Static is among the first generation of titles put out by Milestone Media. I bought the first issue when it came out in April ’93 but, stupidly, did not immediately keep reading the series. Then again, I guess I was lucky I picked up Static at all: back in those dark days, I hardly read anything but big-name Marvel titles, and even then never committed to any particular one. So I forgot about Static for about a year and a half; by then I’d matured a bit as a comics reader, and was better able to appreciate what an amazing series it was.
Static is the story of Virgil Hawkins, a teenager unexpectedly gifted with electromagnetic powers. As an avid superhero comics fan, he realized what his destiny was. Now, when danger threatens, young Virgil dons his blue-and-white costume to become Static, vanquishing enemies with wisecracks as much as lightning bolts. But, this comic isn’t all about action and adventure: Static and Virgil get equal time. Along with scenes of Static tussling with supervillains, we have the smartassed, nerdy, often annoying Virgil Hawkins going to school and hanging out with his pals. These include Frieda, his closest friend, crush object, and the only one who knows his secret; her much too smooth and suave boyfriend Larry (who seems to have an awful lot of money to spend on Frieda); and Rick, the butt of fag jokes from his classmates because he practices ballet.
This being Milestone, there’s plenty of social issues and brave storytelling amongst the action and humour. It’s not easy being a black teenager, and superpowers aren’t necessarily much help. For instance, Virgil has a hard time going on dates and can’t even hold down the lousiest McJob because he has to leave at a moment’s notice to confront rampaging supervillains, and he can’t use his powers to defend himself against bullies for fear of blowing his cover. The series’ high point was the “What are Little Boys Made Of?” storyline (issues #16–20), in which Static barely saves Rick from being gay-bashed, and is shocked to find out his friend really is gay. The following day Rick—bruised, with a black eye—courageously comes out to most of the school, inviting his friends to join him in an upcoming gay rights rally. Frieda is completely supportive, but Virgil and the boys have deal with their own homophobia. Later, having resolved most of his doubts, Static defends the rally against a viciously homophobic supervillain and his gang of neo-nazi thugs.
Some time afterwards Static meets Dusk, a teenaged vigilante superheroine with a pretty forceful code of justice. They take an instant liking to each other, even though Dusk is a lot more violent than Static in dealing with bad guys and refuses to reveal anything about herself or her past. The two had an interesting dynamic, for as long as their partnership lasted: Static was more idealistic and though he had, in the past, broken crack houses and stopped muggings and such, he rarely went looking for major trouble; his first priority was always to protect innocent people. Dusk, on the other hand, was grimmer and more pragmatic, actively looked for crime (especially organized crime) to stop, and seemed to revel in beating up on the bad guys.
“I told you checking back alleys and stuff would help you find more trouble.”
“Yup, Dusk, it did. I almost wish it didn’t.”
“Yeah. I know. Just don’t ever tell that to a victim.”
Not that I ever wanted to see Static turning all grim-and-gritty, but the two of them had a lot to teach each other.
In issue #28 (July ’95), the two drop in on a drug bust to give the police a hand, and Static discovered—to his shock—that one of the people being busted is Larry! Unable to confront his friend, Static lets him go, thereby earning the suspicion of both Dusk and the police. Working separately, Static and Dusk catch up with him the next day, but Larry’s former associate also show up to silence him forever, and Dusk gets shot while trying to protect him. Static flies in and carries her to safety, but is unable to prevent Larry from being killed.
It was a disturbing, but perfectly appropriate ending to this storyline. Larry had been more than a little suspect ever since issue #2, when he furnished Virgil with a gun to deal with a bully (which Virgil ended up not using), and it was about time his “deep, dark secret” came to light. Yet Larry was never portrayed as a cold, heartless, one-dimensional crook. He genuinely cared about his girlfriend and family, providing for them the best way he knew how; when the police showed up and arrested him, poor Larry was so scared he almost wet his pants. It was clear he never thought about the long-term consequences of his actions, and never dreamed he’d actually get caught.
Static’s reaction was less well handled, though. In issue #29 the series switched to a new writing team, replacing the fabulous Ivan Velez, Jr (who had replaced the no less fabulous Robert L. Washington III in issue #19). These writers were adequate, but no more, and the next few issues were filled with pretty average storytelling. First, there’s Static’s rage against on the drug dealers who shot Larry and Dusk, complete with extremely tiresome internal monologue. Maybe it was in character, but, really: the formerly-“fun” hero who temporarily goes dark and berserk is a tried-and-true cliché. Later, after Larry’s funeral, Virgil confides in Frieda that he wants to abandon his Static persona. It had always been a game, a flashy release from all the frustrations of adolescence, and now he figured it was time to grow up a little. Again, this little revelation left me cold because that kind of thing’s been done to death in other series.
Issue #31 featured an extended flashback that revisited Static’s origin story. Here the focus was on Virgil’s fascination with an old movie serial swashbuckling hero called “The Scarlet Scarab” who—apparently—was the main inspiration for Virgil’s taking on a superhero persona. My reaction? Meh. Not only do I question the logic of Virgil being more interested in old-time movies than modern comics (besides the fact that we’d never seen it before), I get the feeling the writers wanted to “make their mark” on the Static universe by rewriting history a bit. This issue was completely unnecessary and in fact far inferior to the first origin story in issue #2. But on the plus side, we do get to see the origin of the long yellow coat Static wears over his spandex costume. Yay. Except, no we don’t, because Virgil was already wearing that coat in the issue #2 flashback.
I kept up with Static for two more issues, but finally called it quits after issue #33 (March ’96). The writing wasn’t getting any better, and the artwork frankly sucked. Though I felt terrible about dropping a Milestone series, this Static was only a shadow of its former self, and it just wasn’t worth my time and hard-earned cash anymore.