Friday night at WonderCon featured a tribute to the late comics and animation writer Dwayne McDuffie with reminiscences, anecdotes and stories about a man all of the panelists considered a friend and among the best at what he did.
Gary Miereanu, Warner Bros. Animation’s director of publicity, acted as master of ceremonies and began the evening by telling the crowd, “In February we lost an amazing talent, a wonderful soul, a good friend in Dwayne McDuffie. He was so many things to so many of us, and so many things to so many of you. We’re gonna talk about him tonight.”
Miereanu introduced the “distinguished panelists:” Glen Murakami, producer on “Ben 10” and “Teen Titans” and Matt Wayne, writer for “Justice League Unlimited, “Ben 10” and “Super Hero Squad,” as well as an editor for Milestone Media.
After some subdued applause, Miereanu assured the audience it was okay to clap. “You know what, this is a celebration of [Dwayne’s] life, not a memorial. He meant a lot to a lot of us, and I think we should feel free to applaud and feel good about things, ’cause otherwise, one of us is going to cry, and then the rest of us will cry, and then it’s all going to go downhill.”
After the crowd was reassured, Miereanu resumed the introductions to much livelier response. Next up was Eugene Son, another writer on “Ben 10” and “Super Hero Squad,” then Bruce Timm, the godfather of the DC animated universe, writer/producer Alan Burnett and Eddie Berganza, executive editor of DC Comics.
Miereanu kicked things off by saying, “Dwayne left a heck of a legacy, but I know he wanted to be remembered for a few key projects, and I thought we could start off by talking about them. First and foremost, the creation of Milestone Media.”
Matt Wayne began, saying, “I saw the first and last of Milestone when it was in monthly production. It was the most challenging and exciting time of my life, and I think Dwayne felt that way for a long time, too. He drove that creatively and was instrumental in the negotiations, he and his partners. I felt Dwyane was the most cautious of the four partners and made sure that Milestone retained equity in the characters. I think that was very wise.
“In everything, he was always a big picture guy. He would go from the big picture to the specifics. We learned so much from him. He had been editing already for five years, and we learned about just the mechanics of putting together a book, what was a well-structured and exciting story and also what we had to think about as far as what was the responsibility of that story. We don’t want to do something that was just ‘the good guy just beats up the bad guy, and that’s why he’s the good guy.’ It’s a shame it didn’t continue. I mean, people who know it, know it.”
Miereanu mentioned, “Out of that came ‘Static’ and ‘Static Shock,’ right? I know that was one of his prides and joys. Some of you worked on that with him, didn’t you?” Miereneau then asked Burnett directly, “How did that project originally sell?”
Burnett replied, “I sold that project in one sentence. We had the people at Kids’ WB looking for young superheroes, and I held up the first ‘Static’ comic book, and said, ‘This is Chris Rock at the age of 15.'” At this, a huge laugh came from the audience. “That’s all I had to say,” he continued. “It was just genius on my part. That’s all I had to say.”
Timm asked, “And you’d probably not met Dwayne at that point, had you?”
Burnett replied, “I had met Dwayne earlier. I was at DC in ’92 or ’93 on other business, and suddenly there was this impromptu meeting. There were Michael Davis and Denys Cowan and Derek Dingle, and they were great! I thought it was just a sort of a ‘getting-to-know-you’ thing, but I think the meeting was as much of a surprise to them as it was to me. We started doing some development with ‘Icon,’ and it finally came time that I sold this pitch for ‘Static Shock’ We put the show together and, if you read the Milestone comics — and I read them for pleasure. I’d get a box of DC and Milestone comics every month, and inevitably, I’d grab the Milestone books first and read them, ’cause they were just sensational books. If you’re familiar with them, then you’ll know they were sort of adult, and what we were doing on Kids’ WB was for six- to eleven-year-olds. And because it was six- to eleven-year-olds, Kids’ WB had a rule that we couldn’t have any scenes at night; it had to all be daytime. We did something really smart: we put Batman in the second season of ‘Static,’ and suddenly night became okay,” Burnett said, to another round of laughter from the audience.
Burnett continued, explaining his initial trepidation about adapting Static for a decidedly younger audience. “I was a little bit nervous about it, because we were juvenilizing this comic book character for six- to eleven-year-olds, and I was hoping [Dwayne] wouldn’t have much trouble with that. We had pleasant talks on the phone, we were trying to find the voice for the show and the script came into Stan (Berkowitz). At that time, we really needed a good script. We needed something that was really solid, ’cause there were a lot of politics going on. Stan came to the door and said, ‘Well, we got the script.’ And I said, “Well, how is it?” And Stan just smiled, and for Stan, that’s like shooting guns in the air,” Burnett explained with a laugh. “It was one of those scripts that you say, ‘This is it!’ It informed the rest of the show, and the rest of the seasons that show was on, and we eventually got Dwayne over here. The thing is, he understood what we were doing, and he did it perfectly. I found out much later that he’d written the script in one day; he held onto it and was tinkering with it, but essentially, he’d written it in one day. He’d held on to it because he didn’t want it to appear like he was giving it to us frivolously. But that was him; you didn’t find out about this stuff until later.”
Timm expanded on that point, saying, “That was one of the amazing things about Dwayne. He was really, really, really good, but he was also really fast. I know that sounds like, ‘Yeah, you’re just hiring him ’cause he’s fast.’ But we could literally give him — I mean, the last season of ‘Justice League,’ we had a four-part story, and me and James Tucker and Dwayne and Stan had beat out that story. Originally, I wanted to have Dwayne write all the scripts, but I thought, ‘No, he’s just gonna burn out. I’m not gonna have him write all four scripts.’ But he was like “No, I’m gonna do em!,’ and he wrote all four scripts in a little over a week, and it was all awesome.”
Miereanu asked if it was true that McDuffie had gotten the gig writing “Justice League” because Paul Dini had been injured, likening the situation to Wally Pipp, the ball player who lost his starting position on the Yankees to Lou Gehrig due to a headache, thus allowing Gehrig to launch his 2130 consecutive game streak.
Timm answered. “Oh my God; I’d forgotten all about that, but I think you’re right. I think it was originally called ‘The Brave and the Bold.’ It was going to be our first big Flash and Green Lantern team-up and Paul was supposed to write it. He had carpal tunnel syndrome and literally could not type the script. We ended up going to Dwayne, because he’d come highly recommended by Alan. I’d never worked with him, but he did a really good job on that script.
Miereanu asked if Timm had a favorite McDuffie “Justice League” script.
“God, a lot of them. I really did like that four-parter that he did; those were all awesome.”
“Anyone else? Does anyone have any favorites?”
Someone mentioned the fourth season episode “Epilogue,” which featured the Justice League of the future. “The interesting thing about ‘Epilogue,'” said Timm, ” is, when we were beating the story out, I kept throwing challenges Dwayne’s way. I had this vague idea in my head that I wanted to start a line of dialogue in the present and use that dialogue to transition into the flashback. I know I’d seen that in some movie or TV show before, and I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. He was kind of like going, ‘Yeah, I kinda know what it is, but I’m not a good enough writer to do that.’ I said, “Dude, of course you are!’ And, sure enough, he figured it out; he just had to sit there and think about it. He did that kind of stuff all the time. He’d say, ‘No, you have to be a really good writer to do that.'”
Miereanu opened a new topic by saying that, “What eventually became “Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths,” (had been) a script that (had) sat around a long time.”
Timm gave the history of the project, saying, “Originally, that was the transition story in between the second season of ‘Justice League” and the first season of ‘Justice League Unlimited.’ The idea was that we were just going to spring ‘Unlimited’ on everybody without any explanation as to why there’s suddenly fifty heroes and seven Watchtowers and a fleet of Javelins and stuff. Eventually, we would come up with some kind of movie that would retroactively explain how we got there. We came this close to getting that movie greenlit, and the home video people got cold feet for some reason and pulled the plug on it. Ultimately that turned out to be great, because I was actually going to focus more on the movie than the series at that point. Once the movie went away, I was like, ‘Okay, good,’ because I could focus more on the series.”
Miereanu asked if the script needed much doctoring when it was finally made into a movie several years later, to which Timm responded, “No, that was the nice thing about it. For years, that script sat around, and we kept talking about it: ‘Oh, what are we gonna do with that script; are we eventually gonna make it?’ And we’d say, ‘Well, it’s really tied into the continuity of the TV show, and we don’t really want to do that with these movies.’ At one point, we were even talking to [DC Comics Senior Vice President — Executive Editor] Dan Didio [who] wanted to do it as a comic book miniseries. Ultimately, we had a hole in our schedule; we had a couple scripts that kind of went south on us for some reason, and we said, ‘Oh, we’ve got this window here, and we have a movie in our lineup for next year. Why don’t we do the “Crisis” thing? We can kind of tweak it here and there to take out the overt references to the old series; we can turn John Stewart into Hal Jordan.’ We hired Dwayne to do another pass on it, and again, he did it in, like, a day — he probably told us it took him a week — but, yeah, it’s very close to the original draft.”
Eugene Son added that McDuffie “got a good chuckle out of that, because he ended up being paid twice,” which provoked laughter and applause.
Glen Murakami mentioned that McDuffie “was fast, [which] makes it sound like he churned it out, but he was always thinking about the story. I mean, he’d be thinking about it for weeks before he’d sit down and write it, and then he’d write it all in one shot. Dwayne really loved TV; he was a huge TV fan. He liked [doing] little things like layering in little character bits; so super subtle so you wouldn’t realize it. That would happen all the time; he’d sneak little character moments into a really big arc. I always felt like Dwayne was messing with me. You could never tell what he was thinking; he was kind of pulling your leg or whatever; sneaking jokes in.”
Murakami continued, “Dwayne and I would talk about obscure bands, or TV shows, or movies, and we’d spend most of the story meeting talking about that, and then it would be, like, ‘Okay, let’s write the show!'”
Son, remembering a “Ben 10” story meeting where he was nervous and pitching an idea, said “suddenly, they’re chuckling, and I didn’t know why they were laughing at me. I guess I wasn’t conveying confidence.”
Murakami demonstrated his impression of Son, “Uh, here’s an idea — eh, it sucks. Whattya think of this? Oh, let’s move to the next one. Aw, it’s another bad idea; you guys have probably already done it.”
Son continued, “After a while, they started messing with me, and started talking about ’70s music. ‘Oh, remember that song?’ ‘Oh, of course I know that song. Only an idiot would not know that song! Eugene?’ ‘Uh, I don’t know that one.’ ‘Wait wait wait wait wait; let’s get Glen’s iPod.’ And they’d keep going. ‘What about this song?’ ‘Oh yeah; this song was huge.’ And I’d just feel like a complete imbecile about music not to know this song. It went on for at least an hour and a half. At one point, they went, ‘Oh, wait! That’s Michael McDonald. I know that’s Michael McDonald!’ And they looked at me and went (snarky tone), ‘He thinks that’s Michael McDonald!’
Glen Murakami added, “You’d walk out of a story meeting having no idea of what he meant.”
Matt Wayne concurred: “We’d talk about anything for three hours, and there’d be this intensive half-hour, where Dwayne would pace, going through all the story, act out the story. I’d be writing at the table, saying, ‘Slow down, slow down,’ writing, writing, writing. Then that evening, I would call Dwayne and go over it again, and make sure I got it all. It went fast when it did go.”
Murakami brought up McDuffie’s wide interests. “We’d talk politics, then we would write the story. Dwayne was really, really smart, and really clever, and you just kind of had to keep up with him. I mean, he could run circles around you.”
Timm expanded. “He was literally brilliant; I mean, he went to college when he was twelve. He majored in physics or something,”
Murakami verified the point. “He had a physics degree, and he would read, what — three books in a day?”
Son remembered, “You know how you have that friend who’s always reading? You know he’s just way smarter than you because he’s constantly reading? Dwayne was that guy. Anytime he was sitting down, he had a book in his hand. His Kindle and his iPad got worn out because he was constantly on them.”
“He was an insomniac, which informed that,” Wayne added.
“He’d always cite chapter and verse of comics,” Timm continued. “He was a real hardcore nerd at the same time. So he was like really, really super smart. I mean, he could discuss politics at a level that you couldn’t even keep up with, or world affairs, or physics, or quantum mechanics.”
“Or sports. Pro wrestling,” Son threw in.
Murakami continued, “Dwayne had all these sort of interests; he did everything. He wrote for [David] Letterman. There were all these things you just didn’t know about him. He was up for [TV sitcom] ‘Who’s the Boss?’ right out of college.”
Son explained, “Right out of college, he got a friend to set him up. He came out to California, and worked a few weeks on developing a sitcom. And they offered him a job, and he said, ‘Naw, I’ll get another chance later; I’m young,’ and he went back to New York.”
“He hated L.A.,” Wayne recalled. “He didn’t get a driver’s license until he was 40. And that was kind of exciting; those first couple years he was driving.”
Timm said, “That was funny. At his memorial, Glen and I had a really fun time going into his office — cause I’d never been in his office at his house — and were just looking at his video shelves, and he had stuff that you would expect, like ‘The Wire’ and ‘Hill Street Blues’ —
Murakami interrupted: “And ‘Banacek!’ He was really excited about ‘Banacek!'”
Timm added, “And ‘Green Acres; he loved ‘Green Acres.” He was really eclectic; you couldn’t really keep up.”
â€¨Murakami added, “He was a big ‘Dr. Who’ fan,” prompting audience applause, once more.
Timm added, “‘Star Trek,’ the original series.”
“But it was like, ‘How does he have time to watch all this,” Murakami wondered.
Timm said, “Well, a lot of them were still in their shrink wrap.”
“But I mean, he could move through stories quickly,” Glen said. “You know, you’re breaking stories; the beats, he would have all in his head. You’re trying to catch up to him. Famous Dwayneism: ‘Let me finish.’ Like, if you’d interrupt him, ‘Can I finish pitching? Can I finish?'”
“And he always knew how it fit into the big design of that episode and of that season,” Wayne added. “He was able to think about that in the background while he was doing it. This is something I actually wanted to say just about Dwayne in general: I think people always underestimated what a great writer he was, because he was willing to be seamless; he was willing to not let his artifice show. I think that took a great deal of craft. Occasionally, I go on the Internet, and see people say, ‘Yeah, it’s a shame about Dwayne McDuffie; he wasn’t the best writer.’ No, he was the best writer, and when you think about [the people] who said he was the best writer, these people up here [on the panel]; Archie Goodwin would always say great stuff about him; Jim Shooter. People who would actually think about how something was structured, and not think about, ‘Oh, that was a great line’ — which he also could do, by the way. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but we have to shout everybody down who doesn’t give him his due.”
Murakami agreed. “I think we under appreciated him because he was so good; he was so fast.”
“He made it look easy, Berganza added. “I have a lot of writers that agonize over every word they’re gonna do, every scene, and to me they always seem like, ‘Okay, that’s it.’ He had a scene in ‘Justice League,’ where Superman was going to confront the Parasite, and the thing that nobody had ever thought of [was], here’s a villain that sucks Superman’s powers, so why is Superman always stopped by him? So, in this scene, Superman comes flying in, grabs the Parasite, just throws him away, and he takes on the rest of the villains. Nobody had ever thought of that.”
Murakami added, “He came up with that cool bit in ‘Fantastic Four,’ where the Invisible Girl is threatening the Wizard, and she makes his chest invisible, and says, ‘I can crush your heart,’ and she shows it to him. That was a pretty cool gag.”
“‘Damage Control’ from Marvel was one of his favorites,” Miereanu said. “His first original series. His second-to-last project was ‘All-Star Superman,’ and he told me that he thought it was the best thing he ever wrote.”
Timm said, “That’s typical Dwayne, to say that’s the best thing he ever wrote, and I think he did a brilliant job of adapting it from the comic. A lot of the stuff is right there from the comic. He knew what to keep and what to massage to make sure that the seams didn’t show; he did a lot of surgery on that story. I think it’s some of his best work. I love ‘All-Star Superman,’ and I think he did a brilliant, brilliant job on it. He broke that story without — I couldn’t even see how you were going to do a miniseries as a single feature. We basically just gave it to him and said, ‘Here, you work it out.’ And he came in with an outline, you read it and you went ‘That’s totally perfect;’ you don’t miss anything that’s not there. He worked all the pieces, and (gave it) a narrative tread it didn’t really have in the original comics And he came up with a twist at the end, that even Grant Morrison himself said, ‘God, I wish I’d thought of that.’ It’s totally true to the comics; it feels organic to the comic.
“But I think my favorite Dwayne stories are the ones that he kind of came up without really being based on anyone else’s work,” Timm continued. “His last project that he did for us, ‘Justice League; Doom,’ is really, really solid. It’s typically Dwayne; it’s very much like ‘Crisis on Two Earths.’ A lot of it is very much like what he did for us on ‘Justice League Unlimited.’ He did great things, like Glen was saying, with character beats that nobody else really would have thought of before, and always, always excellent dialogue. You could always rely on him to just nail every character’s voice.”
Berganza concurred, “You could always read it out loud. It was real dialogue. There was never any ‘Great Rao,’ or anything weird like that.”
â€¨Murakami added, “He would tailor the dialogue to the actor. During a recording session, if there were ‘-isms] the actors were bringing to it, he would try to enhance that or change that. But he was always editing the dialogue, all through the recording, trying to make it better. He was very conscious of that.”
Berganza concluded, “He always wrote dialogue that was to the point. He would never throw words in to have a big caption. It was just very direct.”
Miereanu asked if anyone had another favorite story McDuffie had written.
After a long, thoughtful pause from the panel, Timm said, “There was just so much of it. It’s really hard to narrow it down.”
Miereanu countered, “Well then; let me go the other way. What was his ability to capture the essence of humanity in each character? Was that essential to his writing?”
Timm came back, “I wouldn’t put it that way, and this is not even answering your question; I’m going to go off on a completely other tangent. The first thing he wrote for us was that one script Dini had to back out of. I remember being really, really impressed by the dialogue and by his command of pseudo-science; because superhero physics don’t really work like real physics. But he would be able to explain these quasi-bullshit pseudo-science things in a way that made it sound convincing. ‘It actually sounds real. I don’t know if that physics of that really work, but it sounds really good.'”
Wayne elaborated, “He was my best friend, but sometimes he was kind of playing with me; speaking of convincing you with pseudo-science. When I was like 23, Dwayne convinced me it takes less energy to bring cold water to a boil than hot water. He was a physics student, and he explained it to me very carefully. He said, ‘No, you’re looking at it wrong. You see, it needs to change state, and that takes extra energy,’ and it was really complete nonsense. It was about ten years later that I said, ‘You know, you told me that, and I’m pretty sure that’s not true,’ and he laughed.”
Timm added, “He used to get really mad when he would do something that was scientifically accurate, but didn’t seem scientifically accurate, and the fans would bitch about it. In one episode, where the Flash was on a space station, he got jettisoned out into space and was floating out in space for, I don’t remember, about thirty seconds or a minute, and Green Lantern has to go out and save him. And the fans were like, ‘Oh, you would die instantly in space! Or you would freeze! Or you would puff up and blow up and everything!’ We were like, ‘Don’t ever argue that stuff with Dwayne; cause Dwayne knows it.’ I mean, he literally had it all worked out. ‘I know that doesn’t seem believable, but the human body can stand the vacuum of space for this amount of time without any ill effects, and I’ve worked it all out.’ And we were like, “… Okay.’ I don’t think that was one of the things he was pulling on Matt.”
At this point, Murakami revealed that McDuffie had wanted to be an astronaut, with TImm adding, “Yeah, Jim Lovell was one of his heroes.”
Miereanu asked if there had been an astronaut script anywhere that he’d written.
Murakami said he and McDuffie had done one for “Ben 10.” “How Max was an astronaut, but Dwayne wrote that origin story.”
Miereanu changed topics again, focusing more on aspects of the late writer’s life friends and fans have discovered since he passed away. “We were talking about the essence; the little things that we’ve learned. I know Dwayne had been contacted and asked to be part of the Spencer Trask lecture series at Princeton this coming fall. Usually Nobel laureates get drafted for this, along with John Waters and Patti Smith. He was supposed to be there. What are the other little nuances you’ve learned since he’s been gone? What are the other things these folks don’t know that they’d like to?”
Wayne said, simply, McDuffie had invented superhero trading cards. “The Marvel Series One came about because he pressured Bob Budiansky to do it when he was in Special Projects at Marvel. I guess that was about ’87 or something?”
Timm asked, “So he started the whole trading card fad?”
Wayne verified, “He started that, yeah,” which drew applause from the audience. “He was thinking about entire experience of superheroes, and what will fit into that Marvel can make zillions of dollars on?”
“He also told us he wrote tons of science fiction stories under pseudonyms,” Timm contributed.
Wayne replied, “Actually, I’ve been trying to find some of them. I had a couple of the pulps he wrote, but I don’t know where they are. He started selling short stories when he was, like, 17 or 18. The one that I know for a fact he wrote was [for] John Morressy, who, as he got older, let the publisher hire people for a couple thousand dollars to write under his name. He wrote something called ‘The Mansions of Space.'”
Timm said he had found a copy of it, but was afraid to read it. “The premise sounds weird.”
Wayne agreed. “There’s a lot of religious stuff in there, and I know he was paid some ungodly low fee for that. I also remember walking around Ann Arbor with him, and he would go into the science fiction section of the bookstores, and say, ‘Oh, look; John Morressy’s got a new book out.’ I didn’t express any interest at all until he said, ‘No, I wrote it!'” Wayne laughed.
“He loved the Black Panther and he hated Luke Cage,” Timme revealed. “Which surprised me, but then he explained why. It totally made sense, but I still liked Luke Cage. It was because (Dwayne) was very proprietary about the way black characters are portrayed in comics, and he felt that Luke Cage was a white guy’s idea of what black people are, and that it was, frankly, derivative of the blacksploitation movies. As much as he hated the original Luke Cage, he really, really, really hatred the revamped Luke Cage. In the early 2000s, Marvel did a MAX version of Luke Cage, and he had the gold teeth and stuff. I remember being with him in a comic book store, and he picked up that comic and said, “Oh, so they’re trying to get me to not buy this comic.”
Wayne said, “We could go on and one about what he hated.”
“The Luke Cage thing reminds me of an interview where he was explaining the origin of Luke Cage’s catch phrase ‘Sweet Christmas!,'” Son said. “I watched this video because it was recorded in his living room. The origin of ‘Sweet Christmas!’ was when Archie Goodwin was writing ‘Luke Cage’ and wanted it to sound authentic; to sound like a black man. So he went to the bookstore, and he found a series of novels that were written by a mystery writer from Harlem…”
“Chester Himes,” Wayne added.
“So he said, ‘These have black characters; perfect! I’m going to read these novels, written by a black author about a black character in Harlem. I’ll be able to give Luke Cage dialogue that sounds more authentic.’ What Archie Goodwin didn’t know, was that Himes was messing with people. He was writing (sarcastic tone) ‘What black people talk like,’ but the black audience would know, ‘Black people don’t talk like that!’ So he would (write) things like ‘Sweet Christmas,” and this would be funny to his black audience. Archie Goodwin didn’t know this, so that’s how it came about. The way Dwayne explained it, ‘If you want to learn more about an authentic Chinese family, you might read Amy Tan, but if Amy Tan is trying to mess with you, you won’t know!’ I just love the idea of Amy Tan messing with somebody.”
“What was funny in comics [was], everybody started introducing more ethnic things, ’cause everybody got tired of the all-white casts, but people started accusing Dwayne of doing this,” Berganza said. “That he was using John Stewart instead of Hal Jordan. It was actually [my doing]. I said, ‘You had John Stewart and you were doing such great things with him; we need him on the team.’ It wasn’t Dwayne at all. But we’d get on a panel and he’d totally own it and mess with the fans, like he couldn’t even remember Hal’s name. ‘What? Hal Jerdin? Hal Gordon?”
Son, imitating McDuffie, added “I have nothing against Hal Gordon. I’m a big Hal Gordon fan.”
Miereanu brought up McDuffie’s love of Aquaman and asked the panel if there were any stories about that aspect of his life.
Timm replied with a simple “No,” prompting laughter once more.
Miereanu moved on to tell his own “little anecdote” about McDuffie. “We did the ‘Crisis on Two Earths’ premiere in New York at the Paley Center. It was great. We had James Woods, Andrea Romano and Dwayne onstage to do the panel afterwards. During it, when I said, ‘Who’s your favorite character? Who would you really like to do,’ he once again brought up Aquaman and how much he’d love to do that. Afterwards, we were at dinner, and in walks James Cameron. Now, if you watch ‘Entourage,’ you know James Cameron directed ‘Aquaman,’ and in the mythos of that, James Woods played the villain in ‘Aquaman.’ It was just this beautiful moment of James Cameron walking into the bar/restaurant, and — I kid you not — Jimmy Woods just elevated out of his seat, sprinted across, grabbed James Cameron, gave him a big hug, ‘Jimmy, how ya doin’? Come on come on come on, you gotta meet my friend!’ And he turned to James Cameron and he said, ‘James Cameron, director of “Aquaman;” Dwayne McDuffie, writer of “Aquaman!”‘ I swear, Dwayne, for once, was speechless.”
“I’ve got one more thing I wanted to mention, Wayne said. “One of the many things Dwayne taught me as a writer, and would tell anybody who asked about it, was that action is character; that the character will tell you they are by what they do, and what they say is often not reliable. And that is something that he made sure of in his work, and also in his life. He believed that what you do matters, and that’s the test of your character, and that’s something that we need more of.”
Son contributed, “In the same way, one of the things that I learned as a writer from Dwayne — we would bond over talking about Woody Allen, ’cause we were both huge Woody Allen fans. Somebody mentioned, ‘So how do a black guy from Michigan and a Korean from California become huge Woody Allen fans? You guys sit there and do your favorite lines, and crack each other up.’ And Dwayne explained, ‘What it is, is that when somebody it true to themselves and their experience, then people who don’t even share that experience can see the truth and draw out what they can see in it and can relate to that experience. So, even though Woody Allen’s life and his upbringing is nothing like mine, he was true to himself, and from that you can see elements of yourself. He mentioned other people, like Chris Rock or Amy Tan. If you talk about your experience and you’re true to yourself and your voice — especially as a writer and storyteller — then other people, despite not being Korean, will see what you’re talking about; what you’ve experienced, and what you’ve lived through, and they’ll see themselves in you. That was something I took from Dwayne.”
“[Dwayne’s death] is still fresh for all of us,” Miereanu said. “It’s recent. Is there any way for any of you to think about what we’ll be thinking about Dwayne ten years from now? About the impact he had on the industry, or the young writers of today?”
Burnett responded, “I think we’ll all go back to Milestone, and those great comics that were created back then, and they will be rediscovered, again and again.”
Berganza agreed. “I think the characters continue to live on and on. If nothing else, he reminded us that you see a lot of white guys in capes in comics.”
“‘Static Shock,’ definitely,” Son said. “The kids who grew up watching ‘Static Shock’ on Saturday morning are adults now, and not only having children of their own, but jumping into the entertainment industry. We’re meeting them, writers and creative people, and in the next few years, you’re going to start hearing from them because they’re creating really great stuff. You talk to them, and they can tell you everything about ‘Static Shock.'”
Miereanu added, “He’s gone, but he’s not finished giving yet.” Turning to Berganza, he said, “I know we’ve got ‘Static Shock Special #1’ being released by DC Comics.”
Berganza confirmed, “We have that coming. There’ll be a ‘Static Shock’ book, and we also have ‘Xombi.’ It all continues.”
With that, Miereanu asked if anyone in the audience had any questions.
The first fan asked, “I was a huge fan of the Milestone line, and DC absorbed it and is slowly starting to put stuff out. Are there any plans to bring out more of them, like ‘Icon,’ or ‘Hardware,’ or other team books; anything like that?”
Berganza replied, “I think that’s all in discussion. Like anything, it depends on sales. But the characters are great. There’s a lot of good stuff there.”
The next fan asked, “Will we ever see a Milestone movie, like ‘Icon’ or ‘Hardware?’ Whether it’s animated first, then live-action. Anything. That would be amazing.”
Timm answered, “Of all the Milestone characters, the one who keeps coming up the most, surprisingly or not, is Hardware. Hardware’s been up for development several times. They came this close to getting a green light on it just a couple years ago. So, there’s definitely a possibility; any of those characters could make the transition into film.”
Burnett concurred. “‘Blood Syndicate’ was just a phenomenal book. It went places that just dropped your jaw.”
â€¨The next fan asked if it was McDuffie’s idea to use the Jason Rusch version of Firestorm in “Crisis on Two Earths.” Timm replied that he didn’t recall, but that it probably would have been.
Another fan wanted to know what had happened to the “Road to Hell” project that McDuffie had been working on with Matt Wayne.
Wayne told him, “Well, you didn’t miss it. [Dwayne’s] wife and I have talked about maybe doing something with that sometime. But I think that just means the process is just beginning. I hope it happens.”
Miereanu mentioned that everyone on the panel had spent time with McDuffie’s widow, Charlotte. Wayne added that he, Eugene and Glen “have been in close contact with Charlotte, and that she’s not ready to come and do this sort of thing yet, but she wants to let you know how much she appreciates it, and thanks you for your thoughts and prayers,” a remark which resulted in resounding applause.
The next audience member said she’d watched McDuffie’s interviews on the “Justice League” DVDs, and that his not believing in past lives struck her as funny. Berganza clarified, “It was the Hawkman reincarnation stuff. He just couldn’t wrap his head around that. He believed more in the alien stuff!”
Writer/producer Stan Berkowitz said from the audience: “In regard to that last question, in the episode ‘The Terror Beyond,’ we established that the Thangarians are aliens and then at the very end of the episode, the atheist has to cope with the death of a friend. I thought, ‘Wow, he just took it one step beyond what most other writers would have done.’ I worked on another show with him about three years after that, about the Christian resurrection. So he took both sides.”
A fan wanted to know if McDuffie had ever offered an opinion on Black Lightning, given his dislike for African-American characters whose name was prefixed with “black.”
Berganza said, “By that point, he wasn’t wearing the afro wig, so I think that helped a lot. He took more of a shine to Vixen, ’cause Black Lightning was still a case of a white guy writing a black guy, even though the character grew. But with Vixen, there was more there, and he got into the mythology; there was just more to do there, so he concentrated the stories that way.”
The next woman said she’d grown up watching the “Static Shock” cartoon on the WB, and was surprised that it starred a black superhero that she could relate to, since she’d grown up with an “X-Men” show that had primarily white characters. She wanted to know if there was going to be a “Static Shock” movie, and more generally, she wanted the panel to do another revamp of the Justice League, since there’s “nothing interesting to watch on TV,” a comment that resulted in a huge audience laugh and applause.
Timm told her “There’s nothing currently planned for ‘Static Shock’ in the movies that I know of, and the same thing with ‘Justice League.’ Unfortunately, I’m doing all these other projects.”
The next fan said he’d “grown up reading Milestone, and was really glad, ’cause they were reflections of me. They had people in the African American community; people in the Latino community; people in the Asian community, and I was really glad to see that. Another thing was that they tackled today’s issues; hard issues like teenage pregnancy, rape and situations like that. They were really well written, and it was great to read that.”
Wayne mentioned, “When Dwayne wrote that ‘Death Wish’ origin scene (which dealt with rape of the character’s family), he had been reading a lot of Andrew Vachss. It was not what you normally see in a comic.”
The questioner agreed, saying he didn’t think it could pass the Comic Code Authority.
Wayne replied, “Well, early on, he was very, very conscious [that] ‘we need to establish what the boundaries are now; that they’re way out there.’ He wanted to really make sure that it was clear these were very different. That you could sometimes go there with that sort of stuff.”
The next woman asked after McDuffie’s “Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers” pitch in response to certain issues.
Miereanu told her “It’s on the Internet. There are copies of it all over the place. Marvel — because Marvel was kind of trying to imagine what would be contemporary — had a lot of teen black superheroes on skateboards, like Night Thrasher. So Dwayne wrote this memo, which was kind of Swiftian. It was supposedly this pitch for this new book called ‘Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers.’ ‘They’re young! They’re black! They’re all on skateboards!’ And at the top, it said, ‘Have I made my point?'”
Son added, “That was how funny and how biting Dwayne could be. I asked him about that once, and he said, ‘Yeah, it was no big deal.’ Then we started discussing what if the Ninja Turtles were named after really bad artists, instead of really great ones? And we came up with, like, Christo the Ninja Turtle and Thomas Kincaid the Ninja Turtle. He just made us laugh. He was one of the funniest people I ever knew.”
Wayne said, “I don’t think he ever got to scratch that itch as much as he wanted to, ’cause he was very funny, and he could be funny all day.”
Murakami interjected, “At your expense.”
Wayne agreed, “But sometimes, it was somebody else!”
The next fan wanted to know, now that McDuffie is gone, what was going to happen with the DC’s minority characters.
Berganza answered that McDuffie had “set up a legacy that’s continuing. If you look at it now, Blue Beetle is now a Hispanic kid; we have Vixen. I guess the one thing that hated was the word “black” before a hero’s name, and I think that’s the legacy. I mean, we’ve got Cyborg becoming a bigger deal, we have Firestorm. Again, there’s no ‘Black Firestorm’ or ‘Black Cyborg.’ These are heroes first, people. And I think that’s the thing he stressed more than anything.”
Wayne asked, “More to the point of diversity, what’s it going to be like for black writers in comics? [Dwayne] was fond of saying, when he started, there were two black writers in comics: him and [Jim] Owsley, or Priest, and later, he would say, ‘There’s still just two.’ I don’t know if there are any right now.”
Berganza said he was “working at least with one at least: Eric Wallace,” who was in the audience.
Wayne replied, “Well, yeah, but I still think that it’s something — comics have not — and maybe it’s because it’s a very small industry; insular, and it’s the same group of people for years and years and years. Breaking into comics is tougher than breaking into animation. I think, as much as we remember Dwayne for what he stood for, we also need to act on that, and to think about ways we might be able to get more minority representation in comics and other media — and the characters. Dwayne’s not around to fix them anymore.”
Timm agreed, “Yeah, we have to pay more attention.”
The next fan said, “You’ve brought up how Dwayne had an opinion about how Luke Cage was brought over to the Marvel MAX line? Has anyone ever thought about bringing the Milestone properties to the Vertigo line? Or did he have any opinion on that; a worst-case scenario, perhaps?”
Timm answered, saying “DC is in the middle of moving some of the more mainstreamish characters like Swamp Thing into the DC Universe, so I would doubt if they would be interested in moving the Milestone characters.”
Berganza concurred that Vertigo was “doing its own thing right now, so they wouldn’t do that.”
Wayne opined, “Certainly, ‘Xombi’ has more of a Vertigo feel to it. Something I wanted to mention is, Dwayne absolutely adored the new ‘Xombi’ comic. He didn’t get to see the finished #2, but he saw the pencils and inks to #1. I think he saw the cover, and he was just over the moon about it.”
The next fan said the first thing that made him realize who McDuffie was was “Damage Control.” “You see him just lampoon the industry and the entire superhero genre. You said he was such a funny person. Did he get a chance to do more things in that vein?”
Murakami answered the question by going on a tangent, asking about McDuffie’s work on “SCTV.”
Wayne confirmed that McDuffie had pitched jokes for the ’80s comedy show. “He wrote a couple of the skits that nobody else wanted to write. Like the musical guests, and stuff like that.”
Murakami remembered that he’d written the “Fishin’ Musician” sketches.
The next questioner wanted to know if McDuffie had any opinions on characters such as Green Lantern, the Kingpin or Nick Fury, who’d had their races changed.
Wayne answered, “I think in general, he liked the idea that, to a lot of kids, Green Lantern was black, [even though] we’ve gone another direction, now.”
The last questioner wanted to know if there were any plans for new collections of McDuffie’s work.
“There should be. I don’t know if there are,” TImm said before Berganza revealed, “There’s some stuff in the works.” He then asked Miereanu if there were any plans to release collections of his animated work. Miereanu replied that McDuffie had passed in February, and “everybody still doesn’t want to cross any bridges that way. There’s a level of respect and commercialism. I’m sure it’ll be considered at one point or another.”
Timm asked if “Static” had ever been collected in season sets.” The answer was “no,” but Timm mentioned that McDuffie had been excited because he’d finally gotten a “Static” action figure, which let Miereanu reveal that there is some current consideration for a “Static” compilation being released. “They’re thinking about it, so write letters; send emails!”
Wayne finished the answer by saying, “One thing that you might not know, there’s a collection of Marvel superhero women; it’s some hardbound thing that just came out this year. Dwayne has like 100 pages in it. It’s his ‘Captain Marvel’ comics reprinted, and it’s got ‘She-Hulk.’ I don’t know what else, but that’s 100 pages right there.”
With that, Miereanu thanked the audience for coming, and all involved — fans and pros — gave McDuffie a huge round of thankful applause.
All photos by Caitlin Holland