CREATED BY: Dwayne McDuffie
FIRST APPEARANCE: Static Shock #1
Now before we start talking about the Virgil and how he got to be Static Shock let’s look into the DC imprint that spawned him, Milestone Comics.
Milestone Comics was founded by a group of African-American comic creators in 1993 and consisted of Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis and Derek Dingle who believe that there was not enough diversity in comics and wanted to create a comic line where African-Americans were the stars of their own books and not supporting characters or on the periphery. They created Milestone Media to create characters and comics to help underrepresented groups find an audience in comics.
The late great Dwayne McDuffe stated,
“If you do a black character or a female character or an Asian character, then they aren't just that character. They represent that race or that sex, and they can't be interesting because everything they do has to represent an entire block of people. You know, Superman isn't all white people and neither is Lex Luthor. We knew we had to present a range of characters within each ethnic group, which means that we couldn't do just one book. We had to do a series of books and we had to present a view of the world that's wider than the world we've seen before.”
The characters of the Milestone Imprint lived in a fully fleshed out universe of their own that was dubbed the “Dakotaverse” a fictional midwestern town of Dakota where most of the series took place. The universe of Milestone was not thrown together, the creators wrote a complete bible to define their creation so that the characters inhabited a world that was really defined and the characters could inhabit. With the universe fleshed out Cowan produced the original character sketches that serve as a guide.
The most interesting part of Milestone’s deal with DC was that even though DC published all of Milestone’s titles, DC had no editorial control over them. Milestone could create what they wanted and DC would publish and distribute it. This was a hug benefit to the Imprint, having one of the big two on their side. That is not to say that DC didn’t exert some control over time and try to censor some stories, even so, Milestone was able to reach a huge audience with DC’s reach.
Even though the Dakotaverse was largely built from the ground up with interesting characters, art and stories the imprint closed it’s doors in 1997 just four years after it’s inception. Why? Multiple reasons really. The line almost didn’t have a chance. It launched during the mid-nineties when the great comic explosion occurred under the glut of new universes, gimmicky covers and poor stories. The line was also perceived by retailers and readers as only being for African-American readers and therefore didn’t get a lot of shelf space.
So Milestone stops printing titles, but one of it’s characters, Virgil Hawkins, a.k.a Static Shock, lived on and found life on the small screen in as a popular WB Cartoon Network that lasted four seasons and was nominated for an Emmy. So who is Virgil Hawkins?
Well his creator McDuffie described the character this way:
"Like any other awkward 15 year-old, Virgil Hawkins worries about pocket money, getting beaten up, and drugs. But recently, he's had even more on his mind: stuff like his powers, his secret identity, and drugs. Because, when innocents are in danger, and Virgil can slip away from class, the geeky youth becomes Static, the dashing, adventurous superhero!
Fifteen year-old Virgil Hawkins lives in the fictional town of Dakota with his father, mother and his sister in one of the poorest crime-ridden areas the city, Paris Island. Virgil is a kid, not unlike Peter Parker, a self-professed geek and smart kid, Virgil is bullied and picked on. Unable to take it Virgil decides to take matters into his own hands and gets a gun to try to get out from under the pain of his bullies. Virgil learns of a huge gang war that is about to go down at the center of Paris Island at an area they have dubbed Ground Zero. This is where the gang war was to go down, this “big bang” was known by the police and even the mayor of the city. The mayor decided that they would use having all of the gang members in one place to their advantage and use an experimental gas, it’s always the experimental gas right, well this gas was meant to harmlessly mark the gang members with a radioactive isotope so they could then be rounded up later. Virgil was there too, to take revenge. He had his pistol out, pointed at his tormentor, but he couldn’t pull the trigger.
It was then that the police shot the gas canisters into the crowd, Virgil ran through the mayhem trying to escape while gang members and police in gas masks fought. But in the end the gas was not as harmless as it was supposed to be and 90% of the gang members exposed to it died. Those that didn’t die were turned into mutated creatures or gain superpowers. So as you guessed it, Virgil was not horribly mutated by the gas, he gained superpowers. See the authorities didn’t know that the gas was tainted by an experimental mutagen called Quantum Juice, or Q-Juice and that was what launched the birth of meta-humans in Dakotaverse. These new super powered heroes and villains were dubbed “Bang Babies” since they gained their powers during the Big Bang gang war.
We learn all this in issue #2 of Static when Virgil recounts his origin to his oldest friend Frieda who is just saved from another Bang Baby, one who has chosen to use his powers for crime. His name is Hotstreak and he has the power to use kinetic heat he generates to move fast or even create and throw fireballs. After getting defeated by Hotstreak when they first battle, he handily defeats him in the end using his electromagnetic powers. And that brings us to Static Shock’s powers. Static has the ability to manifest both electrical and magnetic energy, so he’s like a superconductive electromagnet. So he’s connected to earth’s electromagnetic field and can control and channel its energy. He can also create these energies himself from his own body and control and or store it for when he needs it. Static uses these energies to magnetize things, shoot electric bolts at enemies, levitate using metallic objects as a kind of surfboard, and taser punches. Actually he has a huge array of ways he uses his power and is quite a powerful metahuman. Think about it, you can tap in and control the electromagnetic field of the planet. Virgil is also able to manipulate power that comes from almost any source, he can drain power lines, replenish its own energy supply and even for electromagnetic field to stop and repel bullets. Now if he over taxes himself he does get very rundown and needs to recover. And in his animated cartoon, Static, we learn that Virgil’s blood has very high levels of sodium making him a living battery.
Now like all things in comic books when you have characters that are in an imprint or an offshoot of a major company, at some point things happen, whether it's that the smaller company just stops publishing or the larger company just makes an editorial decision that those characters are now going to be in the main universe. It happens all the time. For example, when DC stopped doing a Vertigo line and brought those characters into mainstream DCU. I read Hellblazer from issue #1 and if you had told me he was going to be in a comic standing next to Batman I would have told you you were crazy. But it’s happening. I mean , Dream, was just in a Batman book. That one really surprised me. So that’s what happened, after Final Crisis a few of the Milestone characters and their town Dakota made their way to DCU proper. With all the reboots it gets a little messy but in the end Static ended up with the Teen Titans for a while saving the day more than once.
Now Static, like I mentioned Static also enjoyed time on the small screen with a very successful cartoon titled, “Static”. It premiered on September 23, 2000, on The WB Television Network's Kids' WB! block programming. Static Shock ran for four seasons, with 52 half-hour episodes in total. That’s a pretty good run. I have to admit that I never watched the cartoon but did watch the first episode before I recorded this episode and I have to say it was really fun, and if I can find them somewhere like Hulu or something, I’m going to watch them all.