DWAYNE McDUFFIE –
ON PANTHERS, BEN 10S AND DENNING AND RAINIERS;
THE MAN WHO LIVED LIKE THEM,HUMANELY HONORABLE
Dwayne McDuffie stood tall, as a man, as a talent, as a friend.
I had tears in my eyes when I read that Dwayne McDuffie was no longer in
My throat closed up, as if I could not swallow the knowledge that Dwayne
was gone, that I would never again hear his voice, that there would never be
more words written by him to grace the world.
In the comic book medium, one that has more than its share of scoundrels,
Dwayne was honest, kind, compassionate, intelligent and amazingly talented.
We had a lot of loves in common. We had experienced some similar
emotional batterings in our personal lives. We both had heart problems at an
early age. I don’t recall talking about Panther’s Rage in the first times we met,
although we could have, but we did talk about our shared love of comics, of
story-telling, of television series that spoke to our hearts and minds. I
continually learned he had a deep abiding response to writers who also spoke to
me, like James Lee Burke, Walter Mosley, John D. MacDonald and Evan Hunter.
More than once he badgered me that I should write Detectives Inc. as a novel
and then Denning and Rainier would join the ranks of those fictional series. Yes,
I hear you, Dwayne.
In the 1990s I recall sitting with Dwayne and Denys Cowan on wide cement
steps outside the San Diego Comic Convention center, somewhere where
people would not immediately recognize us, talking about what had happened to
us over the years within comics, how difficult it was to get diversity into the
medium without it being labeled in terms that were essentially negative in the
minds of many who ruled the industry.
Denys told me he thought I was a black writer when he first read the books,
and that I was, to use his words, “whiter than white,” and we all laughed on
those steps, and we all knew we had earned the laughter.
Dwayne and I sat in a Spaghetti Factory restaurant during the early years of
Milestone, and he asked me if I would write for them. I talked with him about
doing a story that dealt with a gay black lawyer with AIDS, and a mother who
uses the Race Card to get her son out of an institutional asylum and resulting
matricide, and Dwayne never blinked.
Believe me, most editor/publishers would have done more than blink.
The story was based on someone I actually knew, and my wife, Marsha,
visited, not knowing the mother’s corpse was just beyond the door. The lead
homicide detective said if she had insisted on entry into the apartment she
would have been another victim. I never would have had a clue about where
she was, or where she had been.
Dwayne sent me a staggering amount of Milestone Bibliophiles, incredibly
detailed backgrounds of characters and settings, the page count somewhere, if
memory serves, around a couple of hundred pages in length in each binder. I
still have them. I’m a pack rat. Every once in awhile I run across them, and I’m
It reminds me of how much dedication and research and energy Dwayne put into
the projects he did. I don’t believe I have ever seen anything as thorough, ever,
by a creator, as those Bibliophiles, most which probably would never show up
on a printed page. That is the level of commitment Dwayne McDuffie had.
The timing for me developing that series was bad, and the only reason I did
not work with him then, which I always wished I had been able to do. Maybe
only weeks before I had committed to Jim Salicrup to write Zorro for Topps
Comics as a monthly book. From the beginning I was doing research on early
Los Angeles, Mexico, the divergent Indian tribes in California, the Mission
system, and the global situation that impacted on that isolated place. I had
already turned down doing an X-Men series on developing the other planet
origins of Professor X, (They wanted me to define a place as I had done with
Wakanda, that had been little more than a concept) and had no second thoughts
about refusing that.
But I really wanted to work with Dwayne McDuffie.
I didn’t, because I knew I would end up screwing both Dwayne and Jim
Salicrup, because I was being overly optimistic about what I realistically could
fulfill as a writer, and that would be on me, hurting people whom I really liked
One of the most difficult things to do is take complex, serious material and
place it into the superhero genre without the danger of trivializing something
emotionally complex, with no easy answers. Dwayne understood that; he was
such a consummate story-teller and empathic human being.
I’m not sure when I first read Dwayne’s piece on the day he spent his coins
on a comic book, and about the impact that Panther’s Rage had on him. I know
at some point in time he told me that he read the book until the cover came off it,
and that in his youth he did not exactly comprehend why it moved him so much.
I suspect that a lot of times it isn’t until much later that we realize why things
affected us the way they did.
In 2010, when Cory Sedlemeier talked with me about Marvel reprinting
Panther’s Rage and Panther Vs. The Klan, I asked Cory if we could print the
letters that were in those comics and also Dwayne’s piece on that summer day
when he first discovered the Black Panther.
Dwayne was busy with a number of projects, including overseeing Ben 10,
and writing many of the episodes, and inter-acting with a variety of talent on that
show, as well as being involved in other stories separate from the Ben 10
I asked Dwayne if he would mind if his piece were a part of the Black
Panther Marvel Masterworks. Despite his busy schedule, despite all the plates
he was already spinning about the tall poles, he not only said, “Yes,” but that he
wanted to re-write it. I kept telling him it was fine the way it was; I didn’t want to
make more work for him, but he insisted. That’s the kind of man Dwayne
When I read his Afterword in the published book, with his vivid recollection
of his friend, Alan, and what that comic meant to him, he brought me to tears.
Years after those books were published history, and the costs of taking a lonely
stand took more of a toll on me, Dwayne was one of the people who helped
vindicate some of those lonely stands for me about what could or could not be
done in comics during the 70s. The stories we tell do have impact and can
affect the individual spirit and future.
The year before the Black Panther Masterworks I met with Dwayne in a New
York City restaurant. His wife, Charlotte, was sick with the flu, and I missed my
one chance to meet her. At the time I was having a real shortness of breath, and
going through a series of tests, and I was putting off until after the winter
months having more tests done. I’d had a heart attack when I was forty. My dad
had died of heart problems during the winter, and while I’m not overly
superstitious, I know it influenced my decision to hold off until April. During that
time Steve Gerber and Marshall Rogers died. I read quotes by some people in
the comic biz about me, re-writing history, my history as it were, while I was still
alive. I recall telling Dwayne, “If this all goes South come Spring, don’t let these
mother-fuckers get away with changing where they stood on race and sex.”
For me, Dwayne was like the image that I had used so often on Detectives
Inc., of Denning and Rainier, standing back to back in a dark, rainy alleyway.
You never had to look to see if the other was there. That person truly did have
And thus the reason I said those words to him. I said those words only to
one other person in comics, Dean Mullaney, who knew what was going on
behind the scenes.I trusted Dwayne, implicitly.
I flew out for Robert Culp’s Memorial in 2010 (I am losing way too many
people I treasure) and I was only going to be there for two days. The one person
I met was Dwayne.
I’ve seen people write that Dwayne seldom smiled, and that when he did, it
was bright and joyous. Well, it was. But I have to say I saw Dwayne smile a lot,
and laugh, when we weren’t on serious topics.
We smiled and laughed a lot that day. We went out to eat, and then we
talked for the longest time in his car. He’d only just started driving he told me,
and he used the GPS everywhere he went. I told him if I had a 50/50 chance of
being right on whether to turn left or right, bet against me, because 95% of the
time I’d be wrong, and my problem was I didn’t know how to start or program a
My excuse, Dwayne had a degree in Physics.
At some point we were talking about old Warner Brother’s TV series,
especially the private eye shows such as 77 Sunset Strip. Many times after that
talk I would think, I have to ask Dwayne how he became a fan of those shows.
He was much younger than I, so I know I was 13 when they started, but off the
top of my head, I’d say Dwayne wasn’t even born yet. I would always forget to
Dwayne told me stories about meeting Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. when he was
doing voice work for a cartoon Dwayne was working on, and how Efrem
eventually, became comfortable during the time began to talk about working on
I told him if there were any series I wanted on DVD it was those old Warner
Brother TV shows, with all the bumpers that made each episode seem so
special, and to include the trailers separately, the way Gary Gerani and Steve
Mitchell did on the Thriller DVD set.
In the midst of talking about those things, we were both smiling and
laughing, and I suspect I was eating up Dwayne’s valuable time, I told him about
an episode of 77 Sunset Strip entitled, “Reserved For Mr. Bailey.” Efrem
Zimbalist was the only actor on screen for the entire hour. I had never been able
to see a print of it since its original airing, and yet I somehow knew it was John
Dehner’s voice off screen.
I was talking about the ghost town setting for that show when Dwayne
asked me if I would consider writing a Ben 10.
Of course I said, “Yes.” We would finally have a chance to work together.
And in fact, in our original talk, the spring board for the episode came from
“Reserved For Mr. Bailey,” but don’t look for anything remotely connected to it in
the final script, “Night of the Living Nightmare.” There’s no ghost town. There
are many other characters in the story. Thematically it goes for something totally
different. But the initial idea of waking up to a living nightmare was still there.
When we were getting ready to say “Good-bye,” Dwayne’s eyes twinkled,
with this kind of glee, and he said, “I can’t wait to see what kind of trouble you’re
going to get me into.”
Argh! I told Dwayne, “Oh great! Just put the pressure on, why don’t you?
Like this isn’t challenge enough.”
It was a challenge, because I knew from experience that Ben 10, since this
was one of Dwayne McDuffie’s babies would have a complex mythology, and
you couldn’t just know it 10 seconds out of the starting gate.
I was right.
We talked a number of times on the phone. I’m sure he was swamped with
meetings, but he always called, he always got back to me. He’d tell me
characters he would want in the story. I would scribble notes and hope I could
decipher them afterwards. I found character biographies on the Internet, but
there were some I was sure I must have misspelled, I couldn’t find anything on
I was always hesitant to call Dwayne; I knew he had more things to do than
hold Don McGregor’s hand.
In one of our phone discussions I’d asked him what characters he wanted to
include in the story-line. There were a number of them. Many I could find a
background and power list on the Internet, including some visual reference of
that villain or alien that Ben could become. There were two names I’d jotted
down I could find nothing on. I finally broke down and called Dwayne, asking
about these characters, figuring I had mis-spelled their names. Dwayne
laughed. Yes, he laughed. And told me that was because no one had seen the
characters yet and that’s why no one knew them. I believe I told him something
like, “Oh, this is like a Mission Impossible plot, you’re just trying to drive me nuts
now?” Dwayne, of course, got the Mission: Impossible line. He told me he
thought I’d named this Ben 10 after the Wild Wild West, which always had a
“Night of the…” in the title. I told him it actually wasn’t, although I could see why
he would figure that, but it was totally George Romero, not Robert Conrad/Jim
When the script was finished, he asked me what I thought. I told him the
only thing I was concerned with was that he liked it. If he was happy with it, I
was happy with it.
Just the week before he died he wrote me a gmail telling me that if I wanted I
should put something up on Ben 10 when I was ready.
He said “Night of the Living Nightmare” would probably air in early 2012.
The show seemed a long way off. I thought we had all the time in the world.
I wanted to write something about doing the show, but also about Dwayne,
and what his words meant to me, and about those times we’d been together.
We didn’t have all the time in the world. You think you do, and one of the
good ones is gone, and you don’t.
I’ve written this piece with fond remembrances, but the joy I thought I’d have
in writing it is stolen in that he didn’t have a chance to see the words.
I miss him already.
March 2, 2011
Please leave your comments in the box below - Don will post them, along with his replies,
on this page.
Portrait by Denys Cowan