Dwayne McDuffie died yesterday. Spending that day with co-workers and fellow poets, I pretty much had to keep any sad feelings to myself. Explaining to non-animation buffs why you love cartoons for the writing is a have to ask = never know kind of situation. And though Damage Control had one of my favorite written lines in comics (“Yeah, can you send Legal over to the site? One of my guys just had an Origin”), I passed over the Milestone era and knew McDuffie primarily from his television work as he wrote a version the DC Universe I wished existed in the comics. I know I’m not alone in this wish either.
I’m writing this on a Wednesday and skipping the opportunity to pick up the just-released animated adaptation of All Star Superman that McDuffie wrote. Reading the advance press, the Superman in this adaptation seems more McDuffie’s vision than Grant Morrison’s. Though unfaithful adaptations frustrate me, today I’m glad about this.
McDuffie’s Superman was more hardcore (for Superman, anyway), and he first brought this to the forefront when “Justice League” became “Justice League Unlimited.” Bruce Timm and the rest of the DC Animated team owe McDuffie a great deal for doing this.
I’m not even getting into his characterization of Jon Stewart, his depiction of the relationship between Steward and Hawkgirl (again, if you have to ask…), or the “JLU” Season 1 finale, “Epilogue.” These have been talked about before and rightly so. What’s less mentioned is how he actually made me care about Superman again.
McDuffie’s Superman was angrier, hardened over the years of villains abusing him, and frustrated with the restrictions of his self-imposed code of honor. This was brought to bear as McDuffie took the best parts of the “Justice League’s” uneven first season (his anger at being controlled, Lex Luthor’s manipulations, being haunted by the alternate world where Superman kills President Luthor) and brought them together at the end of the first season of “Justice League Unlimited,” which everyone thought would be the end of the series.
McDuffie as writer and story editor was clearly the man who helped carry the animated series not just to a satisfying conclusion but also as an appropriate capstone for that era of DC Animated, from “Batman: The Animated Series” on up. You can’t imagine how satisfying this is to me if you didn’t grow up watching cartoons in the mid to late 80’s.
Cartoons in my youth didn’t end well at all, let alone as a story. They just slowly faded as the money from the toys they sold dwindled. McDuffie gave us a story with an ending. This was such a beautiful thing when I first watched those final season episodes. To those of us who grew up with (Yeesh) “Super Friends” and did our best to love the material in spite of its flaws, The first season of “JLU” was like a thank you we never expected to receive, which made it that much sweeter.
And hey, so what if “JLU” went one more season than it should have? If anyone deserved an encore season, it was McDuffie and company.
I got to know McDuffie’s work more with reruns of “Static Shock,” “Teen Titans,” and even the occasional “Ben 10” episode when I was on the road for work. Shows touched by him was work more mature than so much of prime time TV. When he went to write for DC Comics recently, this modern universe of rape and mutiliation, I didn’t think his work would be welcome there. I hated that I was right.
The other WGI pundits can, should, and will talk about Milestone comics and other contributions by McDuffie and the misfortunes that befell him at DC. Those aside, the fact that he was so mistreated in recent years and not allowed to do his best work in the medium he loved most is tragic. The legacy he left behind is not.