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Artist Denys Cowan Talks Static Shock and the Return of Milestone Media

Illustration for article titled Artist Denys Cowan Talks Static Shock and the Return of Milestone Media
Illustration: DC Comics
It's Lit!It's Lit!Where all things literary live at The Root

Denys Cowan is a true legend of the comic book game. He was one of the original founders of Milestone Media, the legendary ‘90s comic imprint that birthed heroes like Hardware, Icon and Static, and it was announced earlier this year that Cowan, along with writer and 72nd Annual Emmy Awards director Reginald Hudlin would be bringing back the Milestone Media imprint to DC Comics.

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The Root was lucky enough to sit down with Cowan to discuss the recently released zero issue for DC FanDome, how the characters have changed for the modern era, and what he’s most enjoyed about Milestone’s return.

The Root: I read the zero issue you guys put out for FanDome and man, I thought I couldn’t be more excited for the return of Milestone but I was wrong.

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Denys Cowan: Really? Thank you. We were nervous [about] how people were going to respond to that issue. Especially me; I was like, “It’s been so long, we’ve been promising so much for so long. Will they even like it?” So far, the response has been very positive so we’ve been pleased.

TR: Is the new Milestone going to be set in its own separate world or is it going to interact with the larger DC Universe in any way?

DC: I think right now, it’s going to be the Dakota universe. The Milestone universe that we occupied before, it’s still the same. So it’s going to be a pretty self-contained universe. I don’t know if there’s going to be many visits from DC characters as themselves, you know? Like Superman drops in or Batman drops into Dakota, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Maybe some version of them might but that remains to be seen. Right now there are no plans, it’s a self-contained universe.

TR: Are the new comics going to take place in the old continuity or is this a whole new interpretation of Dakota?

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DC: I think it’s a mixture of both. We’re introducing some new characters and by introducing some new characters we’re introducing some new environments within Dakota and people associated with those characters so it’s kinda like a new thing. We’ll also be addressing some of the loose plot threads that were left hanging all those years ago. Some of the continuity will pick up depending on the characters we’re talking about.

So there’s definitely a throughline of continuity. Whether it’ll all be like “from day 1 we’re picking up right where we left off!” it’s not gonna be quite like that. But there will be enough for people to be like “Damn, that was dope! I remember that!”

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TR: That’s really cool! As you’ve been working on these characters, how have they changed at all for the new generation? One thing I really want to know is how you guys are going to handle Icon. His big thing was that he was a conservative hero and considering the direction that party has taken—

DC: Interesting, right?

TR: Yeah!

DC: Some of the characters, like Static, got a slight tweak to his origin. Instead of a gang fight, it was a Black Lives Matter protest that all these kids were gathered at that sparked a confrontation. We tweaked it that way to make it more relatable to people today.

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As far as Icon is concerned, I believe he is still a conservative. Even in the age of crazy acting political parties. A true conservative is not a crazy Republican, a true conservative wants to conserve. That’s what conservative means. It doesn’t mean racist or anything else, it means to conserve. I don’t have any problem with Icon remaining a conservative in his political outlook as long as he remains true to his own principles.

What balances him out and what the book was always about, was Rocket. Like ideally the book should’ve been called Rocket and Icon because the whole story is told from her point of view, not his. We never know what he’s thinking, we only see what he does and what he says, but we always are inside her head.

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She kinda directs what goes on with the book and she balances him out in a great way. It’s always been about the dynamic between those two. Her activism and his conservatism are what compliment each other. It provides that friction and that thing that makes that book work, too.

TR: What are some of the issues and themes you’re looking to explore with this new Milestone?

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DC: If we’re not talking about the things that are happening today in society amongst African Americans, people of color, amongst all people, then we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing. If we’re talking about just the standard superhero fights and the supervillain of the month, well, there’s plenty of comics that do that. We’ll give you that, but we’ll also give you a bit more than that. A little bit more of a texture, a little bit more of an environment that you’re familiar with, that’s real to you, with these fantastic elements thrown in.

Our mission remains the same as it was years ago, perhaps even more so now. That’s to bring characters and creators of color and multicultural talents together and make world-class entertainment. Stuff that makes you think and also keeps you engaged.

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TR: What was it like realizing Milestone was really coming back this time?

DC: Cautious optimism. Full enthusiasm, fully like let’s do this for the third or fourth time we’re ramping up to do it but also like, you know, anything can go wrong. Hopefully, there won’t be any more lawsuits or something could trip us up. And then it was the DC implosion that tripped us up and we went “Oh my god, everything just changed at DC Comics, are we going to be changed along with it?”

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As it turns out, fortunately, we had DC’s support in what we’re doing. We had Jim Lee’s support and the people at DC, Michael Shelling and all the people that have been helping us out. Reggie and I are very pumped that DC is doing it and are fully committed.

I think it’s all things in its time, too. If Milestone came back in 2013 or whenever we talked about this, it was a different time than now. Now is when we’re really needed. Before it was a nostalgia trip, now it feels like a necessity.

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TR: I was also thinking that. It’s awful times but it’s weirdly the best time for Milestone to come back.

DC: Yup, yup.

TR: What have you enjoyed most about working on these characters and returning to this world?

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DC: You know, I’ve enjoyed the whole process. I’ve enjoyed all the creative conversations, I’ve enjoyed talking to different writers and artists about what we want to do. I’ve enjoyed the pitches I’ve gotten from friends of mine and different people. I’ve enjoyed the enthusiasm. I’ve enjoyed all the people sending in all their headshots to play Static. All the music producers who hit me up like “I got the perfect soundtrack!” It’s been incredible.

I’ve enjoyed drawing the material that I’ve drawn so far. It’s been a trip because it’s really revisting stuff that you did a long time ago. What I found is that even though I created, with my partners, a lot of these characters and I certainly designed mostly all of them, drawing them again has been a trip because I don’t remember how to draw these characters after 30 years! I’ve been doing other things. So it’s been a process of relearning how to do these characters, looking at not necessarily my old work but by looking at what other people have done.

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I’m like “okay,” *squints eyes* “So that’s how you draw Icon, alright.” And then I can do it which is a bizarre experience.

TR: I never thought about that.

DC: It’s interesting, it’s interesting. These 30 year gaps, it’s not like riding a bicycle. Some people are “Yeah, I just got back on it was nothing,” no, it was something. It was like, “damn!”

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Milestone Media will make its triumphant return early next year. In the lead up to its arrival, the back issues of the old Milestone comics are expected to gradually arrive on digital platforms. I, for one, cannot wait to see what surprises Cowan, Hudlin and the team at Milestone have in store for us.

Jr Staff Writer @TheRoot. Watcher of wrestling, player of video games. Mr. Steal Your Disney+ Password.

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DISCUSSION

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Foxstar loves Bashcraft

I honestly think that’s for the best. It allows Cowan and the rest to show -why- black creatives should be given room to spread their wings and tell stories with a strong focus towards black youth and even grown up black nerds who are likely introducing their children and in some cases, grandchildren to some of the stuff they grew up with and why it meant so much.

Both Sups and Batman have their hands full all of the time anyway. At some point they will meet (They have repeatedly in the past), but I’m cool with going a few years before that happens.