Graphic Novel Review: Static Shock – Trial By Fire
Collecting: Static #1-4
Original Release Date: 1993 (collected edition released in 2000)
Publisher: Milestone Media (collected edition published by DC Comics)
Characters: Static/Virgil Hawkins, Holocaust
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie (Milestone Media, Blood Syndicate, Justice League: Unlimited & Ben 10 TV series)
Artist: John Paul Leon (Earth X)
SCORECARD (each category ranked on a 10-point scale):Storyline – 9 Art – 8 Captivity and Length – 8 Identity – 10 Use of Medium – 8 Depth – 8 Fluidity – 7 Intrigue/Originality – 9 The Little Things – 9 Overall awesomeness – 9
1993 was a spectacular year. Bill Clinton was in the WhiteHouse, Ice Cube could see his name on the Goodyear Blimp, Toni Morrison got a Nobel Prize and Milestone Media paired with DC Comics.
For those of you unfamiliar with Milestone, I want you to close your eyes, now picture a group of amazing comic book writers and artists, can you see them? Now imagine they’re Black. Dwayne McDuffie, and Denys Cowan were tired of the minimal representation of African Americans in major comic books, but instead of complaining, they created their own. They immediately flooded the market with multiple titles. I remember being excited to see so many black heroes on the shelves. To be completely honest, Hardware, Blood Syndicate and Static were the first DC titles I ever purchased.
I instantly loved Static and was thrilled when Sherif asked me to write a review about the first four issues in honor of Black History Month. As a kid, I couldn’t believe there was a character who looked like me in the comics. He wore Spike Lee’s Malcolm X cap, had thick lips and a street confidence Peter Parker just didn’t have.
Pretty soon my brother Aaron began to steal my issues, and I’m sure became a bigger fan than I was. But Static’s popularity wasn’t limited to us. In 2000, the WB picked up the cartoon Static Shock, our hero made appearances in Teen Titans, and of course, add fanboy buzz over the years for Donald Glover to star in a full-length feature film, and you have the makings of legend.
But it all began with Trial By Fire, the first four issues of the series. Enter Virgil Ovid Hawkins, a teen given the power to wield electrostatic energy. He is a meta-human. This new race of super-powered street kids have X-Men like abilities. There are some obvious Marvel storyline similarities. Static was written as a contemporary Spider-Man. Virgil is a witty do-gooder who is misunderstood and in need of an alter ego to cope with his own self-deprecation. Since Static was written in a single-issue format, the transition between issues feels a lot like watching episodes of a television show as opposed to reading through one, fluid story.
Issue one: “Burning Sensation” gives us a clear idea of who he is and what he stands for, and it certainly doesn’t waste anytime getting to the action. Our electric hero makes short work of goons who plan to kidnap Frieda Goren, a girl he is madly crushing on. At the end of the issue he is confronted by Hotstreak, a street thug with the ability to control fire. He loses the fight and his secret identity is revealed to Frieda. What was, and is, so refreshing about Static is that the dialog doesn’t feel forced. It’s not trying to be cool, because it IS cool.
Issue two: “Everything But the Girl,” gives us the back-story we were waiting for. Virgil is bullied by a Flash Thompson doppelganger named Biz Money B. After being beaten and publicly humiliated he decides to get a gun to settle the score. He tracks Biz to a Warriors style gang meeting and before he has an opportunity to pull the trigger they are attacked by the authorities with a mysterious toxin. Virgil and others are transformed into meta-humans, capable of performing amazing super-powered feats. He uses his abilities to escape the raid and begins training to master his powers. We learn that Hotstreak is actually Biz Money B and Virgil lost the fight because he is still scared of the hallway bully. By the end of the issue he is able to confront him and gain the attention of a mysterious super villain.
Issue Three: “Pounding The Pavement” starts with a bang. Static has earned some cred in tha hood and now a bad guy named Tarmack is looking for him. They have an epic showdown in a parking lot and Static proves that he can overpower and out-wit his adversaries. The issue ends with a crossover cliffhanger and we are introduced to Holocaust from The Blood Syndicate.
Issue Four: “Playing With Fire” starts by teaming our hero up with the vigilante Holocaust. Static plays flunky and roughs up some gangsters for the villain. When he goes to see Frieda afterward he finds her with his best friend Larry. He is crushed. Filled with anger he decides to help Holocaust rip off the mafia to help his mom pay bills. When Holocaust takes the heist to a deadly level, Static steps in to protect a small child. This dissolves their partnership in crime but we get the feeling that their relationship has only just begun.
Static is well written and as the story develops, the art improves. If you are in the mood for 90’s nostalgia you will find plenty of references from Arsenio Hall to Star Trek: The Next Generation. This comic led a comic book revolution and captured the imagination of every black comic-book head who searched for a hero that looked and sounded like them.
Written by John Soweto