Two hours ago, I heard of the passing of writer/creator Dwayne McDuffie. I, like many, am incredibly sad.
McDuffie had, over the years, become something of a mentor to me. He had no idea, though.
I'd first discovered him as the writer of Marvel Comics' Damage Control mini-series. In an era when every creator seemed to be taking comics by the hair, kicking and screaming, down a dark alleyway, here was this... thing. This very funny... thing. A comic that asked and answered the answer, "Who's gonna clean up this mess?" It was brilliantly written and vibrantly drawn and honestly, a breath of fresh air in an industry hellbent on becoming hellbent. I wanted to write like this man. I wanted to make people feel good about the comic they'd just read.
Later, tired of the Luke Cages and Night Thrashers of the comics universe, he co-created Milestone Comics, a brand formed on the knowledge that characters of color and even different sexualities could and should have just as many chances at heroism as anyone else. From this, we got The Blood Syndicate, The Shadow Cabinet, Xombi and the books he personally wrote Icon (and more important to me, his sidekick, Rocket,) Hardware and Static. Static would later go on to receive his own long-running cartoon series. (McDuffie wrote many of its episodes.) As an aside, I honestly believe a whole generation of young black men watching Static Shock on Saturday mornings wear their hair in dreadlocks in emulation of McDuffie's most enduring creation.
McDuffie went on to write many more cartoons, chief among them, Justice League Unlimited, the Super Friends cartoon we wished for as adults. Watching this show was seeing everything you loved about comics rendered big on screen. In each McDuffie script, you just knew he adored the material he was writing about and it showed in every word. McDuffie even managed to do the impossible and in one episode of Unlimited, wrote the best Marvel animated project Marvel never commissioned.
To me, his greatest contribution to comics and to animation was this: I remember looking into the mirror as a child and came to horrible realization that I couldn't truly be Superman. My hair didn't do what his did. My skin did not look like his.
Fast forward, thirty years and my nephew and I are watching Justice League Unlimited together. The room was filled with nothing but the sounds of the television, when my nephew looks over at me and smiles. "The Green Lantern. His head is bald like yours and he has a mustache and hair on his chin like you do. You look like Green Lantern."
I can't tell you how good I felt at that moment. To my nephew and many other children, men who looked like me could be viewed as heroes. I could be a hero. Just like Green Lantern.
Just like one of my personal writing heroes, Dwayne McDuffie.