This week my Black History Month series on notable African-American characters shines the spotlight on Static Shock.
Static Shock was a character in the Milestone Universe. An independently owned imprint of DC Comics launched in 1993 it was formed by a group of African American artists and writers. Their mission was to have a better, more wide ranging representation of minority superheroes. Static was their Spider-Man, basically. The teenager thrust into the superhero life and learning all the responsibilities than come with it. Static is important not just as a representative of the short lived, but important, imprint but also because he transcended it. He was given an animated series on the WB that was quite successful. He was then absorbed into the DC Universe, where he became a member of the Teen Titans. He survived the culling that led to the New 52 and even had a solo title. Sadly it only lasted 8 issues.
Virgil Ovid Hawkins is a 15 year old from a tough urban neighborhood. He is a comic book reading, video game and RPG playing geek. He is constantly fighting all the pressures urban youths face, lack of money, getting beaten up, and drugs. In the television incarnation he had lost his mother to gang violence but she is alive and lives with him, his father and sister in the original comic series. He goes to confront a gang member who has been bullying him and ends up at the place where the Big Bang happens. Police, knowing three gangs are coming together for a summit, decide to douse the crowd with tear gas containing radioactive markers. Unfortunately the results are not as expected, 90% of the people in the vicinity are killed and the others end up with superpowers. They are called Bang Babies and this is where Static and most of his villains get their powers. Static ends up with the power to control electromagnetic energy and tap into the Earth’s electromagnetic field. He is also extremely intelligent and gifted in the sciences which contributes to his ability to strategize and create tech to aid himself and other heroes.
Static’s appeal lay in his ability to be the smooth dashing Static Shock, when in reality he’s an awkward, shy, geeky 15 year old kid like the rest of us. We love the idea of the mask letting us be charming and confident, just like Spider-Man. He’s no rip off though. He stands as his own character. Virgil is somebody you’d want to be friends with, hang out and play games with. He is the character all comic universes’ need, the way in for the reader. Peter Parker and Kitty Pryde are two others. Young, still finding themselves, in awe of the powers and the world they find themselves in and so very familiar to the readers.
This is why the WB saw a Static Shock series as appealing. He brought diversity to the Saturday morning cartoon line up but kids of all backgrounds could still identify with him. He’s funny and charming and finds it very difficult to show that when he’s around other people, but put on a uniform and a mask on and all his social awkwardness leaves him. What kid wouldn’t find that appealing?
Static Shock keeps finding new life because he’s such an appealing every kid. He is not just a Black superhero he’s a teenaged superhero, a geek superhero and a brilliant superhero. He is far more than the sum of his parts.
Essential Static Shock