What!? It's early! That's right, I'm switching to a Sunday update schedule! YAY! You get everything sooner now!
Have I mentioned yet that September is New 52 month? I realize that with the exception of the ParaNorman Review, I have literally talked about nothing but DC's reboot since joining this site (although that will change soon, as I'm trying to expand into some Image and Marvel stuff), but this month in particular has had a special focus on the reboot itself. I've given the ten best comics in it. Then I gave the single best story in it. Now it's time to knuckle down and talk about the worst thing in it. And it really breaks my heart. Because the worst comic in DC's reboot isn't just bad, it's atrocious. It's the worst comic I've ever read in my life. And as there is pretty much no way you've avoided reading the title of this article up until this point, I might as well get it over with: This is the rebooted Static Shock.
"The abduction of his sister, Sharon Hawkins, was a humbling experience for Virgil and for his electromagnetic persona, Static. In many ways Virgil Hawkins died and only Static remains; Yet he still sees himself as a teenager and struggles to hold on to something resembling normalcy. With the help of his mentor Hardware, Static strives to ensure that no one suffers as he and his family did…"
-Opening narration from the first page of the trade paperback.
It's hard to describe the premise here, because there are several plot threads which are never really resolved. And the book kind of drops you in the middle of it. You'll note that I specified that the narration text I quoted is from the first page of the trade paperback. It's not actually in the individually-printed issue #1. You just get dropped in the middle of a bunch of shit going on, which confused the hell out of me, because I thought it was supposed to be a reboot. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The main character of the story, for those of you not familiar, is Virgil Hawkins, a teenage science nerd with electromagnetic superpowers who fights crime as the superhero Static. Static's family has recently moved from his fictional hometown of Dakota to New York City, where he… well… Ok...
- Is trying to fix the conundrum facing his sister Sharon, who was apparently kidnapped and cloned, and now both Sharons live with the Hawkins family, as they don't know which one is the original.
- Is evidently getting stronger, as his electrical output is more powerful than ever before, which somehow includes the ability to reattach his arm to his body with electricity after it gets sliced off.
- Is working for Hardware, another character created by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie, as he investigates a gang of metahumans, led by a man named Piranha, a man with a piranha's head.
Yeah. It's a mess.
I really hate Scott McDaniel's art. It's somewhat bearable, I guess, but I just don't like it. The people are too angular, and not in the Bruce Timm "this will look good when you see it in motion" or manga "this is the distinct visual style of an entire medium" kind of way. It's just annoying. The art is just messy. The linework is inconsistent and ugly, details are sketchy, the faces are weird, and it's just unpleasing to look at. And while this isn't a problem with the art style so much as a general artistic choice, it really bothers me that almost every scene takes place at night. This works for a book like Batman, where the darkness and nighttime imagery fit like a glove for the main character. Static? Not so much.
I'd like to warn you now that there will be spoilers here. Major ones. I wouldn't normally do this, but I really need to show some of this information to convey just why the writing is so bad.
The writing in this book is a mess, but not until the second half. The book has two writers: John Rozum and Scott McDaniel, who you may also recall as being the artist.. Rozum left the book after issue #4. I'll explain why in the next section. See, while the plot's not good, at least John Rozum clearly understands Static's character. Virgil is a genius when it comes to science, meaning he knows how to use his electric powers to their full extent.
After Rozum leaves? Not so much.
I'm no science expert, but I am reasonably certain that applying an electric charge to a common metal fire extinguisher, especially one that is not grounded and has nowhere for the electricity to go, is NOT a good idea.
The plots are also really boring. The problem with the book is that it's just big action after big action, with no serious dramatic weight, especially once Rozum leaves. It's a "story" full of big ideas, but none of them ever go anywhere. Let's look at how the three plot points I listed in the premise play out:
Point 1: There are two Sharons!
This is the main point of the book. Static's sister, Sharon, was kidnapped and cloned in the past. We don't know why, or by who, or to what end. We don't know which Sharon is the real one and which is the clone. Neither do the characters. They come to New York so S.T.A.R. Labs can analyze the Sharons and figure out which one is real and which isn't. Eventually, one of the Sharons gets kidnapped again, and we finally get to meet the villain, who seems to be messing around with a fourth-dimensional portal. So, what was the endgame?
That's all we get. Really. There's some stuff about making a metahuman army for an unspecified purpose, but we really don't know why this guy cloned Sharon, or why he wanted to get to Static, or what he was planning at all. He shows up, explains nothing, and then dies off panel, meaning he probably lived, but since the book was cancelled two issues later, it doesn't matter.
Point 2: Supercharged.
Static is getting stronger. When his arm gets cut off, he somehow manages to reattach it automatically. This freaks him out. So where does this go?
If you guessed, "Absolutely nowhere", congratulations! You win the prize: Frustration!
Point 3: Pirahna and his gang.
This one actually goes somewhere, but it's somewhere dumb. A mob boss named Pirahna is trying to build a supervillain mob to take over New York or something, but Static keeps getting in the way. He's trying to team up with the guy who cloned Sharon, but again, we still don't know their ultimate goal. It has something to do with dimensional travel and, I'm assuming, global domination. Predictably, it ends with the villains all betraying each other.
The Pale Man:
It's not mentioned earlier, but I really wanna talk about this guy called The Pale Man. He's Pirahna's right hand man. He looks exactly like the Joker. He laughs nervously and stutters often. He's usually acts like a professional gangster, but when people bring up his similarity to the Clown Prince of Crime, he goes ballistic and kills them. There's a large mystery surrounding this guy, and eventually, we start to learn a little bit of it.
So here we go. A guy who looks like the Joker, being forced to work for the government and infiltrate Pirahna's gang. He's got a checkered past, to say the least. But who is he? What did he do? What's the endgame?
We'll never know. Because Pale Man was one of John Rozum's ideas, and once Rozum left, McDaniel threw him into a portal and killed him, without us ever learning anything else.
And pretty much everything else McDaniel writes once Rozum leaves are a bunch of poorly-written, emotionally manipulative clichés. The two Sharons decide to stop fighting and get along. Which is the original? Why was Sharon cloned? It doesn't matter, because they've found sisterhood! Isn't that sweet? A thief breaks into S.T.A.R. Labs and steals an experimental device. Static catches him, but it's okay! He was hired by a third-world African country, because the device makes water and can ensure their livelihood, and Hardware, Static's mentor and inventor of the device, just so happens to have another one that they can give the guy! A teenage girl has technology superpowers for some reason and wants revenge on bullies, but Static talks her down by telling her everything will be okay. Isn't that just great? It's also completely asinine and pointless!
In the hands of a competent writer, all these story threads could've been good. Cliché doesn't have to be bad. But here? It was. It was really bad. And it was pointless. And that's what the whole comic is: Pointless. Nothing is ever explained to satisfaction. We never even really understand who Hardware is, or his female sidekick (partner? I don't even know!) Technique. It's just assumed that we already know this, which we don't because unlike Static, THESE ARE NOT FAMOUS CHARACTERS! These aren't stories that will dictate the state of the newly rebooted DC Universe, like Justice League. They don't tell the story of a man's growth due to his extraordinary life, like Swamp Thing. They're not even just stories meant to be fun stories, like DC Universe Presents: Savage. And why is that? Here's why!
The Problems Behind The Scenes:
In January of this year, John Rozum wrote a post on his blog explaining why he quit Static Shock. It's a lengthy post, but it's really worth reading in full, as it lets you understand why the book turned out so horribly, and also highlights one of the biggest problems writers across the board have had about the New 52: The editors are being too controlling. Here are some of the key points I would like to highlight.
Scott McDaniel is not a writer:
Scott McDaniel lectured me on how my method for writing was wrong because it wasn't what the Robert McKee screenwriting book he read told him was the way to do things. The man who'd never written anything was suddenly more expert than me and the editor was agreeing with him. Scott had also never read a Static comic book, nor seen the cartoon series, yet was telling me that my dialogue didn't sound true to the character and would "fix it."
I'm a screenwriter. Not a professional, of course, just an amateur student. But I've been taught the art and over the past few years, gotten a good feel for conveying my stories through scripts meant to be adapted into TV shows and movies. And I want to get into writing comics. I haven't written any comics yet, because I don't know how. I don't know how to properly write a format a comic book script. I am currently studying this independently.
Lots of artists in the comic book industry are also writers. Jack Kirby, one of the most important men to ever grace the industry, was a writer as well as an artist. Frank Miller has both written and drawn comics. Tony Daniel does both of these things as well. I know that coming up with a story is a hell of a lot easier than learning to draw, and while formal writing lessons do exist, there isn't a definitive, "right way" to approach storytelling. So I'm not going to fault Scott McDaniel for wanting to get into writing, nor DC for deciding to give him a chance during their universe-wide reboot. The reboot's already a huge gamble, so what's wrong with bringing in some new blood with it? What's wrong is that this new blood is NOT FAMILIAR WITH THE CHARACTER. And then, this happened:
Essentially my job was to transcribe Scott's voluminous and often clunky dialogue into a script format. Any efforts I made to try and finesse, edit, or reduce his dialogue or captions, offended him, and everything had to be changed back to how he'd originally written it, while my dialogue always required his improvement. Scott, to be fair, had a lot of great ideas, but did not have the writing skills necessary to make these ideas compelling stories, but was not willing to take any suggestions, or changes that I'd give him. As a writer, I understand the desire to want to protect you ideas and to believe that they are all golden, but this was supposed to be a collaborative experience, and I was supposed to be the writer with experience.
To quote Linkara, "Editors are not writers":
There was more concern about seeing that the title sold and didn't get cancelled than there was in telling good stories and having something coherent to bring readers in. This is what led Harvey to insist on the stuff with the two Sharon's and cutting off Static's arm. He had no answers for how to resolve these things, but thought it would keep reader's wowed enough to stick with the series. This, too, was frustrating. It was a lot of grasping at straws and trying to second guess what would keep it selling. It was decided that "bigger action" on every page of every issue was the key.
Keep in mind that of the three men working on the creative team of this book, only one of them actually knew what he was doing from the start. John Rozum was a writer for Milestone Comics, the company started by Dwayne McDuffie, Static's creator, who tragically passed away in February of 2011 at the age of 49. Rozum's series, Xombi, was pretty well loved by its fans, although obviously not the most popular comic. I myself have not read the series, but did read a crossover it had with the Spectre in the pages of The Brave and the Bold. And this book, written by Rozum, was very good. He's very creative, and knows what he's doing. He's an experienced writer who was a close friend of Static's late creator. So what happened?
I was also determined to stick with it out of loyalty to Dwayne McDuffie hoping that I could fix what was going very wrong with this series. I even voiced my unhappiness with Harvey Richards who promised me that the situation would change. When I received an email from Harvey telling me that he and Scott had been plotting out the series without me, after Harvey had promised me that I'd be back in the driver's seat as the writer, I'd had enough and quit.
I really don't understand how this happened. I looked up Harvey Richards. And while he's done a lot, I can't help but notice that a lot of it is good. He's been an editor on both Batman and Batman and Robin, my two favorite series in the reboot, and he even worked on 52, which is one of DC's most celebrated stories of all time! So what happened here? Were things different now that he was working with a small-name writer? Is that it? Was it just too risky for him to fuck around with guys like Tomasi and Johns, but Rozum is ok? We'll never know.
Keep in mind that this is only one side of the story. But seeing how it's from the side of the person who, once he left the comic, took the small modicum of quality it had with him, I'm inclined to believe this side of the story before hearing the others. I do, however, believe it's embellished. A wronged party will often exaggerate what they suffered, and the first half of the series has some genuinely good character moments for Virgil, leading me to believe that Rozum got a bit more in than the "random piece of dialogue."
I've been planning on reviewing this book since I first read the trade paperback, before I even had heard of CCS. I've been putting off this review for two months, because it pains me.
My introduction to superheroes was through television, mainly the genius work that was the DC Animated Universe. One of my favorite shows of all time is Static Shock, which was headed and written by Dwayne McDuffie himself, and since I was a kid, Static has always been one of my favorite heroes. When I found out the reboot would include a Static book, I was really excited. Then I heard that the book wasn't that good, and due to limited budget, kind of skipped over reading it up until it was cancelled.
To see a character you love so much ruined like this is heartbreaking, and it's something that a lot of people hate about the reboot. Fans of Booster Gold and Green Arrow know what I'm talking about. But where most people use this to say that the whole reboot is a failure, I just say that this book is a failure. For every Static, there's a Batman, and a Swamp Thing, and an Aquaman. For every Blue Beetle, there's a Wonder Woman, and an Animal Man, and a Green Lantern. For every O.M.A.C., there's a Frankenstein, and a Stormwatch, and a Demon Knights. And you get my point. I think the reboot as a whole has been wonderful, but I can't deny that it has had its share of failures, and this is the worst of them all.
And even if I weren't a fan of Static beforehand, this book would not have made me one. This book is just a travesty, through and through. It tries to get our interest by throwing in a bunch of shock value, and action-packed events, rather than tell a genuinely interesting story with anything resembling substance. It insults the reader's intelligence, hoping we'll be distracted by the shiny things so we won't notice that there is nothing worthwhile in it. The characters are really bland and generic, the writing is terrible and clichéd, and knowing what I now know about what happened behind the scenes, it was clearly doomed from the start. Do not buy this book. Don't even pirate it. Just avoid it.
But if you absolutely must read this book, Static Shock Volume 1: Supercharged, collects all 8 terrible issues, and is available for $16.99 USD. A book of matches can be found in many restaurants for free. I mention this because you will be requiring the latter after reading the former. In addition, the whole run is available digitally for $14.92 on Comixology, but a hammer can be purchased for as low as five dollars, which you may want to use to break your hands before you make the mistake of giving this abomination any money like I so foolishly did. I can't even return the fucking thing to Barnes and Noble because I got so mad I threw it across the room when I finished reading it and damaged the cover. Though I don't think I would've anyway. I wouldn't want some other poor sap to be suckered into reading this.
Did you like this review? For more comic book commentary and criticism, check out Vivvav's blog, The Magical Word Palace, and feel free to leave critique, comments, suggestions, or requests in the comment section below!