The sad and unexpected death of Dwayne McDuffie was announced yesterday by Comic Book Resources. He passed away due to complications from a surgical procedure performed Monday evening.
Yesterday was also the day of the DVD release of All-Star Superman, an animated feature adaptation of the critically acclaimed comic book series of the same name by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. McDuffie was the direct-to-DVD movie’s screenwriter. He had previously written for the animated TV series “Justice League Unlimited”, and served as both producer and writer on Cartoon Network’s successful Ben 10 animated franchise.
In the comics world, he will be remembered for co-founding Milestone Media, which led to the Milestone imprint at DC Comics in the 1990s. His Milestone creation Static was later adapted into an animated series, “Static Shock”, on which McDuffie served as story editor and writer for several episodes. DC Comics has been reprinting a number of classic Milestone comics recently, including graphic novel collections of Hardware, Icon, and of course Static Shock. Earlier in McDuffie’s career he worked for Marvel Comics, where he co-created the comedy series Damage Control and successfully revamped Deathlok (both of which should’ve been made into movies by now).
McDuffie lived and worked in Los Angeles. He was a guest speaker at CSUN’s Superheroes Seminar with Charles Hatfield last Fall (read Hatfield’s touching eulogy), and would make in-store appearances at local comic book stores to sign books and DVDs. He had appeared at the LA screening of All-Star Superman last week at The Paley Center, and was scheduled to appear at tonight’s ReggiesWorld.com launch party at Golden Apple in West Hollywood. The final hours of that Golden Apple event have been converted to a Tribute to Dwayne McDuffie starting at 8 PM tonight. Fans and professionals alike are invited to attend.
As remembrances started pouring in, two stories caught my attention on Twitter. I think they illustrate the kind of humor and intelligence at his disposal. In my mind they underscore his importance as a respected professional who fought from within for diversity and a stronger industry.
Comics critic/journalist David Uzumeri tweeted a link to a 1989 internal memo by McDuffie distributed at Marvel pitching a new superhero team, the Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers. While the name was an obvious wink to the popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics and animated series, the satire was aimed at Marvel’s depiction of black superheroes at the time. Brian Cronin’s wonderful Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed brought this to light several years ago after then-Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort posted about it on his Marvel blog. Here it is transcribed from the original scan:
Proposal for a New Series
“Teenage Negro Ninja Turtles”
First Draft, 12/13/89
In the past year, 25% of all African-American super-heroes appearing in the Marvel Universe possessed skateboard-based super powers. In an attempt to remain on the cutting edge of comics, I hereby propose a new series that will fully exploit this exciting new trend…
Teenage Negro Ninja
When a group of teen-aged negroes find cosmic-powered skateboards, their lives are forever changed! A team of distinct characters join together, swearing an oath to use their powers for good.
ROCKET RACER: A black guy on a skateboard.
NIGHT THRASHER: A black guy on a skateboard.
DARK WHEELIE: A black guy on a skateboard.
And their leader, the mysterious black guy on a skateboard known only as “that mysterious black guy on a skateboard.”
This is a sure-fire hit as it contains all of these popular elements:
- Circa 1974 clothing and hair-styles
- Bizarre speech patterns, unrecognizable by any member of any culture on the planet
- A smart white friend to help them out of the trouble they get into
- They’re heroes who could be you (if you were black, I mean…)
- They’re on Skateboards!
- They have an attractive, white female friend to calm them down when they get too excited.
Face it, Pilgrim, this one’s got it all!!!
Have I made my point?
Hopefully the satire comes through if you’re unfamiliar with Marvel’s super-hero comics of the late ’80s. But in case you aren’t sure, it’s pretty dang funny!
The Night Thrasher mentioned above would later go on to be handled more respectably in the pages of my first superhero comic New Warriors by Fabian Nicieza and Mark Bagley. (Biases ablazing, but I still think the first 2 years of that comic holds up as a great superhero book, although I’ll concede that it may be best read by pre-teen/teens of the early ’90s.)
Comics writer Kurt Busiek also tweeted a fun fact about Dwayne McDuffie and Night Thrasher that I never knew. Busiek wrote, “When I first met Dwayne, he was campaigning against the name “Black Thrasher” in the New Warriors pitch, and doing a survey of what percentage of male African-American superhero characters at Marvel rode skateboards or dressed like poultry. It wasn’t a low number.”
No doubt his survey resulted in the memo above.
That kind of humor and activism is inspiring and absolutely needed in the mainstream superhero sector of comics. Dwayne McDuffie will be sorely missed.
Bonus video from the award-winning documentary Shaft or Sidney Poitier: Black Masculinity in Comic Books directed by Jonathan Gayles, who will try to post some more clips with McDuffie in the coming days (via The Beat):
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