Static Shock: How a Black Lives Matter rally spawned a new wave of superheroes
“Here’s that next generation. Go for the greatness.”
The universe of Milestone Media begins, like most universes do, with a big bang.
During a Black Lives Matter protest, an experimental gas is released on those gathered: “Let ‘em fly,” orders a police commander, as cops wearing gas masks shoot canisters into the crowd. Thwunk, thwunk, thwunk.
Eventually, the gas unlocks superpowers in people throughout the fictional Dakota City. Among those at the protest is high school student Virgil Hawkins, who soon discovers he can harness the power of electricity.
This is the origin story of the recently relaunched Milestone Media, a historic DC Comics imprint that was formed in the early ‘90s around the same time as Wu-Tang Clan. Milestone Returns #0, a single-issue comic that rebooted this universe, was first released last fall.
Now, the headlining hero of the “Dakotaverse” — Virgil Hawkins, aka Static — will star in his own comic book series, Static: Season One, its first issue out June 15. Written by Vita Ayala and illustrated by Nikolas Draper-Ivey and ChrisCross, Static: Season One presents a character whose story reflects the realities of the young Black experience in America. It’s a refreshing take on the familiar tale of the otherwise normal, geeky teenager who is bestowed with superpowers.
The story of Static goes back to the early ‘90s, but this 2020s revival is more of a reboot than a remix, if you listen to the brains behind the superhero and the universe he calls home.
“The times demanded we start with what’s happening in the real world.”
“We did not want it to be a nostalgia exercise,” says Reginald Hudlin, speaking at a virtual press conference attended by Inverse.
A filmmaker and producer, Hudlin also serves as a major partner in the revived Milestone Media. Previously, he wrote Black Panther for Marvel and was President of Entertainment at BET.
In the early 1990s, “Milestone was so exciting because it was cutting edge,” Hudlin says. “[It was] in the moment. “So, [rebooting Milestone] wasn’t about going back to what was cutting edge. It was, ‘What is cutting edge now?’”
Kicking off a superhero universe at a Black Lives Matter rally gave precisely the sort of relevance Hudlin and Milestone co-founder Denys Cowan wanted.
“We felt [it was] very necessary to tell stories that are relevant for today,” says Cowan, who created Static with the other Milestone founders in 1993. “Black people are being murdered. That’s not something we’re going to sit back and not say anything about. We’re going to speak about what’s important to us.”
“The times demanded we start with what’s happening in the real world,” adds Hudlin. “We have to be relevant. Tragically, [that means] police brutality and lack of accountability in our justice system. It’s the defining issue of our time, and there’s no way we can do this book and not address that — especially since so many of our characters are young people, and young people walk around with a target on their back.”
“We did not want it to be a nostalgia exercise”
Established in 1993 through a partnership with DC Comics, Milestone was founded by Cowan, Michael Davis, Derek T. Dingle, and the late Dwayne McDuffie — all Black creatives in comics who believed the industry lacked a necessary space for diverse heroes who could speak to readers from their communities.
The four imagined a universe featuring:
- Static, a bullied teenager with electric powers
- Icon, a space alien in the form of a Black man, and his sidekick Rocket
- Xombi, an immortal Korean-American scientist
- Hardware, a genius in an armored suit trying to take down his own boss
Then came the decline: The comic book boom of the early ‘90s had gone flat by the end of the decade. Milestone struggled to continue publishing, though the Static Shock animated series (aired from 2000-2004) became an Emmy-winner for the WB network.
After a handful of revival attempts in the late 2010s, including Hudlin joining in 2015, the return of Milestone was finally set for 2021 after an announcement at the 2020 DC FanDome.
“We’re going to speak about what’s important to us.”
“I always thought Denys and the gang were prescient naming their company Milestone Media, not Milestone Comics,” says Hudlin. “When we got together, we were determined to make sure we were multiplatform from the beginning.” Hudlin is also working on a script for a live-action Static Shock film. It’s “well on its way, and very exciting,” he says.
Adds Cowan: “Ways of reaching people are so different now than when we launched. We’re confident we can do it, from online to print, to animation and live-action. We’re well-positioned to get a lot of attention.”
Milestone’s plan to reach a wide audience extends to the language the imprint is using for its new titles, which refer to storylines as seasons instead of more industry-standard volumes.
Hudlin and Cowan say that borrowing this labeling strategy from TV is just one way in which Milestone hopes to make it easier for comics newbies to dive in.
“It makes the books accessible,” says Hudlin. “I’ve got [children aged] 13 and 16 who love superhero stuff but don’t read comics. I want people to know this is a ‘season.’ Each book is an ‘episode.’ Our books are [many] people’s first comic books, and we make them accessible to that first-time reader.”
But there’s only one surefire way a comics publisher can get attention: Telling stories that resonate with readers. Static accomplishes not just with Virgil’s underdog journey into a superhero, but Virgil’s masculinity through his relationship with his dad. Negative stereotypes of Black fathers as “absent” still unfairly loom over entire communities. Those at Milestone considered it their responsibility to push back against those false, damaging generalizations.
“That’s important for me,” says Hudlin, who previously wrote pages featuring Virgil and his father for Milestone Returns. “It’s been a running thing in my work, from House Party to Safety for Disney. We’ve got to make sure Black men and Black boys have representation to match the beauty we’re seeing with Black women and their expression. Everyone is getting their glow on. As a father to a daughter, I want to encourage Black men to step up.”
“Here’s that next generation,” he adds. “Go for the greatness.”
Static Season One #1 is available now.