Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dwayne McDuffie

Dwayne McDuffie died suddenly this month, news that all but struck me between my eyes. Not yet 50, he helped diversify both the comics industry and its stories, an accomplishment which can't be understated, but which I wasn't aware of until his passing. Even without knowing that, however, what little of his work I'd read or seen meant a lot to me, for the simple fact that he was a great writer.

He was in the crew responsible for one of the greatest long-form narratives that I've had the benefit of witnessing -- the run of episodes of Justice League Unlimited concerning the Cadmus arc, on which he received the lion's share of writing credit and where he managed the ever elusive quality of epic scope that expands to fill universes with all the possibility so often merely promised by superhero stories, but now given flesh and tone and wit and humanistic affection for things that are fundamentally immortal and alien. Space opera at its best, simultaneously mature in its emotional and structural execution and child-like in its awe and wonder, the Cadmus arc, I expect, stands the test of time and shifting tastes; I've been meaning for some time to revisit it, and now when I do, the experience will have an added dimension of wistfulness.

I met him a few times, all during a weekend in 2007 at WonderCon, and he was always patient and gracious even in the face of my excessive fannishness. My favorite encounter was when I was bindiving at one booth that was holding a 50% sale of trade paperbacks, at which I was looking to pick up some Marvel Essentials. Dwayne was there, too, stocking up on a bunch of Essential Ant-Man, and while I was considering a seminal Fantastic Four volume, he pointed out that I was going to love it, though the following volume contained what was in his estimation the best FF stories ever. Maybe he offered this advice because I told him how much I loved JLU and how his story in a Fantastic Four Special had uncommonly great dialogue, and had him autograph the FF Special and a JLU boxset that I had with me.

(The other signature belongs to Bruce Timm.) Whatever the case, he was happy to take the time for my profuse thanks... and even still, I'm now wracked by the concern that I never told him just how much JLU meant to me.

I don't want to end on a note of loss, especially since there's so much of his work that I'd never heard of before and now feel obliged to track down, though I expect it won't feel like an obligation when I'm reading his stories. Instead, I'll end with a moment that demonstrated his lovely humor: he was on a panel about comics guys who were also in the animation industry, and an audience member asked them how they broke in, particularly what their academic backgrounds were. Down the line the first three guys said, "Writing." "Writing." "English." And when his turn came, Dwayne nailed the punchline: "Physics."

The guy was brilliant, funny, compassionate, and will be missed.

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