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Black History

February is Black History Month here in the USA. Every year we honor a lot of fine men and women and each year I hear new stories that are exciting and inspirational.

We don’t often hear about blacks in the history of comics though, that art form near and dear to you and I.

It looks like there has been some great blogging already this month, though.

David Brothers posted an op-ed over at Comics Alliance (which inspired a heartfelt comment and this post.)

The Women In Comics wiki is celebrating as they do best – by listing useful information!

Over here at TRO, I wanted to throw the spotlight on the favorite comics of my youth, those produced by Milestone Media.

Milestone: Filling A Void

Milestone was launched in 1992 by Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Derek Dingle and Michael Davis. They created an entire line of new comics, some of the best books and characters of the nineties. Those included Static, Hardware, and Icon. I’ve previously mentioned Hardware in my essay about How I Got Into Comics.

From the get go, Milestone’s founders had the commendable goal of drastically increasing diversity in the superhero genre.

They realized, quite correctly, that they couldn’t just launch one character – even if it was for a major publisher.

They needed to do some serious world-building. There needed to be a fresh start, a place where there wasn’t already an extensive history of all white teams prancing around for decades.

Over their six years they produced Hardware, Blood Syndicate, Icon, Static, Shadow Cabinet, Xombi, Kobalt, Heroes, Deathwish, Holocaust, Static Shock, and Wise Son plus the Shadow War, Long Hot Summer, and DC Universe slamming Worlds Collide crossovers.

In an era plagued by endless “number 1″ debuts  and terrible delays between issues, Milestone pumped out about 250 issues between their titles, with Hardware running to an impressive 50.

Milestone was successful. Maybe not making millions – the company suffered from the market oversaturation and eventual overall downtrend. But they’re still alive today, albeit as a licensing entity.

But I say they were successful because they had an impact. On me, on many readers, on the careers of many talented young women and men, and on the bottom line. The comics were good and the comics sold.

Milestone Never Settled

They didn’t settle for just creating black superheroes. They didn’t settle for telling the same old stories or falling into the “dark age” trap of over-gritty new anti-heroes.

Titles like Static were amazing, both for their ability to talk to young African-Americans, but the ability to compete in the mainstream and be thoroughly enjoyed by any kid. The Milestone books were the favorites of my youth and the first I hunted down in the back issue bins.

I was a Jewish kid with family from the Bronx. There were certainly plenty of us shmucks from the Bronx in comics history, but it wasn’t apparent when my young eyes gazed upon the racks. Seeing Static there… well, it just spoke to me more than anything else.

I don’t think it’s that weird – black history is human history. Black stories are human stories.

Simple as that.

It’s the creators who have struggled with blacks as “the other” that end up with such strange output. Those that understand how simple it really is end up telling some amazing stories.

Those at Milestone – those of all races and backgrounds, as it certainly wasn’t a mono-ethnic operation – understood how simple and complex it all is. And they understood how to make some damn good comics.

Here’s to Milestone!

The Milestone Collections

No post at this website would be complete without some discussion of collected editions.

I’ve updated the Milestone Reading Order tag with information and a header image.

I went through and fully tagged the characters and creators on each book, adding cover images as I went.

While it seems that DC has missed the opportunity to give us a new Milestone collection this year, I am pleased that they’ve recently made some significant progress in collecting these important and entertaining works.

It was probably because of the Milestone characters interacting with the JLA and getting their own prestige release, but hopefully it’s the start of a trend. I assume, crass though it may be, that everything is based on sales – so if you like these comics or ideas, buy the books! Sales for Hardware Vol. 1 will inspire the publication of Hardware Vol. 2.

Here’s the rundown:

Hardware

Hardware: The Man In The Machine (Amazon) collects issues 1-8 of his title.

The book introduces Curt Metcalf, smart as all hell, currently a cog in the system. When he finds out his employer isn’t on the up and up, he decides to fight back. A simplistic synopsis for a complex and sometimes disturbing book.

Written by Dwayne McDuffie, the story is brought to life by Denys Cowan‘s amazing art. Even the coloring is beautiful and different.

Like all the starting trades, it can be read entirely on its own.

Static

The first four issues of Static‘s ongoing were collected previously in Static Shock: Trial By Fire but they are collected again here in Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool (Amazon). This time, they’re accompanied by the 2001 Static Shock miniseries.

McDuffie is joined on this book by Robert L. Washington III and John Paul Leon, among others.

The gap between the two titles is a little confusing, but it makes for a thick trade with great value. It’s a quick way to introduce yourself to this wonderful nod to Spider-Man and classic super-heroics, with plenty of new twists. Static later ends up in the Teen Titans, starting in Teen Titans: Changing Of The Guard.

Icon

The first Icon book, Icon: A Hero’s Welcome (Amazon) must have had solid enough sales, because we’re lucky enough to have a second volume already, Icon: Mothership Connection (Amazon). The first trade collects issues 1-8, while the second jumps around a bit more, pulling in Icon 13, 17, 19-22, 24-26, and 30.

Dwayne McDuffie also helmed this title, working with artists M.D. Bright and Mike Gustovich.

This book, like the others, twists a classic premise. Here, that alien shuttle landed in the hands of a black slave. Augustus Freeman, conservative lawyer, is the result – until young Rocket discovers his secret and convinces him to use his powers for good.

Icon makes for one unique title, exploring black super-heroics through an alien who isn’t really black – but who experienced slavery first hand.

Also of note are the adventures in the second volume introducing Buck Wild, a Luke Cage-style parody character with unexpected depth of his own, used to play with common tropes about African Americans in comics.

The second book also crosses over with some other Milestone titles, giving us our first glimpse of the Blood Syndicate and Shadow Cabinet in trade (please give us the ongoings, DC!)

Contemporary Appearances

Justice League of America: When Worlds CollideBrave and the Bold: MilestoneMilestone Forever
Book 1: Meta Fictions
Milestone Forever
Book 2: Hardware Escape

The Milestone characters have experienced a recent resurgence in the pages of primary DC Universe comics. Static had a story in 9-11 Vol. 2 and joined the Teen Titans. Other characters were re-introduced in a McDuffie penned JLA arc, the center of a set of Brave and the Bold issues, and received an ad-free showing in two prestige Milestone Forever format releases.

We are now being treated to a new ongoing for Milestone’s Xombi, which might net us some classic editions if it sells well.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to see these guys back. The world is a better place with them around.

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9 Comments Post New »

  1. avatar Chris D. wrote on at February 2, 2011 10:36 pm:

    Ian, this was one pleasent surprise to find on the front page of TRO. You have continued to prove time and time again that TRO is a credible site and a great community for everyone. With respectful and educational pieces like this you continue to show the diversity of this group and I applaud you for putting this up.

    I haven’t much experience with the titles mentioned above. I must admit that one of my favorite things about the recent Blue Bettle trades were their showcasing and celebrating the diversity with having such a focus on the latino community.

    Thanks for the great recommendations and the great post.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on February 3rd, 2011 at 4:36 am:

    Thanks Chris, glad you enjoyed it :)

    It’s almost a shame that there are few enough books out collecting these characters, making it relatively easy to feature them all in one post.

    [Reply]

  2. avatar Simon wrote on at February 3, 2011 10:28 am:

    A very interesting piece and well timed. Racism here in England occurs far less often than it appears to happen in the states, for that I am glad.

    The only racism I have ever encountered is the rising racism comments about people who looks “Muslim”, as there are far fewer black people in the UK. The racism I encountered was foul and I’d hate to be in the states seeing it all the more often.

    I have yet to try out Milestone but I know how big of a fan of them you are and I shall take your recommendation at some point in the future.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on February 3rd, 2011 at 11:40 am:

    I think the story in the 9/11 volume deals with anti-Muslim violence, actually. I haven’t picked up a copy of that book yet, though it’s high on my list once I start buying again.

    [Reply]

  3. avatar Ryard wrote on at February 3, 2011 8:28 pm:

    God, I hope these come out more in trade…it is damn near impossible to put together complete runs. I’m missing scattered late-Milestone issues (usually random mini-series issues, like Holocaust or Wise Son)…I even managed to put together a complete set of the trading cards, but hit a brick wall with the issues eventually. Haven’t looked lately, but should.

    I was very, very disappointed in the fold-in to the DCU and was very, very, very disappointed with Milestone Forever. On the other hand, I’m thrilled Xombi is coming back – easily my favorite. Icon and Static were great…Hardware and Shadow Cabinet were good…Blood Syndicate just wasn’t for me. And I can’t even remember Kobalt. Sigh. Time to pull out the longboxes.

    Hey, do me a favor and don’t do a “New Universe Month” or “Ultraverse Month” because I don’t want to have to go dig up those, too.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on February 3rd, 2011 at 9:22 pm:

    I’ll try not to ;)

    Honestly, I wasn’t as enamored with those titles (never saw em as a kid) so I don’t necessarily see it happening. I might start doing character spotlights, though, with recommendations on important trades and good starting points. But that’s down the line, just another idea bumping around in the old noggin.

    [Reply]

  4. avatar chanel ヴェルニ wrote on at August 16, 2013 9:03 pm:

    tiffany ティファニー

    [Reply]

  5. avatar Jacquelyn wrote on at May 26, 2014 7:52 pm:

    This is a topic which is near to my heart…
    Take care! Where are your contact details
    though?

    [Reply]

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  2. Chris D.
    wrote on at February 3, 2011 5:17 am:

    Even so, I’m glad to see that they’re in collected form…some of them are atleast.

    It’s funny, I was on ebay for the first time looking for TPB after reading how you were able to get some sweet deals on lots/sets/whatever you call them and I saw a set with both an Icon and a Hardwire TPB in them. I could have sworn that it also came with a Spirt TPB, but I maybe confusing sets. I was horrified to see that Spirit cover that was posted on the link you provided. Terrible.

    [Reply]

  3. Ian
    wrote on at February 3, 2011 5:57 am:

    Eh, don't be too hard on Eisner. Yes, it's a racist portrayal, and he's admitted to this and discussed it at length. But Ebony White also was one of the first black characters in comics with actual agency – control over his own story and heroic actions. I'll be discussing it more in depth once I make it to the Spirit archives in the timeline, but it's a complex issue. 

    On one hand, Yes, it's racist. Absolutely. On the other, I still believe the world is a better place for having the character vs. it never having been published. It's a shame that the cartoonist shorthand for “black” at the time was so amazingly distorted.

    It's a far cry from the mature characterization and variety of peoples expressed through the Milestone imprint. But there is about a 50 year gap between the two – our country had come a long way. It's amazing to think about what the city I live in (Savannah, GA) was like 70 years ago.

    [Reply]

  4. Chris D.
    wrote on at February 3, 2011 6:21 am:

    well that argument can really be used for pretty much any depiction of a minority in history(of any group, not just race). There has always been significant ignorance throughout history and it’s just amazing to see the portrayal here. As you’ve said before though, it is a product of its time. I doubt there was any malintent with the character. In our PC focused generation images like that are jaring at times (keeping in mind that even regional differences exist, where I find that sometimes we are WAY too PC out here). That’s not to say that the things we are surrounded by now a days won’t be looked down in a harsh light by our children. Every generation gets to criticise those that came before right? ;)

    [Reply]

  5. Ian
    wrote on at February 3, 2011 6:24 am:

    I suppose so – it wouldn't be right to entirely ignore it. I'm not suggesting cutting Eisner slack because of the time period. But the character is interesting in its own right. But we'll get into that more once we're actually looking at the work in depth. It's hard to discuss out of context – and there are 26 hardcover Spirit Archives worth of context!

    [Reply]

  6. Chris D.
    wrote on at February 3, 2011 6:28 am:

    It’s not only hard to discuss out of context, but it’s hard to have a discussion like this via forum posts too :)

    I really look forward to seeing your review on the Spirit…one of the granddaddy of superheros I hear.

    [Reply]

  7. Ian
    wrote on at February 3, 2011 6:55 am:

    And of comics as we know em. It's coming up soon enough, about 15 books down the DC list, give or take a couple archives I don't own.

    [Reply]

  8. Chris D.
    wrote on at February 3, 2011 12:55 pm:

    Let us know how it is.  I'd really be interested in seeing how they depict such serious subject matter.  It's something that obviously should be done more, but despite it being almost a decade out is still too controversial for most forms of media to tackle.

    [Reply]

  9. Chris D.
    wrote on at February 3, 2011 10:24 pm:

    I’m continually amazed at how this small community provides such education on the comic/trade scene. I really it expected to be all DC all the time, but at least a few times a week I learn really great info. All those characters that Ryard was talking about are completely new to me and now my interest is peaked in tracking down some trades. It’s also nice to have those names floating around in my head the next time I visit a random bookstore and may happen to run into them.

    [Reply]

  10. Ian
    wrote on at February 3, 2011 10:28 pm:

    I hope to keep the blog featuring relatively diverse content, since so much of the site will be taken up by the two main publishers at first. I think we'd all get a little too bored if it got too preferential.

    [Reply]

  11. Chris D.
    wrote on at February 3, 2011 10:44 pm:

    That’s great to hear. I remember being pleasently surprised when you first told us that you don’t mind at all branching out with the reviews instead of sticking strait to superheroes.

    [Reply]

  12. Ian
    wrote on at February 3, 2011 10:48 pm:

    Oh definitely. My obsession with superheroes is actually relatively new. The big gap in my life between when I was collecting Milestone and when I decided to read through the DCU from start to finish… well, it was spent mostly reading “arty” stuff.

    [Reply]

  13. Chris D.
    wrote on at February 3, 2011 10:54 pm:

    I just finished Fable and i’m almost done with Chew. Two trades back to back that didn’t involves capes. It’s refreshing and a very neat way to enjoy a different genre. With my new purchase of “Y” and “Preacher” I’m starting to get out of that “Superheroes only” mentallity for my collection and I’m loving it so far.

    [Reply]

  14. Simon
    wrote on at February 4, 2011 5:28 am:

    Superheroes are great but it's nice to get out of the mindset that all comics are about them, or at the very least read about them in different settings. This is why I really loved Ex Machina, it's a superhero book combined with a non-superhero (political) book, it combines both sides of the comic into one title and gets away with it. When you get a day off Ian you will have to finally read them, if you don't get distracted that is.

    [Reply]

  15. Chris D.
    wrote on at February 19, 2011 1:25 am:

    Hey Ian!
    My wife was nice enough to bid for and win a lot of 15 trades while I was sleeping today for my night shift. In the set was Static Shock:Rebirth AND Hardware: The man in the machine!

    She grabbed them for $5 per book and I just wanted to let you know how excited I am to read them. Funny, because just a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have any clue what they were and would be more excited about the rest of the trades that are mostly classic DC titles.

    [Reply]

  16. Ian
    wrote on at February 19, 2011 1:27 am:

    Awesome! I'm likewise excited to hear what you think. Sometimes I worry that a portion of my love for those titles is pure nostalgia, and a little confirmation that they're as good as I think they are wouldn't hurt.

    [Reply]

  17. Chris D.
    wrote on at February 19, 2011 1:34 am:

    They’re the first I’ll read in the stack when they arrive :-)

    [Reply]

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