In February of this year, comic book creator and TV animation legend Dwayne McDuffie passed away due to complications after heart surgery. Best known as the creator of Virgil Hawkins AKA the teenage superhero Static Shock, McDuffie was an instrumental force in both television and comics, founding the minority-run Milestone Comics in 1993 as well as writing and producing DC Entertainment and Warner Brothers Animation’s “Justice League,” “Ben 10” and “Static Shock” television shows. When fans and collaborators gathered to mourn days after his passing at Reggie Hudlin’s “Reggiesworld” launch party, held at Golden Apple Comics in Los Angeles, the result had a profound effect on TV and comics writer Felicia Henderson.
“I was overwhelmed by all the love everyone had for Dwayne, what he meant to creators and fans alike. The gatheringÂ sort of turned into an impromptu, casual memorial service for Dwayne. I was so moved by it all,” Henderson told CBR News. A longtime television writer and producer for shows such as “Sister Sister” and “Soul Food,” after the Golden Apple event Henderson decided to take action.
“That night, I emailed [DC Comics Co-Publisher] Dan DiDio and told him that I’d like to honor Dwayne through a special Static story, and how cool it would be if we could get folks like Denys [Cowan] and Reggie, and others who worked with Dwayne or were influenced by him, to all write a story together,” Henderson said. “A few weeks later, DC invited me to write the main story in a tribute book that would be drawn by Denys. Of course, I said yes.”
Coming directly on the heels of the cancellation of DC Comics’ “Static Shock” series, which was also supposed to be penned by Henderson, the special made news again when Milestone creator Tommy Lee Edwards took issue with the fact that the proceeds of the book were not going to McDuffie’s family. Despite the behind-the-scenes conflicts, Henderson remained unfazed and steadfastly dedicated to writing the special, and the character, to the best of her ability.
“Static has always felt like the little brother I’d have and Dwayne was the big brother I looked up to; I didn’t want to disappoint him,” Henderson said.
In stores June 1, the special one-shot features a Static-centric story by Henderson along with tribute pieces from Milestone creators including John Rozum and Prentis Rollins. Henderson’s main story is drawn by the original “Static” artist, Denys Cowan, a decision that thrilled the writer.
“My Static story is being drawn by one of the Milestone co-founders, the guy who drew Static back in the day.Â And he’s freakin’ ridiculously genius, and a true collaborator,” Henderson said. While the Golden Apple tribute was the first time the writer met Cowan, Henderson got to know McDuffie previously when DiDio introduced the two writers so they could talk about their favorite comic character, Static.
“Dan was in L.A. and said he was going to put Dwayne and I together, so that we could finally meet each other face-to-face, and I could hear Dwayne’s thoughts about Static. That first hour-long coffee meeting turned into a three hour meeting,” Henderson said. “Dan left for a meeting and came back and Dwayne and I were still standing outside of Dan’s hotel talking — mostly I was listening and beyond excited to be sitting at the knee of the Maestro.”
A fan of Static since the 2000 animated “Static Shock” TV show, Henderson had written the character during her run on “Teen Titans” and was thrilled to get the chance to speak with the man who created him. “[McDuffie] had strong opinions that were obviously well thought out;Â I call them discussions but mostly it was Dwayne talking and me listening,” Henderson told CBR. “I knew I could learn a lot from him if I was smart enough to just shut up and listen to him drop knowledge.”
Henderson also emphasized that Virgil’s real life struggles and triumphs appealed to her as much as his superhuman feats as Static did. “He’s a real teenager who happens to become a superhero.Â That was the first thing I lovedÂ about him, [and] I think that’s what readers and viewers love about him, too,” she said. Henderson also pointed out howÂ important it was personally to have a smart black superhero as part of the DCU. “Static was also the first comic book hero that not only looked like my nieces and nephews, he acted like them too, or Virgil did anyway.Â I love that he normalizes intellectual brilliance for young, black men,” said Henderson.
While the writer was mum on the details of her “Static Shock Special” story, Henderson revealed that the June one-shot gave her the chance to create a brand-new villain for Static and that it would primarily revolve around McDuffie’s most famous creation.
“[The special] is definitely Static-centric. I created a bad guy called Blinder, but for the most part, I am keeping the world very contained because I wanted to explore very specific themes — love, loss, acceptance, family — and have the themes resonate, if not parallel the relationship myself and others had with Dwayne,” Henderson explained, adding, “In other words, it’s very much a Static story, but my whole goal was to tell a Static story that would honor Dwayne, make him proud.”
The special also gave Henderson the chance to pay honors to another one of her mentors who passed away last summer. “Professor Teshome H. Gabriel, was one of my biggest supporters at UCLA, and although the character in the book is nothing like him, I named that character after him to honor his memory,” Henderson told CBR.
Overall, Henderson believes her story serves more than just a tribute — it gave her and the other Milestone creators a chance to deal with the loss in their own creative way. “Static is dealing with a very difficult loss of someone he loved and looked up to,” Henderson explained. “I guess you can say this tribute book was therapy for me.”
DC Comics’ “Static Shock Special” hits stores June 1, 2011.