This is primarily a classic video game blog, but today marks a special occasion that I want to celebrate.
Twenty years ago to the day, the entertainment company Milestone Media was brought into existence. Founded by a group of artists and writers—Michael Davis, Denys Cowan, Derek T. Dingle and the late Dwayne McDuffie (Christopher Priest contributed as well but would leave for personal reasons)—Milestone Media sought to better represent minorities in comic books. Although Milestone Media only published new material for a few years years, its characters and stories have etched an important (though perhaps underappreciated) place in comic book history.
Milestone Media (also known simply as Milestone) had its work published through DC Comics in a deal that allowed Milestone’s creators to keep the rights to their characters as well as full creative control over their projects and the final say on any merchandising and licensing deals. Some black creators of the time were critical of Milestone’s publishing deal, feeling that Milestone had sold out by going to a mainstream publisher instead of being purely independent.
Milestone’s stories took place mainly in what was known as the “Dakotaverse”, named after the fictional town of Dakota where much of Milestone’s comics took place. The Dakotaverse was initially separate from the DC Comics universe, the initial connection being that the DC characters were known as comic book characters to the Dakotaverse characters.
Milestone’s universe was filled with diverse characters and topical stories that reflected various backgrounds, beliefs, socioeconomic statuses, ethnicities, etc. A sampling of Milestone’s character library include Hardware, the black genius vigilante who donned an armored suit; the multi-ethnic superhero group Shadow Cabinet; the Korean-American hero Xombi; the alien superhero Icon and his sidekick Rocket; and the black teenage superhero Static. The stories themselves often covered contemporary topical issues that young adult readers could identify with. Examples of this include Static’s struggles with his own homophobia (after his best friend Rick admitted he was gay) and Flashback, (a member of Blood Syndicate) who became addicted to drugs to cope with the deaths of her friends.
Around the mid 1990s, Milestone experienced some sluggish sales, in part due to the overcrowded comic book market (which was struggling in general). Milestone’s sales peaked at the time of its launch, but began to fade in subsequent years. In 1995 and 1996, elected to cancel some of its poorer selling series and terminate plans for upcoming miniseries. By 1997, Milestone had closed its comic book division. Milestone continued to hold its rights to its characters, and later one of its popular characters would make his way onto the small screen.
In 2000, the television series Static Shock debuted on the kidsWB!. Loosely based on the character Static, the show chronicled the life of Virgil Hawkins as he goes from bullied teenage outcast to a wise cracking supercharged hero. Static’s co-creator Dwayne McDuffie served as a story editor for the show and wrote several of its episodes. The show was popular amongst consumer and critic alike, lasting four seasons and winning an Emmy Award and a Humanitas Prize. During the show’s run, Static encountered many characters from the DC Universe, among them Batman, Flash, Superman and Poison Ivy.
At Comic Con in 2008, DC Comics’ executive editor Dan DiDio revealed that the company would be merging the Dakotaverse and the DC universe together. The result saw characters like Icon and Rocket appearing in Young Justice and Static joining Teen Titans. The excitement died down within a year. In an interview with Newsarama.com that the site posted on August 24, 2009, DiDio stated that outside of Static’s run with the Teen Titans, there “were no other plans” for any new releases featuring Milestone characters. That same day, Dwayne McDuffie expressed his discontent with DC’s handling of the Milestone characters on his forum, stating that DC had “wasted his time”. The following year, McDuffie wrote Milestone Forever, a two-part series published by DC which chronicled the fates of the Milestone characters.
DC decided to reboot its comic book franchises in 2011 with its “New 52” lineup, and with the release of Static Shock #1, Static was the lone representative of Milestone to get his own series. However, the new Static Shock series was canceled eight issues into its run, and although the character has recently appeared in the cartoon Young Justice: Invasion, that too has also been canceled.
The legacy of Milestone is not just in the characters it gave the industry. It’s not only an achievement of Black creativity (it’s a great achievement in general). It can be seen in its courage, its mission not only to make the comic book industry more ethnically diverse for diversity’s sake alone, but to tell stories that actually focused on topical issues from an angle that had rarely been seen then and is scarce in the mainstream even now.
For more information on Milestone, check out the unfinished documentary on YouTube uploaded by blackherodoc. Until next time.
Peace & Panels (comic book panels)