ED. NOTE: Four years ago next month, comics and animation figure Dwayne McDuffie died suddenly at age 49. “He was at a career peak,” friend and colleague Reggie Hudlin told me at the time. “His life was hitting on all cylinders. … That is the tragedy of it.” Hudlin also noted that McDuffie fought for multiculturalism in comics: “He was a great comic writer and editor,” as well as a successful businessman who launched “the first black comic-book company with Milestone Media, [creating] characters that have a huge cultural footprint.” Today, Hudlin and his Milestone partners bring us big news born out of McDuffie’s untimely passing.
THE IDEA AROSE not just in the wake of Dwayne McDuffie’s death, but also at the wake to remember the man.
Reggie Hudlin, the “Django Unchained” producer, spoke at the gathering in 2011 with artist Denys Cowan and Derek Dingle, who with McDuffie had co-founded Milestone Media, the prominent minority-owned comics publisher. McDuffie, also known for his DC Comics work, was widely considered to be a pioneer in his efforts to diversify the comic-book industry, prior to his shocking death at age 49.
“Derek said, ‘It’s been too long. We’ve got to restart the company’,” Hudlin recounts to The Post’s Comic Riffs, of that day in 2011. “So the three of us have been working for the past two years on sorting out all the business, and now we are the core of Milestone Media 2.0.”
That’s right. Hudlin, Cowan and Dingle tell Comic Riffs that they are working together to revive the company that debuted more than 20 years ago before its demise in 1997 — a publisher that could boast of such heroes of color as Icon, Hardware and Static Shock. That means Milestone titles will soon return to comics shops physical and virtual.
“One thing I’ve always loved about the company [is] even the name, Milestone Media,” says Hudlin, who has written for Black Panther, the Stan Lee-era Marvel character who so inspired McDuffie to pursue comics as a career. “It’s going to be a company that will not just be doing comic books. [We’re] going to be working on a lot of different mediums.”
Hudlin says that Milestone Media will bring back many of the classic characters, as well as introduce new heroes. (It has been announced that a live-action Static Shock series is in the works from Warner Bros., which owns DC Comics.)
Milestone originally had a partnership with DC Comics, and in the early ’90s, DC and Milestone collaborated on a crossover, called “Worlds Collide,” that introduced heroes from the DC universe to heroes from the Milestone universe.
The triumvirate behind the new Milestone Media says that there are many things to sort out on the company’s business side, including potential partnerships. The L.A.-based Milestone Media “will be working with a wide array of companies — both different publishers as well as other media companies,” Hudlin tells The Post.
In recent years, major comics publishers have aimed to make real strides in character diversity. Marvel, for example, has introduced a half-black/half-Puerto Rican Spider-Man (Miles Morales); a black Captain America (formerly the Falcon/Sam Wilson); and a female Thor. DC Comics has made similar advances with such existing characters as Green Lantern John Stewart, and by introducing Batwing (a black member of Batman’s team of crimefighters) during the debut of the New 52, and announcing that there will be a black Power Girl (Tanya Spears).
Yet Cowan says that putting a character of color in a well-known, previously white mantle doesn’t hold the same impact as creating a new wave of heroes for an ever-diverse readership and new generations of fans.
“There are all kinds of challenges that are facing people of color — that part hasn’t changed,” Cowan tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “What has changed is, there are a lot more characters of color in comics. What we feel is now, Milestone is necessary because of the types of characters that we do, and the viewpoint that we come from.”
“We’ve never just done black characters just to do black characters,” he continues. “It’s always come from a specific point of view, which is what made our books work. What we also didn’t do, which is the trend now, is [to] have characters that are, not blackface, but they’re the black versions of the already established white characters — as if it gives legitimacy to these black characters in some kind of way — [that] these characters are legitimate because now there’s a black Captain America.
“Having been a creator of these characters and a consumer, I always looked at it like, ‘Well, geez, couldn’t you give me an original character?’ ” Cowan adds. “Black Panther worked because he was original. Static Shock worked because it was an original concept. It’s a good time to come back and reintroduce original characters, as well as some new ones.”
The team says it hasn’t decided when Milestone will officially begin publishing new content, though Cowan hopes that the company will have new visuals to display at this summer’s San Diego Comic-Con.
Dingle says the return of original characters and new creations aren’t the only goals deemed important with the forthcoming return of Milestone. He also emphasizes the development of new talent — artists who have grown up in a digital age.
[RIP, DWAYNE McDUFFIE: Shocked fans, friends mourn the comics/animation force]
This “also becomes an opportunity to mine some [new] talent,” Dingle tells Comic Riffs. “We’re going to find a new group of creators who are knowledgeable and grew up with digital [formats]. It is part of their DNA in terms of what connects them from a digital standpoint, from a social-media standpoint, and I think there are all these tools out there to get our stories told, and to promote our characters, that [are] going to make it a very exciting era for Milestone.”