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Return of the Cool, and a Fallen Hero

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Return of the Cool, and a Fallen Hero

My last column, “The Next Milestone,” hit the Net on a Monday.

The next day, a major announcement concerning Milestone Media, Inc., the first mainstream Black-owned comic book company to have a business partnership with DC Comics, was reported throughout entertainment circles with the impact of an atomic bomb.

Warner Bros. Digital Division Announces “Static Shock” Live-Action Project

Warner Bros., the parent company of DC Comics, announced Blue Ribbon Content as the official name of its short-form digital division, and revealed one of their premiere projects set for the digital entertainment realm to be a live-action “Static Shock” series.

“Static Shock” is based on the Milestone hero Static, a Black teenager with a genius I.Q. and the superhuman ability to generate electricity for various purposes, including, of course, fighting for what’s right against the villains of the world.

This upcoming live-action series is nothing less than a major victory for Milestone Media, Inc., its founders and alumni, Warner Bros., and all of the fans whose support for Milestone and Static made the character a viable choice for this digital entertainment platform.

Milestone Co-Founder Michael Davis penned a detailed and revelatory column on the history of Milestone Media, Inc. and the multilayered origin of Static, to set the record straight and kick off this new era for the character and its creators.

Many characters and intellectual properties which we love are maintained with hard work and love by a legion of creators, and the list is long for Static, to the point where I would need a handful of columns to give each and every person their proper due.

I’d like to take this time to talk about one writer in particular.

Maddie Blaustein.

Wikipedia will tell you Maddie was born “Adam Blaustein,” which is true and how I first came to know her, but she died as “Maddie,” and I will refer to her as such throughout this story.

Maddie and I worked at Milestone at the same time. She was charming, intelligent, and talented.

The “Static” comic book was first written by Dwayne McDuffie, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Milestone, and Robert Washington III. After the initial storyline, Dwayne handed Bob (as a lot of us affectionately called Robert) the reins and he was the solo writer of “Static.” Bob’s style was so unique in voice, clever and vibrant, that it was compared to the quintessential Spider-Man stories in spirit, and deservedly so. Bob’s writing was so intrinsic to the identity of “Static” that any writer who followed had big shoes to fill, and they knew it.

The first writer to follow Bob’s run was Ivan Velez, Jr., the author of such groundbreaking comics as “Tales From The Closet” and Milestone’s “Blood Syndicate.”

The second writer to follow Bob’s run was Maddie, along with her life partner and co-writer Yves Fezzani. She viewed the opportunity as an honor, took it on, and gave her own distinctive style and flair to the mythology of Milestone’s most popular teenage hero.

In fact, her first issue, “Static” #31, was illustrated by the legendary Gil Kane, co-creator of the popular DC Comics superhero Green Lantern and easily one of the seminal comic book illustrators of the industry’s highly-respected Silver Age of Comics.

Now that’s a way to start a comic book run, and Maddie did so in expert fashion.

Maddie was transgender, and not only did she not shy away from this in her professional life, but she explored gender identity in the Milestone miniseries “Deathwish.” Based on the vigilante character introduced in Milestone’s “Hardware” series, the story was focused on Marisa Rahm, the city’s first transgender detective. The character of Deathwish was really a foil for Marisa, because through hunting down Deathwish, she was profoundly transformed and affected. The love story explored the transgender community and lifestyle from Maddie and Yves’ authentic point of view, and this story was told in 1994.

Twenty years ago.

Before it was “fashionable.”

Maddie was ahead of the curve in the examination of her people in the comic book medium.

Maddie’s “Static” stories, however, were not a place where she explored that, because she was a writer, first and foremost, and she did not use every creative opportunity to inject transgender issues into her stories.

Because you know, that’s what the comic book community expects of every writer who is not a Caucasian heterosexual male. They think an agenda is coming, a crusade for ethnicity or gender. It’s one of the reasons there aren’t more Black writers in mainstream comics, and it’s also one of the reasons Milestone Media, Inc. was a company of an evolved creative mindset.

Milestone invited everyone, come as you are, and it wasn’t just about being Black.

Maddie wasn’t Black, she wasn’t heterosexual, and she wasn’t someone with a huge AGENDA in capital letters.

She had a big heart, and she wore it on her sleeve sometimes.

During my time working at DC Comics, Maddie worked there as well, so we reconnected and picked up where we left off as if four years had passed in the blink of any eye.

After I left DC Comics, I saw Maddie one more time in 2002, when I lived in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn for a year. On that day, I had the pleasure of meeting her life partner, Yves, whom I only knew through Maddie’s stories and Yves’ work with her on “Deathwish,” “Hardware,” and “Static.”

Maddie passed away in 2008.

When I think of her, my mind usually goes back to the beginning, at Milestone where we met. I could tell you many stories about her, but the important thing for me is to remember her.

So when you think of the upcoming “Static Shock” series, remember that the mythology of Static which a number of you are well aware of, or may learn about for the first time when you see the live-action series from Warner Bros., was enriched by the love and respect writers like Maddie had for the character.

The story of realizing that being special and different doesn’t make you abnormal or less than the people who don’t understand you… that’s intrinsic in the story of the superhero called Static.

It’s also intrinsic in the story of Maddie Blaustein.


Joseph Phillip Illidge is the Head Writer for Verge Entertainment (www.verge.tv), a production company co-founded with Shawn Martinbrough, artist for the graphic novel series “Thief of Thieves” by “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman, and videogame developer Milo Stone. Verge has developed an extensive library of intellectual properties for transmedia development. Live-action and animated television and film, videogames, graphic novels, and web-based entertainment.

Joseph has been a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics, and politics at Digital Book World’s forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, Purdue University, on the panel “Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books,” and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.

His latest project is “The Ren,” a 200-page graphic novel about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war and spotlighting the relationship between art and the underworld. “The Ren” will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.

[“The Mission” banner designed by Gavin Motnyk.]

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