The beginnings of Milestone Static # 1 that was almost 28 years ago to the day. Created by Milestone co-founders Dwayne McDuffie, Dennis Cowan, Michael Davis and Derek T. Dingle, and drawn by the late John Paul Leon, the character of Virgil Ovid Hawkins would become one of the most notable characters. in comics in the 90s. The inspired comic book series Static shock, the animated series that aired on the WB Network’s children’s block from 2000 for four seasons. The show (also produced and written by McDuffie) influenced an entire generation who grew up with Virgil (voiced by legendary Phil Lamarr) in their living rooms.
The new Milestone, now a mark within DC Comics (not to be confused with Milestone Media, the media company run by Hudlin, Cowan and Dingle), finally returned last month with a new story, Static Season 1 # 1. The new story, written by award-winning writer Vita Ayala (New Mutants, Shuri), features layouts by award-winning artist ChrisCross (Truth and Justice, Green Lantern) and art and color by Black Panther album maker and manga artist Nikolas Draper Ivey (XOGENASYS, Dream Vesper). On July 27, Milestone will be released Static Season 1 # 2.
To say that Virgil Hawkins’ return to the comic book world was highly anticipated is an understatement. Of course, bringing back beloved characters from a favorite franchise is always a daunting task. But with the pressure of a pandemic, global protests and new audiences online, rebooting was arguably one of Milestone’s most daunting tasks.
Primarily focused on black characters, the Milestone comics have always had a common thread running through their arcs. Their stories commented on everything from teenage pregnancy and homophobia to police brutality in the early years – the latter being the source of Virgil’s electromagnetic absorption powers. But in Step feedback # 0, Hudlin gave Virgil’s origins a new twist. Virgil is still a nerdy teenager who is bullied in school, and in this update, he still gets his powers by being exposed to a toxin that the police use to disperse a crowd. But this “crowd” is no longer a group of 90s gang members, but Black Lives Matter protesters. Not all exposed people get powers either. Some die in painful and horrific ways.
Unlike most superhero origin stories, Virgil Hawkins grew up with his family intact. Both his parents are there when he comes home from school. They are both humans. He fights with his sister and his friends Freida and Richie worry about him.
Thanks to Ayala’s updated story and Cross’s traditional layouts (he drew for the Milestone original Equipment series) and Ivey’s manga sensibilities, Static Season 1 has a YA / Gen Z feel with enough Easter Eggs to keep original fans of the series entertained.
SYFY WIRE spoke with Vita Ayala about updating the story for a new generation, new characters and what it was like to collaborate with two very different artists on this project.
How did Milestone approach you for this project?
Vita Ayala: DC Comics editor-in-chief Chris Conroy approached me and was told straight away that it was a “bakery”, which makes me really nervous.
Competition is one thing, but I don’t like to fight for projects. But I grew up with this stuff. I remember the [original] comics, cartoons, and all that sort of thing.
By “bake-off” do you mean that you have been offered the opportunity to tell a story?
Yes, I had to throw it, and several people were doing it. I was not told who, so it was “blind cooking”. Sometimes you have an artist, but they already knew they wanted to work with Nik.
I came up with a pitch after talking to Reginald Hudlin, Dennis Cowan and Chris all together. And they chose my story.
What is it like to work with two very different artists?
I hate to just write a document and then tell myself, “This is what the story is. It makes me really weird because the comics are meant to be a group effort. I work differently with Cross and Nik.
Cross is truly an old school artist. He says, “I have the script, I’m working on what I have here.” And Nik is a lot more of, “Okay, but why is this happening?” What I like, actually. I like someone to question me because I want to find out the best story. Because Nik is a very dynamic artist and I wanted that to be reflected in the book. Not just in his drawings but in the rhythm of the story, and it works really well. So being able to remake the story and do it in a dynamic way, even though we have bulleted points that we need to hit, that’s great. I think it’s a great pace for this particular team.
Was it your decision to change Virgil’s origin story, or did Milestone approach you?
It was already scripted and drawn before I got involved. It was a decision of Reginald Hudlin and Dennis Cowan. And I think it was a good decision. I believe the conversations people were having at the time were about gang warfare.
Now the conversations black people have are very public, “Hey, you literally wanna kill us just to exist ?!” So updating the origin, I think, puts the onus of responsibility where it belongs, on the people who are trying to destroy the community of Virgil and really hurt people.
We’ve seen callbacks of original characters like Freida and Richie. Did you suggest them?
Yes and no. Part of it came from Nik’s suggestions, like, “We have to put them in there!” But also, I just felt like the happiest superheroes are the ones with friends. I also really liked the dynamic between these characters. It all came down to what their relationship would look like now? And then, of course, Nik plugged them all in with the drip.
Did you create any new characters for this story?
I’m not going to spoil anything, but there is that kind of common thread that we explore through the character of Darius that was introduced in Step feedback # 0. I didn’t create this character, but I had a choice of whether or not he would show up in my book. I think he’s such a great prospect to have. And Nik and I had long discussions about the parallels and differences between Virgil and Darius. He saw the truth about what happened to Virgil, but now he sees how things get twisted and how victims are blamed and demonized, and he wants to fight that.
What did you decide to keep or highlight from the original character?
One of the things I’ve always really loved about Virgil and hoped to replicate in a more contemporary way is that he’s a nutcase. He’s a weird, smart black kid playing Dungeons & Dragons with his friends. And he’s a bit of a fanboy.
He likes superhero stuff. He wants to be a good person, and I think that’s beautiful. But, I think it looks different than it was in 1993. Partly because people have more access to information and the world has changed so rapidly over the past 30 years.
Nick and I talked about it a lot too. What does it mean for this kind of black child to exist now and black boys in particular? Also, we wanted to do a lot of things with his family and show that dynamic and show a black family that is functioning healthily and struggling, but ultimately they are united.
Virgil needs all the help he can get. He’s been through a lot.
Yes. It was something else too. Virgil is accused of being too angry, too sad at first. And I was like, “Yo, that kid just watched all of his friends, like melt and die!” I wouldn’t be fine. I am a very optimistic person, and that is why Virgil attracts me. But to see messed up stuff like that, I would need a minute. I would be so angry. Besides, he’s scared. He suffers from PTSD. His body is changing in a way he doesn’t understand. He is afraid of accidentally hurting the people he loves. He suffered a lot. I think he must be allowed to process these feelings.
Speaking of treatment, what was it like writing a comic book about black kids attacked by police in the middle of 2020?
That’s why I don’t have cable, and I only have streaming. It was a difficult line to walk. I know it was difficult for Cross and Nik to be as authentic as possible and to give hope in a way that the media doesn’t necessarily provide when reporting on these situations. We give each other energy. This is what makes me want to work, even if I have a hard time.
If this version of Static is suitable, do you prefer a live-action or an animated series?
Oh animation certainly. With Phil LaMarr as the voice again.
Well, maybe his dad.