Comics / Spotlight / Black Astronaut

Milestone Media: Static #1

By Leroy S. Douresseaux
September 16, 2007 - 14:46

Denys Cowan and Jimmy Palmiotti's cover for Static #1, which was originally covered from view by a polybag.

Introduced in the spring of 1993, Static was one of the early comic book series created by Milestone Media and published through DC Comics.  Milestone Media was a comic book imprint and media company established with the intention presenting more minority characters in American Comics.  Although the Milestone Media stopped producing comics in 1997, Static was reworked as the WB animated series, "Static Shock."

Static #1 (with a cover date of June 1993), entitled “Burning Sensation,” opens in the Sadler neighborhood of the city of Dakota, specifically in a teen hangout called Akkad’s ArcadeFrieda Goren, a high school girl, arrives at the hangout to meet a friend when she suddenly encounters representatives of someone else who wants to meet her.  Known as the “5 Alarm Crew,” these ruffians are practically kidnapping Frieda to take her to their leader, someone named “Hotstreak,” whether she wants an audience with him or not.

By the second page (a splash page), our hero, Static, makes his first appearance, and six and half pages of witty banter and an electric light show later, it’s clear that this new superhero, the first African-American solo teen superhero, is a winner even if his own book doesn’t last over the long haul (which sadly it didn’t).  Static’s powers clearly have something to do with electricity, and his personality is equally stimulating  After he dispatches the 5 Alarm Crew, Static offers to take Frieda home, an indication that she is not just a damsel in distress plot device which allows writers Dwayne McDuffie and Robert L. Washington to introduce their hero.

After reluctantly leaving Frieda, who was standoffish with him although he saved her, Static finds a secluded alley where he returns to his civilian persona, a black teenager named Virgil Ovid Hawkins.  Virgil’s thoughts are still on Frieda, further indication of her importance.  Virgil returns home (apparently a brownstone similar to the family home on “The Cosby Show”) so McDuffie and Washington can reveal Static’s private life and family.  We meet Virgil’s mother and his sister, Sharon, with whom he, of course, spars, as li’l sis has some issue with Virgil hangin’ with white girl.  Virgil races upstairs just in time to answer the phone call from Frieda, who tells him about her adventures at Akkad’s.  The scene closes as the conversation evolves into the usual teen concerns.

The next morning, a breakfast conversation with his mother reveals that Virgil does indeed have a father, who works odd hours at a hospital.  (The African-American father was virtually extinct in pop culture at the time this comic was published, and remains on the endangered species list as of this writing.)

When the story moves to the hallways of the school Virgil attends, Ernest Hemingway High School, McDuffie and Washington introduce Virgil’s pals.  One of them, Richard Stone, would later be revealed as gay, but even now there seems to be some latent tension regarding Richard’s perceived sexual orientation.

Besides Frieda, Virgil’s most interesting friend is Larry, who has something of a thuggish vibe.  Later, while in class, the 5 Alarm Crew returns, and this time they manage to snatch Frieda.  This comes totally out of left field: Larry apparently offers to draw a concealed firearm to put a stop to the 5 Alarm boys, but Virgil has already slipped away to don his super suit.

Meanwhile, in a playground at a local elementary school, Static meets the 5 Alarm Crew’s master, Hotstreak, and here, McDuffie and Washington offer the biggest surprise and delight, which they’ve been saving for the very end of the first issue.  Hotstreak kicks Static’s butt all over the yard, and Static apparently has some kind of psychological block that prohibits him from going whole hog on Hotstreak, who is nevertheless a capable super badass.  And Frieda removes Static’s mask, revealing Virgil to her…

Overall, Static #1 is an impressive first issue.  To begin with, the art team of John Paul Leon on pencils and Steve Mitchell on inks creates a lovely style that has a jazzy vibe.  Although the coloring is modest, the art feels young, hip, and most important urban.  Visually, Leon and Mitchell construct an urban landscape by designing backgrounds and sets out of simple shapes and forms and get the same effect as artists that create urban environments by using heavy inking or intricate detail in drawing the sets.  Best of all, Leon and Mitchell capture the cast’s diversity; this is true melting pot and not something that looks like a Norman Rockwell painting of a Rotary Club meeting.

I have nothing but praise for McDuffie and Washington.  Static is a witty teen superhero, a sassy, brash kid bouncing off walls.  Read it, and recognize the fun of those early Spider-Man comic books.  But Static has an edge.  It’s in the rhythm of the authentic urban language – referencing hip hop without trying to replicate it (unlike the horrid “hip” dialogue in the original Gen13 comics).  Underlying it all is the feeling of life on the streets of Dakota being, at the very least, a little dangerous.  Reading this, I thought that some of these characters have to be ready to kill or be killed – anytime and anywhere.

It’s on.

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Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

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