Milestone returns to publishing for the first time in a quarter century. The company that exploded onto the scene in 1993 and left an unmistakable mark on the comic industry is finally back for more. With 1993’s Static, 1993’s Hardware and 1993’s Icon all coming back into print for the first time in decades earlier this year, it was high time for the character to appear in brand new works. Today, they have, mostly. In a special edition of the Milestone Returns issue which had been made available to readers for free during DC’s Fandome event, Reginald Hudlin and various artists introduce readers to the classic characters and new stories they’ll be following in a story called “The Big Bang.”
A Shock to Your System!
Static: Static’s portion of the story is both the first readers are introduced to, and the one readers spend the most time in. It’s a quick re-introduction of his origin, supporting cast and earliest rival, all refreshed for 2021’s America. Here instead of Static and other Bang Babies receiving their powers during a gang-fight gone awry, like in 1993’s Static or the animated Static Shock!, it happens at a protest against police violence.
This is an update that feels like it was inevitable; however, what we’re shown here seems devoid of the character moments that makes Static’s original origin so impactful. The story didn’t matter just because the gang-fight reflected his environment, but also because in choosing not to shoot Frank, Static was choosing to overcome his environment. In Hudlin’s take it’s just the factors of his environment that make a distinct impression, and not Virgil’s own agency. It’s even implied that he attends the protest in the first place to impress a girl, depriving him of even that moral hill to stand on.
This hits on the central problem with Static under Hudlin’s pen though. He’s devoid of life; where McDuffie infused Virgil with moral complexity steeped in the racial issues of his time, a whip-smart sense of humor influenced by literary icons and a genuine cleverness made him formidable in any instance. Where those qualities were present now stands a generic high schooler, simply seeking revenge.
It also should be noted that this story seems to contradict the story originally published in Milestone Returns Fandome Preview, which is also re-printed later in this issue. The design for Static also seems to be inconsistent between the one presented in the Milestone Returns Fandome Preview, the design by Nikolas Draper-Ivey released in the press release for this book and the one in Khary Randolph’s cover for Static #1, which seems to be an amalgamation of the two.
Where Hudlin succeeds, though, is in establishing a world readers will want to come back to, even if simply for nostalgia. The premise is simple, but it does still work: how does a high school hero operate in an environment that threatens him with more than just comical bullies and campy villains? How does he respond when put down for not being “Black enough?” What happens when your bully is also sexually harassing people? Enough of these real world questions are touched on to remind readers why Static is so special.
It should also be noted though, that Nikolas Draper-Ivey kills this issue. His artwork actively combats the mischaracterization of Virgil. Draper-Ivey has such a clear sense of how he wants to depict Virgil’s identity, and it comes across with such confidence on the page. Whether he’s annoyed at his sister, concentrating on mastering his powers, or literally constipated, Draper-Ivey writes the story on his face.
He also makes all of these characters look so fun and stylish. One of the successes of John Paul Leon’s work on the 1993 Static was that all of his characters looked like they were wearing clothes actual people would wear, and that’s echoed here in Draper-Ivey’s work. Virgil and Frank especially jump off the page, and when they’re using their powers it’s depicted in a way that complements and elevates that style. This truly feels like art that’s elevating Static into the 21st century, something in fairly stark contrast to his written portrayal.
Party like it’s 199… 3?!?
Hardware: This is where the book gets fairly confusing. See, every problem that Static has, Hardware doesn’t. Hudlin actually has a deft handle on Curtis’s voice — he seems to meet a similar pitch and demeanor as he did under McDuffie’s pen, and it works really well. Readers don’t spend long with him, but in the time they do they’re met with an exciting and imposing hero who cuts the strongest and most pointed racial commentary in the whole issue. Everything about Curtis’s four pages work almost perfectly.
Denys Cowan, the original artist for 1993’s Hardware returns here, and he contributes to the book’s seeming familiarity. It’s a style that still works for the character, though.
Readers might find themselves wondering though, with Static, Icon and Rocket all getting updates to their costumes for new runs in 2021, why is Hardware rocking the same duds from 1993? He even had his design updated recently for a small cameo on Young Justice, and that looked excellent.
Or should it be, Rocket and Icon?
Icon and Rocket: Icon and Rocket is simple fun, following a mission the two have been on to stop drug trafficking, narrated by Rocket. The book makes a passing effort at social commentary, but it mostly falls in the background in favor of developing the relationship between Icon and Rocket. I think this is a smart decision, as this story exists as a moment of levity in which otherwise is a fairly serious issue.
Hudlin has a pretty strong grasp on each character’s voice and they play off of each other well here. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but it is worth your time. There’s a fun scene where they eat tacos together, and the jokes Hudlin is making land. Sometimes you can’t ask for more than that.
ChrisCross’s art here is similar. While there are a few awkward panels here and there, it mostly does the job of making the characters fun. There are even a few panels where both Rocket and Icon look genuinely really cool. When Rocket blows up a building, it’s a moment where readers will perk up and start to wonder if they want to start learning more about Rocket.
The Adventure Continues!
Holocaust: Holocaust has a small part in this issue, but it works really well. Using the setup of destitute and abandoned Bang Babies — and the reasonable complaints they have for how society has mistreated them — as a setup for Holocaust’s much more militaristic message is smart writing. Out of everything else in this issue, this is the part that feels the most like a promise of what’s to come. It’s a tease for future stories, and it works. Hudlin also seems to really understand the essence of Holocaust’s character, but struggles to portray the articulate and charming Holocaust originally introduced in Static #4.
Cowan returns for this part of the issue, and falters a little from his earlier success. Characters don’t always seem anatomically correct, and they can change wildly in size throughout different panels.
Holocaust also suffers from a similar issue to Hardware, in that his design seems past his heyday. If readers are going to be meeting these characters for the first time, one might wonder if it would be best to freshen them up a bit.
Milestone Returns Fandome Preview: It feels like this part of the issue doesn’t have nearly the consistency or the direction that “The Big Bang” does. It’s a good introduction to Icon and Rocket, and it teases an interesting new vigilante character. Other than that and a few other teases, this doesn’t feel nearly as important since the new content has been added.
The future for Milestone is bright. With the world they’ve set up in this issue, the exciting new voices they’re bringing on and the crystal clear direction they’re taking, readers are in for a treat. Finally, a generation who grew up with Static Shock! will be able to follow his new stories, and become more engrossed in the world he inhabits.
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