Marking a Milestone: McDuffie on Milestone's Return

Justice League of America #27 cover

Justice League of America #27 cover
Justice League of America #27 cover
Justice League of America #27

When word broke of Milestone’s return at Comic Con International: San Diego, fans of the imprint were thrilled, to say the least. The racially diverse group of super heroes and villains had virtually not been seen in print since Milestone Media ceased comic book production in 1997 (Static Shock did have a miniseries published in 2001, coinciding with the animated series).

Beginning in 1994, the Milestone titles told the stories of heroes located in the fictional Midwestern city of Dakota. The titles and characters (including Static, Icon and Rocket, Xombi, Kobalt and the other members of the Shadow Cabinet and the rest of the universe) gained a solid but small fanbase that had long waited for their return. In July, DC Universe Executive Editor Dan DiDio announced their return with two caveats:

1) the Milestone characters would be set in the DC Universe and interact with the likes of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, and

2) the characters’ upcoming debuts would be fresh starts – that is, this is the first time the heroes have encountered the characters and Dakota.

Static has already made his debut in DC’s Terror Titans miniseries, and from there will transition into Teen Titans, and last week, the bulk of the Milestone hero compliment was introduced in Justice League of America #27, written by Milestone co-founder, and current JLA writer, Dwayne McDuffie.

According to McDuffie, the return of the Milestone characters was something that DiDio is largely responsible for. “As I remember it, we almost did a deal with Wildstorm, I want to say three years ago, but it fell apart over differences in creative vision,” McDuffie told Newsarama. “Dan came in maybe two years after that. It was a complicated set of issues, on both the business and creative sides, and there was also a lot of inertia to overcome - old, hard feelings in both the Milestone and DC organizations, but Dan kept pushing, even after the deal fell apart a couple of times.”

The deal which led to the current return of the characters took over a year to hammer out, McDuffie said, and finally worked out issues that had been sticking points in the past. “Milestone wanted to retain ownership, and to insure our ability to protect the integrity of our characters, DC wanted the ability to use the Milestone characters freely in their continuity and to reprint stories at will,” McDuffie said. “It was a delicate balance, but I think we both got what we wanted.”

Despite the fact that many fans and readers see McDuffie currently being in DC’s stable of writers as being integral to the return of the characters, he doesn’t see it that way. “It's a nice little treat for me, getting to write the characters again, but if I wasn't doing comics for DC now, in many ways it might be easier to get them out there, for instance, I'm pretty sure they would have launched an Icon title already if I hadn't called ‘dibs,’ then realized I'm much too busy to do another monthly comic. Someday soon. Promise.”

Static Shock from Terror Titans #3

That said, McDuffie does think his presence and availability does give the relaunch a certain validity and legitimacy at the very least in how the characters are portrayed, thanks to his intimate knowledge of them. That said, he is having fun seeing how other writers, such as Teen Titans writer Sean McKeever are handling them.

“That was the fun of our original run, too,” McDuffie said. “Matt Wayne, Ivan Velez, Robert Washington, John Rozum and others did things with my characters that never would have occurred to me, and the characters were the better for it.”

As for introducing the characters in this manner, or “fresh” into the DC Universe, McDuffie said that it was done to make the process as smooth as possible. Oh, that and there’s more to it than readers may think.

“We wanted to treat this like any new character intro in a monthly comic, like the first time Wolverine showed up in an issue of The Incredible Hulk,” McDuffie said. “We didn't want to have to deal with complicated continuity stuff right off the bat. That said, I'm perverse, so there's more to it than we're admitting at the moment. Next spring or so, I'll reveal the in-story reasons of how and why the Milestone characters were inserted into DC continuity -and long-time Milestone readers will swear we'd been planning it since Shadow Cabinet #1.”

As readers of last week’s JLA #27 know, the meeting between the two groups of heroes is happening on the DCU’s “turf,” that is, the JLA Watchtower, where they come looking for Dr. Light’s corpse. Need a refresher?

“The Spectre turned Dr. Light into a candle, then snuffed out his life,” McDuffie explained. “The half-melted candle has been put into storage on the Watchtower, on the off-chance that those remains might someday present a danger. Well, they do, but they also present a huge opportunity, and the Shadow Cabinet tries to steal it to capitalize. The female Dr. Light is also involved, as is Dharma - the most dangerous man in the Milestone universe. Oh, and Shadow Thief. And Starbreaker. And an old teammate who hasn't been in the JLA for a long time.”

As for a reciprocal visit, McDuffie promised that he will get the JLA into Dakota (a rough analogue for Detroit) soon, just not quite yet.

Looking at the larger picture of the addition of the Milestone characters to the DC Universe, McDuffie takes issue with those who may claim that DC’s only goal in brinigng the characters into their Universe is to jump start more racial diversity among their characters. That argument doesn’t hold water, McDuffie points out, due to the fact that in the same panel where DiDio announced that the Milestone characters were joining the DCU, he also announced the Red Circle characters (the Archie Comics superheroes) would be joining the DC Universe in much the same fashion. The Red Circle characters – mostly male and all-white.

Justice League of America #28
Justice League of America #28
Justice League vs Milestone

“DC is more than capable of creating characters of color without going to the effort and expense of borrowing ours,” McDuffie said. “They brought us into the DCU to give them something that they can't make in-house, and that's the individual qualities of these specific characters. Icon isn't ‘black Superman,’ he's a unique character that differs from Superman as much as Batman does, anybody who's read three pages of an Icon comic knows that. The rest of you will have the pleasure of finding out shortly.

“The Milestone characters aren't a monolith. Static is a fanboy. Icon is a conservative utopian, Hardware's an asshole, David Kim's a magical realist, Donner's a pro wrestling fan who refuses to break kayfabe, Rocket's a Humanist, and so on, and so on. Not only do they view the world differently from DC characters, they view the world differently from each other.”

McDuffie’s assessment of Hardware reflects a little of his working relationship with the character. The tech-based hero is the one that’s giving McDuffie the most trouble upon his return to the Milestone Universe. “Out of the initial launch, he's the character who was the most like me, but I've mellowed a lot in the past 15 years, and he hasn't,” McDuffie said. “I have to keep reminding myself.”

Now that the characters are “in” the DC Universe, McDuffie said he’s going to be largely hands off with them – that is, anyone who wants to use them, can. “They're just like any other character in the DCU, if nobody's using them, they're available, subject to DC editorial's approval, and my unhelpful kibitzing,” McDuffie said. “I'm looking forward to seeing what DC's writers and artists come up with.”

To date, McDuffie’s “kibitzing” has been very minor – insisting that Static wear the costume from Season 3 of the animated series in Terror Titans, and making some dialog suggestions.

Given that the characters are being integrated into the DC Universe, fans have already surmised that the relationship between Milestone and DC is long-term, as much “forever and ever” as things get in comics. That’s something McDuffie is taking seriously.

“I hope it continues past my lifetime. As DC gets better and better at using the characters, I expect I'll have less and less to do, at least that's my hope. But someone from Milestone will always keep a hand in, making sure DC does right by our guys. For the foreseeable future, that's going to be me. That said, if things somehow go horribly wrong, there's a backdoor built into the story that would allow us to pull them out cleanly without damaging either property. I don't think we'll ever need to, but it's there.”


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