To say the diverse and near-capacity crowd in Room 9 was eager to hear from producer Reginald Hudlin, artist Denys Cowan and Derek T. Dingle would be an understatement. The three creators, along with moderator and "Sleepy Hollow" actor Orlando Jones, arrived at Comic-Con International with big news to announce and discuss about what's being called "Milestone 2.0." And nothing was off limits, as the panel spoke about co-founder Michael Davis' Milestone legacy, plans for Static Shock, the return of Christopher Priest, and more. Plus, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee and -- possibly -- Grant Morrison's involvement with the relaunched Dakota Universe, possible involvement in the Warner Bros. DC-based films and much, much more.
"Hello everybody!" Hudlin said cheerily. "Welcome to the Milestone Panel. It's a really good day today. You may have heard -- we're gonna tell you about it, we're gonna talk and then we'll take questions. First, let's give a hand to our extraordinary host, MC, master of ceremonies, Mr. Orlando Jones!"
Jones deadpanned, "Thank you, yes. It's beautiful to have you all here. Clap for yourselves. Stop acting silly, keep clapping, be for real. Everybody having a good time? Yes? Good. All right. Who knows anything about Milestone?"
Most fans raised their hands, but one clapped. "I didn't say clap, I just said raise your hands!" Jones joked. "I don't want nothing over there in this section, I know it's gonna be a problem, I see it right now! Black nerd shirts on... This is an exciting time when you look at multiculturalism in this country, right? There's so much interesting stuff going on with flags going down and foolishness. I don't care about flags, personally. I want them to keep the flag up, 'cause then I know where all the assholes are. They a lot more difficult to find when they take the flags down, now, I know we should take it down but I'm just saying, I think keep it up for a little while so I can find them." Looking into the audience, he pointed at someone and said, "That's an asshole right there, that one ain't got no sense there. Makes perfect sense to me -- I don't care what y'all think.
"When you look at media, what I was excited to do, the reason I was excited to be a part of this panel is, when I look at multiculturalism in media, I feel like that's something Reginald Hudlin, Denys Cowan and the gentleman here have been really a part of for a very long time," the actor continued. "For me, I got to be a part of the fruits of their labor, 'cause I see 'Sleepy Hollow' and my role on that show and what that show ultimately came to be, hugely a part of what Black Hollywood has been trying to accomplish for a long time, which was multicultural representation across all color schemes and genders in a way that could be palatable to a mainstream audience. Ultimately, it wasn't about color. At the same time, you were telling the story that was broader, more beautiful, has more movement. In the following year, you saw 'Sleepy Hollow' be eclipsed by 'Empire,' the second hugely successful television show with a multicultural cast. It's an interesting time to be no longer in a position where we can point our fingers and say, 'White people don't watch Black content.' Not at all -- white people don't care. They're just a part of this community, as we are. We're excited to tell these characters."
Jones then asked the panelists to walk through the history of what Milestone was and discuss what it was going to be. The panelists were silent a beat , then Hudlin turned to Cowan, saying, "You were there."
Jones agreed, "Denys, I don't know if you remember, but you were there."
Cowan glanced around and said, "Now I've gotta speak? Milestone started at San Diego Comic-Con. It started with literally... I woke up one morning, and this is an idea that'd been germinating. We've gotta do a Black comic book company, I've gotta call my friends, and this is how we're gonna do it."
"What year was that?" Jones asked.
"It was 1991 or 1990," Cowan recalled. "It came out in '92..."
"So it was '90?" Jones asked.
"Milestone came out in '93," Dingle corrected.
"19... 91," Cowan confirmed.
"Were y'all drunk at the time?" Jones asked. "Seems like y'all don't remember..."
"It was so long ago," Cowan admitted.
"Okay, so it was '92, 3-ish..." Jones joked.
"I called up Michael Davis," Cowan continued. "We took a walk around the pier. I said, 'I've got this idea and I can't get it out of my head. Let's blah blah blah, call these people, it's gonna be a comic book company, it's gonna be this that and the other.' He was like, 'That's the worst idea I've ever heard. Nobody is going to do that.' I'm like, 'That's why we're gonna call everybody we know,' 'cause I'm like, 'Let's do it.' We called up Dwayne McDuffie, who met us that day. He sat in the lobby, I made my pitch. 'We're gonna do this thing, we're gonna have Black comics, blah blah blah.' Dwayne said, 'You are crazy. There's no way this is gonna work, so let's call some more people.' We contacted Derek and we also contacted a guy named Jim Owsley. Jim had worked with me at DC and at Marvel, in the past he had worked with Dwayne. We called Derek because he was the only business guy who would understand what we were doing. I've known Derek since second grade. Derek was the one who got me into comic books. Derek's the one who first showed me, 'This is a comic book, and people draw this stuff.' To that time, we never made a connection. 'Maybe one day, you and I could be comic book artists!' I kept going. He went next to a real career, a job. He was like, 'you're doing what?' We all got together and put together a proposal, kicked around a lot of ideas. We decided to create a new universe of characters. We wanted to make them all original. We wanted to make them archetypes. We wanted books that would last forever. We wanted characters that would be immortal."
Asked what were the successes and failures, Cowan admitted, "There's probably a region where we fell short. I think we were successful in our quest to create characters that spoke to an audience that hadn't been spoken to before. We got creators in who were able to give a voice to these characters that had not been heard before and made them authentic. We succeeded in doing that. Where we may have failed is -- I hate that word, 'failure...'"
"I don't think it's that either," Jones said. "I think you were ahead of your time."
"We were ahead of the curve," Cowan agreed, "but there was also perception problems with our audience that doesn't entirely have to do with us. The perception was that we were Black comic books for Black people, 'cause that's how I pitched it to Dwayne and everything else -- but we weren't. Dwayne was like, 'This should be for other minorities. This should be for women. This should be for gay people. What are we doing about transgender people?' Even then. That was him, adding all that and I'm, like, terrified. I'm like, 'We can't do this stuff!' He was so great. We all got behind that. That's really how Milestone became what it became. People's perceptions, though, were that it was a Black company for Black people, and the few Black people came into comic book stores, that's who it's for. They're gonna give it to them and not anybody else. Then, tell other people who come in the store, 'These books aren't for you. These are for Black people.' That's what happened. That thing [pointing at the screen] said 'Heroes for Everyone.' People had a completely different perception."
"It's funny that we find ourselves still fighting that perception today," Jones noted. "So much was pioneered by what you guys started at Milestone."
"I had done my first movie, 'House Party,'" Hudlin said, "but I grew up on comic books. That's how I learned to read. I knew these cats, I was fans of their work individually, now they were coming together to make what looked like Motown to me. I was like, 'Wow, that's great! How can I meet these guys?' "
Jones interjected, "Even after the success of 'House Party,' which was a groundbreaking, hugely successful movie that economically really changed the landscape of the studio at that time. We can't diminish how pervasive 'House Party' was as a hit, as a phenomenon, as a genre leader. You still decided that this was what you wanted to do?"
Hudlin hesitated, and Jones asked, "You really wanted to do comic books? You are truly a comic book nerd, I love you for that!"
"Making a movie made equally no sense," Hudlin countered. "When I was in college and everybody else was trying to get a law degree, a medical degree, and I said, 'Well, I'm gonna make movies,' they were like, 'Do your parents know that? Aren't you going to be disappointing a lot of people?' Everything is hard, I don't know an easy job to get. I might as well do what I want to do and fail at that as opposed to failing at the job you don't care about."
"Those are wise words," Jones agreed.
"So, yeah, I wanted to do comic books, because, why not?" Hudlin asked. "I'm still working on my 12-year-old bucket list. I'm almost there."
"I called these guys," Hudlin remembered, "and I heard what they were doing. I was super excited, I wanted to be down, and they actually invited me to be down."
"Reggie was literally, late at night, Milestone Media, we were just about to launch," Cowan added, "and we have a meeting with Reggie Hudlin. He comes to meet us and we're all in a room, sitting in a circle, like at a table like this..."
Cowan crossed his arms and made a stern expression.
"And we're like, 'Will you join us... or will you not?'" Cowan said ominously. "It was dark and everything, and you know, Dwayne was like six foot whatever, so he's just standing..."
"He was on the desk," Hudlin corrected. "I just realized, I'd just learned this one job, and I had another job lined up, and maybe I should get better at this job before starting up. There was another movie I was supposed to do, so I'm gonna go..."
Jones noted Cowan collaborated with Hudlin on the animated movie "Bebe's Kids" and the animated series, "Boondocks" and "Black Panther," as well as the comic adaptation of the movie "Django Unchained."
"Even though Reggie couldn't join Milestone," Cowan said, "we were still determined to work together."
"I kept dragging Denys into my projects," Hudlin agreed. "This animated movie, I don't know anything about animation... you draw comic books, that's almost like animation. We should work on that together. We just kept doing that for twenty years, and then something sad happened."
Hudlin explained that he launched his website because people in his audience weren't finding Diamond Comics' supported shops easily. The launch party, held at Los Angeles' Golden Apple Comics on Melrose, was visited by Dwayne McDuffie, just after he'd finished working on the animated film "All-Star Superman."
"He and Denys had a huge success in animation," Hudlin said. "Denys producing and directing, Dwayne writing and producing."
"He has just flown to New York to view the 'All-Star' premiere," Cowan added.
"I was at that premiere," Dingle said, "the pinnacle of his reputation and his talent. Two days before Dwayne's death, I had a meeting with a group of parents and young people, and we were talking about Milestone. I called Dwayne and said, 'You wouldn't believe how much people love what you do and what we've achieved.' Two days later, he was gone. What I'd like to do, is if everybody could just give Dwayne McDuffie a round of applause."
What started as polite clapping turned thunderous as the entire room ended up on their feet in a standing ovation for "The Maestro," as McDuffie was sometimes called.
"A couple of months after he passed, we had a memorial service," Dingle continued. "We shared stories about Dwayne."
We were at the Warner Brothers memorial service, right?" Cowan asked. "WB TV loved Dwayne. Dwayne wrote 'Justice League.' Dwayne wrote 'Static Shock.' He wrote 'Scooby Doo' episodes. He wrote 'Teen Titans.' There was nothing he couldn't do. Everyone in Warner Brothers Animation was very familiar with Dwayne and loved him..."
"What's going on with 'Static Shock?' The series?" Jones interjected. "Guys, I just need to know. Okay, okay, I'm sorry, I don't mean to jump the gun, but you know, I'm a fan, so don't look at me like that."
Undaunted, Cowan continued, "He had a lot of love."
Dingle said, "What was amazing about Milestone, was that... I'm the Editor-in-Chief of 'Black Enterprise' magazine, and I go to these conferences talking about business, Black business, finance, and whenever the Q and A session is, I get questions about Milestone." Dingle recounted a story about an investment banker who had grown up in a bad neighborhood with bullets flying around him, but read Milestone books as a child. "He said that Milestone saved his life. I was thinking about that, thinking about Dwayne, thinking about Denys and what we shared and you have to know that Denys and Dwayne represent two of the people who are most influential in my life. I never told Denys this..."
"Never," Cowan agreed. "Now, he tells me."
"I wanna have him cry," Dingle laughed.
"Don't be mad at him for picking the right stage to drop his bombshell," Jones added.
"Reggie presided over the memorial service," Dingle continued. "Right after the memorial service, I got Denys and Reggie together, and I said, 'We can't let this die. We've got to move forward with Milestone. It's just too important to the world.'"
"That was the end of 1.0 and the start of 2.0," Hudlin said, after roaring applause formt he audience had died down. "We've been working on this very privately for several years. People have been like, 'What's going on? I know you guys are up to something.' We never really admitted until last year. It just got to a point in our plans where we kept talking to people and they were like, 'is this for real?' We should probably tell people that Milestone has reformed.
"It got a huge response," Hudling continued. "The fans are still there, better and more than ever. Then we started having conversations with partners. We started, of course, with the folks Milestone was in business with originally, DC Comics. Long conversations, but really rewarding. We really start talking about the essence of the comic industry. Where comics are going in the future and what's the best way to reach non-traditional audiences, as well as connecting with the hard fore fan. It was really impressive to have those conversations with Jim Lee, a guy I've known for years, been friends with, just really strong insights. It really kept refining and expanding the business plan.
"Once we announced, there was this incredible response from the creative community, many brothers in this room who were like, 'I'm in, I'm down, I'm with you.' We actually had to shut down the plan and start over again. You're building a nice little house, and that house ain't big enough. What the audience was telling us, what the creative community was telling us, what the business community was telling us was that there was an organic need for what this was. At a certain point, you can't plan, you have to listen to the universe, you have to respond appropriately. The first phase of that was announced this morning when we announced that we'd be relaunching Milestone Media in a series of graphic novels, miniseries and special books in partnership with DC Comics."
The crowd burst into applause again, and Cowan said, "All the characters you know and love will be back. Hardware. Icon. Rocket. Static Shock -- Static, as we like to call him, because we're original, OGs. Xombi. I wanna say Blood Syndicate so bad, because everybody loves it. I'm saying Blood Syndicate."
"Where can I get my action figures and figurines?" Jones asked. "I'm sorry, there's just certain things I need to know about without wasting time on all this other stuff! That's cute, but where can I get my action figures and figurines?"
Hudlin said, "One of the most exciting thigs was that DC, we hadn't even finished the deal yet, and they called Denys and they were like, 'Look, let's get going on the action figures. Can you start doing some sketches?' That's some of the artwork you've been seeing up here, artwork for the figurines..."
"You waited all this time, tell me that now?" Jones asked. "I'm looking at the art, I ain't know. You could have been like, 'that's an action figure,' that's important information..."
"There's a press release and stuff," Cowan said. "They mentioned DC Collectibles is doing a Milestone Media kind of line. First one is Static Shock. You'll see him, he's dope as hell, I hope we get a shot of him."
"There'll be figurines," Hudlin said. "We will be reprinting the classic books. They'll be available in print and digital form. Of course there will be new books."
At that moment a fan walked up to show Jones that some sketches were already on the Milestone Media website. "This is really the time right now?" Jones asked incredulously. "Of the moments, you think this is the moment? Stand down, sir. I give love to you too, sir, but my inner Black woman, Orlandra's about to show up." Jones affected his voice and continued, "You know what? Sit down, I don't have time to play with you right now, it ain't all about you now, okay, boo boo? You doing too much."
Discussing the submissions process, Hudling admitted, "That's the tough part."
"It's not that tough," Cowan countered. "We're launching. We're putting things together. We're off and running and rolling. We're in the process of setting up our submissions. Guidelines and templates. Where you can, as a writer, who you can talk to and as an artist, where you can show your portfolio. Anytime you see me, you can always talk to me. I'll say 'send me your stuff,' then I'll take months to get to it because I'm so busy. It'll be better to be able to send people to a real place where they can send their submission to get it looked at real quickly. If we like you, we'll take you in. If we don't, we'll tell you how to get better."
"Which is the Milestone tradition," Hudlin said. "Finding extraordinarily mixed generational talents and writers and we'll be continuing that tradition with Milestone 2.0. We also will have some ringers. We'll have some extraordinary, legendary writers and artists working with us."
Hudlin revealed Cowan is already forty pages in to a new title and will be inked by "Electra" alum Bill Sienkiewicz. Hudlin also revealed that Jim Lee will draw a Hudlin script.
"His pal Geoff Johns was like, 'How can I get in on this?'" Cowan said. "We're like, 'You can get in any way you want to get in!'"
"I don't wanna call everybody out," Hudlin said, "but, like, Ken Lashley, please stand up."
The tall artist rose and was applauded by the crowd. Hudlin said, "Beyond being a wonderful gentleman, we worked together on a 'Black Panther' book, I remember those pages coming in..."
"I was so jealous!" Cowan said. "I'm like 'Who is this guy? He ain't that good. He can't possibly sustain this for no career. It's easy to pour this into a miniseries, but you can't do this for a career!' Look at him now."
Hudlin then asked newly minted "Cyborg" writer David F. Walker to stand up. The Portland-based writer reluctantly stood and waved to the crowd, and Jones lauded Walker's "13," which is in production at Legendary Pictures.
Hudlin said he'd spent 90 percent of his drive down to Comic-Con on the phone with editor and writer Christopher Priest, who would also be joining the new effort.
"It's time to gather everybody back together," Cowan said, "'cause we're gonna do it again. For real. It's gonna be intense. The things we're talking about are scaring me again. Like, 'there's no way we can show this to people! It's too much!'"
Following the panel, CBR spoke with Lashley and Walker, who both confirmed they had made verbal commitments to work with the company and were excited about the opportunity.
Hudlin then brought up the "Static Shock" live action digital series. "We're having a tremendous amount of fun, scripts are coming along great. It's been so exciting because there's been so much buzz and rumor on the internet. I'm like, 'Gosh, you guys really care about this!' We'll let you know soon. Join the band. Come along. Milestone time."
"What did I leave out?" Jones wondered. "Let's take questions!"
A fan applauded Jones' ability to favorite tweets while moderating the panel. "You blew it up like that, before its time," Jones answered sardonically. "Yes, I'm on my phone up in here, I'm multitasking. Deal with it."
Asked if the Milestone arrangement be the same as before, without DC editorial involvement, Cowan responded, "Geoff and Jim were joking like, 'You guys are gonna be our editors! Don't be mean!' I said, 'Of course we're going to be mean!'"
The panelists were unwilling to talk about Static Shock or casting at this time, but when a young fan asked if there was going to be a Hardware toy, Cowan answered, "Oh yeah," and the blushing boy retreated into his guardian's arms.
Comics creator Keithan Jones asked if the process of bringing the company back was being recorded for a documentary. Hudlin pointed to a man with a camera on the north side of the room, who waved at the crowd as he panned his camera.
"So few Black companies have their story told," Hudlin said, "let alone have a second act."
As Dingle was about to talk about Milestone as a business, Geoff Johns joined the panel on stage. Wearing a blue t-shirt and a battered Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles baseball hat, he sat down as Jones said, "Welcome to the party."
Dingle continued talking about the documentary, saying that Milestone was "the largest Black comic book company in the nation, and we're going to tell that story! We have a vehicle called 'Black Enterprise' that's going to help us tell that story. I think it's important to share it, it's as much a part of our history as Motown, as BET, it's the progression of what people who have vision and want to be inclusive can do in this country."
Hudlin thanked Johns for coming and asked if he wanted to say a few words. "I'm so excited about this and these guys," Johns responded. "As a comics fan, I grew up with the Milestone guys, Icon, I've been talking to Reggie about -- I want Icon so bad! There's so many great characters in there. When we all first talked about it, all your passion, what you guys wanna do with it, to be a part of that at all is really special and exciting to me. I love that we're all gonna do it together and that we're putting everything we have into it. There's a passion that we all share for these characters. I really just wanna come and support it because I love it and I love you guys. I know you guys [referring to the audience] are psyched about Milestone returning. When I got 'Teen Titans' twelve years ago, I wanted to have Static on the team. They were like, 'Oh, there's issues with Milestone." As a writer, I was like, 'Well, what? I talked to the guys and they're like, "Okay!"' To see that all get figured out, so we can just go create, because that's what we like best, there's nothing I love more than working on characters that have potential and bringing them into whatever new year it is. You guys, you're the best. I'm really proud to even be associated with this, so thank you."
Racialicious editor-at-large Arturo Garcia asked if the new stories would be a reboot and asked about statements made by co-founder Michael Davis at his Black Panel previously in the convention, saying that his Milestone legacy had been "glossed over."
"Some of the mythos and storylines, things that we did before, will resonate in what we're doing now, but it's a reboot," Cowan replied. "It's a new environment. It's the Dakota Universe, it's updated, juiced up. Theres new characters, old characters, there's a lot of stuff. As far as Static Shock is concerned, Michael's awesome, but the thing with Static Shock, there were five people in that room when Static Shock was created, very simple. We all contributed to Static, we all had something to say about him, we all jammed on Static just like the rest of the other characters. Any time you see 'Static Shock' on the screen, you will see credits. Do you know what those credits say? Michael Davis. Denys Cowan. Dwayne McDuffie. Derek Dingle. Every time. No one has been denied credit for anything. Let's look at the facts.
"Will that credit carry on?" Garcia asked.
"Of course," Cowan answered. "Joe Siegel and Jerry Shuster created Superman forever. It didn't change. It doesn't change with Static Shock."
A fan asked if Big City Comics character Brotherman would be published by Milestone. Cowan asked DC Comics Director of Publicity Michael Shelling to use his deep baritone voice to give the answer: "Brotherman works alone."
Another audience member asked for a new "Black Lightning" in the shape of Orlando Jones. Jones smiled and stepped back, saying, "I know I'm waiting on an answer right now. We can just move on if it's uncomfortable, I don't wanna fight about it, it's all good. I'll do it, but seriously, don't make it weird."
"Black Lightning is not a Milestone character," Cowan said.
Glyph Award-winning illustrator Jason Reeves asked if Milestone would be willing to publish characters and intellectual properties from established creators.
"We are still building the foundations of Milestone 2.0.," Hudlin replied. "We've got a lot of work already on our plate. We understand this will be a big house, with a big yard and a big tent on it. We want everybody to come in. What I love about Milestone was the way Denys and Derek and Dwayne would find these great new artists and writers and give them opportunities to maximize on their talent."
"Milestone is about discovery and creating a platform for new creators to have their voice in different formats and different platforms," Dingle added.
When the DCU continuity question came up, Hudlin noted Grant Morrison's statements at the morning press conference saying, "52 worlds are not enough," and that there were already seven slots left open in the listing of 52 earths. "There is room for us," he said. "We said, 'Grant, when are you writing a book for Milestone?'"
"He said, 'Whenever you want,'" Cowan noted.
Answering a question of whether Milestone will join the DCU cinematic universe, Johns said, "We've got a lot of plans. Hopefully you saw the 'Batman v. Superman' trailer. We can't really talk about what else we're gonna work about."
"There's a gag order on the case, that means we can't talk about it in the open due to national security issues," Jones joked.
What exactly will Johns and Lee be doing in the Milestone universe? "I'll be writing something," Johns answered coyly, which got a laugh from the crowd.
"I only guarantee its coolness," Hudlin said.
"I feel privileged to be a part," Johns said.
Asked if the Milestone characters who were already in the mainstream DC Universe would remain there, the panel said that for now, they will be firmly in the Dakota Universe, though that may change once they become more established
Jones noted that if people wanted to see Milestone characters in the mainstream DCU, sales success was crucial for their own Dakota Universe books. "It's important that we all show up and support the things that we love."