I SUPPORT BLACK SUPERHEROES [Belser-Verse, Part 17]: Static Shock!!

I’ll put a shock to your system” – Static

This was the greeting at the end of a cartoon I know a lot of kids in my generation, Static Shock. The show was fresh and vibrant and turned out to be one of the best black oriented cartoon shows ever made.  Let’s get into the history of a very dynamic character that continues that leave audiences electrified: STATIC!

MILESTONE!

Milestone Media is a company founded in 1993 by a collection of African-American artists and writers, consisting of Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle. The company is best known for creating Milestone Comics, which were published and distributed by DC Comics, and the Static Shock cartoon series.

The founders had worked for major comics companies like Marvel and DC and all felt that minorities had been underrepresented in American comics.  They wished to address this by creating a new line that showcase heroes from diverse racial backgrounds.
Static was created by Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle.  The character’s first appearance was in Static #1 (June 1993) written by McDuffie and Robert L. Washington III, and illustrated by John Paul Leon.
Though Static would become a main staple of the Milestone line, the character was originally developed for Marvel Comics. It was decided that Static should be a teenage hero, similar to the original run of Marvel’s Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.  Like Spider-Man, the original focus of the character was being a superhero while dealing with real life teenage issues of the day.
The character’s secret identity Virgil Hawkins was named after the late Virgil D. Hawkins, a black attorney and civil rights activist who was denied entrance to the University of Florida’s law school due to his race in 1949.
The character’s superhero name was suggested by writer Christopher Priest (best known for his run on the ‘Black Panther’ comics in late 90’s). The name was inspired by the song “Static” by the late Godfather of Soul, James Brown. The lyrics include the lines  ” Don’t start none, won’t be none!” which became the tagline of the comic series.
The late Dwayne Mc Duffie was the main creative force behind both the initial Static comics and The Static Shock television series. McDuffie described the character as such: “Like any other awkward 15-year-old, Virgil Hawkins worries about pocket money, getting beaten up, and drugs. But recently, he’s had even more on his mind: stuff like his powers, his secret identity, and drugs. Because, when innocents are in danger, and Virgil can slip away from class, the geeky youth becomes Static, the dashing, adventurous superhero!”

The Animated Series 

The animated series “Static Shock”  premiered on September 23, 2000 on  Kids’ WB. Static Shock ran for four seasons from 2000 to 2004 with 52 half-hour episodes overall. Despite its debut in the early 2000’s, the show was still one of the few times that an African-American superhero was the title character of their own animation series. The series was produced by Warner Bros. Animation from a crew composed mostly of people from the company’s past shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series.  This makes  Static Shock part of the acclaimed DC Animated Universe. One major difference was the involvement of two of the comic’s creators, Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan.

Static Shock was changed a bit from the original comic because it was meant to marketed to a pre-teen audience on broadcast television. Nevertheless, the show approached several social issues, which was positively received by most television critics. Static Shock’s episodes handle different issues, including gangs, gun violence, bullying, racism, mental illness, bigotry, and drug use. Other episodes also featured the subject of both Chanukah and Kwanzaa Christmas celebrations.

Static

 

Voiced by actor Phil Lamarr ( “MadTV” “Justice League”) , Virgil Hawkins is a 14-year-old who lives in Dakota City with his father Robert and older sister Sharon. He attends high school with his best friend Richie Foley, and has a crush on a girl named Frieda.  After a gang leader named Wade hopes to recruit him, Virgil is reluctantly caught up in an exchange of violence between gangs on a restricted wharf . As a result of the ensuing ‘Big Bang’ incident, Virgil obtains the ability to create, generate, absorb, and control electricity and magnetism. With Richie’s help, Virgil develops and takes up the alter-ego of “Static“.

    •  Static flies through the air on a disc called the Static Saucer. It was created by Richie who made it out of Mylar, a metalized nylon, a metal stronger than steel. The Static Saucer is lightweight and folds in half for easy storage, but when Static applies an electric charge, the device unfolded into a saucer.
    • Static’s ‘secret headquarters’ was an abandoned gas station (also found by Richie) .  Virgil dubs it the “Abandoned Gas Station of Solitude” ( a play on Superman’s Fortress of Solitude).
Phil Lamarr, the voice of Static. On voicing the character, Lamarr stated the following: “Virgil is what I always wanted as a comic book kid growing up: Black Spider-Man. A good (comic-book) story can make you live it, feel it, and when it does, it resonates on a whole other level. It was so real world, and a textured story removed from the 1930s ‘We are exhibiting the world’. I felt like it was drawn by somebody who lived in a building I could go into. It touched on archetypes as a comic fan that I loved, but also touched on my life as a Black man in the real world.”

The BIG BANG!!

The incident that changed Dakota started as a gang fight on a restricted area at the docks between Wade’s crew and F-Stop’s crew. Unknown to both groups, that area was harboring large vats of a biohazardous material owned by the villainous Edwin Alva (the mutagenic substance was there illegally!). Virgil was onsite as part of a forced ‘gang initiation‘ but ran as it was interrupted by police helicopters. During the dispute, the police fired a tear gas grenade to stop the riot. However, the canister subsequently struck a vat of the bio hazardous material. It caused all the chemical containers to explode, releasing a  purple gas that causes mutations among the people in the vicinity.  In addition to Virgil, the gas also gave the others in the area powers as well. Unfortunately, many of them become supervillains. Following the explosion, the hospitals were flooded with victims.  Some of the victims underwent immediate transformation while others had no physical damage only to mutate later. On some occasions, affected people managed to hold off the mutation under heavy pressure, but transformed once weakened, enraged or distracted. Years later, individuals who were never at the Big Bang also manifested powers, due to being exposed to minute vapor residue by contact with affected people.  The media in Dakota would dub this event “The Big Bang”.

NOTE:  The Big Bang may have been an indirect influence on the STAR Labs particle accelerator explosion in Central City on the CW show The Flash. Both events changed their respective cities, spawned a city-based superhero and created a number of mutated heroes and villains.

The mutated people are known as “Bang Babies” and their mutations varied from person to person. One common theme in most of them is the color purple. It appears either in their clothing or ,If they have energy based powers, it manifests as purple in color. Even Static’s electricity has a purple tinge to it.

NOTE: Static Shock is the first DC multimedia property to use the term ‘meta-human‘ to describe people that have acquired superpowers.  The term has been used by all subsequent DC animated and live-action properties.

Virgil’s Family

Robert Hawkins

Voiced by veteran voice actor Kevin Michael Richardson, Robert Hawkins is  a social worker who works as head counselor for the Freeman Community Center . A widower and single father, Robert is shown to be strict but caring  parent. He strongly dislikes gangs and the destructive attitudes of the Bang Babies. He is a childhood fan of the superhero Soul Power and eventually learns that Virgil is Static. 

Sharon Hawkins


Voiced by Michele Morgan, Sharon is Virgil’s older sister. She attends college, but she still lives at home.  A very conscious young woman, Sharon volunteers at a hospital and counsels young people at the Freeman Community Center.  Sharon and Virgil argue frequently but really do care about each other when push comes to shove. After their mother died, Sharon took it upon herself to act as the woman of the house, including when it comes to allocating chores between her and her brother.  Sharon likes to cook but is not very good at it. In a move similar to Flash Thompson in the Spider-Man comics, Sharon does think highly of Virgil but she is Static’s #1 fan.  She also has an on and off relationship with Static’s ally, Rubberband Man

Allies:

Richie Foley/Gear


Voiced by Jason Marsden, Richard “Richie” Osgood Foley is Virgil Hawkins’ best friend.  Richie acts as Virgil’s partner in his heroics as Static. A highly intelligent kid, Richie comes up with much of the crime fighting gadgetry employed by Static . Richie was not present for the Big Bang. However, in Season 3, it is revealed Static’s clothes still carried some of the gas from the night of The Big Bang and Richie was exposed to it as he saw Virgil the day after. His powers lay dormant until Season Three and gradually manifested as  superhuman intelligence.

Richie soon creates a number of inventive devices to aid Virgil as his crime fighting partner Gear :

  • a robotic computer assistance device called “Back-Pack”
  • Modified roller blades that turn into  thruster-equipped jet boots called “Jet-Blades”,
  • A sensor and neural interface control helmet.

NOTE:  When Richie is coming up with a superhero name for himself,  he contemplates names like “Steel” and “Hardware” but both are taken by other DC superheroes.

Richie’s character was based on Rick Stone, Virgil’s best friend in the comics, who is gay. However, his sexual orientation was never addressed on the show.  McDuffie did considered him gay and make subtle nods to the fact that he is in some episodes.

Rubberband Man


Voiced by actor Kadeem Hardison ( “Dwayne Wayne” from ” A Different World” ) , Adam Evans is also a talented musician with a reading disorder.  As Rubber-Band Man , Adam is a meta-human whose body structure consists of living rubber like Mr. Fantastic from Marvel Comics or Plastic Man from DC Comics. Adam can stretch his limbs to great lengths and shape his body into a wide variety of forms( He can even alter his physical appearance to look like another person).

NOTE: Adam’s superhero name is a nod to the song, “The Rubberband Man“, by the 70’s soul/R&B group The Spinners.

Rubber-Band Man first appears as a villain when he goes after an janky record producer who had stole one of his songs.  After being defeated by Static, Adam subsequently breaks out of prison. Instead of pursuing a criminal career,  Adam uses his powers to take up a new identity, a hot music star named  “Stringer”. In this new form, he also started dating Virgil’s sister Sharon. Due in part to Sharon’s positive influence, Adam decided to not carry on his grudge against Static. He even reforms and becomes one of Static’s allies in crime-fighting. While on patrol, Rubber-Band Man typically acts as an older brother figure to Static, keeping him from showing off and reminding him of consequences in their work.

NOTE: The name “Adam Evans” is derived from the names of former Milestone writers Adam Blaustein and Yves Fezzani, who created the character.

Further complicating things, Adam is the younger brother of Static’s archenemy, Ebon. Prior to the Big Bang, Adam was part of his brother’s gang before he took a stock-clerk job at a music store and started his music career.  Rubber-Band Man and his brother Ebon can both stretch themselves so it is possible that the effects of the gas may have something to do with the person’s genetic code.

She-Bang


Voiced by Rosslynn Taylor-Jordan, She-Bang  is actually a shy girl named Shenice Vale.  Shenice is really the result of a science experiment made by her parents, Jonathan and Dolores, who made her chromosome by chromosome.  Finding the need for freedom, she adopts a superhero identity of “She-Bang” . As She-Bang, Shenice possesses superhuman strength, stamina, agility, reflexes, and endurance( not unlike a Marvel Comics super-soldier). She would assist Static and Gear in crime-fighting but she adopted an arrogant posture as She-Bang that rubbed them the wrong way. That same arrogance caused her to make mistakes that Static and Gear would have clean up. 

Enemies:

Francis “F-Stop” Stone/Hotstreak

Voiced by former child actor Danny Cooksey( ‘ Salute Your Shorts‘, ‘ Tiny Toon Adventures’) Francis “F-Stop” Stone was one of the main gang members at the docks when the Big Bang occurred. After being exposed to the gas, Francis Stone became a pyrokinetic with the ability to create and shoot blasts of fire. His powers are not unlike The Human Torch and Pyro from The X-Men.

Prior to the Big Bang, Francis was a feared school bully and gang leader who went under the nickname of “F-Stop” and often went out of his way to hurt Virgil.  As Hotstreak , Francis was Static’s very first supervillain, giving him a challenge nearly every time they meet. The fights seem to be personal in some way due to  Static and Hotstreak already had history with each other. He seemed to mellow out as the series went on and he actually helped Static on occasion.

Ebon


Voiced by actor Gary Anthony Sturgis( ” Daddy’s Little Girls” , ” Diary Of A Mad Black Woman” ). Ebon is the series’ most frequent recurring villain and is widely seen as Static’ s  main archenemy in this series.  Ebon was born Ivan Evans. Ivan considered himself ‘a nobodyand a petty thief.  However,  Ivan was one of the gang members present at The Big Bang. The gas changed him into a powerful trans-morphic being. Taking the name Ebon, Ivan became a living shadow with the ability to control and manipulate pure darkness and shadows. Ebon is a walking inter-dimensional portal , able to transport others to various locations of his choice. His greatest weakness is strong sources of light. Ebon always held a grudge against Static for ruining so many of his plans. Some of his attacks against Static would even become lethal, but Static always defeated him.

NOTE: Ebon’s powers are a nod to the “Shadowslide“, the method of teleportation utilized by the Shadow Cabinet, one of Milestone Media’s titles. They are also similar to the DC villain Shadow Thief and Cloak from the Marvel duo ‘Cloak and Dagger‘.

When the ‘ Bang Baby” cure sprayed over Dakota, Ebon lost his powers. Desperate not to be nothing again like he was before the Big Bang ,he teamed up with Hotstreak and several other Bang Babies to return to the harbor and recreate The Big Bang again. Unfortunately, Ebon and Hotstreak absorbed too much gas and fused together into a giant two-headed monster that possessed both of their powers. The creature was beaten by Static and Gear, and lost at the bottom of the harbor. Neither villain was seen on the series after that . Their fates remain unknown.

The Meta-Breed

The Meta-Breed is a large gangster group of Bang Babies led by Ebon. Ebon is always recruiting newer and much stronger members to add to his crew and has come head-to-head with several other Bang Babies over the course of his life. The most consistent members were:

  • Shiv
    Shiv (voiced by Brian Tochi) is the psychotic member of the Meta-Breed. Shiv’s abilities enable him to generate pure whitish-pink “light energy“, which he  fashion into numerous weapons ( most often, knives or bladed weapons) which he could hold, throw, or fashion around his arms and hands. He is also revealed to be a huge fan of The Joker. When he encountered the Joker in the episode ‘ The Big Leagues’, Shiv tells the villain “Big fan, big fan...”.
  • Talon
    Talon (voiced by Tia Texada)  was a teenage girl named Teresa before exposure to the Big Bang turned her into a humanoid bird. She has a set of feathered wings extending from her scapula to her forearms, which enabled her to fly by flapping her arms. Talon also had clawlike digits on her hands and talon-like digits on her feet. Talon could emit powerful purple-colored hypersonic shrieks from her mouth (like the X-Men character Banshee and DC’s Black Canary). She was really bitter about throughout the series about her physical appearance. When the ‘ Bang Baby” cure was introduced, Talon  was restored to normal, abandoned the name of Talon for her real name, and even helped Static and Gear stop Ebon from setting off another Big Bang.

Celebrity Appearances:

Static Shock featured several episodes also featured the character interacting with real life celebrities. Guest voice actors included basketball legends like Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone, Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady and Steve Nash and musicians, such as the boy band B2K, the Backstreet Boys’ A. J. McLean and child rapper Lil’ Romeo ( who also performed the show’s theme song in the final seasons).

Justice League Crossovers:

As part of the DC Animated Universe, Static would have interactions with the heavy hitters of DC Comics.  Here’s are some notable appearances:

Static teams up with Batman and Robin when The Joker comes to Dakota to recruit Bang Babies in the episode, “The Big Leagues”. Static later teams up with Superman when Toyman appears in Dakota to find and locate his doll Darci after she escaped from him in the episode “Toyz N’ The ‘Hood”
The episode ‘ Hard As Nails’ featured a young meta-human girl from Dakota named “Nails” who travels to Gotham City hoping to find a cure for her condition.  She instead finds supervillains Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn ready to recruit for their own means. Static and Batman once again team up to stop the duo and save Nails.
The two parter “A League of Their Own, ” has Static brought to the Justice League’s Watchtower ( at Batman’s suggestion)to recharge the power core after a major outage. Unknown to all, the outage enabled  the villain Brainiac to infiltrate the station’s computer system. After the Justice League is called away, Static and Gear have to fight of their lives as Brainiac takes over the Watchtower computers and its devices.

Notable Episodes:

“Shock to the System” 


This episode shows the origin of Virgil Hawkins,  a smart, funny teen who tangles with school gang leader “F-Stop.” The leader of another school gang, Wade, protects and asks Virgil to join his gang. Wade tells Virgil to show up at the docks. Virgil is afraid to say “no”, so he shows up. When Virgil arrives at the docks, a gang fight ensues. As soon as the police get there, they start shooting, hitting some gas canisters and causing gas to spread all over the docks. Virgil runs home and discovers he can control and manipulate electricity the next day.He and his best friend Richie pick out a costume and a superhero name for Virgil, as he begins his journey as the teenage superhero Static.

    • One of the costumes Virgil tries on bears a strong resemblance to that of Black Vulcan from Super Friends. Phil LaMarr also played a parody version of him in Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.

“Jimmy”


After enduring merciless tormenting  from a group of vicious bullies, a disturbed little boy named Jimmy Osgood uses his dad’s gun to protect himself. In the end, he accidentally shoots Richie in the leg. Virgil must deal with the shock of the incident and his feelings of guilt for not preventing the incident.

    • This story unfolds through flashbacks.
    • Dwayne McDuffie and Alan Burnett won the 2003 Humanitas Prize in Children’s Animation for this episode.
    • Lynne Heffley of Los Angeles Times stated that Static Shock “isn’t your typical Saturday-morning cartoon series“, praising its themes and electing the episode “Jimmy“—about gun violence—as an example.
    • At the end of the episode, Static breaks the fourth wall and addresses to the viewers at home about the hazards of firearms falling into the hands of children and youngsters.

Static in Africa


The Hawkins family goes on a vacation to Ghana. While there, Static teams up with a legendary African folk hero named Anansi to stop a group of evil African bandits from stealing an ancient African treasure.

    • Several Spider-Man references are made throughout the episode.  The most notable would be when Virgil asks Anansi to “hit [the villain] with a web blast“, and poses his hand in traditional Spider-Man web shooter pose. Anansi’ s response is ” I’m not THAT kind of spider“.
    • The character Anansi appeared again in the episode “Out of Africa“.
    • The title of this episode is a reference to the 70’s blaxplotation film Shaft in Africa.

“Future Shock” 


Static is accidentally sent 40 years into the future, where he has to help the Batman of that era, Terry McGinnis, save a captured superhero: Static’s own future self.

    • Static’s future-self reappeared in the Justice League Unlimited two-parter “The Once and Future Thing” .

“Flashback”
Five years prior to the events of the show, a blackout hit the city, Dakota and the city was hit by gang riots. Virgil is struggling to regain memories of his mother Jean, who was killed that night.  Meanwhile, new meta-human named Time-Zone, seeks out the help of Static and Gear with her time-traveling powers. All three are sent back five years to the Dakota gang riots where Virgil comes face-to-face with his late mother.

    • The Dakota Riots are based on the Los Angeles riots of 1992.
    • Jean Hawkins is voiced by actress Alfre Woodard(Captain America: Civil War“, ” Luke Cage” )

Legacy:

Like Spider-Man for Marvel, Static has had the longest and most enduring legacy of any of the other Milestone characters. He has essentially become the face of that franchise and he has migrated to programs other than his own.

Multimedia Appearances:

Young Justice


Voiced by Bryton James (‘ Richie‘ from “Family Matters“),  Static first appears in the Invasion episode “Beneath” as one of the teens abducted by the Reach.

  • He has his first speaking role in the series on the episode “Cornered“, where Virgil  displays his manifested electrical powers for the first time.
  • In the episode “Runaways“, he and his fellow abductees (based on the various ethnic heroes from Super Friends, with Static taking the place of Black Vulcan) run away from Star Labs when they grow sick of the constant testing. The group then are met by Lex Luthor who recruits them.
  • In the episode “The Hunt“, Virgil and his friends destroy everything in sight relating to the Reach until Luthor convinces them to rescue the members of the Team from Warworld (which is now under the Reach’s control), using a Father Box to get there and track down Superboy. After the Team is rescued, Nightwing offers a place on the Team for the runaways, but they refuse when he kicks Arsenal off the Team despite him saving their lives and they leave.
  • In “Endgame”, Virgil meets Black Lightning for the first time. Impressed with Virgil’s skills, Black Lightning tells him  he would like to be his mentor. After the battle, Wonder Girl and Robin welcome Virgil, now going by the name “Static“, to the team. He does not wear his costume in this show, however he is shown with his circled lightning logo on his T-shirt briefly on the Watchtower.
  • In the third season, two years have passed with Virgil under the wing of Black Lightning, who has helped him further develop and perfect his power over electromagnetism. He is later concerned when Jeff admitted that he resigned and hoped that Virgil could find a mentor who was not damaged.
  • He joined Wonder Girl, Blue Beetle and Miss Martian on a mission on New Genesis, in “Away Mission“.
  • In “Illusion of Control“, he expressed his desire to find a girlfriend since many of his teammates, and even enemies like Devastation and Psimon, were an item.
  • In “First Impression“, he becomes a member of the Outsiders alongside Geo-Force, the second Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, Blue Beetle, Superboy and their leader Beast Boy.

Film


Virgil has a non-speaking cameo in Justice League: War. He can be seen sitting behind Billy Batson during Victor Stone’s football game. His appearance is similar to that of his Young Justice counterpart. This is the character’s first appearance in a DC film.

Static: The Movie?

Michael B. Jordan is looking to bring Static to the big screen

In August 2020, producer/director Reginald Hudlin announced at DC FanDome that a live action Static Shock movie is in development. The project will be a collaboration between DC Films, Warner Bros. Pictures, and Milestone Media. By October of the same year, Michael B. Jordan joined the production team as co-producer alongside Hudlin. Jordan’s company, Outlier Society, will serve as one of the production studios.

-JaDarrel Belser

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