New York’s motley arsenal of masked crusaders has increased with one electric jolt. When DC Comics reset all 52 of its titles to #1 starting on Aug. 31, one character—Virgil Ovid Hawkins, alias Static, who re-debuted in “Static Shock” #1—moved to Harlem from the fictional Midwestern city of Dakota.
Often compared to Spider-Man, the teenaged African-American Static acquired electromagnetic powers after being saturated with a chemical in a gang fight. Static was created in 1993 under the now-extinct DC imprint Milestone Comics, which focused on minority characters. The character also headlined a Saturday morning cartoon that ran on The WB for four seasons starting in 2000.
“Static Shock” #1 co-writer and penciller Scott McDaniel says the relocation stemmed from a desire to integrate Static more fully into the DC Universe, but also pushed the character toward a bolder future.
“This single decision cleared the slate for brand new adventures and rogues,” McDaniel said. “We’ve used this decision to create backstory that is a key motivation for Static in the relaunch.”
Static’s backstory complements Harlem’s own history. “Static Shock was born in the context of poverty and gang violence,” McDaniel says. “But much like Harlem, he has escaped his tough past and he now faces the challenges that come with new growth.”
The creators used the move to Harlem to carve a new identity for “Static Shock” distinct from the cartoon and comics that preceded it. “We face a tough challenge,” McDaniel said. “Not only do we want to make new readers excited to follow Virgil’s adventures, we also strive to earn the approval and readership of longtime fans of the original comic and devoted fans of the cartoon.” Static travels around the city during his adventures, and the new location prompted central character motivation.
“They did a pretty good job with it,” said Dave Wilson, a comic fan and New York native. “I liked the cartoon, but it’s always cool to see another comic in New York.”
Static has become embedded in Harlem culture. “For now, Harlem provides his base of operations, his home and his school,” McDaniel says. “For now, Harlem represents home, safety, security, normalcy. But for the superhero, those precious things never last.”
To capture Static’s New York, the writers—not based near the city—researched Harlem aesthetics and history extensively from afar. McDaniel started with a broad investigation, acquainting himself with New York geography through Internet searches and trips to the bookstore for travel and photo books and maps. He then concentrated on several areas of interest for detail work.
From this study, the writers gleaned crucial elements of Harlem’s background and way of life. “Harlem has had its challenges, but it is experiencing new growth and resurgence in its artistic culture,” McDaniel says. “Hopefully including Static in its heritage will contribute positively to that artistic legacy.” Real Harlem buildings inspired the interior and exterior of the Hawkins family brownstone. Virgil’s school, the fictional Dwayne G. McDuffie Center for Science and Mathematics, is modeled after a real school, and several schools in the area contributed to its final appearance.
While the writers tried to capture Harlem’s feel without direct exploration, they admit the approach was not ideal. “Studying Harlem, or any other neighborhood, at a distance can never inform the artwork more than actually experiencing it first-hand,” McDaniel said. “However, I work very hard to recreate the neighborhoods as accurately as I can. It’s a great way to infuse integrity and authenticity into a story.”
Alex Simmons, a writer and friend of Static co-creator Dwayne McDuffie, thinks the Harlem setting also makes it easier for readers to relate to Static. “It allows people to connect the way they did with the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man,” he says. “It’s not Metropolis or Gotham. It’s a city we ‘know.’”
Simmons hopes readers feel a bond with Static beyond his location. “For young people to see people of color doing positive things is a godsend and will affect society,” Simmons says. “Having them out there starts to send out the message that we are here and we are a part of the world, a part of society.”
Beyond any attention-grabbing features, Static’s future success rests on the universal element all comics must master: the story. Simmons praises the original Static comics for maintaining appealing storytelling. “Dwayne had stories to tell that were human stories,” he says. “It was black people but it was a human experience, so many people could connect with that.”
McDaniel wants to echo that legacy. “America is a true melting pot, and comics should reflect that diversity,” he says. “But the original goal is broader than this. It also sought to be accessible to all superhero fans, regardless of their ethnic identity.”
Based on sales to date, the writers seem to have achieved accessibility. All of the #1 editions of DC’s New 52 have sold out, requiring a second printing. “Static Shock” #2 was released Oct. 5 and the third book goes on sale on Nov. 2. “I’m waiting to see where they go with the stories,” Simmons says. “That’s the determining factor.”