NOTE: Due to the schedules of these discussions, we couldn’t cover some of the recent Milestone issues, so we apologize on that front.
Milestone Comics was one of the most influential and unique comic book companies to come out of the 1990s: a black-owned company that focused on developing diverse characters and that was mostly helmed, written and drawn by diverse creators, thus paving the way for a lot of characters that have developed cult statuses, such as Hardware, Rocket or Icon, and some that have even made it to the mainstream, like Static, most famously known for the Static Shock animated series in the early 2000s
The company was started in 1993 by creators such as Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle, plus the input of writer Christopher Priest (although he left the project starting to publish the books) and shut down in 1997, but the writing, the art, and the stories lived on in the minds and hearts of a lot of comic book fans, so there was a constant desire and demand for a Milestone relaunch and DC Comics, who were always collaborating with this company, finally abided in recent times, launching a new line of Milestone books in the last year or so.
The reaction from longtime fans has been ambivalent and since I’m not an expert on this company, I decided to gather some longtime readers and fans of the company, such as Shawn James, Chris, Carter, and Gevian Dargan, with all of them providing their insights about Milestone, the classic era, the new comics, writing, storytelling and a lot more.
It’s a long read, but one definitely worth your time and I thank the guys for their input for this particular project.
Kevin: “Welcome, gentlemen. Thank you for taking the time to do this. I hope you’re all doing well.”
Shawn: “I’m doing great.”
“First and foremost, I’m curious to know how you guys got into Milestone.”
Chris: “My first exposure to Milestone was through the Static Shock cartoon. I remember getting up on Saturday mornings to catch episodes and staying up a little later when it started airing on weekday nights. I knew of the comics but I didn’t start reading them until I was almost out of high school. I picked up the first trade paperback of Static at a used bookstore and fell in love with it instantly since I saw a lot of myself in Virgil. After that I tracked down every other comic under the label, DC’s made this hard since the latter half of the series didn’t get reprinted and collected so I’d have to track down back issues online or in comic shops.”
Shawn: “I got into Milestone comics when I was in college. I read about them in the New York Daily News and Comic Shop News. And when I saw them on a local vendor’s table on Fordham Road I immediately picked up several of the titles of the initial launch such as Blood Syndicate, Icon, and Static.”
Carter: “My uncle collects comics. He gave me Static #2 and then eventually #1 & #3 to start my collection.”
Gevian: “My name is Gevian Dargan and I am the publisher of Animated Concepts. Back in the day, I was a comic book fan following comic book news and that’s how I became aware of the launch of Milestone Media. The first Milestone book I bought was Icon #2 and that was at a newsstand. I am a BIG Mark Bright fan, so Milestone was already off to the races for me in terms of getting my dollars, and then when I read Blood Syndicate #2, it was a wrap.
As a result of a classified ad on the letters page of Icon #2, I learned that Milestone was looking for interns. I applied and was accepted as an Editorial Intern at Milestone, and eventually ended up serving as an Editorial Assistant. So yeah, I was INTO Milestone.
“And what were the aspects of the comics that you found so appealing about those series?”
Chris: “The unique storytelling and the characters themselves are what drew me in. Each title had something that was uniquely appealing for example, Static was about a teenage hero trying to make it day by day, Icon was about a black man who lived through slavery into the 90s and his disconnect with modern black people while also being about the struggle of a young black woman in a rough neighborhood and her efforts to make him a hero the community needs, and Xombi was more of a supernatural series with a touch of horror to it. To me, these were new stories as I hadn’t read any comics that managed to tell these kinds of stories, at that point, I think I was only reading the ongoing Spider-Man and Superman titles with the occasional trade paperback of older Marvel and DC titles.”
Shawn: “What I found to be most appealing about Milestone Comics was the fact that was the first time we had Black superheroes featured in their own universe. While Marvel and DC had featured Black heroes in their stories, they were usually in series like Luke Cage that basically promoted a lot of Black stereotypes. Or they were sidekicks like Falcon, supporting characters in Team books like Cyborg or Monica Rambeau. This was the first time we saw Black heroes in their own world having their own adventures in their own books and taking on their own bad guys.
What I also found to be appealing was the fact that we got a diversity of experiences in the Black community and different viewpoints. Most Black characters by White creators in comics usually come from the “streets” or the “hood”. But Milestone showed us Black people who came from different walks of life. Static Came from the Suburbs, Icon was a Black Conservative who lived throughout key periods in Black History, and Hardware was an educated professional Black man. You got to see a richer picture of Black life in the pages of Milestone Comics and you got to see true diversity of thought.”
Carter: “The diversity and the authenticity.”
Gevian: “Definitely the art. I was a Mark Bright fan and I became a fan of ChrisCross via Blood Syndicate. What sealed the deal for me with ChrisCross was the Untouchables homage cover (Blood Syndicate #13). I was interning at Milestone at the time, and when I complimented ChrissCross about the cover, I’m pretty sure I was in full FANBOY mode. I think he was a little embarrassed about how much I loved that cover.
And the writing was top-notch. The interpersonal dynamics between Icon and Rocket both personally and politically were ahead of its time, in my opinion. There was nuance and context to their points of view and perspectives that you rarely saw in comics, especially when it came to matters of race. The team dynamic and characterizations in Blood Syndicate were equally fascinating. Every character was an individual, if not unique, and Ivan Velez did a wonderful job of giving every character a chance to shine while also delivering a lot of action.”
“Of course, Milestone is known for its diverse cast of characters, but I’m curious to know your thoughts about the writing, storytelling, and art of those series in the 90s?”
Chris: “The writing was my favorite part of the original Milestone books. Every character had their own goals, thoughts, and ideals about what heroism was and how to go about it. The stories managed to mix superheroics, science fiction, and supernatural while still managing to tackle actual social issues. My favorite event in the Milestone books was Long Hot Summer which tackled the very real subject of gentrification as we saw locations in Dakota were being bulldozed to make room for a giant amusement park. Part of why I love this event is how everyone reacts to it, as this affects all the characters who call Dakota home which makes Dakota feel like a lived-in place. While socially conscious stories like that could be told so could something like Worlds Collide where the Milestone characters meet the mainline DC Universe characters like Superman, Steel, and Superboy.
As for the art, I think M.D. Bright and Denys Cowan’s art are burned into my mind as THE art for the label. Not to downplay the talents and contributions of other artists as they are just as important but their art sticks with me the most. I can’t think of a single time where the art didn’t feel appropriate for the story being told, the art in Milestone always felt unique to me, even when seeing other titles the artists would work on outside the label the art in the Milestone books still didn’t feel like their other stuff.”
Shawn: “The writing, storytelling, and art on Milestone books, in the beginning, were absolutely fantastic. The initial launch had some truly great storytelling and well-developed characters. The late great Dwayne McDuffie showed he was a master of his craft laying the foundation of the Milestone Universe with great storytelling. And Artists like ChrisCross, Mark D. Bright, the late Jean Paul Leon, and the late Denys Cowan did spectacular work on Icon, Hardware, Blood Syndicate, and Static.”
Carter: “The writing and storytelling were ALWAYS on point. I feel a lot of the storytelling wouldn’t fly today because characters aren’t allowed to make mistakes & grow (Hardware being a murderer, Icon distancing from humans, Virgil being a homophobe, etc.).”
Gevian: “Icon and Blood Syndicate. I can’t choose between the two. Honorable mentions go to Kobalt and Xombi.”
“What was your favorite series of the original Milestone?”
Chris: “I consider Blood Syndicate, Static, and Icon to be my top three favorites in that order. I usually recommend Static as the go-to for newcomers since more people remember the cartoon and have fond memories of it.”
Shawn: “My favorite series from Original Milestone was Static, Icon and Kobalt. Static became a favorite book for me because I could really relate to Virgil because a lot of the stuff he dealt with was stuff I dealt with growing up back in the late 80s and early 90s.
Icon was a book I looked forward to reading because it incorporated Black history in between the action and adventure. I really liked how Augustus showed how a Black man had to use a different approach to being a hero back in those dark days of Jim Crow. And I liked how his Black conservative views gave us a different perspective on being a Black hero.
Kobalt was just a fun book because it showed how much work it took to be a hero. Like The indie comic The Tick, it showed us the process of how someone learns how to be a superhero. Kobalt’s first 8 issues are extremely underrated.”
Carter: “Right now I’ll say Static, Xombi, and Blood Syndicate. If you ask me tomorrow it’ll probably be different (laughs).”
“Now, focusing on the relaunch, what were your initial expectations when you heard that Milestone was coming back?”
Chris: “I was hyped! After years of Milestone only being acknowledged in the Young Justice cartoon after the failed New 52 Static title, I was over the moon to see these characters back in print after ten years without them.”
Shawn: “I was expecting the creators to try to stay true to the spirit of what Dwayne McDuffie established in his stories back in 1993. I thought that the creators would make every effort to honor the memory of Dwayne’s work.
Unfortunately, editorial and creative have not really honored Dwayne’s memory or his legacy regarding Milestone’s characters. It seems they’re trying to push their own social justice or political agendas. Or they’re trying to take these characters to Hollywood without understanding any of the things that made them compelling to audiences.”
Carter: “Man, Milestone was supposed to be coming back for years. I remember how each time they announced something there’d be a delay. During all those delays I never thought “What if the books aren’t good?” I naively thought everything would be perfect.”
Gevian: “I’ve said this elsewhere publicly (on the Thinking Critical YouTube channel) that my biggest concern was not having Dwayne McDuffie this time around. Dwayne had a vision and voice for the universe that is not easily replaced. While I do understand it is a new line for a new generation, this caused me to be cautiously optimistic.”
“What do you think was the most important part to grasp about Milestone to make this relaunch work?”
Chris: “I think the most important to make a Milestone relaunch work would be to balance the socially conscious aspects of the characters with the superheroics. One shouldn’t overtake the other, if the socially conscious aspect takes over then we’re left with a book of preachy talking heads with the occasional bit of action but if the superheroics take up too much then we’re left with another superhero book with the commentary acting as window dressing.
The other important thing is the characters should feel real on a certain level and the stories shouldn’t insult the reader’s intelligence by flat out explaining the message and themes of the work. Icon, for example, was a staunch classic Republican but we as the reader were not meant to always agree with him and we’re given examples of how his thinking may be flawed and his sidekick Rocket lets him know but we’re also shown how and why he thinks the way he does, he’s not just shown as being wrong without argument.
Gang violence was a pretty big issue when these books were written but we as the reader don’t have to be told gangs are bad through these books; instead, we’re shown how and why people end up a part of gangs. In Blood Syndicate, we’re shown how being a part of the titular team which is a gang affected the characters and a few of them actually would prefer not to be a part of it but they have nowhere else to go so they’re stuck in this life.”
Shawn: “The most important part the editorial and creators need to grasp was an understanding of the source material. Creators needed to really sit down and read the entire run of all the Milestone books, get to know these characters, learn something about their personalities, “voices” and what motivated them to be heroes.”
Carter: “The most important part to grasp about Milestone for a relaunch to work would have to be staying true to each character. That means not erasing flaws because they are seen as “problematic” today (like Virgil’s homophobia). It’s important to show growth.”
Gevian: “You have to have the courage to say something new and different that captures the complexities and experiences of the ethnic groups that the characters represent.”
“First of all, what are your thoughts on the creative teams that were chosen for the new series?”
Chris: “This was where my hype subsided and I was brought back down to earth, I was still interested as I didn’t want to go in dismissive of titles. When I saw Reginald Hudlin was spearheading the revival and writing Icon: Season One I was nothing short of skeptical since I read his Black Panther run and heavily disliked it but I also read his brief run on Marvel Knights: Spider-Man and didn’t have a really strong opinion of it either way. It took me a second to recall what other work that Doug Braithwaite, artist on Icon: Season One, had done. His name was familiar and I was shocked to find out he’d done the pencils for Universe X, Paradise X, and Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe, knowing this put me at ease on the art. I only knew who Vita Ayala was from last year’s less than stellar trailer for X-Men Children of the Atom where they didn’t say anything about the book’s premise but instead how the characters were gonna be relatable to zoomers.
I think this was when I went from being skeptical to just not having confidence in Static: Season One, the initial art from ChrisCross I saw of Virgil and the rest of the cast didn’t help either since none of the characters looked recognizable. I wouldn’t have known Virgil was Virgil if he wasn’t wearing that iconic logo from the cartoon. My only familiarity with Brandon Thomas were the Voltron comics from Dynamite that he wrote but I couldn’t remember anything about them so his work on Hardware: Season One would be me discovering him a second time however the real draw of Hardware: Season One was seeing the Denys Cowan was going to be back on the art. So even if these books weren’t the best in the writing department I could count on the art looking decent to great at least.”
Shawn: “I believe they hired a lot of the WRONG people to work on these titles. Vita Ayala is the WRONG person to work on Static. She clearly isn’t qualified to write the character. She doesn’t “get” Virgil at all. She has Virgil brooding and moping like a teenage girl, not acting like the happy-go-lucky fun character we knew from 1993 and the 2001 Static Shock Cartoon. Clearly, she doesn’t understand the difference between teenage girls and teenage boys and how they deal with situations.
Static is Milestone’s most popular character. He’s Milestone’s flagship character. A flagship character who is leading your relaunch should have a writer who knows the character. A publisher only has one chance to make a strong first impression on readers. So you want to have your top talent on that book to earn the trust of readers.
I really wish Milestone’s editorial had hired Dwayne’s best friend John Rozum to write Static. John wanted to honor Dwayne’s memory and preserve what was great about the character. Vita Ayala just isn’t cutting it on Milestone’s flagship character.
Reginald Hudlin is the absolute WRONG writer for Icon. His writing is too emotional. He’s trying to force his politics and agendas on the character instead of learning what makes Icon work. He’s turned Icon from a Black Conservative to a directionless character who has no real sense of who he is or any real motivation for being a hero.
What makes Icon work as a series is Agustus’ relationship with Raquel. As a Black conservative who lives in the suburbs and is over a century or so old, he’s detached from the common Black man and woman. I always saw it as they learned from each other. Agustus taught Raquel about the past, Raquel taught him about the modern-day black community. Two people from two different worlds in the Black community learning more about those worlds and how to make them better.
Hardware has lost its focus. The original focus of Hardware was supposed to be about the Black man in Corporate America not getting his due for all his hard work. But in this series, it’s a brother on the run who has been framed for creating the gas that created the Big Bang. When that wasn’t the case at all. Dharma was the one behind The Big Bang in the Original Comics.
Worse, Curtis is in a dick measuring contest with Edwin Alva. Trying to prove himself to his White Benefactor. That isn’t Curt. When Curt couldn’t get his compensation for his inventions that made Edwin Alva wealthy, he sought to expose Alva’s criminal enterprises and show how corrupt Dakota’s benefactor truly was.
The creative teams, especially the writers don’t have a good sense of the characters. They’re trying to update the characters to fit into today’s world with too much of a focus on politics and current events. Every book feels like a soapbox to promote the creators’ personal politics, not an action and adventure story.”
Carter: “I think all the creative teams are kinda wack. Hardware being the best & Static’s being the worst.”
Gevian: “I think that the Static and Hardware creative teams were great choices for the audiences they clearly had in mind. The Hardware team was definitely selected to get older Milestone fans drawn in, and it worked. I am not a fan of either Cowan or Sienkiewicz, but I know plenty of people who are but putting the two of them together raised my eyebrows. Good call! And concerning Static, I’m not a fan of the character, but having a seasoned hand like ChrisCross doing layouts with an artist like Nikolas Draper-Ivey doing finishes, that is a smart call to appeal to fans, young and old alike. Those were really smart choices creatively.”
“Carter, I know you have been very vocal on Twitter about how this new Static series, written by Vita Ayala, stripped the character of a lot of things that made him interesting. I would like you to elaborate on that.”
Carter: “I’ve been trying to keep these answers “short” but there’s so much altered about Virgil I could write an essay. I’ll just pick three things. One, Virgil’s clique not making it to EarthMid is a travesty (Rick Stone, Chuck Kane, Larry Wade, and Felix); they all bring something out of Virgil and were important to him and in multiple stories. Two, Virgil relies on Curtis Metcalf/Hardware so damn much. Virgil and Curtis’ camaraderie isn’t like Hero and Sidekick or even Student and Master; it’s for damn sure not MCU Iron Man and Spider-Man. Hardware looks at Static as a full-fledge hero, not a subordinate he has to teach. Three, I can’t stand his new personality. He’s moody & angry most of the time, snaps on people for no reason and he never tells jokes. Never quips. It’s so un-Virgil-like I can’t stand looking at him sometimes. He acts like he is on his period, for real.”
Shawn: “Vita Ayala stripped Virgil of his heart. The original Virgil by Dwayne McDuffie and Robert L. Washington III was a happy-go-lucky kid who lived for hanging with his friends, comic books, sci-fi, fantasy, role-playing games, video games, and regular teen fun stuff. While he dealt with issues he always did it with a smile. Virgil was known for his jokes and his sense of humor. We don’t see any of that in Vita’s three issues.
In Vita Ayala’s writing, Virgil is somber, brooding, and angry. He spends his time talking about his feelings. Oftentimes he’s so emotional he acts more like a girl than a boy.”
“The new series features a different origin to how Virgil got his powers and also the way he reacts to them, even going as far as trying to murder someone in the first issue. What do you think about it?”
Chris: “I think it hurts Virgil as a character. I understand that he was angry with Hotstreak as he was still holding a grudge from constantly being bullied by him but having Virgil consider murder as his option now that he has the power to stand up for himself makes him come across as less than heroic. While yes, Virgil did consider shooting Hotstreak at the Big Bang, he backed out almost immediately as he realized he just could not go through with it. He’s not a killer but just a nerdy kid scared of a bully. New Virgil stops short of killing Hotstreak with his powers because he decides he needs to do better and use his powers for good shortly after thinking Hotstreak deserves to die. I’m a firm believer that a character like Virgil should be able to make mistakes and learn from them but this isn’t something that comes across as a lesson to Virgil but more of a lesson for Hotstreak to show him Virgil could kill him if he really wanted and to me, that’s just not Virgil.”
Shawn: “Completely out of character for Virgil. This new origin has him reacting like a female and not critically thinking as Virgil did in 1993. Virgil would never try to murder someone with or without his powers.
In the second issue of Static what defines him as a hero is his choice to preserve the life of a Biz Money B, A.K.A. Hotstreak. While he came to Paris Island to kill his bully, he realized that was going too far. When he dropped the gun in the river he became a hero. It was his critical thinking and response to things before he got his powers that defined him.”
Carter: “The new origin is TRASH as fuck. There are 30+ Bang Babies I can name off the top of my skull and that’s not even all of them. That’s 30+ (THIRTY PLUS) new origins they have to create. Why even stress yourself like that? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. It hurts Virgil (the origin change) for sure but more importantly, it hurts the universe. The universe was birthed there, hence the name “The Big Bang”.”
“Very early in the series we see Virgil’s superhero identity being revealed to his parents and this is a very different setting to what we saw in the original comic book run in the 90s. This might be a broader question, but what do you think of superhero identities being constantly revealed to the public in recent comic book series?”
Chris: “I think that works for certain characters but not for somebody like Virgil who guarded his secret identity just as well Peter Parker. Having Virgil’s identity being known by so many people at the start doesn’t add anything but instead takes more away from the storytelling, while there was some overlap in the identities of Static and Virgil they both had their advantages and worked to make the story stronger. Virgil would find out information about bad guys from his friends or other people around him then Static go put a stop to their plans. Meaning there were things only Virgil could do while under the appearance of not having powers, now that everyone knows this aspect is out the window. It also added a lot more drama when villains would show up in places like Virgil’s school or his job since it meant his two worlds were overlapping and he’s had to rush and come back as soon as possible as Static, it would also serve as a major motivator since Virgil would want to protect those around him.
To bring it to a broader sense, I don’t like the slow loss of secret identities, it’s one of the reasons I don’t like the portrayals of characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It makes those characters feel less like superheroes with lives outside of being superheroes and more like contracted agents or celebrities. Some could argue that the trope of a hero trying to juggle the two lives is tired but you can only subvert a trope so many times before the subversion becomes another tired trope itself.”
Shawn: “New writers think doing stuff like this will make the character more appealing for shows like CW’s Arrow or Flash or MCU movies, but it doesn’t work in the comic medium. Secret Identities are part of comic stories for a reason and writers and creators need to respect that reason.
Virgil revealing his identity ruins the series. Characters like Virgil have secret identities to keep their families and friends from being harmed by villains or other crazies. Virgil having a public identity puts a target on not only his back but all of his friends and family.”
Carter: “It’s an excuse to not write the hero and character separately. One of the biggest selling points of the original Static book was it’s a book about Static AND Virgil. Virgil reacts to situations differently than Static as he has to hide his identity. On EarthMid it’s always “How would Static react?” as everyone knows who he is.”
Gevian: “There’s a reason why superheroes have secret identities, which is to protect those closest to them from danger, and there’s also the fact that it makes a handy plot device that can add drama, tension, and/or conflict to a story. I haven’t heard a good reason why a hero’s secret identity should be revealed to the public, other than a one-off story arc or a temporary change to the status quo in order to boost sales. A superhero having a secret identity is a trope that will always be a part of the genre, unless you establish a hero who operates upfront with no need for one.
I could see creators treating superheroes like cops (they deal with dangerous criminals and don’t wear masks), but I think the recent Watchmen series covered how that would eventually work out and why secret identities are necessary.”
“Ayala said the following in an interview last July about the changes she did to Virgil’s character: “He likes superhero stuff. He wants to be a good person, and I think that’s beautiful. But, I think that looks different than it did in 1993. Partially because people have more access to information and the world has changed so rapidly in the last 30 years.” Thoughts?
Chris: “I can’t agree with this statement. While we do have access to more information now than 30 years meaning we’re given more views on what evil can look like and sometimes how far it can go but I believe being a good person and wanting to do the right thing is timeless and that’s why a lot of heroes managed to stick. While I’m sure they probably didn’t mean it that way, this sounds kind of like another “Superman is outdated” statement.
Personally, I think that if they needed to update what being a hero looks like then there was no reason to bring back a character from thirty years ago to fit the idea, it’d be simpler to just make something new at that point. This point kind of reminds me of why people found edgy anti-heroes like Spawn appealing, I’ve heard that Spawn is a hero for the 90s since he represents times getting darker with people growing more and more cynical and how the classic heroes just don’t fit the changing times anymore. Nowadays I don’t really talk about Spawn anymore outside of his guest appearances and that movie Todd MacFarlane has been saying is coming out soon for the past ten years. A lot of heroes go through updates, some more drastic than others but what makes a lot of those updates work with people is the core idea of the character is still there along with everything that people liked about the character, to begin with.
Look at Marvel’s Ultimate line where a lot of the characters were updated to fit the early to mid-2000s: a lot of those characters were edgier and darker versions of those classic characters yet the line went under by the mid-2010s while the mainline versions of the characters are still around for the most part.”
Shawn: “What made Virgil a great character in 1993 would make him a great character in 2021. While the world has changed, what makes a person a hero is something that transcends time. Great characters resonate with readers from generation to generation and their stories are relatable for years to come.
I wrote John Haynes, a character who wants to be a good person in 2005 in The Temptation of John Haynes. The book was published in 2011. People still relate to him in 2021 because what is core to him resonates with them even though the book is 10 years old. Spider-Man was written back in 1962 and his story of “Great Power and Great Responsibility” still resonates with readers almost 60 years later. Batman was written in 1939 and his story of becoming a Dark Knight after the murder of his parents resonates with readers over 80 years later. Times may change, but a hero’s story has themes and elements that readers can relate to and identify with through the decades.
Writers usually write what they know. And bad writers like Vita Ayala believe they have to change characters because they don’t understand the craft of storytelling. A writer who doesn’t know the character wants to change everything because they don’t go out and do their research on a character’s backstory. They haven’t read enough of the character’s stories to learn enough about the character, their “Voice” or how a story paradigm works for the character. Oftentimes when they call themselves “improving” the character with their changes they wind up making a mess.”
Carter: “Dumbest shit I’ve ever read any Static writer say. Ever. Next.”
“What do you think of the art in this series? It’s certainly not a very traditional style in comics.”
Chris: “While I don’t think the art on Static: Season One is bad but it just looks too much like a fan comic or something I’d see on Webtoon. It’s clearly anime-inspired, which is fine. I just don’t think it works for the story being told here since it looks like the artist would rather be drawing something where they can go all out. I like Doug Braithwaite’s art for Icon & Rocket: Season One but I don’t have much to say about it, it doesn’t stand out that much to me but it’s not bad by any means. As for Hardware: Season One, I like Denys Cowan’s art on it more than the other art in the other two titles, it makes this title feel the closest to the original from the 90s.”
Shawn: “It’s really inconsistent. The Static book is trying too hard to be Manga. It’s very hard to follow and very busy. Icon’s art is good but could be a bit more dynamic in the panel work. Hardware is the only book picking up where Denys Cowan left off on his 1993 run.”
Carter: “The Static book art is really weak and often looks incomplete. Icon and Rocket and Hardware art is really strong, though.”
“As Static fans, what do you think are the main traits that you have to keep? What are the elements that make Virgil the great character that he is?”
Chris: “I think a lot of what made Static appealing was how similar to Spider-Man he is. He’s a homegrown teenage hero trying to do right by everyone and even himself while telling some corny jokes along the way. I think the teenage aspect is also very important and he should be allowed to make mistakes and grow as a character from those mistakes, like at one point Virgil is wary of his friend Rick because Rick is gay. Virgil realizes his biases because Rick is a good friend of his and his sexuality shouldn’t matter. Also, Virgil’s supporting cast is a major aspect of what made the original title so compelling: he had a nosy sister he pulled pranks on, loving parents who wanted him to be the best version of himself he could be, and a best friend he could confide in about both aspects of his life. Virgil’s connections to these people do a great job of making him feel grounded and really relatable as everyone at least has one of those things. Actually, Virgil having both parents be in his life actually caught me by surprise now that I think about it since the cartoon had him lose his mom early in his life along with the fact I’d gotten so used to characters having a tragic backstory where they lose a family member and it’s part of what drives them.”
Shawn: “I want to see Virgil go back to being happy-go-lucky. Cracking jokes. Having fun. Hanging with his friends. Doing the things teenagers do. Working to overcome problems like dating, beating video games, and keeping a job in between taking on the bad guys.”
Carter: “His earnestness, his jokes, his love for comics, his open-mindedness, his strategic side, his relationships, and his intelligence.”
“Another character that has been changed recently was Icon. While his origin story, by and large, remains the same, what do you think we’re the most significant changes in the character in this new series?”
Chris: “I think the most significant changes were his opinions on people and how quick to anger he seems to be. The new series kind of makes frames his introduction as a little more scary and inhuman. The panels where they give him glowing eyes don’t help. When he lectures Raquel and her friends it seems more like an alien talking down to beings he considers lesser rather than an older man talking to a bunch of kids. Also, the fact he only agrees to become Icon because Raquel resembled someone he knew makes him come across as more selfish as opposed to the original where he realizes that Raquel was right after thinking about what she said and that people in the community need their own Superman to look up to.”
Shawn: “The whole structure of Icon’s story was changed. In the original Icon #1, Agustus was an alien from a collective of peaceful planets on a ship that was malfunctioning. In the new Icon & Rocket #1, he’s a security guard on a ship of sleeping travelers. Very passive, and not act like the 1993 version of the character.”
Carter: “I think the most significant change to Icon is his attitude towards humankind. He sees humans as beneath him and that’s just not the hero.”
Gevian: “I haven’t read the limited series, so please take my comments with a pound of salt, but what I saw in the Milestone Zero book was enough for me to pass on the new incarnation. Icon and Rocket seem to be too much on the same page personally and politically than the previous premise of the series. There isn’t the dynamic of two people recognizing that the world around them has to change, but they have two vastly different views and perspectives on how that change should happen.”
“One of the most notorious changes in the character’s ethos was him watching humans as something beneath him, which is a major difference to the original Icon. What do you make of that decision?”
Chris: “This change really makes Icon unlikable and shows a clear misunderstanding of what made him a great character to read about, while I’m sure he’ll learn to move past it (or at least I hope so) but this version of the character seems more like a villain that I’d expect to have plans of domination or to just leave Earth the second he figures out how. The original Icon felt detached from other black people and that came with age and seeing how black people changed over a hundred years. There are lots of black people who have a similar feeling of disconnect due to not sharing common opinions with others. Hell, that’s not even just a black issue since a lot of people can feel a slight disconnect with others in a similar group they belong to by having dissenting opinions.
Needless to say, this new Icon is a really unrelatable character since it loses that bit of subtlety. This is something I am not surprised by since Hudlin’s Black Panther has the same kind of issue since he turned Wakanda from an advanced nation still rooted in traditions where the slightest misstep on their leader’s part could plunge the nation into unnecessary conflict to a boring power fantasy with a nation that’s better than every other country in the world.”
Shawn: “Really disrespectful to Dwayne McDuffie. Yes, Agustus was a Black Conservative, but he was never an elitist. Agustus was distant, but he still cared about people. He kept his distance to keep people from finding out he was an alien. But he always made an effort to help those in need. He wouldn’t talk down to people because he could relate to them.”
Carter: “Like I said before, that’s not the hero. I mean, he originally helped humans whenever he could but in secret as he sees what we can become and tries to help us the best way he thinks every time he could by his definition he was a hero before becoming Icon.”
“What do you think of Rocket’s portrayal in the series so far?”
Chris: “I think she’s a weaker character in the new title since we’re introduced to her being manipulated into being the first person to go into Augustus Freeman’s house whereas in the original she clearly doesn’t want any part of it but goes in because she’s mesmerized by how rich people live. Her motivation for wanting a typewriter is consistent but I don’t think the new title touches upon how she’s also affected by her environment. I think a lot of her smarts and tenacity are downplayed. She’s honestly kind of boring.”
Shawn: “It’s one dimensional. The original Raquel had more depth and layers and had a much stronger “voice”. In this book, she’s just here to be the sidekick, not be her own unique character like she was in 1993. She’s really been minimized in Icon and not really given a chance to show what motivates her to be a hero.”
Carter: “She isn’t as powerful (in every sense of the word) as the original Raquel Ervin/Rocket. That’s all I’ll say.”
“Carter, you mentioned a very interesting point on Twitter about how out of character was that scene of Icon holding the severed head. Care to elaborate on that?”
Carter: “1st off, Icon isn’t supposed to have Superman-level strength during slavery. Originally Icon couldn’t fly during that time, he didn’t have super speed he wasn’t invulnerable nor did he have the ability to manipulate positrons. He had increased stamina and super strength. Not enough strength to pick up a building or anything but enough to light the load for other slaves while he helped Harriet escape with them at night. EarthMid’s is fully powered & decided to take off a human’s head? Originally death or the pain of loss really affects Icon. Every time someone he loved died he changed a bit mentally. Now, he’s welcoming death in such a gruesome way; it looks more like his rogues Kali’kak or Holocaust in imagery.”
Shawn: “It’s completely out of character for Icon to be violent like that. Augustus originally came from a collective of peaceful planets. And he only used violence as a last resort. Augustus understood while he had great power he had to think about the consequences that would fall on his fellow former slaves. This is why Augustus often used covert tactics to help black people in need rather than overtly using his powers during Jim Crow.
During that dark period in history if a black person were to attack whites recklessly like what was shown with Icon holding Jefferson Davis’ severed head Racists in the KKK would retaliate by murdering black people in towns across the country, like what was seen in Rosewood and Black Wall Street.”
“Now, I want to ask all of you: a running issue that we’re seeing in this relaunch, and it translates to a lot of other comic book characters, is that their core values and traits are not being respected. Why do you think that is the case?”
Chris: “I think it’s because the writers valued the political and social commentary angles of the characters and how to update that to current times rather than trying to balance that with the actual finer details of characters, so far the best of these books is Hardware: Season One and that’s mostly because it feels like an abridged retelling of the first couple of issues of the original but at least it kept true to the character at least unlike the other two titles.
I also think this is just reflective of how new minority characters are introduced to people. Every few years we’re introduced to a new character or a character who is now suddenly non-white or LGBT+ and they’re touted by news sites and social media as being very important for very flimsy reasons. Then the character flops hard in sales due to the quality of title they’re in not being very high because the writer wrote them as being that important big character first and an actual good character second but the publisher can’t walk back on how important everyone claimed that character is. Seems like they brought back the Milestone label and used these characters to do pretty much the same thing.
However, now they’re using the political nature of the original books as a scapegoat to justify making a more politics-heavy title without actually understanding why people liked those original titles. I kind of fear if these new titles don’t do well then we’ll never see these characters again, but I don’t want to see these versions of these characters ever again.”
Shawn: “Their core values and traits are not being respected because the new editorial team wants to go in a more “progressive” direction. They want to update these characters to reflect 2021 events like the George Floyd Murder and far-left politics like organizations such as Black Lives Matter subscribe to.
What would make the characters relevant and appealing to today’s readers are those classic themes and tropes of storytelling. If the creators would follow the themes that the late Dwayne McDuffie established instead of pushing current events and politics, the characters would be just as accessible and relatable as they were in 1993 and in the 2001 Static Shock animated series.”
Carter: “Because writers don’t want to study. This is why Christopher Priest is one of my favorite writers. He’ll read and study a character before writing them in order to understand said character and get a good idea of where they could go. If you just hop on a character and impose your will you’re not a great or even good writer. In my opinion.”
Gevian: “I think they are creating a new Milestone universe based on the core values of some of today’s creators. It has become clear that the goal of this relaunch is not a contemporary continuation of the Milestone universe that preceded it, but a contemporary reimagining of the Milestone universe. Once that decision is made upfront there’s very little you can do about it. Every creator has the right to tell the stories they want to tell with the characters if they are given permission to do so by the publisher and editors, and every fan has a right to vote with their wallets and say, “No, thank you.” To me, this is no different than what has been done to some of my favorite franchises such as Teen Titans or the Legion of Super-Heroes. Clearly, some creators felt a need to wildly go in bold new directions, and they have devastated said franchises in comics (you cannot deny the success of Teen Titans GO) without question. That’s the call of the publisher and the creators.
Concerning today’s creators and their motives for not respecting the core values and traits of comic book characters in general, I don’t think they’re hiding said motives. One creator, Alison Bechdel, was quoted as saying:
“What I want is for men to read my work and make the same leap of identity that we [women] have to make when we read one of the 99 percent of comic strips that star straight white men, boys, or animals.”
As a beloved straight white male who is no longer with us used to say: ‘Nuff Said.
“Shawn, you made one video on your YouTube channel where you mentioned a criticism of the new Milestone that the classic one suffered with: that they were lacking quality villains. Can you please tell us more about it?”
Shawn: “Milestone has always had great heroes, but they’ve always had a big problem in developing villains. In many of their books, they make the hero look strong, but they don’t really give the bad guys the kind of character development that makes them fan favorites. In order for a book to sell, you need a bad guy to create the conflict that drives the story.
Bad guys drive the external conflict and the internal conflict a hero has. It’s the relationship between the villain and the hero that makes the reader come back for more. When you think of great comic rivalries like Spider-Man/Green Goblin Batman/Joker, Daredevil/Bullseye Wolverine/Sabertooth there’s a relationship that where the hero’s very morality and mission are challenged. I don’t see that at Milestone. Yeah, we have Static vs. Hotstreak, but Frances hasn’t really challenged Virgil to the point where they’ve had a definitive battle.
Milestone in 1993 didn’t really give us compelling bad guys. And that hurt them in the long run. By the time Long Hot Summer came along in 1997, the bad guy wasn’t a person, it was the gentrification of Paris Island. Not a very compelling story. And they’re making the same mistake in 2021. Instead of giving us bad guys with a diversity of reasons for wanting to take out the hero we get different versions of the evil White Man. When all three of your heroes are taking on the same bad guy it’s not compelling storytelling.”
Carter: “I believe Milestone has a ton of great villains. The thing is they introduced a ton who didn’t really get much development. The concepts are still great and there’s a great foundation to expand on. Villains like Red Light, The Yoongar, Hook Line and Sinker, Dr. Nemo, Rapid, Puff and Coil, The Botanist, The Jade Emperor, John Wing, Dr. Sugarman or The Sisterhood Of Blood Mummies! There’s so much more and I believe they do have some great potential just waiting.”
“What makes a great villain, according to you guys?”
Chris: “A great villain should be entertaining to watch regardless of if you can see the logic in their ideals. Their plans don’t have to make sense to anyone but them but as the audience, you should be able to believe that this person would have that kind of thinking. My favorite comic book villain of all time is Mr. Nobody in Grant Morrison’s stint on Doom Patrol and his plans really make no sense to anybody but him and his followers but that’s the point of the character. On the flip side, I love Holocaust since he starts out as a smalltime gangster trying to rise through the ranks of organized crime and he’s not shy about using his power to do so, his motivation and plans make sense and there are layers to his character I wish were explored more. What I’m saying is great villains can be anything from an artistic nutjob to a common gangster as long as they’re entertaining and their goals fit and make sense within the context of the world they inhabit and the story being told.”
Shawn: “What makes a great villain is their motivation for doing evil. Stan Lee oftentimes made villains compelling because of the choices they made. It was those choices to do evil that defined them, their mission, and their relationship with the hero. Great villains like Darkseid, Dr. Doom, Red Skull, Venom, Dr. Octopus, Thanos, and Count Nefaria were all defined by their choices. In the face of adversity and tragedy, they dedicated themselves to wanting to conquer or destroy mankind.”
Carter: “A great villain is one who can push the hero to their limit but not just physically.”
Gevian: “A great villain is someone who represents either a philosophical or irreverent opposition to the values, motives, and methods of the hero. The villain is in some way, or many ways, superior to the hero in terms of brain, brawn, or abilities. What makes the hero superior to a villain is that there is some Achilles Heel, some blind spot, which the villain cannot perceive but that the hero can, precisely because of the hero’s values, motives, and methods. This is what leads to a great villain’s downfall.”
“If you were in charge of the Milestone relaunch, what would you have done differently?”
Chris: “For starters not bringing in Reginald Hudlin or Vita Ayala but I can’t think of any current creatives at DC who I think could do the characters justice. I also wouldn’t call the titles “Seasons” but that’s just a personal thing. Never liked that. I want to say I’d try to build off the stories found in the original and make new characters that could stand alongside the heroes in the original Milestone lineup. If someone had a decent enough story to tell with those classic characters then I would let it through, same for older titles that had their runs cut short.”
Shawn: “I definitely would have treated the characters with much more respect than they received. Try to capture the spirit of the old 1993 comics and the 2001 Static Shock TV show. Make everything a bit more lighthearted and fun to appeal to readers of all ages. Comics are meant to be an escape from real life, and I want readers to go to a place where they can get a break from problems.
With Static I’d make it more like Season 5 of the Static Shock show, acting like the finale never happened. After I retold the origin of Static I’d continue to build on the adventures of Virgil and Gear. Show him developing a relationship with Daisy. Give She-Bang more development. Have Virgil taking on some new bad guys. Maybe even have Gear come out of the closet.
On Icon, I’d be developing the relationship between Raquel and Agustus. Having her show him the world today while he teaches her about the Black community of the past. Have him show her that solving many of the issues in the inner city isn’t as easy as throwing money at people. Have them taking on menaces from Earth and beyond.
On Hardware, I’d have Curtis working on building his own enterprise. While he’s angry about Alva exploiting him and taking advantage of him he realizes the best way to take his power back from him is by building his own business. Many readers compare Curtis to Marvel’s Tony Stark, so I’d have him start MetTech, a Black-owned tech company. And Hardware like Iron Man would be a corporate mascot/bodyguard who would go out and fight bad guys from Alva and other Tech types looking to undermine the growing company and prevent it from competing in the marketplace.”
Carter: “I would have given Icon (titled “ICON” not “ICON & Rocket”), Static & Hardware on-goings. While I have on-goings I’d also release a one-shot for each Syndicate member (or two) every month. These are to properly get a feel for each member and just to spotlight each member on their own. The one-shots for each Bang Baby members of the Gang will be their perspective at the Big Bang. So, that’s 11 perspectives we get to see at the Big Bang. This does a lot for the characters and shows it’s a BIG Bang, not a small-scale event. We’d definitely see a lot of dead bodies in these books, just saying. The non-Bang Baby members one-shots (Kwai, Pearl & DMZ) would be origin stories; obviously, you can’t get the entire thing in a one-shot, but just enough to get the gist.”
Gevian: “Hired Christopher Priest as Editor-in-Chief of the line.”
“A lot has been said about Milestone dealing with social issues in the 90s, which is certainly true, and a lot of the people involved in the relaunch have talked about updating it for the modern era. In your mind, why do you think the original Milestone succeeded with those topics and the current version doesn’t?”
Chris: “Like I said earlier, the original Milestone titles didn’t insult the readers’ intelligence; the new titles are way heavier handed with their message and in that heavy-handedness lost what made Milestone books great. Like changing the Big Bang from being a gang war to being a BLM protest where a fight breaks out doesn’t work since it loses the idea of a lot the bang babies being dangerous people, to begin with, to be a bunch of innocent people protesting for what they think is right, not to say there weren’t innocent people caught up in the original but I think it’s too on the nose in comparison. It could be said that everyone caught in the original were victims as well but a majority of people at the Big Bang were still dangerous people and we’re shown what dangerous people could do with power in the aftermath. Both Big Bangs still at their crux tackle the same idea of corruption within the police force, but with the new one that’s the only thing here.
If this updated Big Bang culminates in all the Bang Babies teaming up to take down the police force within the city with force I don’t think there would be much of a story left after that outside of a story where gangs are formed and even then I think we’ll be told directly by a character how bad gangs are instead of showing it as I have no faith in the storytelling. I think the one thing that speaks volumes about the relaunch in regard to the overall storytelling is how Icon’s story is told in comparison to the original. In the original title, it’s four wordless pages showing him coming to Earth and being found by his adoptive mother whereas in the new title it’s twice that amount with a narration provided by Raquel telling us what we can clearly see with the addition of dialogue. Same with Hardware actually, he point blank tells us his origin in the first issue instead of us seeing it through flashbacks as the story goes on.
But it’s still a little early on to judge what topics these books could cover but I’m not sure if these books will tackle things like internalized homophobia, hardcore drug addiction, glorification of gang life by the youth, and racist conspiracies and if they do I don’t think these topics will be handled with care or thought and will quirks the characters get over or defeat PSA style in two to three issues.”
Shawn: “While Milestone characters have always dealt with social issues like teen pregnancy, homosexuality, teen sex, and drug use it was done in a way where things were organic to the story. Characters like Rocket, Richie, Fade, and Flashback dealt with these issues as part of the plot or subplots and they didn’t go out here preaching to the reader. We got to see characters dealing with things the way people dealt with them in real life and that’s what made the stories resonate with the reader.
The current version fails because there’s no objectivity to the storytelling. Readers aren’t just presented the facts and are allowed to make their own observations and draw their own conclusions. Editorial and the writers want to get on a soapbox and preach to the reader. They want to convince us that their political viewpoints are the only viewpoints the readers should see. That’s not storytelling, that’s propaganda.”
Carter: “OG Milestone succeeded because it wasn’t black and white but rather many shades of Gray. Each of EarthMid’s books are starting out with Black Men vs The Evil White Man. The plot of the original line started out so much more nuanced while still talking about these subjects. You’d never catch EarthMid allowing Static to face and prove a Black Supremacist wrong, is all I’m saying!”
Gevian: “When Milestone did it in the 90s, it was novel because it was done by what we would now call “creators of color,” and those issues largely had not been handled by those kinds of creators with proven pedigrees under one banner. Today, the novelty is gone. I don’t think they’ve come up with fresh or novel new perspectives to explore and examine the social issues of today. It feels like they are following the culture, and when you do that, you’re always behind.”
“One final question: What does Milestone mean to you and what do you expect from the company in the coming years?”
Chris: “Milestone meant challenging the reader through interesting and contemporary stories that while written for an audience of non-white readers in mind, the stories could be enjoyed by really anyone. At this rate, I don’t see this revival lasting long and if other titles somehow manage to slip out I expect them to just get canceled pretty early. If a Blood Syndicate title manages to squeeze its way out then I don’t expect it to have anything that made the original story appealing, I don’t expect it to be of the same caliber and tackle hard-hitting issues but instead a preachy series where the characters aren’t strong enough to support the title. If anything I expect the current Milestone to be a social media darling where people will blindly praise every decision without context pages and panels but not actually read it and insult those who don’t. At best it will be one of those labels where none of the titles do well but stay alive long enough to limp to a slow death with clickbait articles insinuating that readers just aren’t ready for Milestone comics to come back. Like I said, earlier this hurts because if the current revival doesn’t do well we might not see these characters again.”
Shawn: “Milestone meant a lot to me because it was the first place where I saw black characters made by Black creators in their own universe. It was the first place where I saw heroes that looked like me and had my experiences in the spotlight.
Sadly, I don’t expect much from Milestone in the future because this relaunch isn’t gonna last too long. The SJW/woke storytelling is going to alienate a lot of readers and I don’t see the company being around in a year or two. The marketplace is filled with a lot of strong competition from other Black-owned publishers like Black Sands, Konkret Comics, Tuskegee Heirs, Diverse Comics, Fool’s Entertainment, and SJS DIRECT producing richer, more multidimensional Black characters and giving readers a diversity of stories in the Black experience we didn’t see back in 1993.”
Carter: “Milestone really means a lot to me. I wouldn’t care about comics as much without it. Knowing stuff like Milestone, Boondocks, Cannon Busters, etc., exists just feels good, especially in a sea of race swaps. Seeing Black people create something of their own that becomes Iconic just proves so very much.”
Gevian: “Milestone, for me, was an attempt to create heroes that looked like them who were different than their traditional counterparts, but belonged in the same pantheon as their contemporaries. For me, it was an attempt to allow others to see themselves fully realized in the four-color fantasies we all love and enjoy.”
“Thank you, gentlemen, for taking the time to do this. Any last thoughts you want to share? Where can we follow you on social media?”
Chris: “You can find me @MachineGhetto on Twitter for topics on comics, tokusatsu, and giant robot anime. Thanks for letting me talk about comics I love and venting about comics I don’t. Also if you have an interest in these characters please pick up the Milestone Compendium coming out next year.”
Shawn: “Thank you for interviewing me. You can find me on YouTube on my channel Shawn James: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKKSEp3tTsbC_f8TIytyINQ
And my blog: http://shawnsjames.blogspot.com/
And you can find my books like the Isis series, the E’steem series, and the John Haynes series on Amazon in paperback and Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Shawn-James/e/B00379H1CG/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1.”
Gevian: “You can follow me as the Publisher of Animated Concepts on Facebook (@AnimatedConcepts) or on Twitter (@AnimatedCon). We’re planning to publish one-shots that will reflect and honor some of the best storytelling of the classic Milestone Universe.”