Puffy is Good, but Milestone Is Forever

February 5th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I wrote a bit about Milestone Media in honor of the release of Milestone Forever #1 this week. It’s a brief history and essay on its impact, a lot of which gets forgotten nowadays.

A brief excerpt:

Oh, you knew it was coming, didn’t you? It’s Black History Month, baby, pay attention!

Milestone was never the “black” comics company. Its creators, like its characters, were a multicultural blend of various races and ethnicities. It stands to reason that when your company is composed of a variety of types of people that your books will reflect that reality, doesn’t it?

In the case of Milestone’s comics, that is definitely true. “Blood Syndicate”‘s cast was composed of black, white, Chinese, Korean, canine, Latino, and alien characters. In fact, in a move that is still amazingly rare, “Blood Syndicate” featured Latino characters of different Latin ethnicities. A Puerto Rican, a Dominican, and a Salvadoran in the same book? That’s incredible, because most companies just stop at “Generic Hispanic Character.”

It’s nice that mainstream comics are making a play at paying attention to people who aren’t white dudes again, but don’t forget that before Batwoman, before Steph Brown, before Jaime Reyes, and before Luke Cage was on the Avengers, there was Milestone. Give credit where it’s due. Pay attention.

There’s this Malcolm X quote I like. He said, “You can’t drive a knife into a man’s back nine inches, pull it out six inches, and call it progress.” If you’re doing something now that isn’t as forward-thinking (or equal, or normal, or whatever) as seventeen years ago? That ain’t progress, doggie. That’s playing catchup to everybody else. It’s nice that you’re trying, but either do better or go home. I’m not going to congratulate you for finally doing what you’re supposed to have been doing for decades. That’s like congratulating parents for paying their rent. Newsflash: you’re supposed to be doing that.

And that’s about as negative as I’m willing to get over race & comics this month. I’m tired of fighting.

Go give that post a read. Denys Cowan comments below and he dug it, which basically made my day.

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Do the Math: Sometimes You Get What You Ask For

January 19th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Gail Simone being back on Birds of Prey is kinda like a big deal. I’m pretty sure that Esther is still going “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” even today. She’s gotta be hypersonic by this point.

Anyway, I liked the old BoP. Those first 12-18 issues or so are some of Simone’s best work, and I didn’t even really mind Ed Benes’s art back then. But, the new announcement bugs me because of DC’s history with announcing fan-pleasing things and then doing half the job on them, at best.

-Spoiler dies in a sexualized and degraded way. Fans form Project Girl-Wonder in protest of the way her murder devalued her character. A couple years later, DC Comics brings her back, completely sidestepping the issues behind people were mad at her death. She’s just… back.

-DC makes a big deal about the return of Milestone, a well-loved company that featured a truly multi-cultural cast. Rather than bringing DC Comics up to the modern day with regards to portrayal of race, the Milestone books are effectively quarantined. They were shuffled off into a series as filler between big-name runs (Mark Waid and JMS) and their reintroduction took place in Dwayne McDuffie’s already-hamstrung run on JLA. And then, in the end, they drop every Milestone character except for Static. They wanted a new toy and jerked everyone around to get it.

-DC announces the return of fan-favorite Gail Simone’s fondly remembered Birds of Prey, with art accompanied by Ed Benes. Simone on Benes: “[H]e also does lovely, subtle acting, and tremendous facial expressions and body language. I think he brings a very fiery European influence that is a wonderful remedy to some of the tired vaguely manga and video game-esque influences we’ve seen lately.”

And, well, I realize that Simone can’t trash her artist (that would be unprofessional), but that doesn’t actually reflect reality. Benes’s men have one face, his women another, and they all have the same flat, empty expression. The body language tends to be of the “crotch or butt thrust directly at the reader” variety, and the “subtle acting” is so subtle as to be nonexistent. The “fiery European influence” would be better termed “draws kinda like Jim Lee used to, only with bigger boobs,” and the “vaguely manga and video game-esque influences” is the kind of annoying strawman people pull all the time without actually naming names. Is she talking about UDON? Humberto Ramos? Paul Pope? Joe Madureira? Ed McGuinness?

Benes is a bad artist for comics, is my point. His storytelling skills are subpar, his love for T&A gets in the way constantly, and his people all look the same. There are numerous other artists DC could have paired Simone with to make a book that would be the girl power monthly it should be- Nicola Scott, for example, or the Lopez brothers from Catwoman. They’ve proven that they can draw realistic, funny, and attractive women, and, most importantly, they have strong storytelling skills. The Lopezes in particular do great work, even with a varied cast, in a style that would fit the tone of Simone’s BoP.

But hey- Ed Benes. DC says he’s nice? I say he’s polite.

Y’all can have him, though.

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“He paints pictures beautifully, but comics is nearsighted”

August 25th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I saw some screwy news courtesy of Rich Watson’s Glyphs about another entry in the DC vs Dwayne McDuffie saga. An excerpt:

Plans for a Static monthly were scrapped by DC last spring. Based on their actions, they never really wanted to publish the Milestone stuff, they wasted my time. We could have done a little deal for them to use Static without me having to spend so much money on lawyers.

I checked his message board, and wait, there’s more!

Static Shock currently runs on Disney XD four times a day. I know that’s somehow not as good as appearing in Teen Titans, a comic with over 20 thousand readers, but I’m not sure why.

From another thread:

No. I did not accept the offer. I have completed the script to a Milestone mini-series that is currently being drawn. DC has also given the go ahead to a major project about their black characters and their place in the DCU, but I’m no longer sure I want to do it as I’m increasingly concerned about their posture on racial matters. I hope I’m wrong. I’m sure we’ll talk about it in the next few months.

-Static Shock was the #1 or #2 rated show on KidsWB for most of its run. I think it was trading top spots with whichever variation of Pokemon at the time.
-Static Shock’s cartoon, which is around ten years old, runs on a Disney channel four times. It’s reasonable to assume that Static Shock has more fans than, say, all of the Superman comic books put together.
-DC’s shown no interest in solo Milestone books, despite undoubtedly shelling out a lot of money and paperwork on the characters.
-Instead, they’d rather have Teen Titans feature Static, even though Titans is a book that has been of poor quality and a laughing stock for two or more years.

So, what happened here? DC picks up one of the more marketable cartoons in recent memory, and a fondly-remembered and ahead of its time universe, and fumbles the ball. The universe is shuffled off to a brief series of one-shots in Brave & the Bold, Static ends up in a comic no one likes (if you like Teen Titans, you like a bad comic, this is gospel truth), and the guy who is the face of the deal ends up shuffled off a book he was writing with handcuffs, out of the DCU, and off into cartoonland.

What happened?

DC needed new toys to put into the meatgrinder. They’re getting consistently outshined by their biggest competitor, which can’t look good in front of their bosses. They have exactly one respected and profitable movie franchise, but Marvel’s buckshot approach has seen some success. By tapping Milestone, or rather, Static, they get the bonus of a built-in fanbase, a pedigree, and a little check on the Minority Box. That’s a Triple Word Score.

So, like a toy collector buying cases of crap he doesn’t want, they get their action figure, the one they think will make them money, and toss the rest. They think that Static himself won’t sell on his own, because they’ve trained their audience to view new characters with distrust, if not outright malice, and non-event stories as Not Necessary, so they botch any plans of a solo series. Stick him in a team book and you get all the benefits, none of the minuses!

And then, at some point in the future, they’re going to put Static back in their toy chest, ready to spring out again when they need a young black kid (who is drawn like a grown man) to talk about how cool someone else is, take a dive for a new hero/villain, or catch a hot one in the next Crisis.

All of the drama, all of the hoopla, is about money. It’s about being able to make a profit on the short-term, and hoping that that keeps you going enough that you can catch more later on. It’s an extraordinarily near-sighted way to do business. According to McDuffie, a number of comics creators, ones with names, ones who sell books, wanted to do Milestone work. They remembered the universe, they wanted in on what looked like a good thing. But, money talks, and if you aren’t looking at an immediate profit, well, sorry. You aren’t talking loud enough.

But when arts meets commerce, commerce eventually wins out. It doesn’t matter how groundbreaking (original, cool, artistic, awesome, whatever) a character is. For the companies, and this includes Marvel, they are products to be sold, and whatever gets them sold is the right thing to do. DC dicking McDuffie isn’t about a grudge. It’s about having more action figures in the toybox that you can pull out, rather than creating new ones. It’s about being able to point and say “This is a comic for _______ people!” and expecting them to come just because you built some mediocre, at best, story.

DC saw that a character was successful elsewhere, hunted it down, and didn’t care about the consequences of that act. So now there’s a creator, one who has proven that he can do popular work amongst comics fans in at least two mediums, who is pretty much thoroughly alienated, a gang of savvy fans who are pissed, and a character who is going to slowly disappear into the ether.

I don’t get it. It seems like you have a ready-made formula for success. You have characters people like, creators who actually care about doing stories with them, and an audience who just might be receptive. Instead, you instantly shuffle most of the characters off into Nowheresville, put the one you like in a lame duck that no one, not even the writers, enjoys, and shut it down before it even gets started.

Well done. You’ve succeeded in completely playing yourself.

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Batwoman: Greg Rucka x IGN

June 12th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

IGN interviewed Greg Rucka about the upcoming Batwoman feature in Detective Comics. There are a couple of things I wanted to pull out and call attention to.

You know, nobody wants to read, and we certainly didn’t want to write an after school special. But as you’ll see in the origin, there is a moment when she has to pay a huge price for the fact that she is gay. She has to sacrifice something of incredible value to her just to be true to herself.

Ten bucks says that she falls victim to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The concept art mentions a military background, and Rucka emphasizes that she isn’t Batwoman for the same reasons as Batman. Say if she were driven to serve, and it was something she truly believed in, and she was bounced out of the military? She gets back to Gotham, does the alcoholic thing for a while, and suits up, because she’s going to help people one way or another. Sound plausible?

But she is the first mainstream superhero who starts out of the box gay. And arguably she’s going to be the most prominent gay superhero.

What definition of mainstream is Rucka using here? There were a few characters in X-Statix a few years ago, and fifteen years ago we had what’s probably the best gay couple in comics– Donner & Blitzen, from Milestone’s Shadow Cabinet and Heroes.

Milestone isn’t obscure– it was published in cooperation with DC Comics, is fondly remembered by many, and sales don’t appear to have been too bad up until it closed its doors. What’s up with that?

As an aside– I don’t know if you noticed this, but IGN managed to misspell Renee Montoya’s name throughout the interview. Good going, guys. Way to, I don’t know, keep up the high standards.

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Great Moments in Black History #13: “Now I’m here to tell ya… there’s a better day”

June 8th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

from milestone’s static shock: rebirth of the cool. words by dwayne mcduffie & robert l washington iii, art by john paul leon.

(i’m done. that’s 13 weeks of black comics– 6 guys, 6 chicks, and a resurrection batting clean-up. you can’t tell me you can’t find comics starring black people any more. we’re out there, superheroes or not.)

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Didn’t Start None (Won’t Be None)

March 15th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

DC Comics is bringing back Milestone Comics this year, or rather the characters from it. They got a fairly high profile reintroduction in JLA, which is getting a hardcover in October, and there are a series of trades coming out soon collecting issues of the old series. I’m not exactly clear on whether or not they will be collecting the full runs, but the trades are coming. Static Shock has already been announced, for example. I’m a little skeptical about it collecting what’s basically the beginning and the end of the series, but you know what? Both are really good stories, so that’s fine.

No, my problem is this. I’m starting a new weekly series tomorrow morning, and I’m prepping posts ahead of time. I wanted to see what trades were coming out for Milestone, as I’m only going to be showing off stuff you can actually buy in a store or on Amazon, so I popped over to dccomics.com to see what trades where coming.


Milestone Media is a fairly well-regarded institution. Its comics are fondly remembered, they broke a ton of industry talent, created a few fascinating breakthroughs in coloring, and DC obviously thought well enough of them to bring them back into the fold after a lengthy absence.

I’m not exactly asking for dccomics.com/milestone, though that is a great idea and should probably happen. But, if you’re doing this big relaunch of a specific property, why can’t I use the search to see what’s coming? I ended up searching by series and found two Static trades (Trial By Fire is out of print and Rebirth of Cool comes out in June) and one trade of Icon, which is out of print.

Some kind of microsite or something pointing the way to what Milestone is, what’s coming, and what’s come before would be nice. Even just the word “Milestone” in the descriptions would work, so that I could find these series via search.

C’mon, DC Comics. This is easy. Even better, holler at this guy, jazz it up some, turn it into dccomics.com/milestone, and throw him a few hundred bucks. The work is already done.

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Black History Month ’09 #27: Life Is Illmatic

February 27th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Today is a short one. It’s from Icon #30, by Dwayne McDuffie and MD Bright. They say my overall point much better than I could, so I’m going to keep my talking to a minimum.

Really, though- I hope DC does right by Milestone. The company, its legacy, and its characters deserve to be done properly.

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Black History Month ’09 #26: The Message

February 26th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Even though I have problems with some of the treatment of black characters in comics, I think that things are looking better than they ever have. There are more black headliners, more black characters, and better stories featuring those characters than there were years ago. Vertigo, once the stronghold of stories aimed at goths, published Sentences and the Papa Midnite book, in addition to expanding to the point where they’ve got an entire line based around crime fiction. Marvel seems committed to treating Black Panther as a major player in terms of both stories and real world stature.

I don’t think that things are perfect, not by any means, but things are getting better. I still want to hear more black voices, see black characters that aren’t introduced and shuffled off to the sidelines or the background, and stories that do more than paying lip service to the idea of black culture.

It’s a cliche to say that “black history is American history,” but it’s true. America would not be the country it is today without the input of black people, be it forced or voluntary. Slavery led to economic prosperity, but contributions from black people didn’t end there. There’s the Harlem Renaissance, slavery-era literature, 20th century music, novels, movies, and dozens of others. You don’t have to dig very deep at all to find something of value.

I’d like to be able to say the same about comics. Milestone is back in what could be the perfect time for its resurgence. A company that blazed trails in portrayal of non-white characters, transgender characters, and coloring can go from a well-regarded footnote to actually having the stature and respect it deserves. Gay characters in comics don’t begin with Perry Moore and end with Northstar. Islam in comics didn’t start with GW Bridge or The 99. There’s a lot out there that has gone forgotten simply because the material isn’t easily accessible.

There are a bunch of extremely talented black artists out there who will one day be up there with the greats. There’s fascinating panel designs, fusions of influences from Kirby to Otomo to Moebius to Tezuka and back again, and new and exciting ways to approach comics. I’m sure that there are plenty of writers waiting in the wings, too, with fresh ideas and perspectives to bring to things.

What do I want out of blacks in comics? I’ve got a list of things. I’d like to see black characters on an even keel with white ones, more research, more variety, and more respect.

Really though, two words: good stories.

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Black History Month ’09 #17: Still Dreaming

February 17th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

One thing Marvel has always pushed, which DC hasn’t, is the idea of social injustice. The X-Men and other mutants are hated and feared. Many of their heroes are outlaws. I think this is a large part of why most black people I’ve talked to preferred Marvel to DC as a kid.

It’s a strictly unscientific survey, but every once and a while I’ll ask my black friends, who I know read comics, what they read as a kid. So far, I think it’s been all Marvel, with a focus on X-Men and Spider-Man. The ’70s pulpy books (Cage, Shang-chi, Moon Knight, Ghost Rider) get a lot of love, too. I’ve always been surprised at the answers I get, though they tend to be the same answer each time. I don’t know if the results are due to some sort of selection bias, but they’ve been pretty true on two different coasts now.

If I had to put my finger on it, a lot of us dug Marvel because we could relate to the fact that the heroes weren’t always on top and that the books took place in more of a real world than DC’s. Superman lived in Metropolis and Batman lived in Gotham, but Spider-Man lived in Queens and Luke Cage in Harlem. They had to struggle for cash, navigate complicated family relationships, and weren’t super jet pilots or scientists. Spidey was extremely smart, and Cage had a heart of gold, but both suffered under the knowledge that no one was going to respect them for that.

Part of the relative lack of black characters in comics meant that we had to learn how to relate growing up. You’d find aspects of characters to latch on to, and these would give you an in. I didn’t get bullied at school, nor did I live in Queens, but I could relate with being smart and having a single parent. I thought the X-Men were cool because they were from all over the place. While Claremont’s pidgin English is quaint these days, as a kid, it just hammered home that they were different, but still accepted one another.

It’s been nice to see comics growing up as I grow up. They’ve gone from vague metaphors to just letting it all hang out, so to speak. Brian Bendis put some fairly well-thought out commentary on racism and unjust laws in New Avengers: Civil War, Marvel’s big event at the time. It was light, and served as the impetus for a fight scene, but he managed to do it without being overly preachy or having someone stand up and pontificate for twenty-two pages.

Milestone may have been ten years ahead of its time. It launched during a glut and told some great stories, but it was during a time when people were more concerned about flipping comics for cash than reading comics for a story. So what if you were trailblazing for an entire industry, this issue of Spider-Man is worth thirty-five dollars. Let me tell you, this is gonna pay for my kid’s college fund!

It’s nice to see Milestone making a come back, and I hope that DC does right by them. An aggressive trade program, one that’s much more aggressive than DC’s current “It’ll be out when it’s out, we just work here, man” program, is necessary. Pound the books out like there’s no tomorrow. Get them in print, in libraries, in bookstores, and into the hands of the people who want to read it.

Push those Milestone books like they were crack. Every four to six weeks, a new book. The market for those books overlaps somewhat with the current comics readership, but there are kids out there who made Static Shock more popular than Pokemon who are hitting their twenties now. Put these books, which are simple enough for kids and layered enough for adults, into their hands.

We’re past the point where we just have to settle for relating. Now, we can see people who look like us in action.

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Milestone 2008: Rebirth of Cool?

December 16th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

I love love songs. No joke– I think that they’re one of the best uses for music. I even like different kinds of love songs. If put to the test, my favorite kinds would be, in order from most to slightly less most, heartbreak songs, cheating songs, and then straight up love songs. I don’t know why that is, but it is what it is.

I’m inclined to like songs about heartbreak. I don’t know why, maybe an inner romantic or mope or something. I tend to like them, though, which is why I was looking forward to Kanye’s 808’s and Heartbreak. While I’m sort of ehhh on the autotune, the concept for the album was solid. It sounded like an album that was at least partially built for me. Love Lockdown came out and I kind of both love the drums and the video. I feel what he’s talking about in the song, too, so there’s that. Scandalous comments about how he doesn’t listen to hip-hop in his place because it’s “too nice” aside, I was looking forward to it.

In the end, I was almost completely disappointed. The beats were tight, but Kanye’s autotuned vocals don’t stand up to the concept or the music. It comes off feeling heartless, which I guess was part of the point, but he seriously needed some heart for this album to be a success for me. I dig Welcome to Heartbreak (with Kid Cudi) immensely (“Chased the good life my whole life long/ Look back on my life and my life gone/ Where did I go wrong?” is incredible), and I think that Amazing with Jeezy is probably my favorite cut off the album, but the other two-thirds of the record left me flat or irritated. I can’t think of a single reason to listen to Robocop, for example, nor the song with Wayne. Heartless is mediocre. Say You Will is Kanye doing his best “That’s the way love goes”-era Sade impression (including the song itself), which is a lot like my well-tested “That’s the way love goes”-era Sade impression– not very good at all and the last thing you want to hear. Paranoid isn’t awful, but it’s a bit too ’80s keytar rock for me. It sounds like it should be on the Scarface soundtrack right next to “Rush Rush Get the Yeyo.”

808s and Heartbreak got me thinking about complete packages. No matter how inclined you are to like something, it still needs to be quality in order for you to actually like it. I’m inclined to like 808s and Heartbreak, but the end product didn’t measure up. I’m inclined to like Jubilee and the New Warriors, but the book that featured them was lacking.

I’m inclined to like Justice League of America #27, because I like Milestone, I love Dwayne McDuffie’s writing, and the JLA is okay I guess. I didn’t like it because Ed Benes’s art kills the book for me.
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