In many ways the early 90’s could be considered a milestone in comics. It saw the rise of the “anti” hero, the formation of Image, and ushered in major inroads in the diversification of comics and the media in general. This turning point in the medium could arguably be the publishing of Milestone Media’s line of comics through DC comics. The co-founder of Milestone Media, Dwayne McDuffie passed away on February 22, 2011 at the age of 49. With his passing a void has been left in the medium of comics and its offspring.
In many ways Milestone Media broke the mold as to how characters of other races and ethnicities were portrayed in comics. Before then, most characters that were of other ethnicities were usually relegated to the background as B or C grade characters or “black” knock offs of established characters (Black Goliath, the black Captain Marvell, Black Lightening, etc.) The only real exceptions to that rule were Spawn, the Black Panther and Power Man/Cage (arguably Cage is a B character, yet he had his own book on two separate occasions as the 90’s rolled in). DC’s deal to publish Milestone’s books was a risky move on their part, but it brought a much needed diversification to the world of comics not just on color lines, but also on gender, and social lines as well. From the agreement, the world was exposed to the likes of Icon (think Superman but his pod was found by slaves in the 1800s), Hardware (think Iron Man only smarted), Blood Syndicate (think the Bloods or Crips with superpowers), and the most famous one of all, Virgil Hawkins aka Static. The deep portrayal of the characters and stories of the fictional Dakota City served as a template for how minority characters and stories have been portrayed within the comic medium since.
His impact on comics is not just limited to his work with Milestone; Mr. McDuffie wrote stories for some of the most well know titles and characters in history including Superman, Fantastic Four, and Justice League of America. Yet his impact is most visible and yet more shrouded within another medium, that of television and film. McDuffie also penned several animated features, including the just-released “All-Star Superman” as well as “Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths” and was the driving force behind the animated TV series’ “Static Shock”, “Justice League Unlimited”, “Ben 10: Alien Force.”
Personally I never met Mr. McDuffie, though I did have the pleasure of conversing with him about a revival of Milestone comics a few years ago on a message board. As a young inner city youth in the early 90’s, Milestone Media’s comics were like a breath of fresh air to me. I consumed the standards like X-Men and Spider Man, but Dakota was my hood. The characters faced problems that were very much the same ones that were being faced by me and those of my neighborhood and generation as a whole. In many ways Milestone brought a needed sense of reality to an era that was dominated by big guns and bigger shoulder pads.
Mr. McDuffie’s voice is one that has transmitted the tone of diversity and quality across various mediums. Losing him is not just a loss for the world of comics, it’s a loss for all of us who desire great stories no mater the race, creed, or orientation of those involved. Dwayne McDuffie is an Icon of the comics industry. Thankfully his creations and vision are available for anyone to discover, thus his legacy will never be extinguished.