No celebration of the history of Green Lantern would be complete without acknowledging Dwayne McDuffie. McDuffie was a titan in both the comic book and animation industries before he passed in 2011, co-founding Milestone Comics and helping turn Milestone character Static into a successful, beloved Saturday morning cartoon (Static Shock), among a myriad of other accomplishments in both mediums.
But to many superhero fans, McDuffie’s most iconic work was on Justice League Unlimited, the massively popular cartoon expansion of the Batman: The Animated Series universe. It was there that McDuffie paired John Stewart and Hawkgirl in what became a definitive romantic pairing for a generation of DC superhero fans. To honor his work with Stewart, Charlotte Fullerton McDuffie, his widow, and ChrisCross, his friend and former artistic collaborator, got together to jam out a John/Shayera story for June’s Green Lantern 80th Anniversary 100-Page Spectacular.
“I specifically asked if ChrisCross could come on and draw it because we’ve always wanted to work together,” McDuffie tells us in an interview. “I love the dynamic approach to his staging that he takes.”
He was as eager to work with her as she was with him.
“Charlotte was pretty much on the bucket list of people I wanted to work with,” Cross says. “It’s always feast or famine with this job, man. I’m working on stuff…and then this pops up. I’m like, ‘I can’t not work on this.’ I kind of owe it to Dwayne and owe it to Charlotte to work on this.”
Of course, honoring Dwayne meant doing right by the characters he loved. “Dwayne loved Gil Kane Silver Age Green Lantern,” she says. “I loved John Stewart Green Lantern and Hawkgirl together, so I wanted to make sure to do it right.” And she did: the story she and Cross produced feels like it could have fit right between the Christmas episode, with John and Shayera snowboarding and bar brawling, and the Shadow Thief episodes of the cartoon.
The story pits Green Lantern and Hawkgirl against Dr. Polaris, who broke into the Watchtower to steal a rare element that would significantly amplify his power: Milestonium. “I read that, and I was like, ‘Does that say Milestonium?’ Cross says.
“I got to write in an element that is now canon in the Justice League world. This is wonderful,” Fullerton adds.
For Cross, the biggest challenge in drawing the story, both in designing the signature element and in putting Lanterns on the page, is trying to convey how to show the power and character inherent in the story through the design of their powers. “When you’re drawing certain constructs, you have to make sure that echoes the character [creating them],” he says. “Even if you’ve never seen him before, or if you never worked with him [you have to consider] what would this rabbit person with this ring, what would he put out?”
A big part of the success of the homage is Cross’s art. The artist got his break working for Milestone, the comics company co-founded by McDuffie and others, in the early ‘90s. Since then, he’s drawn just about everything, from X-Men to Batman to Bloodshot. His art has always had a distinct style, a clean, crisp flow, but the most surprising thing about his work on this story is how successful his mimicry is. The tone matches the cartoon so successfully because, in part, the art matches the show beautifully.
“Working with Charlotte, I don’t know. It was just a weird connection…” he says. “[When] I started working on this stuff, I was just thinking, ‘Just make it look good and make sure it has a certain way of movement from one particular page to the next.’ When they sent me the [pages] before they put it out to the printer, I sat there and I read it and…I was like, ‘Wow, this looks like the cartoon.’”
Despite only meeting face to face for the second time during the interview, the pair vibe in person and through their work like old friends, as if they have developed a comfort level with each other over years. In fact, Cross didn’t remember their first meeting. “I know why you didn’t remember it,” she reminds him, “because you were being swamped by fans. New York Comic Con, maybe around 2006 or 2007 you were signing for fans and Dwayne and I came up to you and he talked to you like a little brother.”
“Yeah, he was always like that. I always called him Uncle Dwayne,” Cross says. That trust enabled them to work comfortably “Marvel style” (after the manner in which Jack Kirby and Stan Lee used to create comics during that company’s early years) – Cross drew off of a story outline from McDuffie, and she filled in the dialogue after the pages were drawn – on a legacy tribute to the man they both clearly adored, love that shines through in the finished product.