A legendary Black superhero universe has been dormant for two decades. Now it’ll finally return.

Icon and Rocket appear in a panel from “Milestone Returns” issue No. 0. Milestone’s super-duo will return in their own series in 2021. (Milestone/DC)
David Betancourt
August 22, 2020 at 1:50 p.m. PDT

The Black superhero has never been common in the comic book industry. An entire Black superhero universe? Even less so.

Black superheroes have had varying degrees of success in comics over the last half century, with Marvel’s Black Panther easily being the most well-known. A Black superhero universe? There’s been only one of relevance. And it has been a sleeping giant for more than two decades.

Now, in an era of protests after the prominent deaths of Black men and women at the hands of police that has put a lens over race relations in all walks of life, the Dakotaverse, as it’s called, has been awakened.

The return of the now-classic imprint that created it, Milestone Comics, is finally upon us.

Five years after an announced revival, these superheroes finally have a relaunch date. The DC Comics-based line, featuring revered 1990s characters such as Static Shock, Icon, Rocket and Hardware, will return to publishing in February 2021. The announcement was scheduled to be made Saturday at DC’s virtual Comic-Con-ish event, DC Fandome.

The revival will kick off with a new digital-only series starring Static Shock, Milestone’s flagship character, who has floated around the DC Comics universe and appeared in his own animated series in the early 2000s. Later in 2021, Milestone will publish a Static Shock original graphic novel written by veteran Hollywood director and producer Reggie Hudlin and drawn by Kyle Baker. Acclaimed comic book artist and Milestone Comics co-founder Denys Cowan will illustrate a new series featuring the company’s first dynamic duo, Icon and Rocket.

This coming Sept. 12, fans attending the second part of DC’s Fandome experience will have 24 hours of digital access to “Milestone Returns” No. 0, an introductory point for new readers and a nostalgic experience for fans who were around at the imprint’s beginnings.

“Milestone Returns” No. 0 will serve as an online introduction to new fans and a refresher for old ones when it’s released Sept. 12, during the second part of DC’s virtual Fandome event. This cover art is by Denys Cowan and Chris Sotomayor. (Milestone/DC)

From September up until the February return, Milestone will gradually release digital versions of its archived library of comics, which were previously only in print.

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Milestone was founded in 1993 by late comics legend Dwayne McDuffie, Cowan, Michael Davis and Derek Dingle. The mission of these four Black founders was to redefine the type of superhero who could appear on the comic book page as well as diversify the writers and artists behind the capes and superpowers. The characters and the universe they created are still meaningful to comics fans of color, even after Milestone shut down comics production in 1997.

Static Shock is back in “Milestone Returns” No. 0. The art is by Ryan Benjamin and Don Ho. (DC/Milestone) (Milestone/DC)

In 2015, The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs blog reported that Hudlin, Cowan and Dingle planned to revive Milestone, as the comic book industry was making moves to become more diverse. Years went by, and while DC would occasionally announce an update on Milestone’s return, there were still no new comics. In 2019, a settlement was reached in the lawsuit that McDuffies’s widow, Charlotte McDuffie, had filed against the founders behind Milestone’s rebirth. DC had no comment when asked if the suit contributed to the delays.

Saturday’s Fandome announcement makes Milestone’s return as official as it has ever been. Hudlin, who participated in the prerecorded panel, said live-action film and TV adaptations, animated adventures and even podcasts are all potentially in the works. Fans should also hope that DC’s recent teaming-up with McFarlane Toys could lead to a Milestone wave of action figures.

Icon, an alien from another planet, and his human partner, Rocket, will be back in their own Milestone series in 2021. The art is by Jim Lee. (DC/Milestone) (Milestone/DC)

Any fan frustrations because of years of delays from Milestone can give way to a sense of satisfaction, especially given the timing of this news. That Milestone’s announcement was made in a time of racial reckoning in the United States and around the world — a time when Black superheroes matter more than ever before for fans who have always wanted more representation in the medium — makes it a milestone moment.

When Static Shock’s Black History Month resurgence arrives next year, it will be the opening of a door closed for too long in comics. And these heroes’ return will be molded by Black writers and artists who will understand the significance of what they are doing. This news is not an everyday happening at a major comics publisher.

A character never before seen in Milestone Comics hurls toward a couple in “Milestone Returns” No. 0. The art is by Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz and Hi-Fi. (Milestone/DC)

Diversity has improved in mainstream superhero comics, but is still a concern, especially behind the scenes. Many of Marvel’s diversity moments of the past decade, Black Panther aside, have been new characters of color taking on existing mantles, such as Miles Morales/Spider-Man and Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel.

Success with the reboot of Milestone characters could lead to more new heroes of color being born, and potentially new talent writing and illustrating them.

That’s the power of having an entire universe of comics heroes who are Black by popular demand. A power that in this moment, only Milestone’s creators wield. Soon we’ll get to see what they do with it.