September will see big changes for the heroes of the DC Comics Universe as the company’s 52-title relaunch rolls out new comic books, new heroes and new takes on old characters and titles. Among those characters getting revamped is the awkward but brilliant high school student Virgil Hawkins — also known as the electromagnetically powered teenage superhero Static Shock.
Created for Milestone Comics by the late Milestone founder and comic book writer Dwayne McDuffie, fans have been waiting for the new “Static Shock” series since it was announced earlier this year. Originally the series was slated for release in May with “Nightwing” artist Scott McDaniel drawing and “Fringe” scribe Felicia Henderson writing. After McDuffie’s tragic passing, however, the series was postponed and Henderson ended up writing a story for DC’s “Static Shock Special” tribute comic. The postponement finally ended last week when “Static Shock” was announced as one of DC’s relaunch titles in September, with longtime Milestone creator and current “Xombi” writer John Rozum taking over writing duties and McDaniel co-writing and drawing the series.
To learn more about “Static Shock” and the character’s move from Dakota to New York, CBR News spoke with both McDaniel and Rozum about Virgil’s need to reinvent himself for a new city while they reinvent him for a new audience.
CBR News: The new “Static Shock” series comes out in September with John writing and Scott doing art and also co-writing. How did this collaboration on “Static Shock” come about? Did you two know each other or work together previously?
Scott McDaniel: I have never met John. This is the first time we’ve been together. I’ll speak for John and he can polish up when I’ve gone astray but when the change came with Felicia not being attached to the monthly series and bringing John aboard, I think they kept putting John through a ringer! [Laughs] They kept asking for concepts and ideas and the response was always, “That’s great, but give us more!” In the new spirit of collaboration DC wants to foster they encouraged the pencilers to get involved with the story conference. I found a way, I think, to help satisfy that demand for more, to give a context that provides some immediate urgency into the story and [give] a framework for some of these deeper, richer character moments.
John Rozum: Scott has been a real asset for this. He’s come up with so many great ideas and he really saved my bacon. There was a lot of demand for stuff. Initially the idea was still keeping Static in Dakota; when that was changed, everything I had come up with had to be thrown out. I was also finishing up work on “Xombi” and a few other projects and really pressed for time. Thankfully Scott came to the rescue, and he’s really been piloting the story so far, especially these first three issues.
McDaniel: I wouldn’t say that — I’m the benefactor of a really great collaboration that not only includes John but editor Harvey Richards. John and I were just talking about this the other day, that this reminded me of experiences I had in my earlier career in engineering. Working with architects that had to deal with clients, often the architect would try to get the client to articulate their vision of what they wanted. Try as hard as they might, the best they could get was their client would know what they wanted when they see it. I think to some degree that has been happening with the editorial demands for the content of the stories for the relaunch. They are able to articulate to a certain point, then turn the creators loose to do their work, and then they come back and say, “Well it hits on this point but it doesn’t hit on these other points,” and they send it back off for another cycle. Through that process I found it extremely exciting and amazing just to kick things around and just kind of measure it out and figure out what works best for the character in the context of the relaunch. John says I’m piloting the first three — I think we’re all in there in equal measure. There are so many ideas and concepts that everyone has their footprint in there. Now, I’ve sort of taken the lead as far as doing outlining for the next couple of issues, but that I think is a temporary thing.
One of the big things that is different in the new series, as you mentioned, is that Static is no longer in Dakota. Why did you pick New York City?
Rozum: I think it was that New York City has been a city, in DC’s history, that hasn’t really been a strong central city where books take place in — versus in Marvel where everything takes place in New York City. I think everybody who works at DC lives there and it’s a city people are familiar with whether they live there or not, so it’s an interesting idea. I was sad, as it would have been an easy way to bring in the other Milestone characters having it set in Dakota. It is more challenging, but not impossible — there’s another Milestone character in the first issue, in fact.
One of DC’s big mandates with the relaunch has been to attract new readers. With Static there’s actually a whole generation of kids and young adults who became fans because of Dwayne McDuffie’s animated series. Because of this, did you guys try to angle your comic to be more like the TV show or take characters from the show to try and tap into that existing fan base?
McDaniel: Actually that had not crossed my mind. I looked at the character as he was in print and tried to be faithful and honest to that but move it forward.
Rozum: I’ve actually never seen the cartoon! Until last fall I had lived without TV for ten years, so the whole time it was on the air I had never seen it. I know people are really fond of it and there are some differences between the cartoon and the comic, but we are really treating this sort of the same way I was treating “Xombi” where we’re still respecting what happened in the Milestone books.
McDaniel: That’s really important as a creator. Most of us as creators are also fans of the characters we read. We love these characters; we go on adventures with them and out of that bond comes a respect that you want to treat them with the tender loving care their original creators placed upon them.
Rozum: Absolutely. I think that also, anybody who has not had any contact with Static before can jump right into this and learn everything they need to off the bat.
McDaniel: And old longtime readers should not be offended by anything that we’ve done to his continuity or story or history.
Rozum: We’re expanding on the character and the history of the character and not overwriting it.
Talking about the original comics, Dwayne McDuffie often stated the point was that Virgil was really a goofy, dorky, normal teenage boy who just happened to have superpowers. While he’s been a lot more serious in his recent appearances in the DCU, will this Static be a return to that funny, quippy teen?
McDaniel: I think you are going to find that, like most people, their personalities don’t change overnight. So some of these endearing character traits will survive and adapt and grow as he adapts and grows as a person. I’ll just leave it at that. I think you’ll recognize him as the same person.
Rozum: I mean, he’s trying to do that thing a lot of people do where they move to a new environment and try to reinvent themselves. But he is who he is. That creeps out all the time with him, no matter how cool and mature he acts he’s still an immature goofball inside. And we’re playing with the whole idea of having a teenager with incredible powers who may not be making the most mature, right decisions on how to use them.
On the art side, Static has a slightly new costume. Scott, was this one Jim Lee designed or did you have the freedom to do the redesign on your own?
McDaniel: I went through my own little ringer through editorial on the early stories! [Laughs] I did a number of different designs and some of them were really out there. Over time I zeroed in on what they were seeking for the new look. Once I hit upon something Harvey Richards liked he passed that along to Jim Lee and Jim made some edits to it and that resulted in the costume you see now. Which is fun; there is a reason it [looks similar] because the costume was cool! It fit his personality and that’s what people recognize from him. It has a lot of similarity to the old but it does have a little modern twist to it, which was the intent.
Sounds like a lot of ringers!
McDaniel: Absolutely, but as frustrating as it can be on one side, on the other side it was incredibly invigorating. To get to a certain point you put your ducks in a row and you think, “Gee, how pretty they are!” And then you find out the lines aren’t straight and the ducks are the wrong color; you see it from another point of view and you go back in to reorder it. As a storyteller I found it really stimulating because I get to talk about this with John and Harvey who are so creative. It’s just been a joy. You can really steer a story with the turn of a few little things.
Rozum: I think unlike other times it was less just trying to make the comic of “Static Shock” right, it was fitting it into the bigger picture of relaunching 52 titles in September that all felt like they belonged together as a creative whole. I imagine most of the other creative teams had to go through a lot of finessing.
McDaniel: If I may add, there was another dimension too. I felt, and John I think you felt it as well, that as interesting a character Static is, in the relaunch with 52 number ones you have Static trying to compete with characters who are known far and wide: Superman, Batman, JLA and on and on. While we wanted to do things that were really suitable and right for the character we wanted to find the right angle to present it and get it started so it could compete with some of the bigger guns that are out there.
With that pressure in mind, how did you approach writing and drawing “Static?”
Rozum: When we started I did the same thing I did when I restarted “Xombi” which was to make a list of everything that I thought needed to be included in a relaunch to introduce the character to new readers and what needed to be added to move things forward. For here we started with the idea of defining Static by his villains because Batman and the Flash and a couple of other characters really have a great rogues gallery that really define who they are. Batman has all his psychologically damaged and sometimes physically damaged villains that mirror him. So we were thinking about who is Static and what he does and let’s come up with villains who really define who he is. He’s a smart kid, very knowledgeable of science with electromagnetic-based powers, so we’re starting to give him a lot of technologically-based villains with a lot of physics behind them. It’s sort of a science fiction feel without having it feel like “Batman Beyond” which is set way in the future. So you really pick that up right away, that this is all cutting edge technology all through the book; this could be happening not hundreds of years from tomorrow but two months from tomorrow.
McDaniel: We really wanted to catch the flavors. It’s a youthful book, it’s a hero book with a sci-fi spin to it, its urban — its these little distinctive qualities that work to set him apart from the other youthful characters in the DCU.
Rozum: Right, with his family playing a big part of it and him starting a new school and going through all of that too. The original series had so much balanced by the Virgil side of things that we wanted to keep the Virgil side in this important as well.
And that science fiction element plays to your strengths as well, John.
Rozum: The funny thing is Scott is the science whiz here, which is great. Dwayne McDuffie was always my go-to person when I had any questions of whether something I was thinking was plausible or not in terms of physics because he had a degree in physics. Thankfully Scott knows all that stuff! I have enough of knowledge to know where to start from, but once I start looking at all of the math I’m completely out of my element.
McDaniel: I knew my degree in electric engineering would come in handy somewhere along the line! [Laughs] That’s what I did for the first six years of my professional life before getting into comics. It’s fun and it takes me down memory lane. I’m just going to start putting equations in the plots, I think — lots of circuit diagrams!
Rozum: In an ideal world it would be really fun to have those retro things nobody has used in comics in a long time: “Here’s the math to the Baxter building! Here is Batman’s utility belt!” I kind of miss those things.
Scott, going back to the art again, you are an artist well known for your acting and action scenes. How did you approach drawing Static in action? Was it significantly different than how you approach drawing other characters?
McDaniel: Each character has their own distinctive body language. One of my most formative memories as a younger artist was on “Nightwing.” Editor Scott Peterson called me up and he was sharing with me the things he wanted to see in the book, and he described with great clarity the physicality that he wanted in the character. And that really helped set the tone on how I approached the book. While I’m trying to feel out Static, because it takes a little while to get into a groove, I have a definite idea of what I want to accomplish with the physicality in the book. I want there to be a lot of action. He is capable of things other heroes are not and I’d really like to bring that to bear in the art. So I think it’ll end up being very kinetic and as dynamic as I can make it.
Rozum: He’s an interesting character because I realized going through all the old Milestone comics that as a hero he’s never really touching the ground. He is always in the air standing on something that he’s balancing on, flying around. Its kind of interesting that he’s perpetually in flight in the standing position, balanced on this flying disk and not running around and jumping off of things.
Scott, how did you first become introduced to the character?
McDaniel: Just incidentally. Casual reading here and there. I was aware of Static Shock but I admit I did not follow his series when he was published — but I knew who he was. It was really my association with Harvey Richards that got me involved with this particular project.
John, Static is a character that, while you didn’t write him, he came with you from Milestone and you were good friends with Dwayne. What are your feelings on writing Dwayne’s most famous creation and this new series?
Rozum: I’m excited for the comics out in September. I’m really pleased to be writing the book, it’s providing me with a lot of new challenges. I actually did write Static once; he had a guest appearance in an issue of “Kobalt” way back when. So it’s not the first time I wrote him, and even then I enjoyed writing him enough that I always wanted to go back to him at some point. I’m enjoying it. My thing about this, in terms of Dwayne, is making sure you are telling the best stories you can and making him fun and putting great characters in there. That’s my goal with this, to try and make the best comic we’re capable of putting out.
Are you guys are giving him a new supporting cast, or will he keep some of the same faces?
McDaniel: Every possibility is open!
Rozum: We’re really giving him a new supporting cast but we aren’t forgetting the people he left behind in Dakota. We’ll just say that!
John, we’ve heard from Eddie Berganza and Bob Harras that there are plans to bring back the “Batman Beyond” series after September. Is there any chance the same will happen with your current “Xombi” series as well?
Rozum: I don’t know anything at this point! I hope so. I think “Xombi” took everyone by surprise including DC. Despite whatever sales figures were begotten — remember all those sales [were] retailers buying way in advance of the book coming out and not knowing it was going to get the reception that it got. So I don’t know if people upped their orders or lowered them. I’m told that “Xombi” got the best critical reception of any DC book since the days of “Sandman” and “Watchmen.” I know I really want to do more with it and [artist] Frazer Irving wants to come back and do more with it. So we would be really excited it if started up again at some point after the relaunch.
To wrap everything up, you two have talked and lot about bringing the character back to his roots and making him true. Overall for you as storytellers, what is the appeal of the character Static Shock?
McDaniel: I think the appeal is: here’s a young guy who is smart, urban, cultural, the best city in the world right at his fingertips and he’s feeling his way around how to be himself in this new place and how to deal with his powers and just goes on some really great adventures! As John mentioned, it was really important for us to create an interesting rogues gallery that will challenge him, mirror him [and] bring out the best in him. I think that sums up everything. The civilian side is fun and full of its own sense of drama and adventure and the superhero side mirrors that on a larger scale. If you are interested in a book that features young people with a slant to the sci-fi side, give the book a try!
Rozum: I agree with everything Scott said. One of the things I like about [Static] is that he has all these powers, but we see him thinking about how to use them. There’s such a wide range of what he can do and there’s such a wide range to how he can apply his powers [that] he is constantly trying to think outside the box while facing his opponents. That really appeals to me. And it’s fun to have a character so youthful and going through that whole phase as a teenager thinking nothing can stop you, and also somebody so young and so inexperienced having what we see is potentially some of the greatest powers in the DC Universe, making him one of the more powerful characters once he figures out what he’s doing with it. It’s really neat to explore that all.
“Static Shock” #1 hits stores September 7 from DC Comics.