Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Black Superheroes: Static

Name: Virgil Hawkins

First Appearance: Static #1 (1993)

History: In Dakota City’s most crime ridden neighborhood all the local gangs, totally in about five hundred members, decide to have one last Winner-Takes-All battle royal in the intersection of their territories. The event would be nicknamed “The Big Bang” (As it's a gang bang, hardy-ha) and it was no secret; indeed the mayor initiated a plan to eradicate the city’s gang problem in one swoop. The police were to tag the various gang members with tear gas laced with a harmless radioactive tracing substance that would allow them to be easily tracked down, thus meaning that most of them would be behind bars by morning. However things went very awry. Virgil Hawkins, a fifteen year old high school student, was present at the site, not because he was in a gang but rather he had been convinced by some gang banger friends to join them in the fight so he could gain final revenge on the bullies who mercilessly tormented him at school. Though he had a change of heart and decided against participating he was still at the sight of ground-zero.

The gas turned out to be less than harmless as it had been spiked with a mutagenic substance; instead of simply tagging it’s victims it killed 90% of those who came in contact with it leaving it’s survivors either horribly mutated or with bizarre super powers (Those who lived through would be referred to as “Bang Babies”). Virgil survived his exposure and soon developed electromagnetic based powers. Being a fan of superhero comics he decides to use his new found powers to fight crime, taking the name “Static.”

Beta Says: It’s very possible that, as opposed to the vast majority of the black heroes mentioned on this blog, you’ve at least heard of Static as he is the only one profiled to star on his own Saturday Morning (Network broadcasted) cartoon. Meaning that an entire generation of kids (Likely now young adults) was exposed to this character for several years. Of course this was twelve years ago so he’s not exactly super pop culture relevant nowadays. Like Mister Terrific Static is a black character that got his own starring role in comic with the Great DC Reboot but, also like Mister Terrific, the book was canceled due to low sales. And again like with Mister Terrific I understand why, but that doesn’t mean I’m not pissed.

More after the jump.

Um, Ravager, he shoots lightning. You use swords. Do the math
Before we talk about Static let’s talk about his creator, Dwayne McDuffie (McDuffie was the writer who created the character along with the artist John Paul Leon). Sadly McDuffie passed away just over a year ago as a result of a botched heart surgery. He was a great comic writer who, along with a few others, decided that he was sick and tired of seeing minorities underrepresented in superhero comics. So he helped formed Milestone Media, a comic company dedicated to creating minority superheroes (Not just black superheroes, by the way). Milestone’s best known hero was Static but there were other cool characters created including Icon, Hardware and Xombi. When Milestone closed its doors McDuffie went on to work as a writer for various cartoon shows including Static Shock and the amazingly good Justice League cartoon (In fact he was story editor for Justice League Unlimited). He came back to comics, overseeing Milestone’s incorporation into the DC Universe and eventually even appointed writer of Justice League of America. Sadly he was fired for a rather bullshit reason having to do with the frankness of which he answered fans’ questions in an interview.

I bring up McDuffie because, in a rather depressing turn of events, I had just really discovered him a matter of months before his death. He actually became a sort of hero to me, someone I was beginning to up to as an example for me to try to follow since, as you probably know, I’m a young(ish) black writer aspiring to write comics. He seemed to be fighting a losing battle with incorporating minority characters into his stories his entire career, even in the co-called “enlightened” and “non-racist” modern era and sadly he didn’t live to see things be finally achieve true equality. Something he said that’s stayed with me was that when he tried to write anything that had more than one, but especially more than two, black characters to an ensemble cast he was accused of trying to make it a “Black Title”, even if the rest of the cast was white. It’s a sad, subtle, type of inequality that you don’t really think of on a conscious level but still very much so exists.
Dwayne McDuffie
Anyway Static is McDuffie’s greatest creation, hands down, and arguably the only character from the fairly dark setting of Milestone’s Dakotaverse who had a chance of achieving mass market pop culture appeal. Static, like Spider-Man before him, was a relatable and likable teen hero with problems. A wide variety of topics were explored in the original book through Virgil’s eyes including homophobia and (Obviously) gang violence.

Now in theory Static is awesome and probably could have been a property DC could have made some pretty noticeable cash on. As the star of a hit 2000-2004 cartoon the character was a household name. But for some reason DC refused to allow the trigger to be pulled on bringing Static back to comics during that entire run. Apparently Geoff Johns, a writer whom I have very complex feelings towards, had wanted to use Static in his Teen Titans run which actually would have been timely (Or at least more so than it ended up being). However DC instead kept saying no until 2008, four years after the show ended meaning any hope to strike when the iron was hot was pretty much lost. Still Static was used as a member of the Teen Titans for a while…you know, before he lost his powers and quit the team but whatever.

This brings us to the 2011 series. DC had been promising a Static solo title for some time but it finally got announced on 2011 only to get canceled before it even started. Thankfully that was only because DC had decided to delay the title until the DCnU Reboot. In my review of Static Shock #1 I said that the book was decent, though flawed. However by issue two I realized a horrible truth; the book wasn’t that good. The main problem is that this book seems to be the continuation of a story that I have no concept of. Ignoring the fact that Virgil is working with Hardware, a character most DC fans will have no idea of, there’s a lingering plot point that I completely missed in the first issue but was too blatant miss in the second; that Virgil’s older sister Sharon had been cloned and they were both living under the Hawkins’ roof with no indication of which one was the original. I have no idea when that happened, because it damn sure didn’t happen in issue one. It probably didn’t happen in the pre-reboot Teen Titans comic when Static was a member because that continuity no longer exists (In fact Virgil meets the team for the first time in Teen Titans #6 which just came out this month).

Not sure how he went from this to his current look, but thank God either way
I assume it must be either a plot point from a previous Not-in-DC-Continuity series OR something that was supposed to be explained later. If it’s the former than its crazy that DC thought they could pull in new readers to Static by referencing fairly old comics that they wouldn’t have read. If it’s the latter then why is it so unclear! I was completely lost; I felt like I was missing a lot of issues even though I just bought the first two of a new series. Since this stupid reboot was completely tossing out the history of so many characters you’d think that Static, a character who technically speaking never really got the DC Origin that so many other heroes did when they were bought by the company (Like Captain Atom, for example), would get a fresh start retelling his origins and early days since it’s been nearly twenty years since he was introduced. Nope, with Static we were tossed in the deep end of the pool. Meanwhile the Blue Beetle, a much more recent character, lost everything that made his previous adventures special when his background was jettisoned in favor of a brand new retelling.

So who was Static’s new book geared toward? Teen Titan fans? Nope, DC has kind of made it clear that older Teen Titan fans aren’t the target of this reboot, what with so many former Titans in the DCnU either broken or otherwise out of character (I should point out that the current Teen Titans book is actually pretty decent, more or less). Is it for fans of the cartoon? If you watched the old cartoon and tried to read the book you’ll be confused as hell, so I have to say “no”. Especially since the book moves away from the familiar Dakota City in favor of a less exciting New York. Is it for fans of the classic series? Perhaps, but if you have to wonder about the marketing strategy of this since the Milestone fans weren’t numerous enough to keep the company afloat back in the day, so why would they be able to keep this title afloat over a decade later? Tellingly the writer of the book, John Rozum, quit the title very early on. He says it was amicable but seeing as how confusing the above mentioned plot point was and how unbelievably dull and generic the villains Static was fighting were I have to assume there was some kind of clash between writer and editorial.

Static's new comic may have sold better if he fought this dude
Static is an extremely cool character who could be a hit, be it in the comics or even in film (Get on it, Hollywood) if they right modifiers were in place. Seeing as the cartoon had pretty interesting and colorful characters it wouldn’t be a bad move to important them into the comics. Seriously, I would have kept buying the comic if Static was trying to stop Ebon from doing something sinister (And if Rubberband Man was there that’d be cool too). Sadly we got something mediocre and a longing sense of what would have been had McDuffie not died and ended up writing his signature character once more. As it is Static’s current comic is gone, though I’ve heard rumors that he may be added to the roster of the Teen Titans (I’d greatly prefer that over this new version of Superboy who I kind of despise). We’ll be better off having Static represented in comics in some form rather than not at all but I’m still troubled by the series cancelation. I feel low sales of Static Shock and Mister Terrific can be linked to the quality of the books themselves and not the marketability of the characters but should DC use the failed titles as evidence of the idea that black characters aren’t capable of moving books (I’m not sure how Batwing is doing right now) who would argue? And that’s just downright depressing.

For more on Static click here. That’s it for Black History Month. I again apologize for the lack of profiles this year but on the bright side at least hopefully no will accuse me of being racist against white people (….and I’ve jinxed myself).

Farewell Static.
See you the next time they need a random black guy to fill space

[Note: This blog should in no way be taken as an endorsement of the Static Shock cartoon. Though it had a lot going for it also had just as much garbage and stupid gimmicks running through it as well. Also anything involving rapper Romeo is automatically questionable to me.]

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