Static, the best-known character from black-owned comics company Milestone Media, made the jump from paper comics to a TV cartoon called Static Shock back in 2000. There’s only been one six-episode DVD released for Static Shock, and that’s been very tough to find for years. Warner Bros is at long last releasing the entire first season on DVD next month.
Debuting seven years after the character’s print introduction, Static Shock ran for four seasons and was notable for being one of very few animated superhero series with a black lead character. Comics legend Dwayne McDuffie, a chief architect of Milestone and creator of Virgil Hawkins, a.k.a. Static, worked as a writer on the show, which crossed over with the Batman and Robin series. Hopefully, this is a sign that DC and Warner Bros. are prepping more news for Milestone 2.0 revival announced back in 2015. Static Shock: The Complete First Season comes out on March 28.
Meet Virgil Hawkins, a mild-mannered teen in the wrong place at the wrong time when a chemical explosion rocks the streets of Dakota City – changing him from supergeek to super-hero. Based on the Milestone/DC Comics property, this animated series about the adventures of the first African-American teenage superhero follows quick-witted Virgil, who finds himself imbued with electromagnetic superpowers after being exposed to a mutagenic gas.
Taking on the guise of Static, an urban hero of his own creation, he must learn to control his powers, figure out how to patrol the skies at night and still make it home in time to study for school. Virgil’s greatest discovery becomes the real “charge” he gets out of helping people and making a positive difference as a super-hero in his community. The series confronts real problems and issues faced by today’s kids, including peer pressure, gangs and growing up in an ethnically diverse urban neighborhood.
In 2004, stores received a Warner DVD release titled, “Static Shock – Vol 1: The New Kid”…a single-disc, 6-episode package. The item is long out of print, and fans have been longing for more from the show. Putting aside a pair of crossovers with Justice League Unlimited, the Static Shock animated series ran for 4 seasons and 52 episodes…and the first season alone clocked in at 13 episodes.
Now the Warner Archive has announced that on March 28th they will release Static Shock – The Complete 1st Season on DVD. Our thanks to reader Jackson Burnett for the heads-up. This new manufacture on demand title will cost $24.99 SRP, and cover art is below (you’ll notice it’s the same key artwork as the old “Vol. 1” release!).
Amazon’s CreateSpace MOD program has a listing for the title, but they aren’t taking pre-orders as of this writing. On the other hand, you can pre-order it from Warner’s own WBshop.com online store right now, using this link: http://www.wbshop.com/product/code/1000638845.do
The comic book business has changed drastically over the last few decades, especially on the creative side. There is more representation in the panels and, subsequently, on the small and silver screens than there ever have been more. On the other side of that same token, the faces of the people who write, draw, and color these characters to life every month are also changing. Although it’s taken much longer than it should’ve, and there are still miles yet to come in terms of black, brown, asian, and women creators of all different kinds of sexual identities being given their just due in the industry.
In every story of change, there are trailblazers who, along the way, open doors, change precedent, and leave them cracked for the next person to come through. Milestone Media was without a doubt, one of the most significant groups of those trailblazers in the comic book and animation mediums. Founded by Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Derek Dingle, and Michael Davis in 1993, Milestone made history, in a deal with DC Comics that was unheard of, especially for black companies.
McDuffie and crew signed a publishing deal that gave DC the right to limited license of the characters, editorial works, and other creative content that came out of Milestone. But the company retained complete editorial control as well as the copyrights. Milestone had the last say on all merchandising and licensing in regards to the properties they created. It’s been noted that DC Comics officials were often uncomfortable with Milestone’s storyline arcs in their books, but because of the deal they signed, and the accomplishments of the company’s founders in the comic book mainstream, almost all of the issues they wrote saw the light of day, and sold just many books, or more, than every black comic company releasing content at the time, combined.
But McDuffie and his partner’s journey doesn’t start at Milestone Comics. His very first gig in the business was as an assistant editor at Marvel Comics, under Bob Budiansky for special projects. And one of the projects that began his comic book career was helping the company develop the first superhero trading cards. From there McDuffie went on to become an editor at Marvel in his own right, but he and his employer didn’t always see eye to eye – and he had a very unique way of making his disagreement with them known. To bring light internally to his feelings about Marvel’s treatment of black characters at that time, McDuffie submitted a spoof proposal comic, named Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers.
After leaving Marvel to freelance for a few years at places like DC and Archie Comics, Milestone would be born. The company’s focus on creating characters of color that were accurately represented from a cultural perspective was definitely not a main focus for many other mainstream publishers at the time. And from the creative collective of founders came titles that are still cemented in the zeitgeist of comic book history like a young Virgil Hawkins in Static, and the African American answer to Superman, Icon. For the very first time there was an abundance of issues on the shelves of comic book shops all across America featuring black characters, thanks to distribution from DC Comics.
There were other black companies at the time Milestone was in its heyday, but because of the lack of funding many of them couldn’t move past getting their local mom and pop shops. And the concept of e-commerce wasn’t big enough yet to be of use. Books like these would go on to shape young comic book readers of color in a way that was transformative. It’s safe to say that without mainstream access to Milestone Comics there could easily still be, even more of, a living perception that black creators have no place in big industry comic books to tell our stories.
Although the most active years of Milestone Media were short lived, the company closed its comic book division in 1997, its impact was indelible. Many creators and readers of color site one, or more, of the company’s comic book properties as an inspiration, in one way or another. McDuffie would go on to develop Static into the critically acclaimed animated series Static Shock. And that character, as well as Icon, would become widely accepted as an integral part of canon within the DC Comics Justice League universe. He also made huge contributions to other wildly successful animated childhood staples like Teen Titans, What’s New Scooby-Doo?, Justice League, and Ben 10.
The legend, Dwayne McDuffie passed away back in 2011, on February 21st, one day after his 49th birthday, due to complications from emergency heart surgery. And he left us a legacy of imagination that helped birth an awareness, in the industry he loved most that still informs creators all over the world today.
This week it was announced that Milestone Media, one of the most exciting imprints in the comic book industry, is returning! For those unfamiliar, Milestone was the brainchild of legendary creators Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan, along with Michael Davis, Derek Dingle, and media icon Reggie Hudlin. Debuting in 1993 as an imprint of DC Comics, Milestone was focused on bringing minorities in comics to the forefront, both in terms of creators and characters. Their biggest property, Static, went on to become a worldwide phenomenon thanks to an award-winning animated series, though they also had hits on their hands with Hardware, Icon, Shadow Cabinet and more. I was a huge fan of these comics growing up, which is a big surprise to most people.
To be honest, I probably wasn’t the target audience for Milestone’s titles. When the imprint launched, I was a ten year old white kid in the one of the whitest cities in America. Their books were on the mature end of the scale and focused mainly on minority characters. It didn’t matter to me though, I was hooked. Milestone had a unique voice for the comic book industry as it represented an end of our culture that had never been prominent in our industry in particular, but it was an entirely new voice to me altogether.
I grew up in Dubuque, Iowa which, at the time of Milestone’s launch, was almost entirely white. When I was kid, there would be a handful of non-white students in my school. I had two African American friends when I was in first grade that lived down the street, but after I moved at the end of the year, I didn’t even meet another black student until high school. When I was in elementary school, Dubuque made national headlines because of multiple cross-burnings and a rally held by the KKK. For years, my hometown was known for little more than misplaced hatred. It was heartbreaking to me as a kid and even to this day is something that I am incredibly ashamed to have seen happen. Over the past twenty years, Dubuque has done its best to improve its image and to make up for the horrors committed by a small number of its inhabitants.
I bring this up to help you understand why Milestone’s debut was so bold and shocking me as a ten year old growing up in this era of racial tension without having much exposure to anything but the white bread culture of a small Midwestern city. Milestone’s characters were unlike anything I had seen. All of the superhero comics I had read were about white guys from big cities modeled after the East Coast, but Milestone’s characters were unique and hip—and they were from the Midwest. The comics were bold and action packed with great characters and awesome art. Compared to Icon, Superman was just like every other superhero on the stands and I had seen enough of that. I loved my traditional superheroes, but I wanted to know more about the culture that spawned these awesome new creations.
I may not have been the reader that Milestone had in mind when it launched in 1993, but those comics spoke to me. Static was someone I wanted to be friends with. Icon was the man I wanted to see take on all of the badass supervillains. I can’t even begin to describe how cool and unique Blood Syndicate was to me. Milestone opened me up to an avenue of American culture that I had never seen before and because of that, it has always held a special place for me.
Six years ago, Dwayne McDuffie was the special guest at a comic book convention in Minnesota that I regularly attend. I had never met him, but dreamed of telling him just how much Milestone meant to me for all of the reasons that I’ve outlined above. Unfortunately, I was only two weeks away from my wedding, so I had to pass on going to the show (though I did send my well-worn copy of Static #1 to get signed). Sadly, McDuffie would pass away a few years later and I never did have a chance to talk with him about how much his creations meant to me—and how much of an inspiration he was to me as a writer. I will always regret not going to that show.
So, Milestone Media is back and I could not be more excited. Now how can I get on board as a writer?!
In 1993, Milestone Media (distributed by DC) launched a new series of comics set in its own unique universe. Milestone comics took place in the fictional city of Dakota. During an epic battle between street gangs known as the Big Bang, police used an experimental gas that ended up killing most of the gang members there. The ones who survived gained superhuman powers. It’s in the world of the so-called “Bang Babies” that most of the comics were set.
One of the mandates of Milestone was that it presented more people of color than other comics at the time. All their headline books like “Icon” and “Static” had African-American main characters. With minority artists and writers producing it, they simply wanted to reflect a more diverse world they felt had been excluded from mainstream comics. Unfortunately, Milestone suffered from the perception that their creations were just “comics for blacks.” Milestone also launched at the end of the comic boom, which led to a crash in 1994. With a possible revival of Milestone coming, CBR is running down all their industry-changing comics.
15. Blood Syndicate
“Blood Syndicate” was Milestone’s take on the superhero team, but with a very different slant. Blood Syndicate was a street gang that survived the Big Bang and escaped with enormous power. “Blood Syndicate” reflected a more diverse cast than most comics of the time. The team was a mix of Asian, African-American, and Latino characters. The team also had a different sensibility than other teams. A gang from before the Big Bang, Blood Syndicate wasn’t driven by a desire to right wrongs and bring justice, so much as make money and protect their turf.
They also clashed with each other in ways that went beyond the good-natured bickering of teams like the Fantastic Four. The characters also evolved in unexpected ways. Holocaust went on to become one of Milestone’s most deadly supervillains, Flashback struggled with drug addiction, and Masquerade revealed he was a woman before the Big Bang allowed him to take on the shape of a man, making him a transgender character. It showcased diversity in multiple ways, not just racially.
Debuting in 1993, “Hardware” was inspired by many exoskeleton-powered superheroes, most notably Iron Man. Curtis Metcalf was a brilliant African-American engineer who worked for Edwin Alva, who he thought was a benevolent benefactor. When Metcalf discovered Alva was exploiting his technology to run a global crime ring, Metcalf created a power suit and took on the persona of Hardware. Hardware dedicated himself to destroying Alva’s operation, but also took on larger crimes in Dakota.
“Hardware” did the job of many gadget-based heroes, giving its title hero some cool technology and putting him up against fierce supervillains. But the comic also explored the frustration of minorities being oppressed by institutional forces instead of outright slavery. It also showed how people of all races can feel abused and manipulated by their employers. His personal life wasn’t easy, either, as he watched his life fall apart in pursuit of his revenge. “Hardware” was a real game-changer.
13. Long Hot Summer
In 1995, Milestone launched its second crossover, “Long Hot Summer.” When a company moved into Dakota to create an amusement park called Utopia, they had to displace a lot of families from their homes to do it. The resulting fallout drew in all the heroes from the Dakotaverse like Hardware and the Blood Syndicate to try to save the homes of the people. In the end, the conflict escalated until it ultimately lead to a full-scale riot.
This crossover series tried to do something different than your usual comics crossover eventss. The threat wasn’t from a cosmic entity or supervillain like Apocalypse, but rather a greedy corporation. The danger wasn’t the end of the world, but the survival of the city itself. It also stood on its own as a mini-series, not requiring readers to purchase tie-in issues to get the full story. “Long Hot Summer” was a unique idea inspired by movies like “Do The Right Thing” instead of the usual comic fare.
12. My Name Is Holocaust
The psycho flamethrower from “Blood Syndicate” got his own mini-series in 1995 with “My Name is Holocaust.” In “Holocaust,” he set out with his new gang to join the Coalition, an alliance of some of the most powerful criminals in Dakota. But the Coalition wasn’t about to make it easy, recruiting the city’s mayor and even a retired superhero to stop him. Holocaust had to fight for his life, but soon discovered a shocking secret about his origin.This five-issue series revolved around a supervillain instead of a superhero. Unlike “Breaking Bad,” where the main character was a likeable anti-hero, Holocaust was evil through and through. Holocaust revelled in cruelty and sadism, and his quest to take over the city took him to a lot of dark places. It was an uncomfortable story to read, but showed once again how committed Milestone was. They wanted to shake up the status quo of comics, not just in diversity, but in storytelling.
11. Wise Son: The White Wolf
Another spin-off of “Blood Syndicate,” “Wise Son” was launched in 1996. It told the story of Wise Son, the invulnerable leader of Blood Syndicate, striking out alone after the team was disbanded. He came up against a racist organization called the Children of the Ivory Fist. The Ivory Fist (not to be confused with Iron Fist) targeted the black community, and Wise Son set out to stop them.
The four-issue series was brief, but explored one of the most popular members of “Blood Syndicate.” Wise Son was a Muslim, but (as the creators pointed out) not a good Muslim. Throughout “Blood Syndicate,” he had struggled with temptation and living up to his beliefs, especially the non-violent teachings of the faith. In “White Wolf,” he tackled his problems head on and learned both the path to non-violence and greater humanity. It also told of how he came to embrace and accept his children and the woman he had left behind. It was a powerful story of redemption and acceptance.
If we’re comparing Milestone’s heroes to other more famous heroes, then we could say Kobalt was Milestone’s answer to Batman. Launched in 1994, “Kobalt” was about a brutal vigilante with a fearsome reputation among criminals. Some people thought he was a cannibal or a demon. He fought crime with a variety of deadly weapons, usually taken from his enemies. But his reputation took a hit when Kobalt agreed to take on a sidekick as a favor. He ended up trying to train a nerdy geek in crime-fighting.
Much of the fun of the series came from the bickering between Kobalt and his sidekick, Page. The series also brought the kind of chaotic violence we knew and loved from other books. As with all its titles, Milestone gave “Kobalt” a unique twist by casting a Cuban as their anti-hero, and Page’s journey from skinny nerd to actual superhero explored what it means to be a hero.
9. Justice League: Worlds Collide
In 1994, in an attempt to boost the sales of Milestone Comics, DC collaborated with them to create a crossover, “Worlds Collide.” The crossover channeled Crisis on Infinite Earths, and brought heroes from Metropolis in conflict with heroes from Dakota. The story involved a postal worker who unwittingly became a conduit between the DC Universe and the Dakotaverse. When his powers get out of control, turning him into Rift, heroes from both universes work to stop him.
Originally, the event was just a big crossover and one-shot issue, about seeing Superboy and Rocket working side-by-side, which was cool. The crossover was erased from DC continuity in the Zero Hour event. But the comic went from being a publicity stunt to an established part of DC in 2008, when DC decided to bring Milestone characters into the DC universe. Icon, Dharma and Superman became the only ones who knew about the previous continuity. Everyone else just began showing up in DC’s world as if they’d always been there.
8. Milestone Forever
When Milestone was cancelled in 1997, fans mourned the loss of a great collection of characters and ideas until DC brought all of Milestone’s characters into DC continuity. The counterpart to “Worlds Collide” was “Milestone Forever,” the book that told the story from the Milestone universe’s point of view. Not only did it have all the original characters, but the two-issue mini-series even brought back the original artists, and Dwayne McDuffie (the editor-in-chief of Milestone) to write it.
In the final epic series, Holocaust made his move to try to take over the city of Dakota. He was opposed by the original Blood Syndicate and Icon, who fought to stop him. The series also revisited Static and Hardware, showing the end of Hardware’s battle against Alva, and the end of Static’s romance with his best friend, Freida. Along the way, “Milestone Forever” explained how the mysterious Dharma caused the end of their world. It was a welcome story, bringing an end to the storylines fans had been wondering about for decades.
In 1994, Milestone released a new comic called “Xombi.” His origin is similar to Swamp Thing, as both are about a scientist transformed by his own creation. Daniel Kim was a Korean-American scientist who developed nanotechnology to restore body parts. When he was killed by scientists after his invention, Kim was injected with his own nanotech virus to save him. The virus brought him back to life, but also partially consumed him, turning him into a technological zombie. With the power to heal rapidly and also being able to transform objects, Xombi became part of an epic war between supernatural forces.
While most of Milestone’s comics were based in science, “Xombi” was embroiled in mysticism. It also broadened the diversity of Milestone’s line by making an Asian-American the main character for the comic. “Xombi” lasted for 21 issues and it made Milestone much more diverse in tone as well as in terms of racial backgrounds. It felt more like an independent Vertigo title than a Milestone comic.
Milestone’s superhero team “Shadow Cabinet” wasn’t selling well, so Milestone revamped the series in 1996 into a more traditional superhero team like Justice League. Called simply “Heroes,” the series revolved around some of the Shadow Cabinet banding together and deciding to strike out on their own. The series also changed things by moving from Dakota to New York. Unfortunately, the Shadow Cabinet didn’t take kindly to their leaving, so the Heroes’ first adventure involved the team fighting Iron Butterfly, who Dharma had sent after them.
The Heroes, as they called themselves, consisted of Static teaming up with other popular characters from “Shadow Cabinet.” While the Heroes were a less controversial team, they still didn’t fit the mold for superheroes of the time. For example, the team included German superhero Donner and a Japanese superhero Blitzen, an openly lesbian couple. Unfortunately, Milestone shut down shortly after the series began, so we never got to see how the series could have evolved.
In 1994, Milestone released its first mini-series, “Deathwish.” “Deathwish” focused on a police officer named Marissa Rahm who transitioned to female while continuing to pursue a serial killer nicknamed Boots. Boots targeted transgenders, and killed them in macabre recreations of famous artwork. In her search, Marissa was aided by Deathwish, who was sort of like if the Punisher worked for “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.” First introduced in “Hardware” #5, Deathwish was a violent vigilante who specialised on killing sexual predators because of a gang rape that killed his family.
The book wasn’t that connected to Milestone’s other lines, except in terms of diversity. It was a rare series to feature a transgender hero while also being written by a trangender (Maddie Blaustein, who created Rahm, based the character on herself). “Deathwish” had a black sense of humor, and featured graphic violence. It also had a love story between a lesbian transgender couple, still rarely seen in comics even today.
4. Static Shock: Rebirth Of The Cool
By far, Milestone’s most popular character was the electricity-based teen hero, Static. Unfortunately, “Static” disappeared along with the rest of Milestone after his series was cancelled. But after his series ended, Static got a second chance when he was adapted into an animated series in 2000, “Static Shock.” The TV series introduced Static to a new generation and boosted his popularity, bringing him out of obscurity and into the mainstream. It also led to a revived series in 2001.
In his new mini-series, “Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool,” high school teenager Virgil Hawkins continued his adventures in crime fighting. “Static Shock” brought the character out of retirement and into the modern era, but his life remained much the same. He still had problems at school and with his girlfriend, and still found supervillains to fight. The mini-series served as a window into the Dakotaverse with visits from Hardware and other heroes. Unfortunately, it was an all-too-brief look at the characters.
3. Shadow Cabinet
“Shadow Cabinet” was another take on classic superhero comics, this time the epic superhero team like DC’s Justice League of America or Marvel’s Avengers. But the Shadow Cabinet was a much darker take on the concept. Launched with the crossover event “Shadow War,” 1994’s “Shadow Cabinet” expanded Milestone’s universe in new ways.
Led by Dharma, who had the power to see the past and the future, the Shadow Cabinet was dedicated to protecting humanity from itself, and used questionable means to do it. Dharma could see numerous apocalypses in the future, and would resort to any means to stop them before they occurred. At one point, the Shadow Cabinet broke up over disagreements concerning Dharma’s methods, leading to the rival faction Star Chamber.
“Shadow Cabinet” was a series that delved into the old saying “the end justifies the means.” The heroes struggled against the consequences of their actions, and their responsibility to save people from disaster.
Icon was the Superman of the Milestone Universe, but with several unique twists. “Icon” told the story of Augustus Freeman, who to everyone else was a fiercely conservative African-American lawyer. In reality, he was an alien who crash-landed in the South during the days of slavery and took on the appearance of an African-American man. After hiding his identity for decades, a teenage girl convinced him to use his powers to become the superhero Icon. With her as his sidekick and moral guide Rocket, the two took on crime in Dakota.
The comic broke new ground, showing us Rocket’s struggle with the decision over whether to get an abortion, and became the first unwed mother in comic book history. “Icon” also explored the conflicts between upper-class minorities and lower-class minorities, as well as addressed conservative and liberal politics among African-Americans. But more than anything else, it was a refreshingly unique take on the uber-superhero mythos.
Caught in the Big Bang, high school teenager Virgil Hawkins gained electrical powers, including the power to shoot lightning, move objects, and electrocute bad guys. He became the superhero Static. In his 1993 comic series, “Static” worked on controlling his powers while also trying to romance his best friend and do well in school. (Years later, DC tried giving him his own comic at the start of the New 52, but it was cancelled after eight issues.)
Any reader of Spider-Man would find “Static” familiar, as he was a wise-cracking but intelligent teenager who struggled with balancing his personal life with being a superhero. He had to deal with bullies and studying, just like any high school kid, except his bullies could shoot fire. “Static” reflected a more realistic view of teenage kids than the ’60s sensibilities of Peter Parker. Hawkins wanted to fight crime, but he was just as interested in getting a date. He also came to struggle with racism as an African-American teen. He was everything we wanted from Milestone and more.