Dwayne McDuffie

on June 8, 2015

The late and great Dwayne McDuffie was one of the primary writers of the hit cartoon show Justice League, and was both the main writer and a producer of its direct sequel, Justice League Unlimited. Those shows are–up to the point of this writing–Green Lantern John Stewart’s biggest claims to fame. McDuffie sported an impressive filmography that includes numerous Ben 10 series, Teen Titans, Static Shock, and various other DC Comics related projects.

Though McDuffie was a prolific television writer and producer, he also made huge waves as a comic book writer and editor. One of the achievements Dwayne McDuffie is most known for was being a founder of the minority owned and operated comic book company Milestone Media, from which the famous superhero Static emerged. McDuffie was well aware of the rather poor treatment many heroes of color received in the White dominated comic book scene and set out to improve the situation through Milestone.

On the subject of the treatment of non-White characters in comics, McDuffie commented on John Stewart’s lowest moment; when the Green Lantern failed to save the planet Xanshi, due to a bout of highly uncharacteristic arrogance in the 1988 story, Cosmic Odyssey, courtesy of Toonzone.Net:

“[“In Blackest Night”] was based on an old seventies comic. In both the comic and the show—as opposed to Cosmic Odyssey [(1988)], [where] Green Lantern was an arrogant fuck-up—he was tricked into believing he did something wrong and honorably agreed to take his punishment. […] I’d never punk out John Stewart like [they did in Cosmic Odyssey]. I’m still mad.”

There’s a misconception that appears from time to time that credits Dwayne McDuffie with John Stewart’s inclusion in the cast of Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. Though McDuffie played a large part in John Stewart’s success on those shows, he was clear in stating that John was there because producer Bruce Timm specifically wanted him there. He credits Timm as being one of the people in entertainment who actually genuinely cares about diversity instead of holding on to outdated and alienating ideals from previous generations. From Toonzone.Net:

Dwayne McDuffie is one of the main individuals responsible for endearing Green Lantern John Stewart in the hearts of millions of people.

“TZN: Now, a more serious question – do we have a more open society for minorities in heroic roles, especially in animation, still seen by so many as a family affair or just for kids? And how about in villainous roles?

DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: I don’t think we have a more open society. I think that when it happens, it happens because somebody in the production cares about it. John Stewart is Green Lantern because Bruce Timm wanted John Stewart to be Green Lantern. If Bruce Timm wasn’t there, [Stewart] wouldn’t have been there.

TZN: Would’ve been Kyle Rayner.

DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: Would’ve been Kyle or Hal, and everybody would have been happy to have Justice League be five white guys. And Wonder Woman as the secretary, which was her traditional role in the comics! She used to actually take the minutes…

TZN: [groan]

DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: And people are like, “I want the traditional Justice League!” No, you don’t. You don’t!

TZN: Not if you’re progressive.

DWAYNE MCDUFFIE: Not even progressive! You don’t want to see Wonder Woman sitting there, taking notes while Green Arrow goes after somebody when she could break Green Arrow in half! You have to have people there [in production] who care and want to see it happen, or it wouldn’t happen. I think it’s important that people get a chance to identify with the other [race]. Minority kids in our culture have always been able to identify with people of other races in heroic roles. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be James Bond, I wanted to be Spider-Man. I’m perfectly used to putting myself in that head. White kids don’t have that opportunity that much. Which is why when I go to San Diego [CCI] and I see white kids dressed as Static or white kids dressed as (clearly) John Stewart Green Lantern, I’m like, “We’re really getting somewhere, ’cause this is a [kid] who’s going to be less inclined to make assumptions about someone based on the color of their skin.” So that’s a win.”

McDuffie’s sentiments explain why DC Comics and Warner Bros. completely failed to capitalize on the success of Green Lantern John Stewart on television, and decided to shunt him off to the side in favor of the numerous White iterations. Certain industry professionals clearly did not care for or about the progressive leaps that were made by Timm, McDuffie, and others working on the Justice League cartoons, and made an effort to put things back to the White status quo.

However, what McDuffie and his colleagues did with John Stewart on television resonated so strongly with millions, that when large audiences were confronted with another Green Lantern in the 2011 Green Lantern film, many people were left dissatisfied and confused, wondering why the character they were seeing on the screen was White. When DC Comics attempted to kill John Stewart in 2013, there was a massive outrage with large numbers of people of various backgrounds proclaiming John Stewart to be their Green Lantern. Indeed, the whole reason this very site is here is the brilliant showcase John Stewart received on television. That is what initially got me interested in both John Stewart and Green Lantern. McDuffie greatly contributed to making John Stewart so iconic in the Green Lantern role, that many people won’t accept any other character in that role.

John Stewart was clearly a very important character to McDuffie. One of the most significant things he contributed to the tapestry of John Stewart was giving the Green Lantern a son with fellow Leaguer Hawkgirl. This is especially interesting because this character, Warhawk, existed before there was ever a relationship shown between Green Lantern and Hawkgirl. Warhawk, also known as Rex Stewart, made his debut on the Batman Beyond episode “The Call.” In a very clever twist, McDuffie stunned audiences with the two part Justice League Unlimited episodes “The Once And Future Thing,” which revealed Warhawk to be the future son of Green Lantern and Hawkgirl. On the subject, Mcduffie says (courtesy of Toonzone.Net):

“Batman trapped Chronos in a time loop before he went back to the Watchtower. That means in the corrected timeline, Wonder Woman never went to the future, the future Justice League never met Chronos, Static and Batman (Beyond) never died, the Jokerz were never augmented, and the Metrotower and its inhabitants, including Superman, were never killed.

As Warhawk was born to Shayera Hol and John Stewart before Chronos ever polluted the timestream, that future is intact.”

Dwayne McDuffie with his wife and fellow writer, Charlotte Fullerton.

McDuffie was adamant about writing the main characters as believable people viewers could easily empathize with, and when he came on as a regular writer in season two of Justice League, he greatly fleshed out the Leaguers’ personalities and relationship dynamics. They bickered, loved, confided in each other, they clashed, and they laughed, each in their own special ways. Dwayne McDuffie was one of the writers of the landmark episode “Wild Cards,” in which Green Lantern and Hawkgirl finally confess their deep feelings for each other in a daring and dramatic scene. McDuffie actually mentioned that Hawkgirl was his favorite character on the show to write.

Dwayne McDuffie did have the opportunity to write John Stewart in comics when he took over the writing duties on DC Comics’ Justice League of America title in 2007. However, he didn’t have a very positive time working on that series, as he was frequently stymied by editorial mandates.

Sadly, Dwayne McDuffie passed on in 2011 at the young age of 49. He is survived by his wife and fellow television writer, Charlotte Fullerton. The loss of Dwayne McDuffie is very tragic. As he said, the role of minority characters won’t advance unless there are people in production, like Bruce Timm and Dwayne McDuffie, who actually care to advance them, and when dealing with age old comic book properties, there is always a tendency some have to look back to the past and attempt to make things as they were long ago for the sake of tradition and nostalgia, even when those traditions completely alienate whole demographics of people.

Beyond Dwayne McDuffie’s great offerings toward advancing PoC characters, he was just an all around brilliant writer, no matter what character he wrote. Dwayne McDuffie is certainly missed, but his great accomplishments will never be forgotten, and his huge role in cementing John Stewart as the Green Lantern of a whole generation of people stands among his tallest accolades.

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