The High Five Episode 4 – Five Incredible Black Comic Creators

On this week, I’m celebrating Black History Month by running down five of my all time favorite black comic creators. This was a delightful trip down memory lane, but also a great look at some of the greatest comic writers and artists around. I hope you enjoy it!

If you’re interested in the links I mentioned in the episode, here’s the CBR interview I did about Goldie Vance. If you want to find out more about McDuffie being let go from Justice League of America, you can read the initial Lying In The Gutters column here and then the news itself about him being ousted here. Finally, enjoy a few pics I snapped while putting this episode together including the fantastic Kyle Rayner sketch Darryl Banks did for me!

Milestone Trade Post: Static Shock & Icon Mothership Connection

I’ve had these two books sitting in my “to read” box for quite awhile along with The Brave And The Bold : Milestone collection. For whatever reason, I grabbed the B&TB volume first to read, but it was so bad and confusing that I had to put it down. The problem with that book and DC’s questionable idea to shoehorn the Milestone comic book universe into the regular DCU in general is that we never get any in-story explanation as to what the hell is going on. Milestone fans aren’t told how these characters now fit into the DCU (have they always been there and we just didn’t know it? What have they been doing since that line disapeared?) and DC fans aren’t told much of anything about these random new characters that are seemingly a big deal. Without any kind of context, pairing up characters like Static and Black Lighting or Hardware and Blue Beetle just don’t carry any weight and seemingly turn into pointless stories that don’t matter. Even the reprints of various Milestone books in the back of that volume don’t make any sense because they’re seemingly random issues. Heck, the Xombi issue is the prologue to a multi-part story! In the end, I don’t understand why the Milestone characters were plopped unceremoniously into the DC Universe in books like B&TB, Justice League of America or Teen Titans at all and weren’t resurrected in their own, original universe. It’s like DC took one of the more unique ideas they’ve had in the past few decades and downgraded it by cramming it in with all the other superheroes.

Written by Dwayne McDuffie & Robert L. Washington III, drawn by John Paul Leon
Collects Static #1-4, Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool #1-4
All of which brings me to my actual trade reviews. As I said when I talked about the Hardware trade, I was very intrigued when the Milestone line launched but didn’t have a lot of extra cash to spend on even more books. My experience with Static was limited to a few comics here and there and the occasional episode of his animated series Static Shock along with crossovers with Batman Beyond and Justice League Unlimited. As a result I went into this book knowing the very basics of the character: he’s a young man trying to juggle powers, school and family in the vein of Spider-Man. As it turns out the Spidey comparisons don’t stop there. Virgil Hawkins has all that, girl drama and happens to be pretty damn smart. He basically Spider-Man with parents and a sister living in the inner city of Dakota and with electricity based powers. But, don’t immediately write the book off for those comparisons, I actually had a better time reading these comics than I have some actual Spidey comics.

I can’t remember how the Milestone universe was kicked off, if they just went right into ongoings or if there was some kind of primer, but one thing that I really like about the first few issues of Static is that it’s not bogged down with or by an origin story. You actually start getting interested in the character before they go back and dump all the back story on you. As it turns out, many of the heroes in this world were created when an experimental drug was used during a gang war (dubbed the Big Bang). Virgil wasn’t actually a part of that, but he was in the neighborhood, thinking about shooting a bully. That same bully wound up getting powers too and the pair would spend the better part of a few issues squaring off.

Another Marvel Universe comparison I could make is that these books actually feel like what I’m told the Silver Age Marvel stuff did: a cohesive universe. Static meets up with heroes and villains from other books. It surely helped that there were a fairly small number of books at the time, McDuffie was acting as a kind of architect for the entire universe and there weren’t decades of continuity to deal with. We do get a more wrap-around, all encompassing story along those lines with Static Shock, which was produced years after Milestone went away and brings many of the heroes together to fight a bad guy. I’m not sure if I like what was the last Milestone story collected with these early issues of Static because it kind of spoils years worth of comics. Also, it’s pretty crazy to see how John Paul Leon’s art changed over the years.

Written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by M.D. Bright, CrissCross, John Paul Leon, Francesco Velasco, Robert Walker and Jeffrey Moore
Collects Icon #13, 19-22
Speaking of strange collections, I’m not sure why DC didn’t continue on with the regular Icon collection. I’m guessing it has something to do with the eventual DC/Milestone crossover called World’s Collide. Anyway, #13 is included to introduce a character called Buck Wild who is essentially 70s era Luke Cage complete with yellow costume and awful catchphrases. He becomes an important part of the story later on when Icon–an alien who crash landed on Earth before the Civil War–returns to his home planet and Buck takes over for him. Even though this book doesn’t collect the first issues, you get a full origin story for both Icon and his sidekick and mother-to-be Rocket. Even though Icon is clearly the Superman analog for the Milestone Universe, I liked that the book had plenty of departures. Icon was trapped here, he got married, his wife died, he’s experienced many facets of American history and had essentially called it quits until Rocket came into his life and told him he could do some real good. But, that never stopped him from wanting to return to his home planet. The only problem there is that he had been replaced, quite literally, and his people started a trial to see whether Earth was too dangerous to exist. We don’t get a lot of closure to that storyline as Icon has to return to Earth to fight a foe who had made his way to Earth.The volume also contains some big secrets revealed about what caused the Big Bang with appearances by even more heroes and villains from the Milestone U, so you continue to get that larger-universe feel.

With all the unique elements being used in the book and the somewhat serious tone (Rocket is dealing with being a single mother for a good chunk of the book) the character of Buck Wild really puts a damper on the proceedings for me. I get what they’re trying to do with the character, comparing him to other black superheroes in comics, but he’s just so damn annoying and over the top that he’s hard to take seriously. Plus, I really hate when characters are so obviously based on another company’s characters. It’s either lazy or taking pointless potshots, neither of which I’m interested in. SPOILER Buck dies in the book, trying to take on Icon’s enemy. It’s actually a pretty sad and heroic moment which is completely ruined by the funeral issue (#22) which is a series of lame references to other comic book characters and old time radio (they go a pretty long way for a few Amos and Andy references that modern audiences probably didn’t get). I’m still full in support of the Milestone U, further collections and the continuation of these characters stories, but hopefully they’ll make sense and not be jammed into books that can barely hold my attention as it is anymore (yeah, I’m looking at you JLoA and Teen Titans).

Trade Post: JSA Strange Adventuers, Wildstorm After The Fall & Hardware The Man In The Machine

Written by Kevin J. Anderson, drawn by Barry Kitson
Collects JSA Strange Adventures #1-6
I’ve been a big fan of the JSA concept for years. I love the idea of legacy characters still kicking around in modern times offering a sense of connection to the past that can only be done in fiction when dealing with magical beings who have various elements keeping them alive for decades after they should be dead (especially when you consider how often they put themselves in danger). While I’ve read every regular issue of JSA since Geoff Johns launched the book back in 1999, but I skipped or missed a lot of the JSA minis that have come out since then. I was pretty excited about Strange Adventures because it presents a JSA story from back when they were first a team as opposed to them being the old soldiers they are today. I was looking forward to seeing the tale told from a different perspective and, while the book does offer another perspective through the eyes of Johnny Thunder, I didn’t really like this book.

My main problem is that the book didn’t feel very original. The overarching plot involves a super powered genius coming to the world and telling them he’ll fix all these problems if Green Lantern and Starman give up their power sources. When the heroes don’t, the guy turns bad and starts wreaking havoc, but only after regular people get upset with GL and Starman. There’s nothing very original there, that’s the plot of several pieces of science fiction from Twilight Zone episodes to movies. It’s boring and it was so obvious, I thought that Anderson might be messing with the constraints of that kind of story, but that didn’t happen. The only part of the story that I found really interesting was Johnny Thunder’s interactions with a pulp writer and his desire to become a writer himself. I can obviously relate to that and I love fiction that involves writing and creating in one way or another, but even that part of the story didn’t feel entirely original as Johnny Thunder has been portrayed as the newbie who wishes he could really do something before. All in all, Strange Adventures wasn’t a bad comic to read, it just wasn’t a particularly original one. Kitson’s art sure was pretty though.

Written by Christos Gage and Russell Uttley, drawn by Trevor Hairsine, Brandon Badeaux, Ivan Reis, Mike McKone, Pete Woods, Phil Noto, Ben Oliver, Chris Sprouse, Wes Craig, Shawn Moll and John Paul Leon
Collects several WildStorm back-up stories
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of the WildStorm universe. I think it was pretty ballsy when they decided to basically destroy their Earth with the Number of the Beast miniseries and continue on with a post apocalyptic setting that has lead to a huge battle with some alien badasses, the combination of nearly ever super powered being still kicking around into one big team and then, more recently, splitting that group up into a space-faring one and one still left on Earth (Authority and WildCats respectively). Right after the big WorldStorm event that relaunched several books to varying degrees of success. In addition to kicking off new books, WildStorm also included back-up stories involving the company’s rich history of characters. All of those short stories have been collected in this After The Fall trade.

I’ve kept up on WildStorm comics for a while now, but when this happened, I wasn’t reading the back-up stories because I didn’t think I could keep up with all of them, so I’m glad they collected them all in one place. The overarching story here involves John Lynch getting the members of Team 7 back together to kill Sleeper and WildCat villain TAO. The whole thing’s very inside baseball and probably not very accessible to new readers, but I had a great time reading about characters like Deathblow, Christie Blaze and Cybernary. My only problem withe the book is that the whole thing builds up to something that doesn’t happen in this book. The TAO fight takes place eventually in, I believe, WildCats, but that means After The Fall kind of feels like the second Pirates Of The Caribbean movie in that, it’s fun in and of itself, but it’s basically a stepping stone for something else. The amazing stable of artists certainly helps the book and it’s awesome to see guys like Noto and Leon work on these characters I love.

Written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Denys Cowan and JJ Birch
Collects Hardware #1-8
Back in 1993 I was 10 and Milestone launched, a comic company that seemed focused on bringing more comics starring non-white heroes to the racks. I couldn’t afford to buy a bunch of extra books, but I was really intrigued by books like Hardware, Static and Icon and, by the time the inevitable World’s Collide crossover between the Milestone Universe and the DCU came the next year, I bought as many of the issues as I could. There was always something about the look of the books that I found very intriguing. At the time I didn’t really follow artists or even really realize they used different styles, but the kind of muted presentation of the books, especially hardware which looked painted to me, drew my interest. Jump ahead 17 years later and here I sit with a collection of the first 8 issues of Hardware. The collection really captures the art the way I remember it and the stories kept me entertained throughout the whole thing.

For those of you who might not know, the idea behind Hardware is that this super smart kid named Curtis got a benefactor in the form of a rich dude who put him through college, gave him unlimited resources in his lab, but considered the kid, now an adult, to be little more than property with a clause in his contract saying that if he quit, he couldn’t work for anyone else. After doing some digging Curtis discovers that his benefactor is actually a pretty bad dude, so he builds a high tech suit with plenty of add-on weapons (kind of like Centurions) that he uses to quash the bad guy’s criminal enterprises. It’s a fairly basic superhero concept, but I was surprised to find that Hardware actually kills some of the bad guy’s peons, something that he actually comes to question towards the end of the trade.

Overall, I really liked this book. Cowan’s art is fantastic especially when he gets to draw some of the crazier weapons and whatnot. McDuffie’s writing was pretty fun, but there were definitely some moments where I was completely confused, like in #3 when the book opens with Hardware killing the bad guy, then appearing in his girl’s place. I had no idea what that was about. For the most part, I liked the whole presentation and how they started to slowly build a big superhero universe. I hope DC continues to put out these Milestone books (I’ve got the Static one in my to-read party), especially the World’s Collide story. There’s a lot of goodness here.