OMG, Milestone Comics is coming back! ‘Course, not all Faithful Spoilerites were around in 1993 for the debut of that particular shared universe, but Retro Review has got your back! Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Static #1 awaits!
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie, Robert L. Washington III
Penciler: John Paul Leon
Inker: Steve Mitchell
Colorist: Noelle C. Giddings
Letterer: Steve Haynie
Editor: Dwayne McDuffie
Publisher: Milestone Comics
Cover Price: $1.50
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $3.00
Previously in Static: Founded in 1993 by a coalition of African-American comic creators, Milestone Comics was an active attempt to balance the wildly off-kilter scales of representation in comic books. Set mostly in the city of Dakota, the Milestone titles included ‘Icon’, a story that combined elements of Superman with a conservative black lead character, adding a new twist to superhero ideals. The Blood Syndicate was the story of a team of superhuman ‘Bang Babies’ who were street gang members before their empowerment and who kept some of their old habits as powered folk. Hardware turned the concept of Iron Man on its head with genius Curtis Metcalfe, whose technological advances were actually owned by his corrupt boss. And as for Static? Well, Static is the story of Virgil Hawkins, who has more than a little bit in common with Spider-Man. We begin our story in Dakota, as a teenager named Frieda is being confronted by a gang of toughs.
Enter the hero!
The gang’s intentions in grabbing Frieda are clearly awful, as their leader “Hotstreak” apparently has a thing for her and ordered them to kidnap her. The sudden arrival of Static should change their minds, but being stupid teenage jerks, they immediately press their numbers advantage.
It… does not go well for them.
Using his electromagnetic powers to the fullest (one of the first times I can recall a character combining the magnetic manipulation of a Magneto with the lightning bolts of a Ranzz), Static makes short work of the gang, running his mouth in classic Spider-Man style all along. (It should be noted that, in 1993, Spider-Man was mired in some dark and gritty, and wasn’t really doing his classic flip-and-snark swashbuckler routine, making this feel new and different.)
With his foes unconscious, Static takes a moment to address the girl they were pursuing, giving us the first real clues as to what’s going on under his mask…
I *love* John Paul Leon’s work on this book, by the way. There’s something incredibly charming about his Static, clearly a young teenage man, clearly trying not to look like one, and Frieda’s hair is fascinating in these panels. Static flies off, hiding the fact that he knows who Frieda is (and is, in fact, the friend that she went to the arcade to see in the first place) returning to his lair, ‘The Abandoned Gas Station Of Solitude.’
Leaving his gear, Virgil Hawkins heads for home. I’m struck by how effortless and skillful the story is here, as we meet Virgil’s family (or at least his mother and sister Sharon, as his dad is at work) and the dialogue makes it clear the family dynamic in just a few panels. Finishing his countdown to the very second, Virgil grabs the phone just in time to hear about Frieda’s encounter with Static…
More amazing dialogue here, making it clear that Virg is completely into Frieda, who doesn’t seem to reciprocate his feelings, and they remain on the phone well into the night. The next morning, Virgil’s annoyed mother has to nearly pry him out of bed (another realistic teenage touch, and I speak from experience), and we get some more charming stuff from the family Hawkins…
I have to admit, I love the domestic parts of Virgil’s story so much. It was always a shame to me that the cartoon chose to remove one of his parents from the equation, as the family dynamic is such fun. Also fun is the group of friends Virg runs with, including Rick (who seems to harbor a secret), Larry (whose normalcy is probably also hiding something) and Frieda herself, who is still the object of Hotstreak’s affections. So much so, in fact, that he sends his posse into the school during school hours to literally kidnap her out of homeroom. It’s pretty shocking stuff, but Larry is ready to fight back, with help…
…but that help isn’t coming, at least, not in the form he thinks. As for Hotstreak, when we finally meet him, it becomes clear that Static isn’t the only superhuman at Ernest Hemingway High School.
This is the first time I can recall ever seeing ‘The Finger’ on the comic page, by the way. This issue is full of some pretty adult stuff, what with the implication that Hotstreak wants to sexually assault Frieda, the armed kidnapping with beating of a teacher and all. It really does remind one that Peter Parker’s high school was thirty years earlier. Static arrives to save the day, only to have to pit his E-M skills against ‘Streak’s fire, and he finds more difficulty there than in beating up the Five-Alarm Squad.
Worse still, when he gets a close look at the man under the hoodie, Static is taken aback to the point of hesitation, leaving him open to a sudden super-speed beating. It’s unclear whether the punches or shock has taken him down, but Static goes down in a heap, leaving Hotstreak to posture, disgusted at his “weakness…”
And that, my friends, is how you do a cliffhanger ending. It is revealed that Hotstreak is not just a racist jerk, but a racist jerk who used to bully Virgil, to the point where Virg only has super-powers because he was ready to kill Hotstreak, placing him at the site of the ‘Big Bang’, a gang-fight that served as mass-empowering event. Frieda’s discovery of his secret also plays into a bigger story, and their friendship is one of the better parts of the book, even with his not-so-secret crush, leaving Static #1 with a well-deserved 4.5 out of 5 stars overall. McDuffie knows how to write a story that grabs you, and this is one of the more perfect first-issue experience ever. With so many Shared Universes debuting in the 1991-1995 range, the quality of this work is indicative of why Milestone is among the few coming back in the modern era…