Friday, May 29, 2009

Reader Question - McDuffie Fired From JLA, Who's to Blame?

Yesterday, Dwayne McDuffie posted on his message board that DC had fired him for comments he had made online, some from over two years ago, concerning his run on their top selling book, Justice League of America. For anyone that had been reading or keeping up with McDuffie's run on the title, they will likely know that it has been littered with editorial mandates and forced tie-ins to the various events going on around the DC Universe.

McDuffie stated that the firing came due to Rich Johnston's posting of a compilation of his various behind the scenes reveals in his Lying in the Gutters column earlier this month and had nothing to do with the quality or sales of the title.

My question for everyone is, who's to blame? McDuffie for making the comments? DC for their politics and inaction in addressing McDuffie's concerns for the past 2+ years? Rich Johnston for posting the compilation? My thoughts after the jump.

On the surface, McDuffie posted things online that probably shouldn't have been posted without permission, but, if you've read everything in question, none of it is, "Dan DiDio sucks and you can blame him for everything!", or other insulting or negative comments.

Also, McDuffie takes full responsibility for the quality of the work and readily accepts the restrictions imposed upon him during his tenure while giving a straight answer to reader concerns that does not come off as creator complaining or even a slight against DC (DC is doing a good enough job on its own in that regard, these comments from McDuffie only reaffirmed what we already knew about the title). To me, it was simply a refreshing discourse from a creator that gave some nice insights into the behind the scenes politics of DC's biggest book.

In regards to Rich Johnston posting the compilation, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I did something similar back in March before this whole thing blew up in Lying in the Gutters. If it's online already, it's not your fault for reposting it or drawing attention to it.

To me, this is really all just DC's fault. They let it get this far by a) crapping all over McDuffie's run in the first place, b) not even being able to keep up with what their own creators are posting online for over 2 years and c) for trying to save face by firing the one person probably willing to put up with this crap.

So, I ask again, who do think is to blame for this whole mess? What do you think of this in comparison to previous creator firings over online postings? Did McDuffie deserve to be fired over these comments? Who do you think should replace him on the title?

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Steven said...

McDuffie is to blame. Creators know what the companies think of their talking about internal stuff without permission, whatever the media format they do it in. The fact that they can get on the internet and post their complaints at a moments notice doesn't mean they should. Blogs and the like, while giving fans (too much?) of an inside insight into things, also create the bad habit in employees of airing grievances inappropriately in public without thinking about what it.

This is nothing new. JLA in particular has always run into this sort of thing. How can anyone be surprised about editorial mandates on a book that basically features the companies main franchises all in one book. JLA is never going to have a preferential treatment over the character's own books and major events. Any writer taking on the book knows all of this going into it. So McDuffie was expressing frustrations that are part and parcel of the job he took on. Problems he had to know were going to occur when he started.

This wouldn't be a problem if they just did like Marvel does and arbitrarily ignore current continuity from one book to another. Which works fine unless you are reading several monthly books in which the characters completely contradict themselves from one title to the other, yet are all included in the same line-wide event.

Anonymous said...

Blame it on the a-a-a-a-alcohol.

Matt Ampersand said...

I'm not quite sure what to think about this. I hadn't been reading JLA, so I don't really have a strong sense of what has been going on, only what I read from other blogs. The impression that I get though, is that McDuffie just confirmed what everyone else was thinking already, and DC was just trying to find a way to legally fire him without coming across as assholes.

Jack said...

If Mr. McDuffie was aware that such comments could get him fired (as in a contractual clause) then it is, in the end, his fault. However, he never said anything about his run that wasn't obvious to anyone who reads comics on a regular basis. It is truly unfortunate...his run started out so strong (after Meltzer's luke-warm lead-in). Mr. McDuffie is one of a very few writers around these days (in my opinion, mind you) that writes straight-forward super hero books...solid stories about the characters that have a timeless feel. He tells great stories without seeming to try too hard or be trendy. Additionally, JLA should be the book around which the DC Universe is built. Unfortunately, DC has been using it as a preview book(that just happens to have the Justice League in it)for other titles. Ultimately, DC is to blame for the overall mess. They deprived us of what promised to be a great run on Justice League of America.

Steven said...

JLA has never been a book around which anything in the DCU is built. You cannot have a team consisting of characters who EACH make up their own individual franchises. Significant change cannot happen to major characters outside of one of their own books or a major event book.

JLA has never had any effect outside of its own pages. Not during the vaunted Morrison era, not during the JLI/JLE era. Only characters who appear only within the book will have anything happen to them. It's been this way for the entire history of the book.

And actually any team book from any company that includes as members of the team any character that sustains its own book or franchise of books is the same way.

And whether you have a clause in your contract or not, you shouldn't be airing internal frustrations about your work in public. Pretty much any company will frown on such behavior. So his dismissal is not surprising.

Considering how high profile JLA is, and how little work I've seen out of McDuffie in the long ago was the Milestone thing? You'd think he would have been happy to have a steady comic gig again.

Once again, just because you can go online and complain about things at the drop of a hat doesn't mean it is a good idea to do so.

Kirk Warren said...

@Steven - Agreed on airing dirty laundry, but I don't think McDuffie actually aired any dirty laundry. This isn't like Dixon's dismissal and how he lashed out at DiDio. It's not like other blowups. This was pretty casual and self depricating moreso than against DC or its editors. I know it's wrong for him to make grievances known, but I dont think they were really something I'd fire anyone over compared to what other writers say. Hell, Morrison, during Final Crisis, literally says that anything you have wrong with Final Crisis is DC's and the editors fault for not lining up. Its about as "editors suck and I rule" type of lashing out as you could get. Now, McDuffie is no Morrison, but he never even came close to the kind of tone MOrrison had during those interviews.

And as for mandates, JLA has been one of the few books to not have any mandates on it for a long time, outsdie of reflecting the main characters books or the odd event. Morrison, Waid, and even Meltzer were able to practically dictate their terms (Meltzer in particular for the relaunch) / have their way of things. McDuffie, in comparison, has been crippled as a writer with his hands tied in almost all regards.

@Anonymous - ahaha. Very nice.

@Matt - About how I view it.

@Jack - I thought his run was fairly strong, too, even with the forced Wedding tie-in to begin. It just kept going down hill from there, what with the no-Green Lanterns mandate when DC found SCW was selling/ended, the Final Crisis stuff, the FC aftermaths/non-deaths for Hawkgirl/man and numerous other changes.

COmpletely agree with the previews type of feel. Its like they applied the Countdown formula to a single book.

Andrenn said...

I honestly think it's DC's faults. I've read books that are clearly restricted by the editors and I've read books where writers have free range and can do nearly whatever they want and the more heavily edited and held back a writer is the less quality goes into the book. Looking at Image, one of the reason I love their books so much would be thanks to the creator owned stuff often lets these writers have free reign and that can make for some incredible stories.

btownlegend said...

A good idea is to let people write their stories. The choppy stories in JLA is the reason I dropped it. Quit relaunching, rebooting or whatever and let people create stories. I buy comics to read them.

Robert Frost said...

DC is at fault. If you're concerned about people seeing your dirty laundry - then do a better job wiping your ass.

The Dangster said...

I am a rabid DC fan. I must say I'm dissatisfied the with the way the company treats it's talent. People like McDuffie and Waid have voiced their opinions. While it does hurt sales sometimes you gotta speak the truth. It was important to fans to know if the writer truly loves what he's doing.

1. I love McDuffie. He's a sharp writer. He never should've been on JLA. Meltzer's line up was crap and while McDuffie got John Stewart I'm sure this is NOT the line up he (or anyone) wanted. It's not fair that because Meltzer is an bestselling author who can do whatever he wants while McDuffie, who has a better knowledge of the DCU but lower sales must be edited down.

2. McDuffie is a pro, don't sideline him with mandatory storylines. His Injustice League story, which was cut short, was better than Meltzer's whole self indulgent run. I'm ashamed at the Tangent storyline and the fact McDuffie had to clean up all of Meltzer's loose ends. Not to mention he has to write without Batman, then DC took away the rest of the trinity. Sales are bad because the line up is bad. I heard McDuffie wrote a nice issue about the deaths of Hawkgirl and Hawkman from Final Crisis. DC sprung out in the last minute that they weren't dead, resulting in some baffling panels.

3. Just because a talent hasn't hit a number mark like Geoff Johns, doesn't mean you can force him to whatever. It's a two way street. McDuffie disrespected DC because DC disrespected him first.

4. Fire Dan Didio. He's lucked into success and he now he has no clue what to do. (Keith Giffen would be a great replacement)

5. I know McDuffie has some Milestone projects, so I hope he sticks around DC.

ShadowWing Tronix said...

I wonder what WILL become of the Milestone characters with McDuffie fired, or is he just fired from JLA? Maybe they could give him a comic with the Milestone characters (except Static, who is over at Teen Titans).

Eric Rupe said...

McDuffie is still working on a project called Milestone Forever.

Ramon Villalobos said...

Well, if he was hired to work on JLA and he accepted that because it's JLA, shouldn't he have known what would come with that? Yes, there were a lot of editorial crap being thrown at him, but do you think Grant Morrison was thrilled to completely change the way Superman was presented or completely change Wonder Woman to fit what was going on in her comic? How could he have expected to write a title undisturbed by what's going on in the rest of the DC Universe when EVERYBODY knew a bunch of stuff was going to be going on in the DC Universe? I think he was hired as a writer of a very unstable book and chose to vent on it in the absolutely dumbest way possible.

It's sort of like this story about a guy who got fired on Twitter shortly after getting a job by saying how he will hate his job and is just doing it for his money. I believe there was another time when McDuffie flat out said he didn't like working on JLA.

Here it is.
Someone asked, "Do you actually enjoy writing JLA? It just seems to be constant editorial rewrites and bad art." And he responded, "No, I don't."

Well then. Now he doesn't have to worry about that. I don't blame DC for Dwayne McDuffie's firing because he was given the reins to DC's often best selling title, the title with easily the most cache, and he as a writer was not able to capitalize on it. Then, went on to tell the world how he is not able to capitalize on it. That's hardly DC's fault. JLA is a hard title to write because you can't expect full control when there are at least five other books that will determine what is happening to the characters in yours. Not many writers excel with that kind of book, McDuffie was not one of them.

Michael Edwards said...

McDuffie doesn't deserve to be fired. He's always been a nice guy when fans such as myself have asked him questions about the business, and he did the best interpretation of the JLA in the animated series.

If anyone should be fired I can think of, oh, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, and Dan Didio who would top the list.

Ramon Villalobos said...

Haha, why should Grant Morrison or Geoff Johns be fired, exactly?

Matt Ampersand said...

I don't know about Johns, but Morrison has spoken the same way about some editorial mandates in the same way McDuffie. (Not saying that he should be fired, just playing Devil's advocate here)

Steven said...

Morrison is one of the comic book industry's few superstar writers. He tends to seem to be an arrogant flake, but maybe thats just how he comes off in interviews.

Usually a top-selling book can be attributed to a hot artist. Hulk is a bad book, but it is selling because of McGuinness' art, not Loeb's writing.

Morrison is one of the few writers whose name can sell books at the level of a superstar artist.

Morrison has a large amount of fans for whom his are the only mainstream books they'll read.

McDuffie is a solid, competent writer, but his name holds none of the cache that Morrison's does.

That being said, Morrison's remarks were way more inappropriate and actually seemed to claim that it was more a case of readers just being too dim to get such a sophisticated and radical book as Final Crisis than any actual problems with the story. Which reminded me of Bendis telling people how good Avengers Disassembled and Civil War were and that all the complaints were just people who don't know good writing because they aren't writers. Yet never once addressing the complaint about how completely out of character so many characters were written.

Michael Edwards said...

hahahaha! No, Morrison can't sell at the level of a hot artist. His books have all hovered in the top ten, but not due to his atrocious writing, fragmented plots, dismal narrative; or supposed fan-base that consists of ten users that use various pseudonyms. NEW X-MEN was largely due to the massive promotional efforts of Marvel. I remember every single advert they had for his run. It was in every comic I bought. And Quesada could not stop talking about Morrison's run on Joe Fridays. Hell, every online site was caught up in the hype that was build up then.

As for JLA, right after his first issue came out, and peaked at high numbers; it took a nose dive in sales and stayed at the bottom of the top ten.

Bendis on the other end is almost consistently at Number 1, and has been since he re-invigorated the Avengers franchise. Sure, he's going through the motions now, and everything is not as excited like it was in the beginning. But, Bendis' worst story is still ten times more entertaining than Grant's best story.

Jack Norris said...

I blame DC without hesitation.
They're the ones who hold most of the power, which settles it for me before the discussion begins. I don't care about any other considerations, I would never side with a company against an individual, period.

Ramon Villalobos said...

Michael, I can't tell if you are serious or if you are exhibiting some kind of bizarre form of satire but either way... what the hell, man? You really think Grant Morrison's success is due to excessive marketting on the part of Marvel Comics from like eight years ago? Whether you like his comics or not, you cannot write off his continued success due to advanced marketting, that's ridiculous. Have you ever read the near universally beloved All Star Superman? No? How about Animal Man? No? How about WE3? Eh? Sorry, but I question if you've even read his New X Men because despite slamming it in your post for being overhyped, you never actually discussed why that comic run didn't live up to its hype. Broad generalizations aside,

And JLA "slumming" at the bottom of the top ten, regardless of what you may think, is still a pretty damn good place to be when you consider just how many comics come out a month. And regardless of it's ABYSMAL sales, that run is still regarded as a classic one. So I just don't buy that it was solely because the guy got ads in a bunch of comics. And I have never posted as another user to express these beliefs. I cannot speak for my nine friends, however.

As for Bendis, I think he has his moments, but I think we both agree that he is beginning to show that where he might be prolific as a three year old on speed with a typewriter, he is overextending his reach... just a bit. Though, I bet writing panel after panel of the same people, in the same positions, trading witty reporte makes it a little easier for him to write so much. Gotta love decompressed comics. Regardless, your whole point about Morrison seems to be that he's a bad writer even though he sells well because of marketting. I see an awful lot of marketting for Dark Reign. I'm not saying you are contradicting yourself for linking his success as a writer by the ammount of comics he is able to sell when you say sales have nothing to do with the quality of writing in Grant Morrison's case... I'm just saying that can be said. No wait, I am going to say that.

But anyways, let's backtrack a bit... Why should Geoff Johns be fired? I'm almost positively sure I am not the only one that did a double take when I read his name with Morrison who is polarizing and DiDio is a figurehead for fanboy rage.

Ramon Villalobos said...

Steven, I think there is a bit of a difference between Morrison's comments and McDuffie's. In Morrison's case, it is a writer who was taking a lot of flack for a pretty unconventional series that people either really liked or really didn't. Morrison's commends DEFENDED that material, and where it might have been offensive to say that people that didn't like his book just weren't bright enough to get it, it was the same guy who also said everyone is a god. In fact, he shouted that everyone is a god with glee in a room full of crowded people. So he's not exactly known for his subtlety in the first place, but he still stood up for the work he did that some people didn't like.

McDuffie on the other hand, did not stick up for his work. Work DC paid him to do. Work he should have been able to defend otherwise it was not worth the paycheck they cut him to write it. That's my opinion.

But you are right in that McDuffie's name does not sell as much as Morrison, Loeb, or this Bendis you speak of. That's a given. Which only begs the question, why would the guy put his glaring flaws to cope within the big team book system out there for all to see?

And Jack, I don't want to sound like a corporate shill here but I think the situation is less black and white as you are willing to see. Yes, DC has power in the situation, but as an employee of DC comics, McDuffie is a part of that company. Does that mean you'd take Dan Didio's side if they fired him for incompetence? I'm just wondering where you draw that line.

Jack Norris said...

Maybe I'm not really making it clear enough that I don't particularly care whether the situation is less black and white. You're basically spot on with the "willing to see" bit, of which I am not at all ashamed.
To answer your last question, though, Didio might be too high up the ladder to merit sympathy, though, believe it or not, there are situations I can imagine where I might take his side (like "he objected to our plan to fire all full-time creative staff and outsource all further original comics output as we convert DC almost totally into an intellectual property holding company for movies and merchandise licensing").
The lack of moral support from me harms DC not at all, and they have plenty of people on payroll defending their side of things, so they neither need nor deserve a free defence from the public.
Even if I believed McDuffie to be totally at fault, I would never speak up for a division of an entity as massive as Time Warner; I would just keep my mouth shut.

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