Dwayne McDuffie on the realities of the Black writer in the comic book industry
“If I write Daredevil getting the drop on Thor, people are like ‘Oh man, Daredevil’s so clever!’ If I write the Black Panther doing the same thing, the reaction is ‘That’s impossible!’”
Select panels from the second story in Avengers Spotlight #27, an ‘Acts of Vengeance’ tie-in; art by Dwayne Turner and Chris Ivy.
This was my first exposure to Dwayne McDuffie’s writing, and in an eleven page back-up, he featured five female Avengers working together to get the job done. This was long before Cullen Bunn’s Fearless Defenders, or Brian Wood’s X-Men - or, for that matter, the Birds of Prey. It wasn’t written as a novelty, or an exercise in fanservice, it simply demonstrated how capable these characters were. McDuffie included humor (as seen above), action, a nice civilian scene (Monica on a date before she gets beeped), and each of ‘em got their moment to shine.
Again, all of this in eleven pages.
No mean feat, when you think about it.
Natasha: Nice save, Firebird. Let’s regroup and come up with a plan.
Bonita: Already got one. I’m going to whip up a heaping serving of android flambé!.
Natasha: No! Don’t!.
Bonita: He’s down!.
Natasha: I hope so. Remember how he duplicated my Widow’s Bite…? If he did the same with your powers—
So despite a major motion picture underlining this very point, it’s still pretty rare for Avengers comics to showcase Natasha’s problem-solving potential. Natasha’s skillset combines tactical thinking with keen observation. She’s been trained to notice everything, and then mine that information into something she can use. So even if hasn’t got fistbeam laser canons, she probably has a good idea about where to point them.
Dwayne McDuffie didn’t need a big budget movie to tell him that, and he didn’t need three or four arcs to show it. He wrote Natasha this once in a half-issue story that showcased what a bunch of Avengers ladies could do without Iron Man and Captain America, that used each of their powersets and Natasha’s lack thereof. He was also the first comic book writer I “met” online, kind and thoughtful and encouraging me to be the same. Dwayne McDuffie was a pretty cool guy.
From Avengers Spotlight #27, by Dwayne McDuffie and Dwayne Turner.
“Ultimate Spider-Man” honors Dwayne McDuffie
All hail “The Maestro.” Wow.
“When I was a kid, I used to have this parakeet. Sometimes, when I’d open his cage to clean it, he’d escape. The little bird would see the backyard and make his move. Invariably, he’d head straight for the window, fast as he could and inevitably, crack his head on…
And I still miss him all the time. I keep finding books he wrote, or emails he sent, or cartoons he worked on.
The best writer, the best friend, the best guy.
You are missed so much, Dwayne, and sadly, but as we all expected…
…you are not replaceable.
Happy 50th birthday, Mr. McDuffie.
You left us way too soon. We know you had many stories left to tell, many worlds to create or reimagine. And while you’re gone, your real peers will pick up where you left off.
(I say real peers, not those that only gave you an ounce of respect only because, as one man wisely suggested, you’re no longer a threat)
Your fans, the ones whose lives you have touched over the years and still inspire to this day, are doing their damnedest to keep your legacy alive, sir. Yeah, the industry isn’t a better place in your absence, but fans and creators alike are still fighting the good fight.
Even when they tell us we don’t exist, when they tell us we don’t matter, when they tell is to just shut the hell up, we’re here. We’re still around. We’re still making our voices heard. We’re shouting to the top of our lungs.
In you, we lost our loudest voice, our brightest mind, our most vivid creator of worlds, and that loss is still hard to deal with even a year after your passing. In you, we creators have someone to inspire us to be griots for the 21st century, continuing the legacy you’re now delicately tied to.
We miss you, Maestro, and we thank you.
I loved Dwayne’s run on F4.
And now you know.
Words by Dwayne McDuffie