Mainstream comic book companies long denied having a diversity problem. Dwayne McDuffie made them take notice.
Dwayne McDuffie worked in an industry that has a serious equal representation problem compounded by a denial of that problem. Dwayne McDuffie was a comic book creator.
His most notable contribution to comic books is Static Shock. Static is a black high school kid who can control electricity. Part of the brilliance of Static Shock is that he’s pretty average in terms of comic book heroes. His storylines are pretty standard. His supporting cast falls along pretty standard lines; he has a hyper-intelligent best friend and an unrequited love interest. Therein lies the greatness of Static Shock; he’s black, and that’s completely normal. The character was the flagship launch of McDuffie’s company, Milestone Media.
McDuffie explained his reasoning behind Milestone Media by saying,
“If you do a black character or a female character or an Asian character, then they aren’t just that character. They represent that race or that sex, and they can’t be interesting because everything they do has to represent an entire block of people. You know, Superman isn’t all white people and neither is Lex Luthor. We knew we had to present a range of characters within each ethnic group, which means that we couldn’t do just one book. We had to do a series of books and we had to present a view of the world that’s wider than the world we’ve seen before.”
Personally, my favorite Milestone Media character is Icon. Icon is an alien that crash-landed on earth in the middle of a field. Sound familiar? Icon, however, was found by a slave in the American South. He assumed a form similar to the slave, so the character navigates the world as a black superhero. The part that strikes me the most is not Icon’s superheroism; instead, I’m struck by his alter-ego. His alter-ego is a super-intelligent lawyer with a very educated way of speaking. Due to his speech and mannerisms, other black characters accuse him of being a “sell-out” or “acting white”.
In those two characters alone, McDuffie and the team at Milestone captured so much of the black experience from different angles. They brought into full color the idea that there is no one proper way to be black.
His characters aren’t all black, either (that wouldn’t exactly be diverse). One of the titles, Blood Syndicate, featured a diverse, multi-ethnic superhero team.
McDuffie died in 2011 at the age of 49. His work and his message live on in his characters; due to the popularity of the Static Shock cartoon, the Milestone universe is now melded with the DC universe, and Static is a mainstream DC characters.
Why he should be remembered: Diversity is seriously lacking in comic books and the movies/tv shows they produce. McDuffie recognized that need and tried to fix it. When mainstream comic companies wouldn’t let him in the front, he went in through the side.
28 Black People You Probably Don’t Know About (But You Should):
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23) Jupiter Hammon
25) Orrin Evans
26) Juan Almeida
Keep coming back for another article each day of Black History Month.
Photo— Flickr/ JD Hancock