from milestone comics’s static. words by mcduffie/washington, art by john paul leon
What’s goin’ on? Not much to say
Just checkin’ in wit’cha trying to see what’s wrong today
I know there’s gotta be something kickin’ your bruises
How’s the love? How’s the music? How’s the self-abusiveness?
Got a lot to lose, it’s breakin’ your shoulders
So you let your paranoia place your bets for you
–Atmosphere, “Little Man”
I really enjoy Static. Honest to goodness, he’s one of the best “new” characters to hit in the ’90s. I think that McDuffie & Co. did a wonderful job creating and realizing him. They took the Spider-Man prototype and took it to the next logical level. I spoke about this a few days ago, but I wanted to get back at it. I’v got some breathing room during Wondercon, so you guys get to reap the whirlwind!
Static is probably the most accurate depiction of a young black male to ever hit comics. I haven’t read every comic ever, but Static just rings true on basically every level. He’s also a great example to show just how black masculinity goes sometimes.
You could a decent case for Virgil having gotten his powers because of a girl. One day at school, he met a girl named Frieda. A bully embarrasses him in front of her, but waits until she leaves to beat him down. Virgil crumples and can’t do much but cry. His friend rescues him from the bully, probably saving him a trip to the hospital, and helps him up. He lets Virgil know that he’s got a gun for him if he wants it. Virgil goes home.
When he gets home, his mom chides him for getting beaten up. He’s supposed tos tay out of trouble at this school, not fall into more. He’s got to learn to take care of himself. Virgil goes up to his room just in time to catch the phone ringing. On the other line is Frieda Goren, the girl from before. She compliments him on not being about “that macho stuff” and says that that’s why the bully chose him to attack.
Let me tell you, speaking as a former black teenager– there is nothing in the world worse than looking like a chump in front of a cute girl. Honestly. Getting beaten up would be one thing, but having that girl basically say “You aren’t a real man and that’s why you got beaten up,” regardless of the reason, is like being kicked in the junk by like four different people at once. It’s that Hitchcock zoom– the world zooms out, your face zooms in, and you can’t do anything but grimace in pain.
The second issue of Static uses this as part of Static’s origin story, and it’s a good hook. Regardless of how ridiculous or nonsensical standards of manhood are– they exist. You can be a “real man,” for varying definitions of “real man” depending on your location, upbringing, and state of mind. There are certain thing that you should do and are expected to do and if you don’t do them? Well, dude, sorry, but you aren’t gonna fit in. You’re a sucker, a mark, a punk, a whatever your local regional slang calls a dude who can’t stand on his own two feet.
Virgil was already feeling low because of the beatdown, but this was strikes two, three, four, and five all at once. The secret ingredient to being a boy is that being around girls makes you do stupid things. They don’t even have to say or do anything to you– girls are kryptonite. Kryptonite makes Superman weak. Frieda’s comments, no matter their trustworthiness, made Virgil weak. He calls his friend and asks for a gun. He’s going to put one between the bully’s eyes.
That’s the other half of being a man. Regaining lost manhood. It’s just as bad as kryptonite. Thing is, regaining your lost manhood isn’t a matter of “how far will you go.” It’s a matter of “You’ve already gone too far. How far over the line will you go?” Putting a .38 slug into a dude because he beat you up and made you feel like a chump? That’s way over the line.
There’s something I picked up years ago from music. Knowledge is all about knowing the ledge. That means knowing your limits, knowing the edge, knowing how far is too far, and just knowing period. If you’re “not knowing?” You’re not right. You’re doing wrong. Virgil was not knowing.
This is that fine line that you have to learn to walk. You put on that mean face and treat everyone like a threat. If you’re smiling and walking around like it’s all good, you’re a target. You have to learn what being a man means to you, not to other people. If you don’t mind a bit of punnery, you’ve got to be a self-made man. What means “a man” to you? You have to decide early, otherwise you’re stuck following someone else’s definition.
It’s almost like a competition, only there aren’t any winners in this race. You’re just trying to keep up with the Joneses and look better than the next man, but you don’t realize that those people you’re trying to keep up with? They’re trying to keep up with you at the same time. It’s a zero-sum game.