It's oddly fitting that a movie focused on the fracturing and rebuilding of the Justice League will be the last of Dwayne McDuffie's work to make it onto the screen. Long a proponent of diversity in the comics medium, McDuffie frequently wrote stories that showed how people from different racial, psychological and philosophical backgrounds can come together and accomplish great things.
A little more than a year ago, the comics and animation writer/editor/producer died suddenly. The Detroit native managed to excel at nearly every avenue of superhero fiction, with acclaimed runs at Marvel and DC. McDuffie's crowning glories were being the co-founder and chief visionary of the multicultural Milestone Media and being a writer/producer on the pitch-perfect Justice League series which ran for multiple seasons on Cartoon Network.
That manifestation of the World's Greatest Superheroes won praise for being dramatic, poignant and funny all at the same time, while dipping deep into the DC Universe's deep pool of characters for a wide-ranging ensemble cast. Justice League: Doom re-assembles most of the voice actors from that series and combines elements from Mark Waid's acclaimed Tower of Babel storyline with the Injustice League arc from McDuffie's own tenure with DC Comics' premier super-team.
Seeing Batman take a beating from superpowered villlains early on sets up the film's core conflict, which is that a merely human Dark Knight has to stockpile strategies for dealing with people who are more powerful than him. Sometimes, those people are his own teammates. When Batman's contingencies for neutralising Superman, Wonder Woman and the other members of the League fall into the wrong hands, it's up to him to rally his fellow heroes against the supervillains that the immortal Vandal Savage has formed into the Injustice League.
Doom puts all of McDuffie's unique skills on display. He knew how to showcase tension in team dynamics while highlighting the moments that showcased members' individual strengths. So, while it's Batman's paranoia that creates the threats take that the Leaguers out, it's his belief in his teammates that enables them pull through, casting the Dark Knight as both a figure of hope and fear.
The action in Doom can be surprisingly visceral and the drama is shockingly adult. Each Leaguer's shown to have a blind spot that makes them fatally vulnerable. Spotlighting the Martian Manhunter's loneliness, Wonder Woman's battle-lust and Superman's trust in others makes the characters feel more three-dimensional than they generally do. And Batman's guilt is palpable for most of the film. Whether it's Cyborg's insecurity or Flash's cockiness, Doom showcases McDuffie's deft touch at making metahumans relatable.
Cynical viewers might see the inclusion of Cyborg here as just a diversity move meant to mirror the current roster of the New 52 Justice League. It's not. The young hero's presence gives an outsider's-eye-view as to what it's like to watch the this iconic team kick arse, quarrel and overcome internal and external threats.
And perhaps trickiest of all, McDuffie wrote scenes that communicated what was cool about characters who are more than six decades old. Superman isn't boring in his hands. All of this writing comes to vibrant life courtesy of the great voicework provided by Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy and the other actors portraying the Justice League and their archenemies.
Overall, Justice League: Doom stands out as a shining example of a creator who knew how to tap the power of superheroes as aspirational metaphors while sussing out believable behaviours out them. The "A Legion of One: The Dwayne McDuffie Story" featurette included with the release shows his impact on comics and the people who made and read them. Though his absence will be felt for years, McDuffie's legacy stands as some of the best interpretations of superheroes that fans young and old will ever enjoy.