Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: STATIC SHOCK!
The Concept and Characters: Sporting a Spike-Lee-style Malcom X hat, Virgil Hawkins became the hero known as Static all the way back in the early days of 1993, in a series created by Dwayne McDuffie and John Paul Leon. McDuffie, who tragically passed away earlier this year, was one of the major forces behind the Milestone line of comics, an imprint published in collaboration with DC that attempted to bring more minority characters and creators to the comic book marketplace. The original Static series was one of the launch titles, and with it’s strong voice and the chiaroscuro angularity of Leon’s artwork, it immediately presented itself as the cream of the Milestone crop.
The series would later hit the airwaves on the Kids WB! For four years in the early 2000s, in a significantly more sanitized-for-kids version.
This relaunched series takes the title from the animated version (clearly hoping to court a potential audience that would have watched that cartoon as children) but it takes its creative team from contemporary comics, bringing in Xombi writer John Rozum and long-time superhero artist Scott McDaniel to chronicle Static’s escapades in the big city.
Unlike previous versions of Static, the character doesn’t live in the made-for-Milestone city of Dakota. Instead, he’s based out of New York City, which gives the character a much better chance of running across other DC heroes and villains in his crime-fighting adventures. (And yes, DC does have a New York, and a Metropolis, and a Gotham – the northeast in the fictional superhero world is cluttered with skyscrapers.) The move to New York helps symbolize that this series will pull Static firmly into the DC Universe, not just tangentially, but by putting him right in the center of the superhero action. Until only a few years ago, Static and the other Milestone characters, though published in collaboration with DC, were not part of the DCU proper. In the years since the DCU/Milestone merge, the characters have basically only been used for a botched pseudo-event series called Milestone Forever and a few appearances in the JLA and Teen Titans comics (Static actually became a member of the latter, for a time). Xombi is really the only example of a former-Milestone book done right, and it could be a promising sign to see John Rozum working on this new project as well.
Static himself is a pretty simple character concept: he’s a young, black version of Spider-Man with electrical powers. Based on what we know so far, it seems like the Milestone stories will still be respected, although they may never be referred to in the text of this series. But nothing here should contradict what came before. As the solicitation for the first issue says, “he faces super-powered street gangs, raging hormones, homework, and girls.” Pretty broad stuff, that, but what makes the character stand out from so many other DC protagonists is his self-doubt and poor decision-making. He’s just a kid with incredible powers, and sometimes kids make mistakes, even when they’re trying to do the right thing.
The Creative Team: John Rozum’s currently writing one of the best comics of the year right now, but that’s coming to an end this month with issue #6, and the only place to see his writing on a high-profile series is in Static Shock. The problem is that this comic doesn’t feel like a Rozum project, the way Xombi was. If it lasts long enough, surely Rozum will make his mark on the series, but all indications point to Rozum being thrown this project to write, with the artist as a co-writer, and him scrambling to come up with something he could latch onto. That shouldn’t imply that he won’t do a great job on the comic, but it will certainly not have the strange, evocative edge of Xombi, because that series not only deals with weirder subject matter, but also this one doesn’t seem like it will be as intensely personal.
Artist and co-writer Scott McDaniel popped up on the mainstream comic book radar in the early 1990s with a run on Daredevil, most notable for his attempts to channel the then-fresh Sin City style of Frank Miller into a superhero series. McDaniel’s work, even though it was third-rate Miller, was strikingly designed and quite vibrant. He helped to bring new attention to Daredevil for a couple of years, when many readers had long lost interest in the character.
In the past 15 years, he has done impressive stints on both Nightwing and Batman, among other things, though his style has flattened out even more in recent years, and he’s now closer to a thick-lined Walt Simonson than an imitation Frank Miller. McDaniel’s comics are all about energy and movement, which should be a nice match for a series like Static Shock, but his work does struggle with emphasizing character nuance, which might make the teenage melodrama aspects a bit hard to sell. And he hasn’t yet established himself as any kind of writer.
Recommendation: Skip it. Though many of the relaunched DC series were surely projects thrown together by editorial fiat, this one seems particularly arbitrary. Neither Rozum or McDaniel have expressed any deep connection to the Static comics or cartoons of the past (though at least Rozum has credentials as a Milestone alum), and this series feels like a case where two competent creators were thrown a character and told to try to make it work. Maybe they will. Maybe it will be a surprise like Xombi. But McDaniel is no Frazer Irving, and Static Shock seems an unlikely place for Rozum to repeat his superior performance.
Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.