News came through this week that Dwayne McDuffie has been fired from his post as writer of Justice League of America. Make no mistake, it's bad news.
McDuffie, co-creator of Ben 10 and the Milestone line of comics, is a talented guy who obviously isn't getting the respect he deserves. Consider that he put together a very good run on Fantastic Four a couple of years ago with artist Paul Pelliter, and then was shuffled aside in favor of the hit-or-miss Mark Millar.
And now this.
McDuffie says he was fired, believe it or not, because for the last two years he has given fans truthful answers to their questions about the behind the scenes decisions that go into a high-profile book like Justice League of America. Maybe the higher-ups at DC wouldn't have minded if they had made good decisions. Instead, after letting novelist Brad Metzler set the table, DC plagued McDuffie's run with editorial mandates out the wazoo, forcing him to use the flagship title as a set-up man for other stories and events in the DC universe.
Witness: McDuffie's relatively short run kicked off with something called "Justice League of America Wedding Special" meant to piggyback off the "event" of Green Arrow and Black Canary's wedding. To McDuffie's credit, he didn't play into the hype, instead using the special to introduce a four part Injustice League / League of Doom story (with nary a wedding in sight).
After that, McDuffie was forced to introduce the latest Tangent miniseries (issue #16), and then saw the title handed over to Alan Burnett for 3 issues (as a tie-in to the miserable miniseries Salvation Run); McDuffie had back up stories in 2 of the issues. After a nice Flash-centric one off (issue #20), McDuffie wrote an (admittedly good) Final Crisis lead-in issue before being left alone to tell a decent four-parter centering on Red Tornado, Amazo, and Vixen.
Then - get this - he was given the green light to introduce his Milestone creations to the DC universe, and after two parts of the story, the story's momentum is killed by a superfluous Faces of Evil tie-in issue written by Len Wein (issue #29). Even more egregious is the fact that Chriscross (who first made his name on Milestone's excellent Blood Syndicate title) drew this throwaway issue, when he could have drawing the main book that featured Milestone characters! Would that have made too much sense? With issue #30, McDuffie was back to the Milestone / Shadow Thief / Starbreaker story that closed out his run.
By the time of these last four issues, there was a sense that the sky was clearing. The team had been reset. Final Crisis took out Martian Manhunter, Batman, and Hawkgirl. A new (ill-conceived, in my opinion) Titans book grabbed Red Arrow and Flash. Black Lightning and Geo-Force were called back from whence they came (the Outsiders). Superman was sent away by the New Krypton storyline and Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) left to start his own Justice League (in the truly awful Cry For Justice limited series). So McDuffie was using a line-up comprised of Vixen, John Stewart, Dr. Light, Firestorm, and Zatanna (with hints in the "Origins & Omens" back up in #30 that Icon would join the team). If you're scoring at home that's a Justice League line-up that's 83% people of color and 50% female, which is pretty damn awesome. Unfortunately, we never got to see that come to full fruition.
It's worth mentioning, as well, that McDuffie was also saddled with a rotating cast of artists, never getting into a good creative flow even when he was allowed to tell his own stories. He worked with 14 different artists on the 20 issues he wrote (the best, in my opionion, being Mike McZone, Carlos Pacheco, Ethan Van Sciver, and Rags Morales). All this is to say that McDuffie had legitimate complaints here, and one can hardly blame him for feeling / venting frustration.
One could argue that a good writer should be able to make good stories out of whatever cards he or she is dealt, and for the most part McDuffie did that. Despite all the discontinuity of his run, the title was never worse than good. But, knowing McDuffie's excellent work on the uncompromising Justice League Unlimited animated series, it could have been so much better. His firing is not a referendum on his writing, but on DC's editorial leadership and head honcho Dan Didio's "throw a bunch of crap at the wall and see doesn't run" style. It's also a sad commentary on the state of current comics creation, where freedom and autonomy are the black sheep of the creative process. There's an oxymoron if I've ever heard one.
Dwayne McDuffie deserved better, and so did we readers.