Many people still to this day speak of the many things that happened in the nineties that made it a very dark decade for the comic industry, the things we would like to forget happened at all, and the things we just can’t seem to let go of. And pouches, so very many pouches. I’m here to discuss the many things that made that decade truly a great time to be a fan. This week, I bring you another reason the nineties weren’t all bad.
Milestone Media was founded in 1993 by well-known and critically acclaimed creators Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle, and is wrongly remembered by many as the “black” comic company, but there was oh so much more to them than that. Milestone Media was the umbrella corporation behind Milestone Comics, which secured an at the time unheard of distribution deal with DC Comics, in which DC had right of refusal, but Milestone had complete editorial control of their stories, as well as total copyright retention of their properties. Essentially, DC Comics were licensing the properties for a yearly fee and a share of the profits.
Milestone was heavily criticized at the time by several black independent companies and creators for working for “the white man” instead of going it alone, many not realizing that was not what Milestone were doing. Many, to this day, misunderstood what Milestone was about, either unintentionally out of a lack of comprehension, or intentionally by willfully ignoring the facts.
What Milestone were about is quite simple. Looking at the complete lack of diversity in comics at the time, these four men sought to represent the real world more fully, with characters representing many diverse political, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds, in film, television, and comics. And what a success this experiment turned out to be! Publishing somewhere between 250 and 300 comics over the next few years, and launching the highly successful and popular cartoon series Static Shock, Milestone Media was riding a wave of success unseen by the many other start-up comic publishers of the decade.
Milestone brought many talented creators to audiences, many of them passed over by other companies, and many of them skyrocketed to fame in the following years. Artists such as John Paul Leon, Chris Sotomayor, ChrisCross, Tommy Lee Edwards, J.H. Williams III, Humberto Ramos, John Rozum, Jamal Igle, and Chris Batista went on to work on some of the most popular properties in the world in later years, becoming noted fan favorites, and some even winning awards for their efforts.
That first year saw the release of the first issues of Hardware, Icon, Blood Syndicate, and Static, which was later the basis for the aforementioned cartoon series. These characters were unlike anything else being published at the time, and challenged mainstream conventions in so many ways.
Icon himself drew criticism for being a black conservative, because as we all know, those don’t exist in real life. >cough< Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Herman Cain >cough< The truth is, these characters were real, at least as real as spandex clad flying men could be. This was a modern day continuation in many ways of what Lee/Kirby/Ditko were doing in the early days of Marvel Comics, bringing us real world characters with real world problems. A year later saw the first line-wide crossover, Shadow War, and the launch of new titles such as Shadow Cabinet and Xombi.
It was a rough time to be launching a new line of comics, as so many other companies were popping up on a daily basis. That coupled with the fact that many mainstream (read: white) readers assumed these were just comics for black people, there was a lack of coverage in the comic book press, and that there was a severe market crash just one year after they launched, ensured that Milestone wouldn’t last that long.
However, Milestone’s presence is still felt, as Static was one of the heroes chosen to relaunch the DC Comic universe in the beginning of the New 52 initiative. He also still pops up in cartoon form occasionally, as in the second season of Young Justice. Icon and Rocket even appeared in Young Justice, with Icon being a member of the Justice League!
We sadly lost Dwayne McDuffie in 2011, but his legacy lives on in these characters and the world they inhabited, a world more like our own than comic fans were used to.
Milestone Media may not have lasted as many years as they would have hoped, but they accomplished something great in their brief time, bringing a diverse new line of characters to the comic shelves, many of which are still fondly remembered to this day. And they are one of the reasons it was awesome being a comic fan in the nineties. Next week I’ll bring you another.