Comicazi has a great selection of older comics. It’s the only place I’ve found in Boston with a size-able collection of Milestone back issues. Every few Wednesdays, after I buy my new issues, I take a comb through some of the racks of long boxes full of old singles.
Last week I nabbed a copy of Shadow Cabinet #0 by Dwayne McDuffie, the pioneering comic lover and creator of Milestone Comics, and Robert L. Washington III.
This 1994 issue begins the “Shadow War” story arc and stars all of the major Milestone characters – villains, superheroes and sidekicks – even introducing a new character Xombi, whose title comic came out around the same time.
If you’re new to the Milestone Universe, Shadow Cabinet #0, might be an overwhelming introduction. That said McDuffie and Washington do a pretty remarkable job working with such a large cast, briefly showcasing the powers, quirks, and personalities of each without too much sacrifice to the story’s action. They gave themselves 48 pages to do it, which gave them a little space to maintain the story arc and flesh out the characters as much as possible in brief bursts of stylized dialogue in between punches.
At times though things do get a bit jumbled and you wonder how any of them manage to talk so much in the melee of electromagnetic pulses, rain of razor-sharp steel, and stomping elephant-rhino morphs. In short, if you’re new to Dakota and the Milestone Universe and you dive into this issue, it’ll feel exactly like meeting your boyfriend’s very large Italian family… at Christmas… while the room is spinning because you had too much wine.
But let’s use this as a chance to meet a few of the faces of the Milestone Universe anyway…
Hardware (aka Curtis Metcalf) first appeared in 1993 in Hardware #1, which was among the first Milestone comics to be published. Curtis was a genius child whose talents and the interests of a rich patron helped him to ascend from his working class roots to a brilliant inventor making lots of money for his patron and now boss Edwin Alva Sr. After he is denied the respect he’s earned for his inventions, and Alva tells him he’s just “a cog in the machine. My machine”, Curtis starts looking into Alva’s business for a little leverage only to find that Alva was a serious criminal. When the legit ways of going about turning in Alva don’t work, Curtis takes justice into his own hands and turns his genius towards himself to create Hardware. Hardware is trained in martial arts, but his main “superpower” is his own genius and the crime-fighting inventions that come out of it, including flight weapons, armor, and sometimes just smart strategy for taking down the bad guy.
Icon (aka Arnus, aka Augustus Freeman III) is from an alien planet called Terminus. He crashed landed in his vessel in the American South in 1839, and his ship reformed his appearance to look like the first human who encountered it, which was a Black slave woman named Miriam, so he became a young Black man and took on the name Augustus Freeman. In the late 20th century, we meet him again as Augustus Freeman III, having assumed the identity of his own son. He is a rich corporate lawyer living in Dakota City. When he encounters a young woman who is part of a gang of youth robbing his mansion, one of the young women Raquel Ervin witnesses him using his alien powers. Raquel is a young aspiring writer from Paris Island, the poorest section of Dakota, and she confronts Augustus for being a privileged and powerful Black man and not using those powers to help the poor and marginalized in Dakota. Augustus is thus inspired to become Icon and he takes the young Raquel under his wing as a side-kick Rocket, gifting her with a belt that gave her the power to manipulate kinetic energy. Rocket fights crime by his side, but rebellious by nature, she never stops challenging him, especially his conservative politics and values. She later becomes pregnant by her boyfriend and gives birth to Amistad Augustus Ervin, becoming one of the few teen mothers in comics. She continues to fight crime and be a badass mom at the same time. Icon and Rocket first appeared in 1993 in Icon #1 by Dwayne McDuffie and M.D. Bright, which was one of the first Milestone comics.
Static (aka Virgil Hawkins) was a fifteen-year-old self-professed geek when his life changed after the events of the Big Bang in Dakota left him with various electromagnetic powers. Most lost their lives in the events of the Big Bang, which was marked by the release of what police believed was tear gas they were using to break up a confrontation of the city’s gangs, but was actually an experimental mutagen nick-named “Quantum Juice”. When the agency that orchestrated the event tried to capture Virgil for experiments, he fought back, discovering his abilities and becoming Static. Static continues fighting crime in Dakota while coping with all the typical teenage stresses and messes, but he does it all with his own geeky flare and punchy witticisms. He later befriends Rocket and other heroes in the Milestone universe. Static has been the most successful of Milestone’s creations, appearing numerously in the DC universe, getting a (now cancelled) reboot in DC’s New 52, and also appearing in his own animated television series Static Shock.
Founded in 1993, Milestone Media was a beacon in the comics industry, where there were few Black characters and fewer popular or non-stereotyped ones.The glory only lasted 3 years though, with the company becoming defunct in 1996.
Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle were among the founders along with Dwayne McDuffie (rest in peace), and they continue Milestone’s legacy in their work. Several of the Milestone characters have survived the imprint, however, and occasionally appear in the DC universe in small roles.
As you’ll see, these folk are kiiinda super awesome-mazing, and we should all campaign for their hardcore revival. Towards that end, I’ll keep shouting ’em out here at GeekOutsider, and we’ll meet up with more of them next week!