I’m saddened by the death of Dwayne McDuffie, not because I knew him personally or passingly or at all, but because of what he represented to comics as a whole, which I know somewhat more intimately.
Dwayne McDuffie wrote quality comic books. He built stories like they were automobiles, not fast food value meals, and he made them to last. He wrote characters instead of costumes, problems instead of powers, and stories instead of marketing ploys—or, at least, in addition to. He was progressive without transgression, real talk without tough talk. I’d put the titles he either created or helped create for the Milestone line—Static, Icon, and Hardware, just off the top of my head—among the best bona fide true blue no bullshit comic books of my lifetime. Those stories were full of little victories and little setbacks against the backdrop of the lightning-slingin’ heroes-and-villains street brawls he’d reimagined for the new decade. He wrote like pain hurt and life mattered, to steal a line meant for Raymond Chandler, and if there were a top pick for successor to the mantle of Ditko and Lee, he’d be mine.
Right now, near as I can figure, the baseline for quality writing in the mainstream of the medium is Geoff Johns. This is wrong. Johns is a talented writer and businessman who always delivers an entertaining way to do a new thing with an old costume. This is wrong. This is just good enough at best, destructive at worst. The baseline, the bedrock, the bare minimum a comic book should be—Dwayne McDuffie. The gold standard. Surpass him if you can, but never fall short. If you respect yourself, your craft, or those who’ve come before you, never fall short.
The medium is now shy one of its finest architects. Time for us all to step up.