In early 1991 four young Black men sat down to discuss the lack of diversity in the comic community. After their initial meeting, they decided that what the comic community needed was a fresh idea that embodied diversity and inclusion and this is where Milestone comics was born. Milestone comics is undoubtedly a success story and changed the landscape for people of color in various ways; those who rarely seen their accurate and complete culture in comic form was able to do so and those who wanted to write and illustrate their stories were given the opportunity. Unfortunately, with success came criticism and opposition which left Milestone at a crossroad that extends until today.
From Humble Beginnings
The four young Black men who envisioned and created Milestone are some of the most innovative actors in the comic industry. The president of Milestone was Derek T. Dingle, the former managing editor of Black Enterprise and a staff writer for Money Magazine. The editor-in-chief and perhaps the most prolific out of the four Dwayne McDuffie who wrote both for Marvel, Harvey Comics and later DC Comics as well. Milestone’s Creative Director Denys Cowan, who is known as one of the most innovative illustrators in the comic industry. Michael Davis is the last founder but left the company in their first year when he was promoted to CEO of Motown Animation and Film Works.
The three of the four founders went on to enter a publishing agreement with DC Comics that brought Milestone immense attention, both positive and negative. The agreement guaranteed that DC Comics would print and sell Milestone issues nationally and internationally with their issues. Milestone’s agreement with DC promised three things: That the company would retain one-hundred-percent total control, that all Milestone’s issues and characters would be copyrighted, and that they would have the final saying regarding merchandising and licensing of Milestone characters. The deal entailed that DC Comics would receive an annual fee of $500,000 to $650,000 and a share of the profits while promising to promote Milestone books in all marketing aspects.
Milestone as a “Black Thing”
Hardware was the first series to be released in 1993 on February 23rd, Blood Syndicate was released the following week, the week after that Icon and then Static. Milestone also released three new titles the next year Shadow Cabinet, Kobalt, and Xombi. The company not only challenged the unchallenged by presenting Black heroes in positive and accurate notions but also were the reason many Black comic-book fans are enthralled in comics today.
Throughout Milestone’s first year as a company, most of the news covering Milestone revolved around their deal with DC and the controversy surrounding it. What is more or less surprising is that most of the criticism that Milestone faced was at the hand of other Black-owned companies. Other independently Black-owned companies accused Milestone of “Uncle Tomism”. The most vocal of these companies was probably Ania (who issues did not make it past one issue). Ania argued that Milestone’s characters did not accurately portray Blackness because they were under control of their publishing company DC Comics. Milestone did not publicly address Ania’s concerns but continued to declare that their comics reflect heroes in various cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
Milestone and the DC Universe
Throughout all the criticisms Milestone received in their first year as a company, their comic-books were hits and usually sold out, but overall, their sales were disappointing, but why? The author of Black Heroes, Milestone Comics, and Their Fans Jeffery Brown believes that the most apparent reasoning could be simply racism because most comic-book readers tend to be white males between the ages of eight and twenty-five. Given the cultural substance relating to minority’s experience that is weaved into Milestone’s issues, most white men would not buy or care about the books. Another reason that Brown discussed is of comic-book retailers engaging in gatekeeping tactics and not ordering many Milestone comics. The problem that existed in the early mid to late 1990s for Milestone was not that people weren’t buying their issues; it was that retailers were not ordering enough issues. The problem was inherently racist because comic-book retailers regarded Milestone as just a “Black Thing” as Brown states in his book and not able to reach a wider audience. The issue with this logic is that it is simply wrong, what was great about Milestone comics was the fact that the messages that the books convey transcend race. Milestone comics weaved meaningful discussions of queerness, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, sex, trans issues, and yes even racism, which are universal discussions that relate not only to the Black community but to everyone.
Unfortunately, Milestone closed its comic-book division in 1997, but its impact certainly lives on in the lives of its fans and through DC Comics. After its closing Dwayne McDuffie was hired as a lead writer for the Warner Bros. Series Static Shock which heightened the popularity of the character. Within the first year of the series, demands for Static comics led to DC reissuing the first four issues of Static as Static Shock: Trial by Fire and even a mini-series. The show garnered two Emmy nominations in 2003 and won the Emmy for Outstanding Music Direction and Composition in 2004. However, the show was essentially canceled shy of its fifth season because of what?
DC Comics and Warner Bros. decided that because Static Shock merchandise did not sell well and for that the show was not worth it. This logic was seriously misconstrued given the fact that at the time of Static Shock’s cancellation it was the 18th most watched Saturday morning children’s show of all networks.
After the cancellation, DC Comics executive editor Dan DiDio announced that Milestone would be merged into the DC Universe in 2008. Then in 2010, DC released the limited series Milestone Forever that explained the merger of the characters into the DC universe. After 2010 a few of Milestone characters made sporadic appearances through DC comic issues and the Young Justice TV series. For the most part, besides Static, most of the company’s characters have been left to settle dust and then a surprising announcement shook the comic-book community in 2015.
The Controversial New Milestone (Milestone 2.0)
In January of 2015, Reginald Hudlin, Denys Cowan, and Derek Dingle announced plans to revive Milestone Comics dubbing it “Milestone 2.0”. They announced that DC and Milestone 2.0 would be working together to produce a lineup of the original issues along with new ones. The issues were slated for release in Spring of 2018, but a problem arose- and a lawsuit. Charlotte McDuffie, the widow of Dwayne McDuffie (who died in 2011), filed a lawsuit alleging that Milestone 2.0 (or as the suit calls it “New Milestone”) cut McDuffie’s estate out of the deal.
The lawsuit makes more than a handful of allegations against Cowan, Hudlin, and Dingle especially. The first allegation addressed by the lawsuit is that the Defendants (Cowan, Hudlin, and Dingle) obstructed Charlotte from obtaining information about Dwayne’s shares. The lawsuit says that the Defendants engaged in stonewalling tactics to hinder Charlotte from obtaining information: e.g., “playing “telephone tag”; repeatedly scheduling calls and meetings, but then canceling them at the last minute; and claiming to be too busy to attend to matters because of the press of “other business”. The lawsuit also states that Milestone was owned by both Dingle and McDuffie respectively and that before Dwayne’s death, Hudlin wanted nothing to do with the company and it was not until McDuffie’s death that Hudlin was interested in Milestone. The lawsuit also acknowledges the failure of “New Milestone” to buy out McDuffie’s shares stating that: “New Milestone” had 90 days to repurchase the deceased (McDuffie) shareholder’s shares but opted to do so believing that they were “better off”.
One of the most shocking allegations that the lawsuit mentions is that Cowan, Dingle, and Hudlin spoke about reviving Milestone at McDuffie’s wake-admitted by Hudlin. DC Comics is also mentioned in the suit but not as a co-conspirator. The lawsuit alleges that “New Milestone” is as an “interference with prospective economic relations (the original agreement between Milestone and DC Comics).
So the plan to revive Milestone has been halted, and although many fans believe this to be Charlotte’s fault, I cannot entirely agree. Although we have not heard much from Cowan, Hudlin, and Dingle or DC Comics, it seems that the lawsuit has merit, which means someone did something wrong. I asked Charlotte on Twitter if it was true that “that the reason DC won’t publish any Milestone comics is because you won’t give them any permission” and Charlotte responded with: “#False DC has had absolutely no contact with me regarding this… or anything.”
This situation leaves many Milestone fans questioning the creators of one of the most prolific companies in the industry. I want Milestone back more than anyone but not if the revival excludes the McDuffie estate given Charlotte’s success as an illustrator. Dwayne loved Milestone just as much as or even more than Cowan, Hudlin, and Dingle themselves.
Most people are split between blaming Charlotte or Cowan, Hudlin, and Dingle or DC Comics themselves. It is shocking that they would allow the situation to get this far. The only plausible explanations I can think of that explains why “New Milestone” did not buy McDuffie’s share before the 90-day window closed is because they did not have the money which is also sketchy. Going with this idea, I do not doubt that DC could have fronted the money to buy out McDuffie’s shares, knowing that they would make the money back in no time. It is also baffling to me that DC would not know about McDuffie’s shares and go along with the three’s plans to revive Milestone, which leads me to the only other explanation. Dingle, Cowan, and Hudlin did not care about cutting Dwayne’s estate out of the picture. Either way, this is bad business on the three’s hand and DC’s as well. Not much has been said about the case besides the lawsuit documents that were posted in 2017, which leads me to believe it is still ongoing at this point. It is clear what needs to happen, either DC, Dingle, Cowan, and Hudlin need to buy out McDuffie’s shares or at least include Charlotte in the plans but it looks like the parties are not looking to do either.
This Revolution Will Be Televised
One of the promotional taglines from Milestone’s promotions in 1993 was the slogan “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and for years we all believed that a Milestone character would never be on the big screen. However, a Black Gay director from St. Louis, Missouri named David Kirkman is challenging that notion.
With $3,000, Kirkland developed a 44-minute Static Short Film that has garnered over 48,000 views since it’s premiere on May 10th 2019. Kirkman now has a GoFundMe project up to help him finance not only a sequel to his short film but to build a mini-cinematic universe of Milestone fan films. This alone shows you how essential Milestone comics is to the comic-book community. The love for Milestone has even led to the Twitter movement #ReviveMilestone coined by Twitter User @StaticOvid and promoted by Twitter user @MrNoFollowers that has been tweeted countless times since 2018. The love for not only Static but Icon, Rocket, Masquerade, Technique, Starlight, and even Oblivion still exists in comic-book fans around the world.
Milestone did what no other company in the industry could do. They displayed the Black experience authentically and allowed for our stories to be heard even in comic form. The Black identity exists within these characters, within their lives, within their struggles, within their triumphs. Milestone challenged the idea of Blackness as stagnant and reintroduced the concepts of diversity and complexity that inhibits Black Americans. This is why Milestone matters to the comic-book community.
So where does this leave Milestone fans?
At a stalemate.
While the founders of “New Milestone”, DC Comics, and Charlotte McDuffie fight amongst themselves they have left the fans puzzled, angry, and saddened, but most of all determined. There is a coalition of Milestone fans and supporters who campaign every day on every social media they have telling the world what Milestone means to them.
That means something.
A company that opened up in 1993 and that closed in 1994 is still being touted in 2019 almost 27 years after the first release. With more and more Black readers buying comics, it makes no sense, not to #ReviveMilestone. We have seen the success of a Black superhero on the Big Screen, we have seen the success of female characters; we have seen the success of a diverse cinematic and comic universe. That is what Milestone has to offer and what it can possibly bring. Static is not a side character that makes sporadic appearances as a token Black hero, but a hero in his own right that had a successful comic run and a hit TV show.
DC Comics, you have the power to give your fans what they want.
And we want Milestone.