Appearing digitally for the first time, Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool collects the first arc of Milestone’s Static as well as the subsequent four-issue series that lends the collection its title. Written by late greats Dwyane McDuffie and Robert L. Washington III and featuring art by John Paul Leon, this collection highlights Milestone Media’s most famous character, and gives newer readers a chance to acquaint themselves with the Dakotaverse.
Written by Dwayne McDuffie and Robert L. Washington III
Art by John Paul Leon, Steve Mitchell, Hanne Kielgaard, Noelle Giddings, J. Brown, and Melissa Edwards
Letters by Steve Hayne and John Workman
Published by DC and Milestone Media
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Most people are likely familiar with the character Static from the animated television series Static Shock, or the character’s appearances in other DC shows like Justice League Unlimited. From the opening pages here, though, you get a sense of a grittier world than those series would allow. A huge part of this atmosphere is the artwork by John Paul Leon, whose sketchy lines are given a heavier feel thanks to inker Steve Mitchell. There are scenes where characters have incredibly detailed facial expressions and bruises, and other scenes where those aspects are a bit looser, giving off a 'feel' of a character’s mood, rather than explicitly showing the reader. That type of variance makes the issues a little haphazard in visual quality, but it also gives more weight to those emotional moments where every facial expression is rendered with excruciating detail.
The comics (especially the earlier Static issues) do date themselves a bit. Virgil and his friends regularly gather at an arcade, and there’s a recurring gag in which Virgil freaks out his love interest, Frieda, by answering the phone "Hel-lo, Frieda" whenever she calls. It’s cute, in a dorky sort of way, and it firmly calls back to a time where caller ID was non-existent, let alone ubiquitous.
What helps the issues feel timeless is the strength of the characters achieved by Dwayne McDuffie and Robert L. Washington III. Virgil argues with his sister, flirts with Frieda, and makes bad decisions based on the actions of his friends. Each of the characters feels lifelike and multi-dimensional, even if readers don’t get to see all those dimensions in these eight issues. Even with the villains and guest characters, like Hardware and Holocaust, there’s a sense of richness to the characters, especially in the non-superhero scenes. These issues don’t shy away from the crassness of high schoolers. While traditional swears get omitted (letterer Steve Hayne does a wonderful scribble that feels unique from the special character jumbles that are used today), both racial and homophobic slurs get bandied about here in a way that feels true to life and the times.
While the first arc features Static’s origins, the second arc features his return to the superhero gig. There’s a definite switch in tone, in part due to the evolution in Leon’s style (the first issues are from 1993, while the Rebirth of the Cool arc is from 2001) but also in part due to the different colorists. While Noelle Giddings used a more painted style and muted palette that helped sell the harder edge to the world of Dakota in the first arc, that same effect is achieved by Melissa Edwards in Rebirth of the Cool by allowing more blacks and shadows to create the atmosphere around a more saturated palette. This distinction makes it impossible for a reader to lose their place in the volume and helps highlight the separation of time in the story between the origin and the return.
Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool preview
The volume feels a bit barebones, considering the historic importance of Milestone. There are no supplemental materials, not even any background on Milestone or anything eulogizing Dwayne McDuffie and Robert L. Washington III. This could be due to this being a digital translation of a print collection that was published in 2009, but it would have been nice to see something special done for this version.
Beyond that desire for supplemental material, the volume does its job. By collecting both the first four issues of Static and the limited series, Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool serves as a great introduction to the Dakotaverse and to the title character. While some aspects of the comics date themselves, and the artwork isn’t always the most consistent, the characters developed by Dwayne McDuffie and Robert L. Washington III shine through, making the collection a joy to read. This volume is definitely worth a visit, and hopefully proves the need to have more of Milestone’s output available in a digital format.
Static is one of of the black superheroes that changed the face of comic books.