TURBO CITY SALUTE: DWAYNE MCDUFFIE

By Malice Intended of Planet Ill

This week, we lost legendary comic book writer Dwayne McDuffie. His death was not preceded by reports of ailing health or terminal illness and by all accounts he seemed to be in good health and in the midst of a thriving career. The magnitude of this loss, particularly as Black History Month draws to a close, is immense. McDuffie was not only an innovator in his field, but a force of social change in a fantasy medium that reflects more reality than you would assume. Mr. McDuffie drew no distinction between his beliefs and his craft, and would speak to the world through his work without weighing down his art or muting his beliefs

Born and raised in Detroit, he earned a graduate degree in physics from the University of Michigan and went on to study film at New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. He honed his skills writing for stand up comedians and late night comedy shows. While working as a copy editor for a financial magazine, a friend got him an interview for an Assistant Editor position at Marvel Comics. It was here where McDuffie would realize his true calling.

After making a few noteworthy contributions as an assistant on special projects, McDuffie left his position at the House of Ideas to become a freelancer. He worked on various projects for Marvel, DC and Archie comics. He co-founded Milestone Media in 1993 along with colleagues Denys Cowan, Michael Davis and Derek T. Dingle. The Milestone comics imprint was published through DC Comics and focused on titles created by African-Americans and featuring African-American protagonists. Though Milestone shut down its comics division in 1997, one of its titles lived on as a long running Saturday Morning cartoon series. Static Shock, based on the Milestone title Static, ran for four seasons and 52 episodes. McDuffie oversaw the transition of his creation to the small screen, writing eleven episodes himself.

Thus began his transition into the field of animation. He worked as a writer on Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, serving as Producer and Story Editor on the latter. Both were very well-received by fans and critics alike. McDuffie also oversaw two entries in Cartoon Network’s long running Ben 10 franchise, Ben 10: Alien Force and Ben 10: Ultimate Alien. Both focused on the title character in his teenage years.

Most recently, McDuffie wrote two straight to DVD features for the DC Animated Universe. One of those is the amazing and transcendent Justice League: Crises on Two Earths. The other is a solid adaptation of Grant Morrison’s highly acclaimed All Star Superman. All the while, he never stopped writing for comics.

Like the rest of the entertainment business, the comic book industry regards racial and cultural minorities as a niche market. Efforts to cater to its non white readership are often poorly conceived and culturally insensitive. Dwayne McDuffie fought the good fight from the inside, using his influence and talent to facilitate much needed change. Not only did he work to incorporate characters of color in well-known flagship titles, he also developed original titles and stories that spoke to non-white readers.

To generations of African-Americans who grew up reading superhero comics, Dwayne McDuffie was both an ambassador and a champion. In an industry where minority voices are scarce, his was commanding, and ultimately irreplaceable. As we now mourn his passing, let us honor his memory by following in his footsteps. Dwayne McDuffie fought his entire career to create a place for minorities in the industries of comics and animation. It’s time for us to heed his call, and take our rightful place on the platform that he helped to establish. I’m sure that’s how he would have wanted it.

DVD REVIEW: ALL-STAR SUPERMAN

By Malice Intended of Planet Ill

All-Star Superman is an adaptation of the DC Comics title by writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely. It attempts to condense a 12 issue story-arc into a single feature length film. It also attempts to fill out the ever expanding cannon of the DCAU with yet another unique take on an iconic character. It yields respectable results on both fronts, though die hard fans of the comic may have a hard time excepting it on its own merits.

The artwork of Frank Quitely provides the foundation for the character designs and overall visual aesthetic. The animation team does a good job of maintaining a reasonable visual fidelity with the source material. Frank Quitely’s art managed to convey a gentler side of superman without forsaking his awesome power. That duality is evident here as well. As has become the standard for DCAU features, the animation is efficient and streamlined without being flashy or overdone. It moves with ease without flourishes that call attention to the frame rate.

The action is sparing and subdued this time around. Previous DCAU features have included brutal and tightly choreographed fight scenes. All-Star Superman has broader scale action with a less intimate and gritty feel. Superman is the most powerful superhero imaginable, so the threats he faces have to be significantly more substantial than a mere fist fight. He also doesn’t have the luxury of inflicting unnecessary wonton damage to an opponent. Instead of allowing this to impede the action, the animators find ways to include sufficient amounts of destruction while adhering to the “rules” of the character.

The script retains the basic overall concept of the original 12 issue story arc, but the short running time doesn’t allow for the nuances of serialized storytelling. Many events from the comic have been excised. This abridged version of Grant Morrison’s intricate narrative will be seen as an unforgivable sin by many. Still, the central idea of All-Star Superman is compelling enough its own to support an entire film. How would the most powerful man on earth (and possibly the universe) spend his last days? What would his bucket list be? The film ponders this question but doesn’t allow things to get too heavy or philosophical.

James Denton’s measured vocal delivery reveals a more delicate and thoughtful side to the Man of Steel. Superman is perhaps more relatable here than he has ever been. Anthony LaPaglia dials down the more melodramatic elements of Lex Luthor. Here, the character seems irredeemably smug and self-assured even in the most mundane of situations. Christina Hendricks version of Louis Lane is feels more alert than many other iterations of the character.

All-Star Superman is not in the same class with some of the more stellar offerings from the DC Animated Universe, but it’s not a misfire by any stretch of the imagination. It offers humor, serviceable action, and a refreshingly human take on the last son of Krypton. It’s also a welcome change of pace from the unrelenting intensity of Batman: Under The Red Hood and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. With each new addition, the DCAU continues to show itself to be the most varied “animated Universe” ever. 3.5 out of 5.