When Milestone Comics debuted in 1993, it felt like the entirety of comics up until that point had just been the opening act. Sure, the predecessors, your Claremonts, Simonsons, hell, even Kirbys, were great in their own rights, but Hardware, Icon, Blood Syndicate, and Static were a four-note chord that was unlike anything that had come before. Their diversity, both on and off-panel, and authentic storylines and characters, set a bar that even now, almost thirty years later, mainstream comics struggle to reach. Far from the public perception of Milestone as just “the Black comics,” the books, often referred to as the Dakotaverse, were largely intersectional in nature with honest portrayals of topics from gang violence, to disability, to class privilege, to trans rights, all with some of the industry’s best and brightest behind them.
While the comics themselves didn’t last long, with gradual cancellations from 1995 to 1997, Milestone lived on with the much-loved Static Shock cartoon, before having the comic characters brought into the DC Universe proper in 2008. Previously, with the exception of a brief crossover, the relationship between Milestone and DC had been more about licensing – DC handled distribution, but Milestone owned the rights, able to publish whatever they wished as long as DC didn’t object. For the most part, everything went smoothly in that regard – while Milestone touched on topics that made DC uncomfortable, they recognized the need for most of the stories to be told. Unfortunately, much like the initial run of the imprint that created them, Milestone’s characters vanished from DC far too soon, with little more than occasional cameos in the Young Justice cartoon, and a best-forgotten Static Shock run at the beginning of the New 52.
While there were yearly announcements that hinted we’d be seeing more Milestone “soon,” nothing concrete took form until the surprise, limited-time digital release of the 17-page Milestone Returns #0 during last September’s DC FanDome: Hall of Heroes event, after legal issues with the rights were resolved. The book served as an introduction to the new “Earth-M,” reintroducing classic characters such as Rocket, Static, and Icon, along with the characters who comprise the new hero, Duo. This Re-re-rebirth of the Cool, bringing back some of the creatives who made the original Milestone so iconic, was supposed to usher in a new era of digital-first comics in the universe, bringing the characters and the world into the modern day. However, in what I can’t help but think of as a truly amazing instance of C.P.T., the digital comics were all delayed by months, so that physical releases could come out the same day, with the exception of the expanded Milestone Returns: Infinite Edition #0. This “extended cut” was released digitally on 2/26/21, with a physical release on 5/26, and adds an additional 24 pages teasing the stories yet to come.
The biggest change here is the updated take on the Big Bang, the source of most of the universe’s superheroes. In the original Milestone, the Big Bang happened when the police used experimental chemical weaponry in the middle of a gang war – here, perhaps to be more topical, the chemicals were unleashed during the meeting of a Black Lives Matter protest and counterprotest. The exact circumstances of the Big Bang were an important point of nuance in the original Static stories – the fact that at his worst, Virgil found himself strapped up in the middle of a gang war played a big part in his desire to do the right thing, and stop Bang Babies who threatened the peace. Without that, we’re either going to lose that shade of grey, and that motivation for him, or, and hopefully this isn’t the case, BLM is going to be equated to the gang war. At best, it seems that Static will be overly sanitized. At worst, it’ll portray a peaceful protest for the right to be treated like people as something to be looked down on, a sin that warrants police escalation. While police brutality is clearly a part of both incarnations of the universe, I can’t help but worry, especially in today’s climate, whether it will be portrayed with the honesty it needs.
All that being said, it feels good to pick up a comic with the Milestone logo again, and I’m certainly hoping that my misgivings will prove unwarranted! Milestone is an imprint with a lot of potential, and I’m looking forward to seeing how some of the talented creators that have been brought on will leave their mark on the industry. With how widespread the superhero genre is today, Milestone’s return has the opportunity to bring a spotlight to diverse creators and characters that might otherwise fall by the wayside, and tell stories that are screaming out to be told. And hey, even if it doesn’t reach the heights of the early nineties, it might get people to check out those older comics! Either way, one thing’s for certain: it’s gonna put a shock to your system.