Comic Legends: How Dwayne McDuffie Saved Captain America From Racism

Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the six hundred and eighty-fourth installment where we examine comic book legends and whether they are true or false.

As always, there will be three different posts for each legend this week!

NOTE: I noticed that the the CSBG Twitter page was nearing 10,000 followers. If we hit 10,050 followers on the the CSBG Twitter page then I'll do a BONUS edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed during the week that we hit 10,050. So three more legends! Sounds like a great deal, right?


Mark Gruenwald learned of the offensive nature of naming an African-American character "Bucky" from a fan letter.


Turns Out to Be False

Over a DECADE ago (I have been writing this column way too long), I did a legend about how Mark Gruenwald had to change the name of a character in his Captain America run because he did not realize that the name that he used was very close to a slur against African-American men. At the time, I wrote that I did not know exactly who tipped Gruenwald off, whether it was someone else at Marvel or a letter writer.

In a recent Knowledge Waits, I decided to re-visit the story, to go into further depth, along with what seemed to be the fan letter that tipped Gruenwald off.

The issue, of course, was that the new Captain America (who replaced Steve Rogers during one of those period where Steve quit being Cap, which seems to be every other week), had his own Bucky, a former friend of his, Lemar Hoskins!

The problem with that is that, well, first of all, you have a grown black man dressed like a white kid, but also that "buck" is a slur against black people.

In Cap #340, they printed a letter about it

and an issue later, Gruenwald addressed the criticisms in the story and fixed it by giving Bucky a new codename and costume, calling him Battlestar...

However, as it turned out, the letter was NOT how Gruenwald found out about it. Former Marvel Editor Gregory Wright (who actually years later would write Battlestar for a number of years as part of Wright's long run on Silver Sable and the Wild Pack) wrote to me to tell me about Dwayne McDuffie's role in the whole situation.

Here's Gregory...

"My friend, coworker, and cowriter on DEATHLOK, Dwayne McDuffue was the one who clued Mark Gruenwald in about the racist term "BUCKY" Dwayne came to me and was shocked to read the story and was upset, because he thought maybe Mark was a bit racist. Mark was highly intelligent, and Dwayne could not imagine that Mark wouldn't know that Bucky would be offensive to call a black man. I had never heard the term used in a racist way so I was certain Mark hadn't either. With much nudging on my part I, I urged Dwayne to tell Mark. Dwayne was hesitant...figuring it would be the end of his career. But I was certain Mark would want to know. So I brought Dwayne into our office and had him tell Mark about the term. Mark was horrified and wanted to now how he might rectify this. He and Dwayne sat down and figured out a way to correct the error. This cemented Dwayne's reputation with Mark, who used his as a touchstone, and gave him work anytime he could. Mark always had tremendous respect for Dwayne. Mark was also man enough to own up in print to his mistake. Funny enough, on the page where the new Captain America and Battlestar are introduced...the artist, Kieron Dwyer included a caricature of ME saying "What a regular guy!""

Awesome story, Gregory! You can see him in the above page from #341. Gregory also noted how he asked Gruenwald for permission to use Battlestar in Silver Sable later on and Gruenwald approved the use (and, not for nothing, but I think Battlestar was used really well in the series).

It's great to hear all of these cool stories about Dwayne McDuffie, but it still is such a tragedy that we don't have him around to share these stories himself. Dwayne was always really helpful with Legends information over the years. His is such a loss for the entire comic book industry. So is Mark Gruenwald's tragic passing over 20 years ago.

Thanks again to Gregory for the information!

Check out some legends from Legends Revealed:

Check back Saturday for part 2 of this week's legends!

And remember, if you have a legend that you're curious about, drop me a line at either brianc@cbr.com or cronb01@aol.com!

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