Detroit native Dwayne McDuffie has made his mark writing comics and animated series. The prolific author’s work has graced the pages of Marvel’s Damage Control, Fantastic Four, Beyond!, as well as DC’s Justice League of America. He is the caretaker of Milestone Media, a comic book universe that has up until recently been dormant and now has been implemented into the DC Universe. In the animation field, he has written for Ben 10: Alien Force, Static Shock, and Justice League Unlimited.
Kurt Anthony Krug for Mania.com: You were the resident advisor of Gregory Wright and Dan Chichester – both of whom worked for Marvel – when you attended New York University. It was through them that you broke into the comics medium?
Dwayne McDuffie: [Yes]. They were both working at Marvel. I was working at a financial magazine and I HATED it. I was having dinner with Greg one night and complaining about my job. He told me that (then-Marvel editor) Bob Budiansky was looking for an assistant editor. I snuck out, took a long lunch, did the interview, got the job, and was on my way.
Mania: How long were you at Marvel?
McDuffie: About three years. Then I went freelance and wrote for Marvel, Harvey, and Archie, and whoever else would have me. Then I started Milestone.
Mania: One of your earliest bodies of work was Damage Control, which you have called a “sitcom” set in the Marvel Universe, where a construction company fixes the damage done after titanic super-hero battles. Wasn’t your inspiration for Damage Control the Batman TV series in the 1960s?
McDuffie: [Yes]. There was an episode where (Batman and Robin) had to make a U-turn and they dropped a drag-chute. A couple of seconds later, this truck pulls up – the “Bat-chute pickup/retrieval service” – and I started thinking, ‘Wow, there’s a whole infrastructure to this super hero stuff.”
Mania: One of your favorite comics growing up was Marvel’s Fantastic Four, something you got to work on in 2006, during the series’ 45th anniversary. Talk about how you got that assignment.
McDuffie: Yeah, it was great. Fantastic Four is my all-time favorite comic book, except for, maybe, Little Lulu… When I first started at Marvel, I helped train a young intern named Tom Breevort – mostly, I told him where we kept the yellow stickies – who’s now (the executive editor). We were talking Fantastic Four one day and he was impressed that I (understood) the FF. He told me that if he ever edited the book, he’d get me to write it. I laughed and said, “Yeah, yeah,” So 20 years later, he called me up and offered me Fantastic Four.” (McDuffie thought Breevort was pulling his leg.)
Mania: Why did you leave the series?
McDuffie: I didn’t leave. Marvel asked me to come in for four issues and they needed time for (the next creative team) to get ahead, then they needed a bit more time, so I did more issues. I did 10-11 of them, I think. It was the ultimate joy; I’d stay forever if I could.
Mania: You brought the Black Panther and Storm into the team?
McDuffie: No, that was planned long before I took over. It was appropriate though, the Panther made his very first appearance in Fantastic Four. I got really lucky; Marvel was going to do a (mini-series featuring Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic, and Susan Richards, aka the Invisible Woman), so they weren’t going to be in the book at all. But then the mini fell through, I was like, “Give ‘em back! Give ‘em back!” because I wanted to write Reed and Sue. I love Reed. It’s hard to do Fantastic Four without Reed… I got to take a mature romance (Reed and Sue) and a young romance (Black Panther and Storm), and play them off each other.
Mania: In 1993, you and several other creators founded Milestone Media, which was published through DC Comics. You created this line of characters because you felt minorities were underrepresented in the comics medium. Yet you have stated these comics weren’t targeting just minorities, but everyone regardless of their ethnicity.
McDuffie: We wanted to portray a fictional world that looked like the real world. We wanted to do the kind of comics that were very story-driven and character-driven, not pinup artwork-driven. A big part of it was creating characters from a wide-range of backgrounds – ethnic, religion, class. Usually, heroes are white, middle-class males or upper class males like Batman. This made sense in the 1940s and 1950s, but it didn’t represent the world very well (in the 1990s), nor did it represent the audience very well.
Mania: Why did Milestone cease publication?
McDuffie: In October 1995, the orders for every (comic) book you can imagine went down drastically. We were a smaller publisher… We were leaking sales every month, stores were going out of business like crazy, so we decided to focus on a lot of licensing, kids’ books, and things where we knew we could make a profit. As much as we loved comics, we were trying to stay in business.
Mania: After Milestone, you broke into animation?
McDuffie: Warner Animation bought the rights to Static – which is one of the Milestone comics – and turned it into a series. Alan Burnett, who was one of the main writers behind Batman: The Animated Series, asked if I could write animation, which I didn’t know, so I tried it. It worked out really well; I wrote 2-3 episodes of Static (during) the first season. Then Paul Dini… couldn’t finish a Justice League script. They needed someone to write it quickly and I’m pretty quick. That also worked out very well, and they asked me to come on Justice League as a story editor in the second season.
Mania: Any memories on the Justice League cartoon (which was later renamed Justice League Unlimited and lasted 91 episodes)?
McDuffie: We’re really lucky to get to do Justice League Unlimited at all. We got to go kinda crazy on it. We tried to animate DC characters who we knew would never get their own show, so we went pretty deep into the pile… We added 45 regular characters. I didn’t think it’d become a character show. What’s cool is that you have all these other characters interacting with the main seven (which includes Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman). Having them bounce off the seven reveals facets about these characters and the main seven; you learn more about the new characters and the regular characters.
Mania: How did you get the writing assignment for the Justice League of America (JLA) comic? Did it have anything to do with your work on the animated series?
McDuffie: (DC Executive Editor) Dan DiDio offered it to me. I did some Firestorm fill-ins. When that book ended, Dan liked Firestorm and had been thinking about putting Firestorm in (JLA), which I guess made him think of me in terms of (JLA). Brad (Meltzer, a New York Times bestselling novelist and avid comic book fan) had done such an astonishingly good job on that book – it was such a HUGE hit – they were trying to find someone to follow him. Nobody good wanted it, so they gave it to me (laughs).
Mania: Can you comment on following Brad Meltzer, who – like you – is a University of Michigan alumnus?
McDuffie: He’s from Michigan? I had no idea! Only Michigan people should write Justice League from now on, I so declare. When I say Michigan, I don’t mean Michigan State (laughs). [Editor’s Note: MSU alumnus Geoff Johns has written JLA.]
Mania: How did the return of the Milestone characters occur? This reappearance of these characters began in your JLA run.
McDuffie: Well, again, it’s something that’s been going on for a long time. DC’s wanted to do it for awhile. We’ve also been interested in doing it awhile, but we just couldn’t make the deal work. We had a lot of concerns at Milestone at how the characters would be treated, and DC had concerns because they want to be able to tell stories about the characters (if they’re getting them right), but eventually, we came up with a good answer. Dan DiDio worked very hard; he kept going back when I didn’t like something, and kept going back when (DC Comics President/Publisher) Paul Levitz didn’t like something. He just kept hammering until there was a deal. Now a lot of Milestone characters are in the DC Universe.
Mania: Do you like the idea of the Milestone characters being in the DC Universe proper and not their own universe, the Dakota Universe as it’s called?
McDuffie: Yeah, actually, I do! The reason they weren’t in the DCU proper in the first place is because there wasn’t a business structure in place that allowed them to be in it, but also allowed Milestone to retain editorial control. It always bothered me that it was somewhat segregated. I want to reflect a multicultural world and the best way to do that was to infuse new characters into the DCU, which was already around.
Mania: So you own the Milestone characters, even though they’re appearing in the DC Universe proper and published through DC Comics?
McDuffie: Yes, me and Derek Dingle.
Mania: Could you put the Milestone characters in the Marvel Universe?
McDuffie: We could. It’s complicated because (DC) has the license now. But I like ‘em in the DCU, which is why we went there in the first place.
Mania: Why did you leave the JLA comic, which was recently announced?
McDuffie: It happens all the time. It’s not a big deal. I was fired. DC was unhappy that I had done some columns where I answered readers’ questions. Someone – I don’t know how – collected all those comments (on the Internet) over the past couple years and published it. For some reason, really upset DC. It’s DC’s property. They can fire me for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason. It’s a freelancer relationship; I can leave anytime, they can leave me anytime. [Editor’s Note: A DC Comics spokesman stated that DC Comics has declined to comment on this matter.]
Mania: Your last issue of JLA is No. 34, which comes out on June 24. What happens?
McDuffie: It’s the end of the “Starbreaker”/Milestone run. We find out how the Milestone characters came into DC Universe, we find out Icon’s secret. Well, actually we find out Icon and Superman’s secret. That should leave a nice clean slate for Len (Wein, the next writer) to hand it off to (the newly-announced creative team) of James Robinson and Mark Bagley. That should sell.
Mania: How does your departure from JLA impact the Milestone deal?
McDuffie: This doesn’t have anything to do with Milestone deal. Milestone characters will be appearing in The Brave and The Bold for the next three months in a row. Static will be a regular in the Teen Titans. They’ll be popping up everywhere in the DC universe.
Mania: Are you doing any other comic work?
McDuffie: Frankly, my workload is a little bit extreme now. I’m a bit relieved not having do an extra script a month. I’m catching up on other projects for Warner Bros. I’m starting the sequel series to Ben 10: Alien Force, trying to get as many scripts ahead as I can.
Mania: You’re working on Ben 10?
McDuffie: My main job is Ben 10: Alien Force, which is about to become Ben 10: Evolutions. We’ve done 46 episodes of Ben 10: Alien Force, although we’ve only aired the first 26, so far. We were just nominated for 3 Emmys for our work on the first batch. We’re just starting up with Ben 10: Evolutions, which is a sequel to Ben 10: Alien Force, and that t takes the bulk of my time. I’m also doing a couple of video game scripts and writing two direct-to-video movies for Warner. It sucks because I can’t say what they are yet, and fans would definitely be interested in hearing about them.