When Milestone Media was producing the first generation of Milestone Comics back in the early ‘90s, the DC imprint was singlehandedly fighting to change the face of mainstream comics with series like Hardware, Icon, Blood Syndicate, and Static — books that feature the adventures of Black heroes and were created by diverse, predominantly-Black creative teams.
The passion that Milestone founders Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle had for their craft was reflected in their work, and it drew other creators like artists John Paul Leon, Robert Washington III, and Christopher Williams (better known as ChrisCross) to the company where they worked together to bring the Dakotaverse to life on the page. Though there were a lot of new comics universes popping up at the time, what made Milestone’s books truly stand out was that its stories were trying to bring authentic elements of Black and other people of colour’s lives to comics in ways that centered their humanity and culture as a matter of importance, rather than as set dressing as is often the case in many mainstream comics.
It’s been 30 years since the original Static by McDuffie, Washington, and Leon introduced the world to Virgil Hawkins, a teenaged metahuman who gains an array of electrical superpowers. Now, Static: Season One — from writer Vita Ayala, colorist Nikolas Draper-Ivey, and artist Christopher Williams — brings the young hero and the larger Dakotaverse back to DC Comics in a big, fresh way. When Gizmodo caught up with the team on the phone this week, they opened up about what sort of ideas and energy are powering the new series, and how, even though this Virgil’s somewhat different than his original incarnation, it was important to both Ayala and Williams that the new book also honours the OG Milestone’s legacy.
For Williams, who was there during the original Milestone’s heyday, working on Static: Season One’s been something of a surreal experience in large part because of the fact that so many of his peers — like McDuffie, who he saw as a mentor, and Leon, who he shared a friendly, artistic rivalry with — have passed on in the years since they worked together. “It’s daunting even when I’m doing layouts,” Williams described. “It’s daunting to be doing that stuff because every single time I put my finger to that page, I’m being transported back to 1993. It’s kind of weird to tell myself, ‘no, no, this is 2020. It’s not that Virgil anymore, you gotta do this stuff now,’ is kind of weird.”
Ayala echoed Williams’ sentiments about the impossibility of creating new Milestone stories that aren’t reflections of the original’s legacy, but they explained how their goal here has always been about realising a modern Virgil who feels like a wholly realised person. “What we’re trying to do instead of a follow up is trying to honour what [the Milestone originators’] goals were, I think,” Ayala said. “For me, what I’m trying to do is to be as authentic to both the character and to the moment as I can be, and I think that’s the only way the impassive centre won’t crush me into dust.”
One of the biggest changes that fans of the original comic and the Static Shock animated series might notice is the larger role the rest of the Hawkins family plays in the story, and not simply as people whose lives become endangered because of their connections to a young vigilante. Here, Virgil’s family’s very present, intact, and supportive of him, something Ayala said was important to them to be part of the comic. “In my original conversations with Reggie [Hudlin], I was like, ‘Hey, I want to depict a Black family that is together, and maybe not perfect, but unified in a way that I actually know Black families to be,’” Ayala said. “To me, Virgil is clearly very loved and very supported even though he’s kinda weird, and so I wanted to show that, well, you get to be that way through this kind of support.”
The support and love that Virgil feels from his family informs much of the way he moves through the world in Static: Season One’s first issue that follows, as he and a number of his peers’ lives are changed forever by the Big Bang, the event that leads to the creation of Dakota’s metahuman population. In this telling of the story, the Big Bang comes by way of some all-too-familiar police brutality aimed at socially-conscious youths agitating for social justice and recognition of the simple truth that Black lives do, in fact, matter.
In Static: Season One’s take on the Big Bang, Williams says you’re going to see much of how, in times of social turmoil and unrest, one of the most dangerous things is how those in positions of authority insist on denying the facts of reality. “A lot of people are against [Black Lives Matter], seeing what’s happening with the country when it comes to voter registration, voter rights, and stuff like that,” Williams said, speaking to the parallels between our reality and Static: Season One. “People are doing things in front of you, and saying ‘It didn’t really happen. We didn’t really just do that do you,’ and you’re supposed to just accept that, and I guess in that situation, you have what’s happening in this book. You just saw a kid blow up, and basically turn into a deer and run off, but, ‘You didn’t really see that. You have to let that go, don’t even talk about it.’”
In both his civilian identity and as Static, neither silence nor complacency is really an option for Virgil, someone who firmly believes he has an obligation to protect the community that made him. What’s going to be interesting to see as Static: Season One kicks off the beginning of this new Milestone chapter is how that obligation comes to shape Dakota and Virgil’s story his Static becomes Dakota’s greatest new hero.
Static: Season One hits stores on June 15. Stay tuned to Gizmodo for more next week.