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Forward and Proud: The Legacy of Milestone Comics

Forward and Proud: The Legacy of Milestone Comics

By Donovan Morgan Grant Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

Milestone holds a reputation as a groundbreaking line of comics featuring a diverse cast of characters. But their legacy extends far beyond the color of their heroes’ skin.

Not sure if you’re heard, but Milestone Comics is back.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, when Milestone first premiered in 1993, it ushered forth dozens of characters, heroes and villains of different backgrounds. It was unlike anything mainstream comics had published before. Superficially known as simply a Black comic company, the Milestone books sought to represent diversity through avenues beyond simply race. With four initial titles—Static, Icon, Hardware and Blood Syndicate—characters of different socio-economic backgrounds, races, religions, sexual orientations and gender identities were presented through superhero stories that stayed true to the genre while simultaneously reinventing it. Even more important, the diverse characters played diverse roles within these stories. Let’s look at the different topics and social issues Milestone tackled through its four headlining books and the legacy it created that still lives on today.

LGBTQ+ Identity

Queer representation in mainstream comics has had a storied history, often falling into coding in order to stay within the boundaries of the Comics Code Authority. Milestone managed to be published outside the confines of the CCA, allowing for stronger content to be printed without any pressure to be censored. As a result, not only could the books be more violent, but real-world themes found their home in every book. Blood Syndicate and Static featured gay characters, both as main and supporting players. In Blood Syndicate, the character Fade fights the villain Demon Fox who battles with supernatural powers. During this fight, Demon Fox lays it plain that Fade’s been denying his sexuality to everyone, even himself. After the battle, Fade’s terrified that his teammates will find out about him, even though a few have already figured it out on their own.

More notably in Static, Virgil’s friend Rick Stone is found by our hero after he's been beaten up by a gang of bigots. Here Rick comes out to Static as gay, a fact he’d been denying despite daily taunts from his circle of friends. The revelation stuns Virgil, who struggles to cope with his own latent homophobia. Eventually, at a Gay Rights demonstration, Virgil and his friends are attacked by the villain Hotstreak, who arrives with counter-protestors hoping to start a riot. Static and Hotstreak duke it out over the streets of Dakota, while Rick’s friends bear witness to the kind of violence gay communities suffer regularly.

Power and Responsibility

Respectability politics is a common discussion in Civil Rights, seeking to distinguish taking necessary action from what those actions say about the individual. This is addressed right away in Icon, where the hero Augustus Freeman IV is approached by a teenage girl named Raquel. After Raquel is talked into a failed attempt at breaking into Freeman’s mansion, she's inspired to become a superhero and pleads with the wealthy lawyer to help her rise up the lower class of Dakota by becoming a costumed champion for people to look up to. In other words, an icon.

Icon has always lived by the mantra of “Pulling one up by one’s own bootstraps.” But after meeting Raquel, he’s forced to confront the facts about his existence and realizes he’s been self-centered and irresponsible.

Raquel must deal with this question of power and responsibility too. Very early in the series, she discovers she’s pregnant. After finding her calling as Icon’s partner Rocket, Raquel must make a decision that would affect everyone around her. Her mother had her when she was young, and in their household, there isn’t really the financial means for Raquel to raise a baby. Still, Raquel decides to carry the child to term, and gives her best friend Darnice the Rocket technology to carry on in her place during her maternity leave.

Vengeance and Respect

The flashpoint event of the Milestone Universe is "The Big Bang," a gang war that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people due to police interference with an experimental chemical known as Q-Juice. Publicly, the deaths were attributed to the violence of the gangs, particularly the Paris Bloods and the Force Syndicate. But everyone who gained special abilities that night, from Virgil Hawkins to the members of the Blood Syndicate and the other “Bang Babies” know it was the police interference that was responsible. Creator Denys Cowan attributed this to a real-life event when he was a guest on the webseries DC Daily, saying that the actions from the government were so shocking, they seemed to come straight from a comic book.

The Blood Syndicate was a gang composed of men and women from different racial and religious backgrounds who operated as a single unit, dysfunctional but with noble intentions. They sought revenge on those who wronged them. The same was the case for Hardware. Curtis Metcalf was a child prodigy and technological genius who was groomed by businessman Edwin Alva to work for him, providing his company with inventions that made millions. When Curtis requested his royalties, Alva coldly denied him, which led Curtis to discover that Alva’s businesses were fronts for criminal operations. The revelation led Curtis to an epiphany that his life’s work had been for the interests of others, as illustrated in a repeating metaphor of a bird fleeing a bird cage only to fly into a glass window.

Writer Dwayne McDuffie, along with co-creators Ivan Velez Jr., Denys Cowan, Robert Washington III and many others incorporated not just different stories from the superhero norm, but different themes reflecting the difficulties of navigating a world whose media only reflects a small group of people. These themes resonated with readers and over the years they've continued to do so, with Milestone's characters eventually finding new life in the Static Shock animated series, Young Justice and very soon, the Milestone relaunch. Because of Milestone's contributions, the DC Universe is that much stronger and offers more storytelling avenues than it possibly could have without them.

The first few issues of Static, Icon and Hardware are all available digitally and on DC Universe Infinite (and more is on the way!). Look for all-new comics from Milestone starting later this month with Milestone Returns #0.

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Donovan Morgan Grant and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.