“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.”
Many of you may have heard but Dwayne McDuffie passed away yesterday. McDuffie was a major powerhouse in the comics and animation world. He was executive producer of All Star Superman which recently released, Ben 10 and was creator of Static Shock. He along with Bruce Timm were the driving force behind the critically acclaimed Justice League.
He was also the founder of Milestone Comics, a comic book line that featured black superheroes and other champions of color in its title.
McDuffie did for POCs what Gail Simone has done for women and what the recently passed Perry Moore did for LGBTQs in comics and the media.
Because he had a vision of comic superheroes for kids and people of all races. And he made it happen.
I’ve told this story before, but I will tell it again. When the Hostess cupcakes promotion happened last fall featuring Batman, Superman, Flash and Green Lantern, my friend showed her son the box. He took one look at it and said, “that’s not the Green Lantern, the Green Lantern is black.”
And he is to millions of kids, because of Dwayne McDuffie. And Static is a cool character for kids because of Dwayne McDuffie. And Vixen is as well known as Black Canary to many people, because of Dwayne McDuffie.
His vision, his work, his belief that EVERYONE deserves to have a superhero like them, shouldn’t be forgotten. Must not be forgotten.
But don’t get it twisted. Just as Simone and Moore battled institutional oppression and bigotry in any form, so did McDuffie. Not only was he outspoken against racism, but he never flinched in tackling sexism and homophobia in his work.
Donner and Blitzen were two out Milestone superheroines and LGBTQs were regularly featured in the Milestone titles.
McDuffie was responsible for, in my opinion, one of the best runs of the Justice League comic. He made it fun. But more than that, he made a woman a leader of the team and wasn’t afraid to feature multiple (4 or 5) characters of color to a superhero team that’s traditionally white. What’s more, he actually gave said characters of color compelling storylines. My favorite was when Vixen got the Amazo powers and became a one-woman powerhouse. Unfortunately he got hated on and accused of trying to push an “agenda” by turning the Justice League into the NAACP (multiple POCs? OH NOES!!!!) but my man stood tall and did what was right.
But for me personally, and I’ve told this story before, McDuffie permanently won my heart with an awesome character named Gear:
Many of you may recall the television series Static Shock, the hit WB Kids cartoon that was based on the Milestone comic. Static (Virgil Hawkins) had a best friend named Richie Foley who in later seasons discovered he had latent ablities as a technopath and became Static’s crimefighting partner known as Gear. What makes this 10 kinds of awesome is that for those of us who knew the history of Static in the comics, something very special was happening. In the comics, Richie Foley was in fact Richard Stone, one of Virgil’s best friends in high school and a gay teen. With FCC regulations the way they are, gay characters are not allowed on a kid’s cartoon show.
But for us LGBTQ comic book fans and others in the know, we knew what Dwayne McDuffie and others were trying to accomplish. They could’ve just as easily have easily have adapted another of Static’s friends or created a brand new character for the show. It should also be noted that Dwayne McDuffie, Bruce Timm and co. have consistently been inclusive and brought the win on POC, feminist and other issues with their other series, Batman, Batman Beyond, Superman and Justice League. McDuffie even confirmed on his website that the cartoon version of Richie Foley WAS indeed a gay character and a gay superhero at that.
Unfortunately there’s been some dissenting views on this score despite the evidence presented. Because Richie Foley wasn’t visibly gay on the series, they’ve deemed that he’s not an authentic gay character.
The following is a summary of my responses to such comments. While this summary is a bit more polished, the same points were made:
The reason why they didn’t out Richie in the series is because they couldn’t less they lose their Y7 rating (which is the most adult rating a children’s cartoon can get here in the states). That’s right here in the states, YOU CAN’T BE GAY ON A KIDS SHOW. They would’ve lost that rating and there would’ve been no Static Shock.
Furthermore that’s like arguing Renee Montoya doesn’t count as a lesbian because she wasn’t out on Batman. Or Maggie Sawyer. And THAT’S the reality we live in. The only way to exist in a children’s cartoon or for that matter society is by being AN INVISIBLE GAY.
It’s a fallacious argument because the FFC WLL NOT allow gay characters to be included in cartoons or children’s programming. So it’s not like the creators had a choice in the matter. That’s like arguing there are no gays in the U.S. military because none are visible. You either be invisible or you get canceled.
This wasn’t a retcon seeing as the character predates the cartoon. Most of us knew about Richie when the cartoon premiered. McDuffie only confirmed what we already knew to those who didn’t know the comic. But for comic fans, we knew the score.
Richie IS the authentic gay because for those of us who live in the real world, we understand that the only way for him to exist in a cartoon is by being invisible.
Because being visible, gets you fired from your job. Being visible means you get met with violence. Being visible gets you killed. Don’t believe me then go ask Duanna Johnson, Emille Griffith or Matthew Shepard what being visible gets you. Being visible gets you kicked out of your house. Being visible led to my friend’s ex boyfriend committing suicide because his parents couldn’t accept that he was gay. Being visible means you get rebuked and attacked or denigrated because in large part to avatars of straight privilege, queer minstrels like Northstar and Rawhide Kid. Being visible in this society catches you unholy hell especially if you aspire to be more than society’s punchline.
And for those of us who knew then and know now, we understand because it’s a struggle too many of us have faced. But we salute Richie just the same because we know if he ever came out on that show, his father, who flipped his shit for his son being best friends with a black kid, would damn sure lose it for having a gay son. So we support Richie because we know the struggle. And we applaud Richie because he became an ass-kicking superhero and didn’t allow himself to be boxed in. He did what he had to do and became a hero to many of us.
AND FOR THAT, Richie has earned his rightful spot on MY list of gay heroes. And for that, I will give that cute bespectacled geeky blond white boy the hawtest THANK YOU sex that he’ll ever experience.
The sad part about all of this is that comics have not progressed and if anything have taken gigantic leaps backwards. Women continue to be fridged, characters of color are butchered, killed off and/or erased and replaced for inferior white counterparts, white writers continue to spew racist, sexist and homophobic bile and actually try to justify it.
When marginalized fans ask for better representation (or representation for that matter) and even though we’ve proven time and time again that we’re an untapped market for an industry that’s struggling to stay afloat, we catch unholy hell.
McDuffie was a port in the storm. He was one of the few who beat the odds and made it. Not only was he a talented writer but the brother redefined class.
And while I will miss his work, I’m even more determined now to fight in his honor (and that of Moore’s) and continue to produce conscious speculative works that celebrate marginalized peoples and shares our stories.
Dwayne McDuffie, take heart. While you will be missed, you’ll never be forgotten. Thank you for inspiring this brother and countless others out there. Take a bow.
If you’ll excuse me, I need to re-read his run on Justice League, download All-Star Superman and then grieve for the loss of another hero.