Of the many announcements that came out of New York Comic Con, none were quite as surprising as the revelation that Milestone Comics was returning. After a long absence, DC Comics is bringing the world back as its own universe, Earth-M, and relaunching with four books. The big one, of course, is Static Shock, by Reginald Hudlin and Kyle Baker, just one part of the electric hero’s welcome return after a long string of bad luck.
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His origin is simple as can be for superheroes: Teenager Virgil Hawkins gains the ability to control electricity after an experimental chemical is set off during a gang war he found himself on the wrong end of. Using his new powers, Virgil becomes the superhero Static Shock (or just Static; it depends) and protects the city of Dakota from others who also gained powers during the incident.
It’s all very Spider-Man-like, and unashamedly so. Static Shock was initially meant to fill in a gap left by Spider-Man at Marvel. DC and Marvel share a variety of creators, and one of them was Dwayne McDuffie. Disappointed by Peter Parker being a married adult at the time, he decided there needed to be a teen hero to fill the void, but Marvel didn’t pick up the character. When McDuffie formed Milestone alongside Denys Cowan, Michael Davis and Derek Dingle, he decided to bring along Static Shock, as Milestone was all about more minority heroes, and a black teenage character would be needed.
Static was incredibly popular, and inspired an animated adaptation that won an Emmy Award and led to new demand for Milestone comics. What’s more, it was the only animated superhero series with a black lead — as in, not part of an ensemble, as with Cyborg or Green Lantern — until Black Panther in 2010. Static was also the first black DC character to have his own show, period. Airing as part of Kids’ WB!, Static Shock drew McDuffie to the animation industry, leading to his involvement with the DC Animated Universe, where he was able to bring more black and female characters into the Justice League, and eventually serve as a writer on both Justice League shows, Teen Titans, and the Ben 10 franchise.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all golden for Static. Although his cartoon was popular and critically acclaimed, it didn’t generate sales for related merchandise; a video game based on the property was also canceled. Both of those were factors in the show’s cancellation after four seasons. Not to mention that for a long time in the comics, Static straight-up couldn’t be used in the main DC Universe. While he was able to cross over with Batman and the Justice League in the DC Animated Universe, it wasn’t as simple in comics. Geoff Johns wanted him as part of the Teen Titans in the early and mid-2000s, but rights issues prevented that from happening — at least until Milestone was folded DC proper in 2008. That lasted until 2011, when DC rebooted its fictional universe with the New 52, and Static was given his own comic again. However, it was among the first titles of the New 52 to be axed.
The thing about Static is how different he was from other black superheroes at the time, and in some ways, still is. While there’s a variety of black comics characters, a lot of them fit into tried-and-true black archetypes: street tough (Luke Cage), foreigner (Black Panther), athlete (Cyborg), etc. There’s something to be said for a version of blackness that breaks away from those molds, and Virgil Hawkins is definitely it. He only joined the gang war because one of the kids on the other side was constantly bullying him, but the moment he gets a gun into his hands, he realizes he’s not as hard as he wants to be. He’s a full-blown geek, in love with comic books and video games, especially tabletop RPGs and Pokemon cards.
Static’s absence over the past few years has felt particularly more egregious in part thanks to Rebirth. Batman Beyond — with whom Static worked in a future timeline of the DCAU — had been isolated from the rest of DC Comics before being folded into the current DC Universe in 2015, following Futures End. Why couldn’t the same be done with Static? The same could be said of the current incarnation of the Teen Titans: While they lack Cyborg, the comic has still kept near everything else that was distinct about the popular 2003 cartoon: the T-shaped tower, the five-hero dynamic, Starfire’s love of mustard, and so on. Some of this may have been for legal reasons, but there’s no denying that without Static, this revival of DC ‘s 2000s cartoons doesn’t feel complete without him.
For whatever reason, DC opted to do nothing with Static after the end of the New 52; he had a brief cameo in Teen Titans, but after that, he just up and vanished. Outside the comics, his luck has been hit and miss; DC and Warner Bros. have been trying for the past three years to get a live-action show off the ground that might star Jaden Smith (it’s weirdly unclear if he was ever in the running), but that’s not going anywhere. He was originally slated to be a character in Injustice 2, and even appeared in game art, but was ultimately cut for whatever reason.
But, things may be looking up for him soon. For starters, there’s the return of Young Justice. After gaining powers and growing into his hero persona during the back half of the second season, he’ll be a full-time regular for the hotly anticipated revival. His return to real prominence is a long time coming, and will undoubtedly help Milestone come back with a bang.