DCAU #384: Shock to the System

IN THIS ONE... First episode of Static Shock as Virgil becomes an electric hero.

CREDITS: Written by Christopher Simmons (mostly known as a Static Shock writer and series editor); directed by James Tucker.

REVIEW: I've never watched Static Shock before, and I admit to not reading a LOT of the comics. Some, but not a lot. Coming off Batman Beyond, the show feels a little bit like more of the same initially - a wisecracking teen hero in the Spider-Man mold, whose supporting cast includes family and high school friends - but while the writing is good, the animation is the poorest the DCAU has ever seen outside the web shorts. And while there is some juddering and gooey design work (Static's goggles don't come across as goggles at all), the problem is really the lack of shadows. It's all flat colors and no atmosphere. After Batman, Superman and Batman Beyond, that's a real, um, shock. Never mind the annoying faux-hip hop soundtrack.

But if I concentrate on the good, I really do like Static's story. Like Terry on the previous show (Static Shock premiered during the third season of Beyond), Virgil is a good kid who might be drawn into the wrong crowd, but instead of setting that dilemma in the past and not giving us enough context to judge those events, Virgil getting bullied, and being offered protection by a gang bangers which he dare not refuse, pushing him to the point where he might owe them something, while simultaneously dealing with the fact his mother died from gang action... That's dramatic. In a sense, becoming Static is sort of a cheat, though it comes with its own problems. Otherwise, Virgil has a nerdy best friend, a girl he likes but doesn't see him that way while all the guys in school fall over themselves to be with her, a sister who has to play the mom, and a supportive dad he'll just have to lie to. Nice cast, well rendered from word go in the pilot. I love the "real" moments, like teen Static shaving so his beard can come in stronger.

As a superhero, Static is green but liberated. He's more of a Peter Parker than Terry was (is? will be?) - shy in every day life, but funny and insolent in costume. They don't take his powers too seriously, allowing him to make a razor come alive or writing a neon sign in the sky to point at captured criminals. He gets the hang of them quickly, but moments like his sheets sticking to him from static electricity are highlights and I think necessary to the young hero origin story. As is the "choose a costume" trope, which is always fun no matter how often they do it. Especially the Super-Friends joke (see In the Comics). And it's an origin that has built-in villains, because lots of bangers get caught in the same chemical spill and have gross mutations (all in all, one of the better moments of animation).

IN THE COMICS: In the 90s, DC put writer Dwayne McDuffie partly in charge of a new imprint called Milestone, which would produce superhero comics starring minority characters, by minority creators. Though they were at some point (badly) integrated into mainstream DCU, these originally existed on their own "Earth" (despite the absence of a Multiverse at the time), mostly working out of the fictional city of Dakota. Static was McDuffie's own creation and chosen to become an animated series when DC publisher Jennette Kahn pushed for a Milestone property to be produced in the medium. There are some immediate differences, including the less "urban" and brighter costume, the absence of the mother (alive and well in the comics), and best friend Richie is unlikely to be gay on the cartoon. The comic was simply called Static, though more recently, DC has published one called Static Shock, after the title of the show, as part of its New52 initiative. Static was the Milestone character most integrated into the DCU, leaving Dakota to join the Teen Titans in the mid-2000s, by which point he was wearing a costume more like the show's (albeit the darker 3rd season suit). The costume I used as this article's picture is Black Vulcan's from Super-Friends; though the character is similar to Black Lightning, B.V. does not appear in the comics.

SOUNDS LIKE: Static is played by MadTV's Phil Lamarr; he would later go on to play Green Lantern John Stewart using a deeper voice. Voice artist Richie Foley is Jason "Max Goof" Marsden. Would-be girlfriend Frieda is voiced by Danica McKellar, best known as Winnie on the Wonder Years. Static's dad Robert Hawkins is Kevin Michael Richardson, the web series' Lobo and The Batman's Joker, while sister Sharon is voiced by Michele Morgan, The P.J.'s Juicy Hudson. The bully F-Stop is Danny "Dave the Barbarian" Cooksey.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Though the look of the show is not up to the DCAU's usual standards, the pilot is very effective at setting up a large cast of characters you actually want to see evolve and interact.


LiamKav said...

I haven't seen Static Shock in years. My main memories of it are that it relies too much on the "new bang baby" idea at first (and which Marvel have used for the Inhumane recently), but that it did at least attempt to deal with relevant social issues in a way Superman and Batman couldn't. I also recall it improving greatly as it goes on, but I guess we'll see.

Like the comics, I believe this show wasn't originally set in the DCAU. I'm not sure when they changed their mind, but presumably it was before Batman shows up.

Simon Dyer said...

Liam-It may have had something to do with the drive to fuse Milestone into the DCU but the show was originally independent of the DCAU until Justice league began airing. Scratch each other's back kind of thing.

LiamKav said...

I thought Batman appeared (in his TNBA design) before then. I guess I could look up the dates like some kind of nerd...


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