Sunday, February 25, 2007

Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool #1

Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool #1, January 2001, DC Comics/Milestone Media
writer/editor: Dwayne McDuffie
artist: John Paul Leon
colorist: Melissa Edwards
letterer: John Workman

Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool is essentially Static Returns in regards to his comic book roots, but when this issue was originally released, the character had received more prestige as a Saturday morning cartoon star than as a founding character of the then-defunct Milestone Universe. So, ironically, while this miniseries sought to exploit Static’s return to popularity, it also attempts to re-launch an imprint of dormant characters, a lofty goal for a mere four issues . . .

Leave it to Dwayne McDuffie to accomplish it in one. In this first issue, a retired Static (if a fourteen-year-old can retire from anything) seems to reunite with the gamut of Milestone’s heroes, as each of them, dubbed Boom Babies thanks to the explosive phenomenon that instilled them with powers, are inexplicably disappearing. While the not-yet-captured heroes try to persuade Virgil to don his Static costume and responsibilities once again, the kid seems determined to resume a normal life, presumably discouraged by a tragedy experienced at the end of his last adventure. Of course, when one of his peers uses him as bait to track the enemies snatching their friends, Static must come to her rescue – and his return seems unexpected enough to momentarily dissuade them. It’s a triumphant moment that we’ve seen many times before – the seemingly beaten hero taking on the weight of the world once again for one more go – but Static’s isn’t without its due excitement and entertainment value. This issue is a good start to a potentially action-packed miniseries.

The characters of Dwayne McDuffie’s Milestone Universe are obviously close to his heart, yet unfortunately, their mass appeal may be dated by the hysteria surrounded the emergence of superheroes in the early ‘90s. With Image unleashing legion of characters on an unsuspecting fandom (a “dark age” I’ve analyzed before), McDuffie took advantage of the climate, but, based on the impression I received reading and reviewing Icon last week, his attempts were more focused, more imbued with intent. He wasn’t just telling superhero stories for comics’ sake, but his imprint impressed as a carefully woven web of morality plays emphasizing the racial issues rampant in American pop culture. In fact, this characteristic may explain Static’s commercial success as a cartoon series; Static may have become more general audience friendly, but he didn’t compromise his integrity as a young black superhero. While Rebirth of the Cool isn’t necessarily as affected by ethnic overtones, by then, Static and perhaps Milestone itself had their legs to stand on. They didn’t have to wear their essence on their sleeve to still embody it, and although this miniseries may not have incited a Milestone renaissance, it may offer an ironic sense of closure fans needed.

Also, my friend Aaron from Geek in the City has suggested in my review of Icon that the Milestone Universe may have met an untimely end during one of DC’s crises. An unfortunate loss, I insist, if it’s true.

John Paul Leon is an incredible artist, and while his work may be a tad too dark for a book intended to attract a Saturday cartoon crowd to Virgil’s native medium, his realistic portrayal of the human form is so visually engaging that I almost forgot Static’s pop culture origins in animated form. I remember the issues of Marvel’s Earth X I read, and that Anarky arc in Shadow of the Bat Leon illustrated, and I’ve always wondered what kind of material would best suit his skills. If Static wasn’t as action-packed, he would be the perfect character for Leon, with a diverse cast, and detailed urban backdrop, and enough character development for Leon to utilize his ability to capture the breadth of these figures’ emotions as only he can. Static’s world isn’t just black and white anymore, and Leon’s heavy inks and expressive storytelling tell the tale almost as well as McDuffie’s script.

I hope we haven’t seen the last of Static Shock. McDuffie managed to squeeze Virgil into Justice League Unlimited in its last season, a smooth transition for the character considering his previous crossovers with Batman and Green Lantern, but Static deserves his own spotlight, as well. Many of the black superheroes in comicdom are too established in their respective universes to appeal to younger audiences nowadays; Black Lightning and Storm, for example, have been around since the ‘70s, and other characters like Steel are too dependant on parent franchises to maintain a solo career. Static Shock is the golden boy of his Milestone roots, the one that stood out and appealed to everybody for a little while. With Rebirth of the Cool, McDuffie proves that for any character lightning can strike twice. I say, let’s hold up a rod a try yet again.

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