#BlackComicsMonth – Day 21 – Memphis Teacher Olufemi Lee-Johnson’s Touching Dwayne McDuffie Tribute

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A Tribute to Dwayne McDuffie and Milestone Media

Dwayne McDuffie Milestone

January 21st, 2015 Derek T. Dingle, Denys Cowan, and Reginald Hudlin announced the return of Milestone Media and I had to take a moment to compose myself. My sophomore year in high school I moved from San Diego, California to Macon, Georgia to live with my father. I wasn’t a stranger to moving from one part of the U.S. to another, but this was a little bit different. I was becoming a mouthy teenager trying to find his identity in a city that didn’t make sense to me at the time. I had started to write a journal about my experiences in Macon and needed another outlet to quench my imagination. I started collecting comic books and became fully immersed in the culture. The 90’s, like with hip hop, independent films, and politics was a decade of exploration and thinking outside the box. Getting into comic books seemed like the right thing to do and at the time I didn’t really care if the characters were 90 to 95% white. It was the stories that drew me in and if the story didn’t interest me then what was the point of spending money on them?

Purchase Blood Syndicate: America Eats its Young

Purchase Blood Syndicate: America Eats its Young

Of course, I was familiar with the social subtext of some of the comics that I collected. X-Men was about racism, Superman was about alienation, Batman was about justice, and Image comics…drew really nice ladies, but one day during my weekly venture to the comic book store, I noticed a new comic with characters I had never seen before. It was a super group, but that’s not what stood out to me. It was the tagline: “America eats its young.” Now, I remember slick listening to my brothers’ N.W.A. cassette (yup I’m that old) of “Straight Outta Compton” a million times, as well as, “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” from Public Enemy. I’m not saying that at that young age I was politically conscious as I am now, but I did have an idea of what these albums represented and seeing that tagline on a comic book immediately raised an eyebrow.

I asked the comic book store owner about the comic (Blood Syndicate), which company it came from, and are there any other titles. He directed me to three other titles that were released from Milestone Media and my life had changed forever. Soon enough I had returned my copies of “X-Force, Storm watch, Robin (the Tim Drake version), and The Rise of the Supermen and replaced them with Static “You don’t start none, there won’t be none”, Icon (which later became Icon and Rocket)”She’s got your hero right here,” Hardware “A cog in the corporate machine is about to strip some gears,” and the aforementioned Blood Syndicate “America eats its young.”

That following year, I was able to experience the geek Mecca San Diego Comic Con for the first time. If you’ve never been to Comic Con it can be an overwhelming experience. I walked to the Milestone tables to get autographs when I just stood there…stunned. I knew the names of these artists and writers, but if one of them had come up to me and asked me for the time, they would be just another stranger to me. So, there I was, standing in front of a gentlemen speaking to me as if he was speaking another language. When I was finally able to decipher his method of speech (it was in fact English he was speaking, I just was so dumbstruck that my brain reverted back to an infant).

Dwayne McDuffie SDCC 2009

Dwayne McDuffie SDCC 2009

The man’s name was Dwayne McDuffie and he was asking me which of my books he should sign. I continued to stare at him with this dumb smile on my face and then after a while I softly told him that I had no clue who he was or what I was doing in his line. Mr. McDuffie asked me to show him the comics that I had brought with me and for the next 10 minutes we divided which comics where his (as well as the rest of the writers/artist on the panel) and they all signed my books. Mr. McDuffie then invited me to the speaker’s panel that was happening later on that afternoon.

For the first time in my life, I was around comic writers of color telling stories that mirror or surpassed the storylines of America’s favorite heroes. Icon dealt with being the ultimate immigrant and not understanding current black culture. Rocket (Raquel Irvin) was his guide, but also aspired to be more than just a woman in the projects. Static (Virgil Hawkins) was just a normal teenager dealing with fitting into school and then was put into this extraordinary circumstance of being a hero. Hardware (Curtis Metcalf) wanted respect from his mentor, but later learned about the bigger picture when it came to being a hero and the characters from Blood Syndicate…they were just trying to make it day by day and maintain their respect as a gang.

Rocket Teen Mom (Icon:  Vol 2 The Mothership Connection)

Rocket Teen Mom (Icon: Vol 2 The Mothership Connection)

9 years before “The Wire” became the greatest television show ever, the comic world had Milestone Media to “wake” America up to what was really going on in urban areas. While it had the realm of the fantastic by its side, that didn’t mean the stories didn’t tackle real life issues. Teen pregnancy with Icon and Rocket, bullying with Static, homosexuality with Blood Syndicate, and corporate greedy and exploitation with Hardware. Later on other titles were added to the Milestone universe (Xombi, Shadow Cabinet, and Cobalt), but in the end it was the first four titles that stayed in the comic geek conscious.

Four years ago we lost one of the pioneers of the Milestone Media universe, but before we knew him as one of the writers of the cartoons “Justice League and Ben 10” or the cartoon films “Justice League: Doom and All-Star Superman” he was the guy that helped make my first grand comic con experience a lot more comfortable.

R.I.P. Dwayne McDuffie
Milestone4Ever!

Olufemi Lee-Johnson aka Uncredited Rewrite is a 9th grade English/Creative Writing teacher in Memphis, former sports talk radio host for 730AM and BlogTalkRadio, writer, father, and most important of all…bartender.
Follow me on the Twitter!! @UncredRewrite and junk.

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