Reign of the Supermen #126: Icon

Source: Milestone Comics, esp. Icon #1-42 (1993-1997)
Type: AnalogNot two days ago, at the much too young age of 48, comics writer Dwayne McDuffie died from complications following surgery. I'm shocked and saddened and my thoughts go to his friends and family. The only thing I can do is pay tribute to the man and his legacy. And he's got a big one.

His pet project, the Milestone Comics imprint at DC, allowed him to take on the lack of diversity in superhero comics by creating a number of series headlined by black characters, comics that lasted for the better part of five years! Hardware, Static (which went to cartoon), Shadow Cabinet, Xombie, Blood Syndicate, and Dakota City's analog of Superman, Icon, showed there was a place and market for minority heroes. Or perhaps rather that it wasn't important what color your skin was or what your ethnic background was, you could be a hero, one that readers found engaging no matter what THEIR ethnicity was. Even confined to their own universe, they still managed to thrive and are still fondly remembered.

I suppose I should talk about Icon a bit, since he's today's Reign character. Icon fills the Superman niche in the Dakotaverse by being a strange visitor from another planet with powers not unlike those of the Man of Steel. Of course, the details differ. Icon crash landed on Earth in 1839 and took human (baby!) shape to blend in, copying the DNA of his adopted mother, a black slave. He stayed out of history's way, waiting for Earth's technology to catch up with his pod's so he could leave, but committing random acts of charity here and there. When the heroic age arrives, he is rumbled by a young woman and gets himself a costume and a higher profile. That young woman becomes his sidekick, Rocket, and that's the most crucial thing about Icon, you see. There's no reason to do a Superman analog book unless you want to tell a Superman story that cannot be told in the pages of Superman. Icon is the story of what would happen if Superman had a sidekick. Just as it mellowed Batman, so will it affect the hyper-conservative Icon. Which brings up something else McDuffie will be remembered for: The range of character he brought to the paneled page. There isn't a stereotypical black character in the Dakotaverse, because they're all different, just like flesh and blood people are.

I find it sad that despite Dakota City's characters having recently been integrated into the mainstream DC Universe, we haven't seen much of them at all. In an era where DC especially has been accused of "white-washing", with many minority heroes being killed and/or replaced by white ones, here they were also bringing a wealth of quality non-white heroes to its pages... and then, failing to use them. Dakota City might as well still be on another Earth. Maybe DC will do some kind of homage to the man and his creations, but it shouldn't be yet another mini-series or badly supported series like they had with the Archie heroes (and possibly now the THUNDER Agents), other properties brought in with Milestone Comics. I want more than that. I want Hardware on the Justice League. I want Static in the Titans again. I want Icon and Rocket to team up with Batman and Robin. I want to get to a point where I'm not thinking about them as Milestone characters, but as DC characters. As I do the Freedom Fighters, or Captain Atom and Blue Beetle, or the Marvel Family.

And I can't let you go before mentioning two other things Dwayne McDuffie was responsible for, in fact two of my very favorite comics-related things EVER:
1. Damage Control. This hilarious Marvel comic has been at the top of my list of books I wanted to see on a regular basis for, like, ever. I know I've mentioned it before in these pages. The two original mini-series back in the 80s were pure awesome, and it was great to see another one a couple years ago. Really, I don't know why Marvel didn't commission one after every cataclysmic crossover event.
2. The Justice League/Justice League Unlimited cartoons. For my money, the finest superhero cartoons ever made. McDuffie's role as a writer and script editor for the series was a huge one, bringing his particular talents - making large casts into distinctive characters - to the forefront. His work for animation was so good that it made his return to such comics as Justice League of America disappointing in comparison, which was probably not fair to him. He continued to work with the WB's animation team, his adaptation of All-Star Superman coming out on the day of his death (or today, in many markets).

Dwayne McDuffie. Now, THERE is an icon.

2 comments:

Flying Tiger Comics said...

All Star Superman is a fine mainstream animated project to go out on for McDuffie but I always loved the Static Shock cartoon and associated comicbook world.

I think DC is horrible at managing assimilated properties because they all have to bow down before the "mighty" Superman (he of the low sales numbers)- Marvel family is a perfect illustration of it- they've been given the shaft ever since DC got them.

Sadly, I think the same is the fate of Milestone. Better to watch and read the originals than watch them get the shambolic treatment at Dissonant Cognitive comics.

YMMV.

Anonymous said...

Justice League UNlimited was great, but I didn't like that Vixen was portrayed in the comic book as the cartoon' one. They have different personalities.

About Icon: the tendence to show black people as sterotypes is very visible in comics. And the worst is Luke Cage, the angry black man.

Roger

 

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