's real. McDuffie tried to change that. And you know what? He was successful.

I loved that scene in the short lived yet wonderful Justice League Unlimited (JLU) tv show where John Stewart, the Green Lantern who is black, goes to a barbershop to get a hair cut. I was floored. That was why I loved Dwayne McDuffie. In my house, his picture will go up. And yes, my babies know who he is.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was totally a wonderful write up. I've been watching most of the straight to DVD movies by him all weekend with my son in addition to Ben 10 which is a favorite of my kid. He's a man that will stand out to me for the rest of my life and hopefully I can channel such creativity in my work be it as a lyricist, writer and performer