Black History Month 24: Static and Manhood

February 24th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

static-02-10.jpg static-02-11.jpg static-02-12.jpg
from milestone comics’s static. words by mcduffie/washington, art by john paul leon
Dear Sean–
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.

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Black History Month 19: Don’t Start None…

February 20th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

art from milestone comics’s static #1
Sorry this is late! It’s been a busy day (what’s that? I have two conferences in town this week?) and I’ve been running ragged.

Today? Today we’ve got Dwayne McDuffie.

You might have heard the name before. I mean, he was only instrumental on one of the best comic-book based cartoons ever. You might know it as Justice League Unlimited? Before that, he worked in comics. He did a few series for Marvel. Damage Control, Deathlok, you know. Books like that.

When he moved to DC, though. Wow. He started up Milestone Comics with a group of like-minded individuals and tried to set the comics world on fire. They gave us a fleet of diverse heroes without beating anyone over the head with Issues. Static was a brand new hero in the Peter Parker mold, but with the added benefit of modern day maturity.

Where Lee and Ditko had to kind of hedge their bets with regards to bringing real life issues into their book, McDuffie, Robert Washington, and John Paul Leon didn’t have to worry about that at all. In the first few issues, Static has girl trouble, gets beaten up, gets humiliated, leaves his house with murder on his mind (he chickens out), gains powers, and loses the girl. He has those teenaged problems that we can all relate to, and he reacts about how a teenager would. He isn’t always right, he doesn’t always win, and sometimes he is hilariously in the wrong.

Did Milestone set the comics world on fire? Well, they went out of business after a while, so that’s arguable. However, they did the next best thing. They set more than a few minds on fire. They showed a generation of kids that it could be done.

From Wikipedia:

Milestone provided the opportunity for many emerging talents who had been passed over by larger established companies, beginning the careers of many comic industry professionals. Among them are John Paul Leon, Christopher Sotomayor, Christopher Williams (aka ChrisCross), Shawn Martinborough, Tommy Lee Edwards, Jason Scott Jones (aka J.Scott.J), Prentis Rollins, J.H. Williams III, Humberto Ramos, John Rozum, Eric Battle, Joseph Illidge, Madeleine Blaustein, Jamal Igle, Chris Batista and Harvey Richards.

You know what? That’s a rock solid legacy. You ever meet someone who doesn’t love Milestone Comics?

McDuffie is one of the unsung heroes of comics, as far as I’m concerned. His miniseries from a couple years ago, Beyond, was a great little spotlight on a few forgotten Marvel characters. His run on Fantastic Four was not only years in the making– it showed a remarkable grasp of character work. Characters sounded exactly like they should, and the jokes were actually funny. His recent Damage Control miniseries is off to that same start.

When he came to DC, he was put on JLA. Perfect fit, right? He rocked on the cartoon series and he’s got some comics clout. He did good work at Marvel, maybe he can bring some of that magic to DC?

I’ve been less than enthused with his JLA, to be honest. The writing is solid, but the stories keep tripping into Countdown crossovers and being covered up with pretty shoddy work on the part of Ed Benes and Joe Benitiez. Why grab a great writer and then weigh him down with sandbags? Why not just let him work?

Despite all this, I’m glad that he’s still in comics. He’s a great voice and, I believe, a necessary one. I just want a company to be brave enough to throw him on a name book, give him a hot artist, and let him go wild. I’m willing to lay 2.99 a month on the fact that we’ll get something hot.

Static made #5 on my top black male characters in comics a while back. That’s for a really good reason.

(i snuck this article in under the wire, huh? whoops.)

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Hello all

August 2nd, 2007 Posted by Hoatzin

First impressions are important. I’ve spent several hours pondering about how to start my introductory post on 4thletter, and in the end I decided to just take the easy route. Hi, I’m Hoatzin, 4thletter’s newest staff member, but call me Paul if you like. I am Dutch. I like comic books. But only when they are good comics. I also draw, badly, but I’ll leave that for another article. For now, just to get an idea of what type of comics I like, I’ll leave you with some random thoughts on this week’s comics. And yes, I do basically read every single Big Two book that’s being published. Thank you for noticing.

Action Comics 853 – Despite my usual enjoyment of Kurt Busiek’s comics, the fact that this is a Countdown tie-in really hurts the book. Although Busiek does a better job at making me care about Jimmy Olsen’s plight to become a superhero than Countdown, the general storyline is still pretty lame and predictable.

All New Atom 14 – Pointless fan-pandering is rampant in part three of the Hunt for Ray Palmer, with the (temporary) return of Ted Kord in a book that does not feature any characters that should care about him. But Donna Troy is soooo amaaaazing.

Black Canary 3 – Oliver Queen is a moron.

Countdown 39 – A Sean McKeever issue, so at least the dialogue is decent, but the pacing remains glacial, none of the plotlines and characters are compelling and the artwork is once again fairly atrocious. The character introduced as last issue’s cliffhanger panel does not actually show up until the last two panels of the second to last page of the main storyline and the cliffhanger page after that is hilariously pointless. The only reason I’m still reading this book is because it will lead into the Grant Morrison-penned Final Crisis.

Detective Comics 835 – Dini is apparently busy with Countdown, so it’s a filler issue, but a surprisingly solid one at that. John Rozum (creator of Milestone Comics’ cult-hit Xombi) re-invents the Scarecrow as a genuinely terrifying enemy in part one of what promises to be a very interesting two-part story arc. The dark tone of the book is perfectly complimented by Tom Mandrake’s excellent atmospheric artwork.

Fantastic Four 548 – Dwayne McDuffie continues what has so far been an entertaining run on the book. I disagree with the numerous complaints that McDuffie has been overplaying Black Panther; T’Challa is essentially Marvel’s Batman, always ready with a plan and quick on his wits, so his portrayal in the book has been perfectly in-character.

Justice Society of America 8 – After the (terrible) Lightning Saga crossover, Johns has decided to take a breather with two more low-key issues focusing on two of the lesser known JSA members. Last month was a one-shot focusing on the new Commander Steel, this month is a story about Jesse Quick, the new Liberty Belle. It’s a welcome change in pace, but the issue itself is a mixed bag. Jesse’s characterisation is well done, but her relationship with Rick Tyler is obnoxiously written. Johns should also either give Zoom a rest or do something new with the character, because at this rate he’s growing stale really fast. I still fail to care about Damage and his clichéd damaged (ha ha!) past. This issue also has fill-in art by Fernando Pasarin, and although it’s decent, it’s nowhere near as good as Eaglesham’s. Despite all this, it’s not a bad read overall.

Metal Men 1 – The surprise book of the week for me. I was unfamiliar with Duncan Rouleau’s writing prior to this, so I don’t know how it stacks up to his previous work, but this was definitly an entertaining read. There’s a lot of content crammed into 22 pages and most of it is interesting. The banter between the Metal Men is amusing and they each have distinct, defined personalities, Will Magnus is a nice sketch of a character so far and the mysterious ongoings are intriguing, especially the last page cliffhanger. The artwork is another high point. It’s cartoonish and vibrant and the coloring is lovely, with inventive panel layouts and lots of energy. It’s not perfect; at points it gets overly busy and some of the computer effects are annoying, mainly the copy-pasting of specific elements, but it’s a nice break from the conventional look of most current DC books.

And now that I’m halfway through my books for the week, I’m going to take a little break. More thoughts (in particular the new Supergirl and World War Hulk issues) later!

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August 21st, 2006 Posted by david brothers

Here’s some trivia for you–

Apollo and Midnighter were not the first gay couple in comics.

That honor goes to Donner and Blitzen of the Shadow Cabinent, back from Milestone Comics. Nobody likes to talk about them much, though, huh?

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