Dwayne McDuffie

Wondercon: Justice League movies

Coming out of Wondercon are titbits of info about two Justice League movies. The first is Justice League: Doom, a new direct-to-DVD animated feature announced by Bruce Timm for release in early 2012. It’s written by the late Dwayne McDuffie and is an adaptation of Mark Waid’s “Tower of Babel” – the story of Batman’s anti-JLA contingency plans being stolen by Ra’s Al Ghul.

The second one is the live action film that WB’s Robinov mentioned was in development for 2013. There had been speculation that it may tie into Chris Nolan’s Superman and Batman franchises and with the new Green Lantern franchise, but there have now been a statements refuting that. Ryan Reynolds (Hal Jordan in the new Green Lantern movie) was asked about his involvement with the Justice League project at the GL Movie Panel at Wondercon. Quoting from Comic Book Resources:

The only other newsworthy item concerned the recent talk of a ‘Justice League’ movie. Asked if he’s going to be involved, Reynolds replied, “It’s not something that anyone’s talked to me about.” Then he looked pointedly at [Geoff] Johns, who said to the crowd, “I can’t really talk much about ‘Justice League,’ except [to say that] it’s in development.”

This mirrored a short red-carpet Q&A that Superman reboot producer Zack Synder had given a few days earlier. He said that the Justice League film would be “it’s own thing, with its own Batman and it’s own Superman.”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uEgIONT2vo&w=560&h=349&start=63]

(Man that Synder line has been refracted and reflected across almost the entire blogosphere. I was so sick of seeing it that I almost didn’t bother posting it, but the Ryan Reynolds quote makes it more of a story. )

Dwayne McDuffie RIP

I don’t want to believe the news on Newsarama, CBR, Comics Alliance and The Beat, but it is being reported that Dwayne McDuffie has passed away. A cause of death has not been reported.

Mr McDuffie has the distinction of writing for the Justice League in more formats than just about anybody else I can think of. He wrote for the animated TV series (Justice League, Justice League Unlimited), a direct-to-DVD movie (Justice League: Crisis on Two Earth), a video game (Justice League Heroes), and the regular JLA comic book. More recently he wrote the screen play for the DVD adaptation of Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly’s All-Star Superman and was the producer on the current incarnation of Ben Ten.

Mr McDuffie may be most influential for co-creating and guiding the Milestone Comics characters during the 1990s – a genuine attempt to create a comic book universe that encapsulated all of America’s children. The break out character of that group was Virgil Hawkins (Static). A spin-off cartoon series, Static Shock, was launched in 2000. McDuffie became involved with the writing of the cartoon and from there he was recruited into the creative team behind Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.

Through all his work there was an openness that let the best character, who ever that might be, come to the fore. You knew if Dwayne McDuffie has written the script because it just sounded better – the characters were richer, the jokes funnier, the emotions deeper.

My condolences to his friends and family.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths Premier

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is an original DC Universe direct-to-DVD animated film. Many comics fan will recognise the basic premise from Grant Morrisons’s acclaimed JLA: Earth-Two graphic-novel, but this movie is an original story. It has its roots in the transition between the second and third seasons of the Justice League cartoon when it rebranded as Justice League Unlimited. Dwayne McDuffie was commissioned to write a movie that explained the differences between the two set-ups, but it wasn’t made. Fast-forward a few years and WB Animation have dusted down that script, reworked it to stand on its own, and released it as Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.

This clip from the movie of the JLA assembling their Watchtower/Satellite headquarters makes the connection pretty obvious – you can almost imagine the voices of the other original artists.

Newsarama hosted premier screens of the films on the East and West Coast. There was a live panel at the New York screening that was attended by James Woods (Owlman), writer Dwayne McDuffie, and voice director Andrea Romano. The West Coast premier was also have a panel hosted by Newsarama. It had larger roster including the executive producer Bruce Timm, the producers, and several actors.

At the East Cost panel James Wood’s described the thinking process of his Owlman character:

I was reading about an idiot savant chess player, and he went into real mental illness because he was so far ahead of his competitors that he got bored and was waiting to see them realize there was no way out.

McDuffie also expanded on the conversion from JLU to a standalone movie:

I was working on Justice League, and we were about to start Justice League Unlimited. The plan was to do a version of this story as a bridge from how they went from 6 characters to 60. There wasn’t the staff [at WB Animation] to do the design for both of these at once though.

Bruce Timm called me and asked if I’d be willing to rewrite it to be a bit more like the comics and less like the [cartoon] series. We switched Green Lanterns, we switched out all of the guest Justice Leaguers. In the TV series, they were all characters who had met Batman in other series.  The only one who was in both versions was Aquaman, who was going to be in there, cause I think Aquaman’s cool.

Wood’s then noted that he was the villain in the spoof Aquaman movie featured in the Entourage.

In a studio provided interview Executive Producer Bruce Timm was asked about the biggest challenge in translating a Justice League Unlimited script into a stand-alone movie.

The biggest challenge, and this is kind of esoteric, was that we had to find the line between the original source material and making it feel like a stand-alone movie so anyone that didn’t watch JLU could follow it. We really didn’t have to tweak the script too much – I think about 95 percent remains untouched. In terms of visual styling, we also wanted it to stand on its own and not necessarily as a continuation of the old show. We have this brilliant character designer – Phil Bourassa – who draws in a style similar to my own in terms of simplicity, but slightly different. So it doesn’t look 180 degrees away from the old show, but it definitely feels unique.

And, MTV’s Splash Page picked up on comments Dwayne McDuffie made about already having written two other animated movies.

“I’ve written two more [animated] movies,” said McDuffie. “I can’t say what they are, although I’m dying to say what they are. They’re really cool. [Warner Brothers Animation] kind of likes to announce just the next [animated film] to keep focused, but I think people are going to be pretty excited.”

The DVD and Blu-Ray copies of Crisis on Two Earths go on sale on Tuesday. I’ve got my blue ray copy on pre-order from Amazon, but it looks like there are a lot of copies out there already. I’ve got a saved search with Google that alerts me to new articles or webpages mentioning the Justice League and for the last week or so it has been inundated with links to pirate sites offering the film for download. I won’t download it, but I certainly won’t claim to hold the moral high ground. Nevertheless, I’ve been surprised by just how many times it’s been downloaded. A quick check of a couple of torrent sites shows 9000+ seeds/leechers for the most popular Crisis on Two Earths rip, which is three times more than for Smallville: Absolute Justice and comparable with the aggregate numbers for many motion pictures. Hopefully this will translate into enough sales to warrant subsequent Justice League movies.

JLA writers: JLA #34 preview @ Newsarama & Robinson interview at CBR

The change over from Dwayne McDuffie, through Len Wein, to James Robinson continues apace. Newsarama have a preview of JLA #34 and it appears that the credits confusion continues where both JLA #34 and JLA #35 are listed as the first part of Len Wein’s run. Their description in Newsarama’s preview states that:

Len Wein takes over the pages of Justice League in the first of a two-part story featuring Starbreaker.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA
Written by Len Wein; Art by Jose Luis and JP Mayer; Cover by Ed Benes and Rob Hunter

However, the credits box in the actual preview itself clearly shows:

JLA #34 credits

I really hope this continued misattribution of the credits isn’t some slight towards the departing writer.

Nevertheless, Len Wein takes over from JLA #35 for his three-part Royal Flush Gang story. That was originally a two-parter, but like a tall tale it seems to be getting longer at each telling. CBR has an interview with James Robinson about joining the JLA and they note that Wein’s run will be four-issues.

Unsurprisingly James Robinson’s interview is noncomital on details of his run, but he does comment on the transition from CRY FOR JUSTICE to the main JLA title

“I was very happy to be writing ‘Superman’ and being a part of the Superman team, but when the offer came up and they asked whether I was interested in writing ‘Justice League of America,’ I realized how exciting it would be to fold what happens in ‘Cry for Justice’ into the ‘Justice League’ book and sort of continue on from there,” explained Robinson.

[...]

“What I’m doing is basically picking up where Len Wein left off, getting the team through the traumatic, incredibly exciting but obviously traumatic events of ‘Blackest Night’ and then from that I’m going to build a new team comprising of some big names from the DC Universe and… well, pretty much, a lot of big names from the DC Universe,” Robinson confirmed.

When asked if there would be any holdovers from “Cry for Justice,” Robinson confirmed, “Absolutely. It won’t be the exact same team but half of the team will be going into the new book. I’ll leave it at that.”

I was also interested in a comment towards the end of the interview

But from where I started on ‘Superman,’ I think the book’s got better and better, personally. I’m quite proud of that but with ‘Justice League of America,’ I think I am now more immersed in the lore of the DC Universe. The chains of communication between myself and the Superman writers and Geoff Johns and editors Eddie Berganza and Matt Idelson and Ian Sattler and Dan DiDio are much clearer and we’re moving forward, all of us together, in a very clear direction.

It is arguably that its poor “chains of communication” that led to Dwayne’s furstration with writing JLA and his ultimate removal from the title. Hopefully, James’s comments means that this problem is delibrately being addressed. We’ll find out in October.

Is JLA #34 written by McDuffie or by Wein?

JLA #34 cover by Ed Benes and Rob HunterThere is something odd about the listings for JLA on the DC Comics website. The listing for JLA #34 says it is being written by Len Wein, not a big deal as we know he’s writing a fill-in block. However, news that Dwayne McDuffie had been fired came at the same time that JLA #33 hit the stands and that issue concluded with a cliff-hanger. The listing for JLA #35 and JLA #36 also list Wein as the writer.

All the Wein issues feature a Royal Flush Gang story so what’s happened to the conclusion to McDuffie’s last tale? Well, McDuffie wrote a script for the conclusion, and there is an oddity with the description of Wein’s stories. JLA #34 is described as,

“The cards are against the remnants of the Justice League! And those cards are the Royal Flush Gang! Can even Superman and Wonder Woman save a team whose luck has run out? Featuring the deadly return of an old foe in part 1 of a 2-part story.”

JLA #35 is described as,

“The cards are stacked against the remnants of the Justice League! And those cards are the Royal Flush Gang! Can even Superman and Wonder Woman save a team whose luck has run out? Featuring the deadly return of an old foe.”

and JLA #36 is described as,

“In part 2 of the 3-part “Royal Flush” arc, it’s the Justice Society of America villain Roulette vs. the JLA’s old foe, Amos Fortune. And the stakes are high as the two baddies pit the JLA against itself!”

The most consistent reading of those blurbs is that the originally solicited JLA #34 story actually starts in JLA #35 and is now three parts rather than two (more breathing room for DC?). That would then leave JLA #34 free for the last part of McDuffie’s story to be published in sequence.

Updated to add: Well Ed Benes has certainly done a cover for JLA #34 that looks like its the conclusion to McDuffie’s story.

Updated once again: Apparently, DC have released a corrected version of the listing for JLA #34, they just haven’t made it widely known and neither have they updated their own website:

In Justice League of America #34, written by Dwayne McDuffie with art by Eddy Barrows and Ruy Jose, the “Starbreaker” will conclude as the universe is once again threatened as a cosmic vampire shows his true self.

The story originally solicited for #34 will now appear in #35.

From the Comics Continuum. Nice to know those guys still get the scoop once in a while.

Dwayne McDuffie fired as Justice League writer

Several comics news blogs including CBR’s Robot 6 and Comics Should Be Good have picked up the sudden announcement from JLA writer Dwayne McDuffie that he has been dismissed as the writer of Justice League of America.

Len Wein had come on board as a JLA writer for a few fill-in issues to, one assumes, give McDuffie a beak so that he could focus on his other projects. However, the topic came up after one of the regular Q&A sessions Dan Didio (DC’s show runner) with Newsarama. Didio was asked whether McDuffie was still writing JLA and answered,

As of right now, Len [Wein]’s the writer of Justice League, and once his arc is done, we’ll be able to announce the new direction for the series.

It’s noticable that Didio’s response pointedly avoids mentioning McDuffie. The reason for that became clear after McDuffie was asked about the situtation on his own forums. He explained that,

Nope, it was my own doing. I was fired when “Lying in the Gutters” ran a compilation of two years or so of my answers to fans’ questions on the DC Comics discussion boards. I’m told my removal had nothing to with either the quality of my work or the level of sales, rather with my revelation of behind-the-scenes creative discussions.

McDuffie came onboard as the JLA writer after Brad Meltzer’s acclaimed year long run on the relaunched title. Brad’s run set up a slew of plot threads, including the return of the Legion of Superheroes, that are still running through the DC Universe. However, many of the plot threads were delibrately left danging for the incoming JLA writer to run with. McDuffie had not only to cope with a recently reorganised team and their ongoing development, but he also had to factor in crossover plotlines from the Salvation Run and Tangent: Superman’s Rein mini-series. And on top of that, events post-Final Crisis meant that Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman (Bruce Wayne version) off the table.

I’d noted the Lying in the Gutter’s article before, but I’m personally surprised by DC’s response. I always thought that Dwayne had been very professional and honest about what he’d said. I never thought he was casting DC in a bad light. He was just expressing the natural frustration anybody feels when working in an environment where you aren’t in full control. It’s a pity to lose such a fantastic writer for something like this,  but I’m beginning to wonder if it its proof that being JLA writer is something of a poisioned challace.

Rich Johnson publically apologized to McDuffie on the same forum thread.

I’m so so sorry. I certainly thought that since comments had been published by, you know, DC’s Message Board, without being removed or edited… well, I don’t know what I expected but I didn’t expect that.

I know many people found your forthrightness enlightening, interesting and thought provoking, which is why I wanted to share them.

Indeed, I didn’t get any kind bitterness or anger from you. Just an valuable, insightful, explanation of the way things work in commercial art. Compared to, say, Mark Waid’s comments on working on 52 and about Countdown, they hardly seemed as offensive or critical. Just accepting.

Unfortunately I honestly don’t think this will be the last example of something like this. Fans crave information about how their favourite book or TV show is produced. We want to see what the Great and Glorious Oz is up to behind the curtain. Its this interest that feeds everything from Lying in the Gutters to convention appearances. However, its an avenue that is largely outside of the control of the corporate PR department. I even remember a reference to actors from the new Doctor Who show having a contractual clause that stopped them from attending conventions without a corporate handler in attendance.

Dan Didio’s entire speel at conventions is about connecting with the fans, his DC Nation, and DC have recently started the Source, their own blog, to speak to the fans. It’s something that the entire industry is up to – Marvel have even started using Twitter. Dwayne McDuffie, on his own message boards and on DC’s message boards, has been very forward about engaging with the fans. Indeed, DC’s own boards specifically label their creators so it could be thought that they were actively encouraging such interaction.

The development of all of this promotion by the companies and their freelancers has been every organic. However, its generated the general expectation of transparency, that everything that goes on behind the curtain is up for public discussion and revelation. What we’ve seen here is DC finally saying, “okay, that’s too far.”