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Milestone More Than Black Comics

Milestone Comics was dubbed a black comic book company and ignored by the comic media. The imprint, while no longer with us, achievements remain unmatched.

Written by IsoRod, Originally Published on Feb 27, 2013

The History

Milestone Media best known for Milestone Comics and Static Shock. It was created to address what a coalition of writers and artists, many of whom were African-American, felt was the severe under representation of minorities in American comics. Milestone secured a publishing and distribution deal with DC Comic while retaining ownership and copyrights of all of their characters. The company was founded in 1993 by Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan , Michael Davis and Derek T. Dingle and the Milestone imprint (a trade name under which a work is published) would print their last issues in 1997.

Setting a Milestone

During the 90's there were a glut of companies getting into the comic book business, but Milestone stood out. Their distribution deal with DC Comics allowed Milestone to be “the industry’s most successful minority owned and operated comic company," as described by The Plain Dealer of Cleveland in 2000. Black independent comic companies criticized Milestone for their DC deal and claimed that Milestone was being used to undermine independent black comics that were coming up at the time. A claim Dwayne McDuffie disputes here. Milestone Comics during its run, produced between 250 to 300 comics which is probably the most ever released by a minority owned and operated comic book publisher. Milestone also had a tight knit continuity so events in one book would appear in all other books, allowing for a more cohesive universe. Almost all their comics came in on time, which is something that can't always be count on nowadays.

Things I didn't know

The first cover was the one that cause DC refused to print the issue. There are condoms in Virgil's hand and 2 condoms on the floor. The second cover was used for the issue. The compromise that was reached was making the original cover appear as an interior cover to allow the book to be printed. The last cover was an example of DC covers that used sexual poses to "to sell comics".

It was surprising to find out that the comic media like the Wizard Magazine, Hero Illustrated and many others completely ignore the Milestone imprint. DC Comics were considering not printing an issue of Static (which they had the right to do as part of the deal that allowed Milestone full creative control over their books) because on the cover he was kissing his girlfriend on a couch. DC stance was they didn't want "use sex to sell comics", even though many DC covers were positioning female characters more sexual poses on their covers for years. After seeing the image of the first cover myself, I have to agree with DC on this one, Virgil has condoms in his hand for Pete's sake. The Static Shock cartoon won an Emmy in 2004 and was the second most watched show after Pokemon (which was very popular at the time). Hardware and Alva (his main nemesis) eventually form an alliance, I can tell you I would never of seen that coming. Finally, the Dakotaverse (Milestone Universe), was completely adsorbed into the DC Universe proper in 2008.

In Remembrance

In February 2011, co-founder of Milestone Media, Dwayne McDuffie past away at the age of 49. He was known for his creating the popular animated Static Shock series. He wrote comics for Marvel, DC and many independents. He also wrote and produced Cartoon Networks Justice League Unlimited animated series and Ben 10: Alien Force animated series.

In 2012 another member of the Milestone family past away Robert L. Washigton III. "Washington's career boomed in the early '90s with the co-creation of Static, the superhero team Shadow Cabinet and a host of other comics, but he fell on hard times in the final years of his life." The quote is from the blastr article about raising funds for giving Washington a proper burial. Both men provided us with the gift of their storytelling and we are all richer for it.

Maturity Required

I didn't like Milestone when I was younger. The stories they were telling were unique and may have resonated with readers, but the world the Dakotaverse characters face may have been too dark for me at that age. Curtis MetCalf, Hardware's situation with his employer Edwin Alva, was a bleak story that seem to show a world no matter how intelligent or capable, you could still be oppressed. Icon, an alien being whose inability to understand black people's issues, even though he had lived as a black person in America since 1839. In Blood Syndicate, killing off Tech-9, the most likable character in issue five was just one depressing event too many for me.

These were not your colorful, angst-ridden, brooding heroes of yesteryear. These character lived in a much more ethnically diverse and harsher world. Where they dealt with issues like teen pregnancy, drug addiction and race, issues that still are avoided or dodged till this day by mainstream comics.

This is an incarnation of the Shadow Cabinet after the Milestone Universe merged into the DC Universe. As you can see the team has 9 members 6 of whom are woman. The team also is varying in ethnicity and sexual orientation (Donner and Blitzen are a couple).

In the Comic Alliance 2010 article, Milestone Forever - Being Post Racial Before It Was Cool, points out one of the most common misconceptions about the imprint was, "Milestone became typecast as the "black" comics company, but that wasn't even remotely accurate. Their characters were truly multicultural, ranging from white to black to Dominican to Chinese and beyond. Characters came from a variety of cultural and economic backgrounds and had diverse motivations." Another quote from the article which also caught my eye; "Milestone, way back in the bad old days of 1993, had a world that looked like our world when the Big Two(Marvel and DC comics) were pushing something that didn't. Even today, Milestone puts them to shame. They represented for all races, genders, and religions. Wise Son of the Blood Syndicate is a Muslim, and sometimes struggled with living according to his faith. Other characters didn't."

In Closing

It is surprising in this day an age DC is just introducing a mainstream Muslim character, the newest Green Lantern. DC also seems to be choosing between Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender(LGBT) or Persons of Color (PoC) characters instead of including both. DC cancelled most of the PoC comics reintroduced in The New 52, such a Mr. Terrific, Static Shock, Voodoo and even Justice League International, which had a multi-cultural team and was doing decent in sales. The books, the first three especially did suffer from weak/ill-conceived stories and low sales, but the characters are pretty strong and compelling by just looking at their previous comic book outings.

Marvel seems to be making a conscience effort to have more diverse Avengers and X-Men teams in the comics with the Marvel Now! push, but seems to miss the mark on the big screen.

I like comics a lot and have love seeing the rise of the comic book films, but till this day no other comic book company can say they have achieved what Milestone did in the short period of time that they were activate. Milestone created a deep rich universe that actually looked a lot more like the real world than anything to date, which include women, people of color and LGBT characters. Even though I couldn't appreciate it at the time Milestone Comics was truly a 'milestone' for comics and one I hope to see reached again and hopefully one day even surpassed.

Below are the comments from the original post which made it much better. 

1. Josef
I didn't know there was such a varied and interesting history behind Static Shock and Milestone Comics. I only knew of him from the Saturday morning cartoons. My library just got the collected graphic novels in and on the strength of this post, I went to try to check them all out. Sadly, the Static was already checked out but I got Hardware and Icon and am enjoying them. Thanks for dropping the knowledge!

2. isorod
I'm glad to hear it. Writing the article also taught me a lot about the company and I never realized how ignored the whole enterprise was and how progressive the books really were.

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