Wednesday, May 4, 2011

HALL OF FAME SPECIAL # 1 - ICON (#1-3): Dwayne McDuffie


Welcome to Comic Book Clash where comic books take each other on to find story & character supremacy. The industry has been through many changes, chief among them is the deaths of fictional character Johnny Storm and actual former creator Dwayne McDuffie. So this Clash will just be a little different. There will still be a class but I am going to examine characters in different ways. Partially as a tribute, partially as a review.

So with that said, I am going to dive into the former Milestone Imprint. Ladies and Gentlemen, we will take a look at the first 3 issues of the now classic Icon.

TALE OF THE TAPE:

            To be personal for a second, I have a lot of influences for writing. Particularly when it comes to writing for the comic book industry, Dwayne McDuffie made it among my top 5 influences. Mr. McDuffie’s (I am not going to call him by just his last name) special distinction with me is that he made me believe that you can be a man of color and making it in this business; have a career and love every minute of it.  So, today is going to be a special Clash to me. Everyone has said how much Mr. McDuffie has influenced them and all the work he has done. What I am going to do is give a brief history and review the comic.
            Dwayne McDuffie had done a lot of work for DC, Marvel and other companies over the years. When he started Milestone back in the 90s, I was immediately enthralled. I had only started my comic book collecting 2 years earlier (Next week marks my 20th anniversary of me collecting comics).  I looked at the books that were coming out first from the Milestone line and I felt I “NEEDED” to grab them all. And I did get the first issues of the original 4 books that started the line: Blood Syndicate, Static, Hardware and Icon.
    And I was hooked. I started buying those issues here and there cause I didn’t have a subscription yet. I was amazed by the Milestone universe and greatly appreciated the diversity. Not just in color but in religion and sexual orientation. This was NOT a typical Marvel or DCU that had people of different colors but barely touched anything else. This was new territory and I loved every last panel of it. Still do actually.
            Unfortunately, Milestone was not able to last too long, as they close their doors 5 years later. Yet, I still followed Mr. McDuffie’s career. Fast forward to sometime in 2003 or 2004, where I watched tv one day and out of no where, I see Static in animated form. And while the fact that the cartoon was called Static Shock made me cringe, I loved seeing Static’s adventures being animated. And then I saw the episodes where he teamed up with the Justice League and I nearly exploded and died of  joy. Seeing Mr. McDuffie’s name attached made me jump up and down . . . literally.
            I watched Justice League and Justice League Unlimited with delight. When I found out that Storm and Black Panther were joining the now defunct Fantastic Four, I was elated. When I found out Mr. McDuffie was writing it . . . I nearly peed my pants in excitement. To this day, I still say one of the best moments in FF history is when Ben is holding Ororo (Storm) by her hair and she pouts as she proves that her hair is Not a weave; with Ben regretting ever mentioning that was what Michael Collins (aka Deathlok, who was written by Mr. McDuffie) had told him. He took over the Justice League of America after Brad Meltzer left the book.  It was wonderful. It was glorious. When the Milestone characters were integrated into the DCU, I nearly went into the hospital in a blissful coma of awesome. There was the Shadow Cabinet, with Hardware & Icon, fighting the Justice League of America. I loved every since second of reading that story. I loved every second of Mr. McDuffie’s run on the Justice League of America.
            Time passed and heard he did the animated movie adaptation of All Star Superman. I was psyched. I had not had watched it when Mr. McDuffie past away. Since then, I have been looking for every single last milestone book in existence that I do not own among other things that I do not have that he worked on. And thus, I read what I could of his history, the reports of what was said in his honor and decided that I wanted to honor him. And this will be part of it. Yet, before I get to the review, please note that while I respect Mr. McDuffie deeply, I will still be judging his work just like any other still keeping in mind the time that it came out. Nonetheless, this is still a review, as well as a tribute. And now, Icon.


CLASH FACTS:
           
            Our story opens with a space ship having problems out in space. It is falling apart as we see someone who looks like the blue cousin to Kermit the Frog run about till he gets into an escape pod. By the way, the date at the beginning of the book is 1839. The pod goes with the Blue Kermie inside and crashes into a plantation here on Earth. As an African American woman approaches it, Blue Kermie inside transforms into a baby. The woman scoops up the baby and then we fast forward to 1993.
            In 1993 in the city of Dakota (not one of the states), we see a man holding shakles who talks to his partner. His partner states that if he is trying to pick up a woman with those, he might want to wait til the second date. The man holding the shackles, Augustus Freeman III, tells his partner that he found the joke in bad taste. One thing that makes August stands out is that he has excellent verbiage; he sounds very educated and is very educated as we find out that he is a lawyer. Augustus tells his partner that he is going over meeting a young girl who sees the world very differently than he does. He says that the young girl reminded him of Estelle, which we found out to be his deceased wife. Augustus says that they are lawyers and that they should do more while his partner points out as lawyers they already help people.
            We go to Paris Island aka the projects where we meet out other main character of this lovely book, Raquel. Raquel is writing her diary as narration as we go with her as she gets picked up by three guys. One of them, Noble, suggests that since the police are busy with a riot known as the Big Bang; they would go to the rich part of town and help themselves to a few things. Raquel protests but Noble reminds her that they are rich and that they can find her a typewriter for her to use. WOW! Dated Reference! Ah . . . gotta love 90’s comics.  Raquel relents because she wants to be like her idol, Toni Morrison and bets that she has a typewriter. And Noble is her boyfriend. Our heroine ladies and gentlemen.
            So Raquel, Noble and the other two guys go into a large mansion in the rich part of town known as Prospect Hills. They enter and Raquel is amazed by the library she stumbles upon. She goes on about all the knowledge in the room when she sees a computer.  Between the library and the computer, she goes on how she wanted them more than anything but she is stopped by the voice of Augustus. Augustus runs into Noble and his boys stealing a big screen tv. Noble pulls out a gun and tells Augustus not to worry about this; they just want to take some stuff from his boss and that no white man’s stuff is worth dying over. Geez Noble! You are such a brain trust. *facepalms*
            Augustus corrects him stating that the house and the stuff were all his and that he intends to not allow it. Noble calls him a “Bougie-ass-em-eff!” As Augustus states that he will not tolerate that language and . . .BANG!
            Noble shoots him. Raquel narrates her horror of someone being shot . . . then someone getting up.
            Augustus standing up after getting shot point blank range from a guy FREAKS out everyone, causing Raquel and the other guys to run. August takes and breaks Noble’s gun and tells him not to move an inch and he’ll be back.  Augustus runs out then flies as Raquel is the only one to stop and look back to see. Augustus collects them all together. Then tells them that they will return what they stole and if they want something . ..  to work for it; that they’re behavior reflects badly on themselves and their people. One of the other guys say he was gonna shoot Augustus in his face when Augustus states: “I sincerely hope that whatever you’re about to pull out of your coat is made of chocolate because I promise you, I’m gonna make you eat it.” Which stops the guy from doing anything. Augustus adds that he wants them to tell nothing of what happened tonight and never do anything like this again . . . or they would see him again.
            We find out that later Raquel visits Augustus formally and come sup with the concept of Icon and Rocket. As Augustus and her talk, she goes on about him setting an example. Augustus again states that if someone wants something they should pull themselves up from their own bootstraps and work for it. Raquel reminds him that it is easy to pull himself up by his bootstraps when he can fly loudly in front of Augustus’s maid. She leaves and narrates that 2 days later, he shows up with costumes made the same way she had drawn them.
They met three weeks later as they take their first sojourn as Icon and Rocket. There is a hostage situation at city hall and Icon(Augustus) wants to go in and ask the police if they need help. Rocket (Raquel) says that they will turn their guns at him for being a flying black man; that she is supposed to be the na├»ve one. Icon says do not assume everything is racial. They land and ask if the police need help when all the police, including a special police unit called S.H.R.E.D. turn their guns towards the duo. Raquel states, “… I be this never happens to Superman.”
The second issue opens with a man walking into city hall 4 hours earlier with ease as he is welcomed by the receptionist; who is actually surprised to see Kevin (the man); she is so surprised cause she states that they though he was dead. Kevin says that it is not that simple, enters the mayor’s office and holds her hostage; radioing in help under the name Payback. Back with our heroes, Icon is trying to talk to police as they tell them to put up their hands while Rocket says she did do anything so she’s not complying. A member of S.H.R.E.D. goes over and tries to smack her . . . hitting her inertial field; it collects energy , shields her and helps her fly. And she uses it to reflect any force towards her . . .to hit the cop that tried to attack her. And then the cops fight Icon and Rocket, although, Icon is very much resistant to the idea of fighting them. As bullets ricochet off Icon, he goes to help the civilians. After a few minutes, S.H.R.E.D. surrounds them when Icon tells Rocket to leave. She does and Icon gives himself up. He is arrested only to view the hostages attacking and killing cops. Icon frees himself from the shackles and flies, saving members of S.H.R.E.D. Icon calls for Rocket to save the other members of the police and she appears, doing so. She later asks how Icon knew she was there and he answers cause he ordered her to leave. NICE. Payback tries to get Mayor Thomasina Jefferson to admit she gave the order to use the experimental gas at the Big Bang; a gas according to him that killed the majority of the people at the Big Bang that night. The mayor denies it and says that there is no proof of what happened that night. Payback exclaims that he is proof when Icon and Rocket walk in. Icon tells Payback that he does not need the gun anymore and that he’s in pain. Payback throws the gun away then transforms into a muscle bound green monster with talons.
Suddenly, Payback decides to attack our heroes after feeling antagonized by the mayor. As he slams the mayor’s decks on Icon, the new hero stands up, stating enough is enough; till Payback slices into Icon’s chest with his talons. Icon falls to his knees in pain and disbelief. Pissing her off, Rocket goes up against Payback. As the two trade blows, Icon gets to his feet. Payback decides to leave after Rocket his him hard. Payback promises to return for the mayor but retreats. Icon tells Rocket to follow Payback but not to fight him. And what does she do . . .follows him and goes to fight him again of course!
Icon readies himself to go after them when the mayor thanks him for saving her life. The rest of the terrorists that Payback hired run into the room with guns held. Icon handles the terrorists with ease. After which, Icon flies the mayor down and lands her safely with the police. He flies off as the on lookers and police applaud Icon. Rocket follows Payback into the sewer and fight. Payback gives up and tells her what happened the night of the Big Bang. He changes back and tells on how the mayor ordered the use of the experimental gas that ended up mutating him and killing so many people. Rocket suggests that she will pretend that she never found him when Icon hovers in. Icon states he heard the story and asks that Payback turn himself in but vows to find out what happened during the Big Bang.  Payback complies and the next day, Icon is given the key to the city. Icon makes the following speech:

As many of you have already witnessed, I am gifted with certain special abilities. I had possessed these gifts for many years but for the most part refrained from using them. No more. Today I set a challenge for myself. A challenge to be of Service to Humanity. I will do this by being a living example of what’s possible. I intend to hold myself to a very high standard. I ask no less of you. I challenge you to challenge yourselves. You are all gifted with special abilities. Strive to live up to your potential as I will strive to live up to mine. I can fly . . . so can you.

            After that speech, Icon flies to meet Rocket at the broken bridge where they had first dressed as Icon and Rocket. Rocket states that Icon should run for mayor while Icon states they have a lot of work to do and have taken the first step. He adds that she will have to get used to being in the the sidelines due to her condition. Rocket asks what condition. The final panel has Icon revealing that his sidekick is pregnant. I bet that never happens to Batman and Robin.


CLASH TACTICS:

            M.D Bright has one of the most recognizable art styles in comics. You can look at any comic in the last 20 years and you can pick out his style with ease. And it is a great style displayed here. People are as distinct as they should be without extra detail while not being too simple. From the hair to the clothes, you know who is who in this book. And no one is hyper muscular . . . except for Payback who is supposed to be hyper muscular. Bright’s backgrounds are also as distinct as his people which help build this new world that was introduced back in 1993. Honestly, Bright is the Icon penciler. Seeing someone else do Icon is fine  but Bright definitely left his stamp on Icon.
            Mike Gustovitch’s inks and the colorists ( Rachelle Menashe, James Sherman, Noelle Giddings & John Cebollero) bring out Bright’s art with a spectacular feast for the eyes and draw you into the Milestone Universe. Dakota felt like a real city and looked the part. A great job by this team.
            Which brings me to the man of the hour, Mr. Dwayne McDuffie. As much of his work and other work I have had the pleasure of reading in the last 2 decades, this first story is by far one of my favorites. This not only services as one of the introductions of Milestone’s “Superman” but also introduces an interesting part of the Milestone Universe. Where the upper class work with the lower class in order to build something new and interesting. Where people can see the world in all its myriad colors and work together to make something better. And ideally, that is what Icon is about. Not just the brother from another planet. Not the young idealistic yet street smart Rocket. Icon stood for smooth, ideals, abilities to move past where you are and believe in who you are; and from the beginning, Mr. McDuffie made that loud in clear through not only the words within the first story but within art itself. We got told of a story of a man who crashed on earth and was raised by a slave woman without ever been told directly. The pictures and 2 hints were put with in the story to explain that. Our intelligence is not insulted but indeed encouraged as Mr. McDuffie lets Bright give an explanation with art, not words.
            Mr. McDuffie fleshed out our main characters quickly and easily. Rocket was the street wise girl who was underprivileged and looking for more in her life. Icon was a man who had worked up to get to where he was and forgot what the other side felt like. Rocket looked upon what Icon had as gifts and riches; for many readers, they would agree with her. Icon saw what he had as just parts of who he was and what he had earned. It was great to see these two begin this journey and look at what would become of it. For someone who was well over 150 years old, Icon still learned something. He did not allow his status nor his ego be too big for him to learn something from Raquel. And that alone made Icon a lot different from Superman. Also, Raquel learned a lot from Icon. A new way of seeing things besides just how they are. It was Augustus who first inspired Raquel in the first place that allowed  her to come up with the concept and ideals behind Icon and Rocket; to be inspiration that anyone can do anything.
            Honestly, I could go all day on the aspects and inspiration that Icon provides just in the first 3 issues but I won’t. That is what you going out there getting the issues or the trades are for. Add in the mystery of the Big Bang, a possible political conspiracy, a look at police brutality and the start of one of the landmark characters in all of comics. And as for looking for flaws for the first story arc, I really don’t seem to find any. Anything that could be nitpicked honestly was addressed in its own way throughout the arc.
            Dwayne McDuffie gives an interesting statement on both the minority community and the Superman archetype. As one of the 4 books that constructed the Milestone, this one seemed to have a great balance of gritty realism while still being light and hopeful. Like its name, Icon shined as a beacon and is still some of Mr. McDuffie’s best writing.

With that, I gives this a rating of a World Heavyweight Contender. Mr. Dwayne McDuffie . . . thank you for all your work and inspiring all of us of any color or nationality or orientation to go for our dreams and believe in ourselves. For this, you are the FIRST inductee EVER into the COMIC BOOK CLASH HALL OF FAME and will always be remembered.

Thank You All Joining Me.


Next Week: TRIPLE THREAT MATCH BEGINS!!!

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