It’s the time of the year when we think about new beginnings, but no beginning ever comes without an ending.  Sometimes, even the heroes of the city of Dakota sometimes have to say goodbye to a friend.  They just do it with a little extra meta and a side of loving snark…  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review of Icon #30 awaits!

Icon30CoverICON #30
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Penciler: M.D. Bright
Inker: Mike Gustovich/Prentis Rollins/Caesar/Ravil/M.D. Bright
Letterer: Steve Dutro
Colorist: Jason Scott Jones/Julia Lacquement/Andrew Burrell/Micheline Hess/David Montoya/Craig Rippon
Editor: Richard Goldwater
Publisher: Milestone Comics
Cover Price: $2.50
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $3.00

Previously in Icon:  Rocketed to Earth from a distant planet, the man known as Arnus had a different life than his predecessor Kal-El.  Altered by his crash-pod to resemble the native life-forms, he was adopted by an enslaved black woman, and raised as her son, Augustus Freeman. Over 100 years later, he had built a life as a successful attorney, and had also gone through the pretense of “dying” and returning as his own son three times.  When a bright young woman named Raquel broke into his home, Augustus chose to take on a new role, that of Icon, the most powerful hero of the city of Dakota, and took on Raquel as his partner, Rocket.  After a return visit to his home planet, Icon is now back on Earth, and has to deal with the fact that his replacement as Icon has died in the line of duty…


The most heartbroken of all the mourners is Darnice, who served as a temporary Rocket to the temporary Icon.  As for that selfsame replacement, he was a man known as “Buck Wild”, introduced in an earlier issue as what seemed like a one-shot joke about the superficial nature of the earliest of comics African-American characters, spoofing the dialogue and situations that those urban heroes ran into in their 70s-blaxplotation-film-inspired adventures.  By 1995, those caricatures were not aging well, a situation that is lampshaded as the Reverend begins to speak.  “Rufus T. “Buck” Wild was not a smart man…  He was not a gentle man.  He was neither wise nor temperate…”


The confused Rev tries to wrap things up with a big “Ummm”, to the surprise and mortification of everyone present, but thankfully a much cooler (in all senses of the word) head prevails, as Augustus Freeman (in his Icon guise) steps forth to handle a eulogy fit for a fellow hero…


Back in the mid 90s, there were a lot of shared universes vying for our attention, and the books of Milestone Media were often the sharpest, with smart characterization, excellent production values, and great artwork and coloring.  Some people still dismiss them as “that black comic company”, but Milestone provided a diversity never seen in comics, with not only black characters, but Asian, Latino, LGBTQ and other underrepresented groups in focus as well.  They were at least a decade ahead on that narrative front, and the subtlety of the actual production and coloring on the pages is amazing.  (Sadly, that same depth makes the books hell to scan for decent images.)  This scene is important from that standpoint, as Icon speaks of Buck as a hero, but his words also speak to the greater issue of representations of black characters in previous decades…


“Were it not for him, we wouldn’t be here today.”  It’s a strong statement, yet one that rings true both in-universe and out.  Icon’s heartfelt words inspire others to speak of the man they knew Buck Wild to be, starting with his old nemesis Lysistrata Jones.  (You’re welcome.)  Though they fought, she speaks lovingly of the late Mister Wild, and gives us the first not-so-gentle needling of comic book heroes past…


If any of this sounds familiar, it may be due to having read the adventures of Bill Foster, who these days is usually referred to merely as Goliath, but who in 1975 got his own title as ‘Black Goliath’…


The villain is quickly dispatched thanks to the growth serum, with some pointed shots at the original Goliath’s problematic origins.  (This book was written ten full years before he was soldiered back on-screen to be a token sacrifice in the midst of the Civil War, I might add.)  The reminiscences continue with another of Buck’s enemies, a full-on pimp cartoon from 1971 known as Sweet-Stick Max, who reveals another untold tale of Buck Wild’s history…  and another skewering of that which has come before.


As a lifelong fan of The Falcon, this is possibly the part of the book that stings the most, but even in 1995 there is a grain of truth in this portrayal.  Artistically, this issue is massive fun, as Mark “MD” Bright makes subtle changes in his depictions, but stays true to his own art style throughout the book, even as they move through the history of Buck Wild (and by extension, the history of mainstream black characters.)


Buck Lightning…  Heh.  Interestingly, they choose to spoof the tough, leather-clad 90s Black Lightning, and not the 70s version which, while it too has aged, is still a decent story and respectful to the character and his background.  The villains all posture to see who is Buck Wild’s greatest nemesis, when suddenly a mysterious man leaps out of the crowd, crying that it is he… THE KINGFISH!  A pull-no-punches composite parody of Tobias Whale and The Kingpin, Kingfish uses a mystical relic to bring back the one man worthy of stopping him…


This is, by the way, a really funny comic book, with quiet asides that are hilarious, and several laugh-out-loud moments, like Darnice’s remark about the drums.  Dwayne McDuffie was a *very* talented writer, and comics are lessened by his passing.  If you want proof, watch the moment where the story goes from wry historical critique to silly super-villain fight (where Buck Voodoo commands Kingfish to leap out the window, forgetting that they’re on the first floor), then immediately doubles back and becomes a moving tribute as Darnice stands face-to-face with the reanimated corpse of her lost friend…


Buck Wild slumps to the ground, his last words a murmured, “Christmas…”  Even with the silliness and the humor, the book ends on a strong, perhaps even an uplifting note, as Icon once again reiterates that, without the likes of Buck Wild, there never would have been an Icon, or indeed a Milestone Comics…


While I try not to speak for the world at large (being XXX-Large, m’self), I, at least, remember Icon and Milestone fondly, and wish we had more portrayals as smart, as diverse, and as real as the world they portrayed.  Still, this issue is a significant one for the end of 2014 as well, serving as a reminder that our past, no matter how embarrassing, is a necessary stepping stone to the persons we are today, and the persons we become, and that to ignore your past is to deny yourself.  Icon #30 is beautiful, by turns sweet, funny, endearing, sarcastic and touching, with lovely art, and a recognition of that reality that the past is prologue, earning a well-deserved 4 out of 5 stars overall.  Remember the lesson of Buck Wild as you sail into the world of your future, and don’t take any wooden barnacles… or something…

ICON #30


A touching story made more amazing with a little tongue-in-cheek history... I miss McDuffie.

User Rating: 3.95 ( 1 votes)

About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

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