Home > Static Shock > Static Shock 001-002: “Shock to the System” and “Aftershock”

Static Shock 001-002: “Shock to the System” and “Aftershock”

November 27, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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Supervising Producer Alan Burnett
Written by Christopher Simmons
Directed by James Tucker
Original Airdate: September 23, 2000
DVD: Nonexistent. Go yell at WB.

Summary: Teenager Virgil Hawkins, an unwitting recruit of a local gang, is trapped in a mysterious explosion and finds himself wielding electricity-based powers.

Arc Notes: Static would be fully integrated into Justice League later in that series.

Debuting Characters: Virgil “Static” Hawkins and his family, F-Stop, Richie “Gears” Foley, Frieda Goren, and a bunch of gang bangers that probably wound up coming back later in the series as villains.

Background:

Founded by a group of comic creators including future DCAU executive producer Dwayne McDuffie, Milestone Comics was an ambitious attempt to address the lilly-white nature of the vast majority of comic heroes in the midst of the post-Death of Superman comics boom of the early 1990s. Although a host of comic companies attempted to launch “universes” of their own in that period, Milestone’s books, centred around a city named Dakota, had quite a few advantages that the other companies didn’t – such as a much more professional looking product as well as a host of talented staffers that didn’t have any issues staying on schedule. However, their biggest advantage was that DC Comics, in a move that echoed their later acquisition of Wildstorm, was a supporter of the line from behind the scenes, buying Milestone instant credibility in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, Milestone’s biggest hook – its attempts to present a diverse cast – manifested as a problem in the midst of a crowded and often close-minded marketplace. The books, though largely enjoyable (far moreso than just about every other insta-universe of the era), got quickly stereotyped as “black comics”, and in spite of DC doing a reasonable amount of work hyping up the line, including crossing it over with the mega-popular Superman titles, things ultimately went downhill and the line folded about four years after its inception. However, attempts continued to branch the heroes off into other media, which eventually resulted in Static, the Milestone’s teen hero and most popular character, landing a TV show on Kids WB in late 2000, as WB’s way of filling the gap that would be left after Batman Beyond stopped airing first-run episodes in 2001 (Justice League was slated from day one to air on Cartoon Network).

Static himself was created by McDuffie and artist John Paul Leon, and originally was intended for use as a Marvel character before landing at Milestone. The character’s Marvel-esque origins are pretty clear; in fact, one of the more frequent criticisms of the animated version of Static is that he’s a bit too close in nature to Spider-Man. Of course, that’s not exactly a bad problem to have, and it certainly creates an interesting DCAU character, specifically a teen hero without any direct connection to an established DC hero (Static’s animated costume is a somewhat obvious tribute to Black Lightning, however).

Although various DC authors attempted to rescue Static from limbo after his animated series became a reasonable hit, it took McDuffie being named JLA writer to finally get all the Milestone characters finally integrated into the mainstream DC Universe. As a result of the merger, Static is now a member of the Teen Titans, and he seems to have maintained a lot of his nice guy / geeky charm after the switch.

Thoughts on the Episode:

Most of the DCAU origin stories tend to be much longer than one episode, but Static actually gets an entire origin on-screen in the space of its first episode. I’m always one to praise efficiency in storytelling, and the first episode of these two is one of the best superhero examples I’ve seen. Added to this is the fact that Static is still relatively obscure; unlike Spider-Man or Batman, his origin hasn’t be re-told numerous times and the writer doesn’t get to rely on ubiquity to get the character over with viewers. The success of the episode is in telling a simple origin story well.

“Shock to the System” is, pardon the pun, a bit of a shock for a viewer who may only be exposed to DC’s characters via the DCAU or even Teen Titans. Firstly, the animation style is vastly different, with a much rougher style, albeit with classic Timm-esque minimalism. At times, the characters look more as though they’re animated in Flash than by traditional means, although obviously that wasn’t really practical for a show of this type at the time it was made.I actually like the general look of Static a lot more here than in later episodes; the show’s supposed to be brighter than both the comics and the rest of the DCAU, and having Static dressed largely in white helps to emphasize that. The later switch to a darker costume, while striking, matured him a bit too much for my tastes.

But beyond that – and this isn’t being said as a criticism – the series lacks the underlying darkness of even Superman or Justice League, let alone Batman. Virgil comes from a relatively normal family, one admittedly touched by gang violence, but he starts off the series as a relatively normal kid, although one who seems to go to a high school which boasts an above-average quotient of bangers and bullies. Although Static doesn’t really have much to do in this initial episode – his battle with the robbers is the only real action of the episode – this does a pretty good job of setting up the vital characteristics of everyone involved with the series and showing off Static’s power set. I especially like how Static’s naming is relatively subtle – aside from one line by Ritchie, it’s not as though that’s Virgil’s nickname from the start of the series or anything.

The second episode actually plays out more like a second part of the pilot rather than an individual episode. While Virgil has certainly come along with his hero side, he’s obviously nervous about the potential side effects of the powers he’s acquired, especially in comparison with the monstrous “Bang Babies.” What’s great is that he actually does the smart thing – namely, going to get himself checked out by his doctor. Virgil’s relatively normal reactions to the crazines he found himself surrounded by was one of the better features of the series – he doesn’t have Peter Parker’s weird secrecy obsession going on. But much like Peter, Virgil gets by a lot of the time not necessarily with his powers, but with his brain; in this episode, he both knows enough about science to break out of a gas-filled chamber and enough about basic city planning to know that there’s always metal around, even in the middle of Dakota’s equivalent of central park. Sure, it may make bad guys like Hot Streak look more than a little stupid, but giving the hero a few easy victories now and again does wonders for later storylines.

The only real problem with both episodes is that, by making the dialogue so contemporary for the time, they seem horribly dated. While Virgil’s not too bad in terms of dialogue, Ritchie suffers from being as anachronistic as a character from a series made in 2000 can sound at the end of the decade. You half expect him to start talking about playing Tony Hawk and hoping Attack of the Clones is better than Phantom Menace. I’m a much bigger fan of the approach Mark Waid claimed to use on Impulse – namely, to just make up slang as he went along and hope that it sounded cutting-edge enough that no one would think it was all gibberish. It also helps that Static isn’t one of those teen heroes who complains about the cliche aspects of superheroing – while that character might have been fresh in 2000, it’s really stale after an entire decade of comics based on superhero deconstructionism.

Aside from the laudable attempts to diversify Saturday mornings, these two episodes showed that there was something to the idea of a younger hero being played relatively straight, and that Static would work even while divorced from a larger universe. Of course, a DC-owned property couldn’t stay isolationist for long, and as a result the next time we’ll stop back with this series, it will be in the presence of a bunch of very famous guest stars.

And, no, I’m not talking about Shaq. Although I’ll probably review that episode at one point just for the heck of it.

I’m not going to be grading these simply because I haven’t seen enough of the series to really know what constitutes a good episode; however, they’re well worth seeking out.

Random Thoughts:

  • As long as Static is close to an alley, he has transportation. I like that.
  • In contrast to most DCAU shows, Static Shock’s title montage is a full minute, which feels a bit weird.
  • The “try on ideas for a costume” montage is a classic opportunity for a sight gag in superhero media, and in this case Static Shock gets in a doozy: Static tries on Black Vulcan’s outfit from Super Friends.
  • Yup, that’s obviously Maria “Hawkgirl” Canals as the reporter in “Aftershock.” Amusingly enough, she doesn’t get to play Static’s latina crush Frieda – that falls to Danica McKellar, who, as we’ve seen, would also go on to do Justice League voice work.
  • Hot Streak is kind of like an even more annoying version of Gambit, isn’t he? Complete with throwing a ridiculous arsenal, in this case, the hot dogs o’ doom.

Best Line: “Why the look, Frieda, they outta Britney?” Aside from proving that Virgil has no idea how to get into a girl’s good books out of costume, remember the days when that joke would be the ultimate insult? Static’s line about his sister’s grooming habits from the pilot places a very close second.

Next time: A weekend aside looking at Darwyn Cooke’s legendary “New Frontier.”

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Categories: Static Shock
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  1. November 28, 2009 at 5:56 pm

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