Throughout three prior comic continuities, a cartoon, and even the occasional video game appearance, one thing has remained static: Virgil Ovid Hawkins is, quite famously, Black. He’s put the “dark” in “tall, and handsome.” He’s a melanated maestro, a dark-skinned daredevil, a nubian knight in shining spandex. It wouldn’t be out of line to say that he’s Black, y’all, and he’s Black y’all, and he’s Blackety-Black and he’s Black, y’all. I feel the need to reiterate this because, for the vast majority of Static: Season One #1, Virgil, possibly one of the most famous Black superheroes out there, is red.
Despite the apprehensions I felt going into the Milestone relaunch, Static’s new debut comic was almost everything I could have asked for. Vita Ayala has one of the strongest authorial voices in comics right now, and their take on Virgil already rings true. His personality, and the book’s tone, falls somewhere between the 1993 original, and the 2000 cartoon: he’s a good-natured (albeit easily angered) kid with a strong sense of justice, nerdy hobbies, and romantic insecurities that do far too good a job of reminding me of my own high school days. Above all else, he’s smart, already showing an understanding of the capabilities of his powerset that got lost in the translation to animation. Just like in the original comics, his electrokinesis isn’t simply portrayed as “zap the other guy until he stops twitching,” there’s a focus on scientific principles, and thinking his way out of situations, that lends itself to some interesting conflicts.
Virgil’s supporting cast, or at least the parts of it that we see, are also full of life. Sharon, traditionally equal parts supportive sister and troublemaking source of tension, is a particular standout here. Making the interfering older sibling a shallow character is an easy trap to fall into, but Ayala’s interpretation of the character already shows a great deal of internality – while she’s more than willing to hassle her brother, it clearly comes out of a place of caring and concern. The dynamic between the entire Hawkins family, easily one of the most important parts of any interpretation, is on full display, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they’re portrayed going forward, especially considering the events at the end of the issue.
The writing also goes a long way towards dispelling my individual concerns from Milestone Returns: Infinite Edition #0. The updated setting for the events of the Big Bang, at a BLM protest rather than a gang war, is treated respectfully, while the underlying frustration that pushed Virgil to put himself in that situation in the original comics comes through in other ways, particularly in his interactions with Francis. Ayala also neatly sidesteps the issue of having Virgil and Hotstreak throw down in the middle of school by having another character take credit for the fight, pretending to be a Bang Baby for clout. While the events of the issue still have me wondering exactly how Virgil’s secret identity will be handled, it’s reassuring to know that his dual lives won’t be entirely ignored. Static’s original run was a book full of nuance, that deftly and respectfully handled everything from racism to family conflicts, and Ayala’s made it clear that we can expect the same level of care in their work.
Unfortunately, the incredible strength of the writing just makes the missteps in the coloring hurt the book that much more. The linework of the issue is great – Milestone veteran Christopher “ChrisCross” Williams is joined in penciling by Nikolas Draper-Ivey, who also tackles the inking and coloring. Draper-Ivey is a strong artist, with a brilliant eye for character design, and his interpretations of the cast are great. Each character has a distinct, realistic fashion sense, and it’s easy to see that a great deal of thought was placed into each of them. Unfortunately, his coloring choices made most of the characters seem washed out, which is a point of understandable frustration for many of my fellow Black readers. Colorism, prejudice against people with dark skin, is a huge problem both in the community and in the media. This has been a particular debacle lately within comics, where characters of color are often lightened to the point of being unrecognizable (hello, Marauders), or colored as another race altogether. While Draper-Ivey’s coloring is consistent, the fact that the traditionally dark-skinned Static seems to be lightened by default can’t be overlooked.
After a vocal fan response to the updated designs on social media, Draper-Ivey has Tweeted that he’ll be leaving the book after the sixth issue, and that the characters will be portrayed as darker starting from the second issue. He’s also indicated that certain decisions in that regard came down from DC on high, while also stating that any issues with skin color were simply the result of the lighting in the issue. Looking through his portfolio and Instagram, there are plenty of Black characters with a wide array of skin tones, including more than a few of Static that are traditionally dark-skinned. Whether Virgil’s color in this issue was his own choice, or mandated from DC, the fact that he was driven off the book is a damn shame. Coloring aside, his artistic strength is impressive, and I’d much rather see a Black artist be given the chance to improve than to be flamed into leaving, especially if the choice was out of his hands. A book as strong as this deserves a distinct visual identity, and we can only hope that whatever comes next isn’t a step down.
In spite of any issues with the coloring, Static: Season One #1 is a debut issue that absolutely deserves a look. For subscribers to DC Universe Infinite, the book will be free digitally on the same day as the physical release, and is more than worth the price of admission. I’m thrilled to see where the book goes from here, and I’m excited to see this new take on an iconic hero.