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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Shawn’s advice to the Publishers of Milestone Media 2.0. Part 1

Milestone comics are back! While I’m happy to hear about the launch of Milestone 2.0, As a publisher of African-American fantasy writer and publisher of the SJS DIRECT Imprint, I know what challenges this fledgling publisher will face in launching their new titles. Reading their titles back in the 1990’s and taking a more crtitcal look at their older comics from a business perspective in 2015 I see areas the publishers of Milestone need to work on with their publications this time around including:

1.         Develop some interesting villains. Milestone has some of the most memorable Black superheroes in comic book history. Almost everyone knows who Hardware, Icon, Rocket and Static are. But can anyone name their arch enemies? Outside of Edwin Alva, Hotstreak, Holocaust, and maybe Ebon from the Static Shock show most of Milestone’s villains weren’t that memorable.

Back in 1993, Milestone’s creators ran into a problem many creators like myself have when we start out in the business. They made great heroes with interesting personalities, strong “voices”, and great powers. But when it came to bad guys they didn’t create anyone with the same amount of depth and complexity to oppose their heroes. Most of the villians were pretty much one-dimensional in terms of personality and “voice” and were usually written like jobbers put there for the hero to squash as they moved on to the next isusue.

At Milestone there was never really a villain that ever made readers say “I fucking hate that mother****!” Or made you say to themselves “Oh **** what the ****did just he do!” A villain has to be able to generate heat and stimulate the readers’ emotions and make the audience root for the hero to beat them. Guys like Edwin Alva, Holocaust, and Hotstreak, showed potential for stimulating the readers’ emotions, but never had that Jim Ross Muh God defining heel moment that had readers counting down 30 days in anticipation of the next issue.

A great hero can make someone buy a comic. But it’s a great villain that keeps readers buying. All stories are about conflict. And bad guys drive conflict. So the antagonist has to be just as compelling as the hero if the book hopes to keep readers buying books regularly. Milestone needs to create villains that are as memorable and multi-dimensional as Green Goblin, Dr. Doom, and Deathstroke The Terminator if they hope to keep readers buying their titles this go around in the marketplace.

2.         Focus on relationships between heroes and villians. Milestone had great heroes. But due to the lack of multidimensional bad guys there wasn’t much to get readers excited about. Yeah, they were Black superheroes. But Milestone needed those multi-dimensional villains to really sell how great their heroes were.

At Milestone there was no real focus on building a relationship between the hero and their rogues like there was between charcters like Batman, Spider-Man and The Flash. Yeah, Hotstreak and Static had a bit of a heat in their rivalry and Hardware was angry with Edwin Alva, but there was never that chemistry swirling between the characters that would get readers excited about their stories like there was between Batman and the Joker or Tony Stark and Justin Hammer or Obidiah Stane.

And because Milestone’s heroes really didn’t have a close relationship with their villains they never had that one archenemy or series of archenemies that truly defined their characters or their charcters’ mission. Yeah, most Milestone villains were formidable, but they rarely ever really tested the mettle or the morals of the characters.

The relationship between a hero and their villains is what gets readers really excited about their comics. In these stories we see the hero and the heroes’ mission challeneged. Archenemies test a heros’ resolve and show the audience why they stand for what they believe in.

Relationships between the hero and the villain are important because they make the reader CARE about what’s going on in between the pages of a comic. The more the readers CARE about what’s going on, the more compelled they are to buy comics every month and see good triumph over evil.

3.         Develop a Black female heroine with her own ongoing book. Plain and simple the Milestone Universe is a sausage fest. Yeah, there’s Rocket. But she’s a teenager. And a sidekick at that. Dusk…She’s another teenager. There was Technique but she’s not distinct enough to carry a book on her own.

There’s a difference between a Black girl and a Black woman. And Milestone really needs a Black woman as a heroine carrying her own book this time to bring some balance to their universe. A heroine with her own series of rogues could be the book that got female readers excited about Milestones’ characters and get them buying comics in the universe on the regular basis.

In Phase II at Milestone in 1994 I was sure a Black woman was going to get her own book. But…No. Instead we got an Asian guy (Xombi), an alleged Cuban guy (Kobalt) with a White Sidekick and a team book filled with second tier heroes (Shadow Cabinet) were what were introduced. Milestone really needs to launch that book with an original Black heroine to really show that there’ll be balance to their universe this time around.

4.         Don’t sabotoge good characters before they become great. From what I read Rocket could have been as popular as Storm, Amanda Waller, or Vixen. But all her potential for greatness was ruined in the second issue of Icon when her pregnancy was announced. That pretty much sucked the life out of the character and prevented her from becoming as popular as Static.

When it comes to heroines, readers want someone they can identify with and relate to. Someone they aspire to be. With Static they could imagine themselves flying on the static saucer and related to his struggles as a teenager. But Rocket had nothing readers could imagine themselves being. What girl wants to imagine being a single mother? What girl wants to imagine themselves dealing with a baby daddy who doesn’t want to be in the picture? Rocket didn’t need to be a single mom to be a compelling character.

No nonblack teen heroine in comics was ever a baby momma. Kitty Pryde wasn’t a baby mama. Neither was Supergirl, Saturn Girl or Buffy Summers. No, these teen heroines were allowed to deal with all the issues of just being teenagers like boys, dating, and fashion. And that’s why readers loved them. Rocket could have made a great contrast to the middle class Static in dealing with being a teen heroine who struggled with poverty, but we never got to see that part of her life due to the pregnancy storyline that sucked all the life out of her character.

Richard Page got a chance to team up with Static in Kobalt #8. And that was one of the most fun issues published in Milestone’s short history. I wish we could have gotten that kind of team up between Rocket and Static and really shown what made both distinct heroes. I think that comic would have flown off the shelves in 1994 and I still think it would fly off the shelves today.

5.         Have the heroes do something absolutely incredible. Milestone stories always had the problem of ending with a period. But comics are supposed to end on an exclamaition point. What’s the difference between the two? A period just ends a sentence. An exclamation point makes you excited to read what’s next.

Exclamaition points get readers attention. They stimulate the readers’ emotions. They get readers anticipating the next issue and have them rushing to the comic shop to buy it.

Milestone heroes haven’t had that one moment where they did something that made you go “Oh S***! That defining moment that put you in awe of them and showed what they really could do. A moment like that where Iron Man used all his power to knock the Hulk out with one punch Or in Secret wars When Hulk used all of his strength to hold up a mountain or where Superman punched out Darkseid in the climax of Destroyer. Or even a moment like that in WWE’s Hell in a Cell in 1998 where Undertaker threw Mankind off the top of the cage and into the Spanish announcer’s table.

It’s these moments that readers talk about for years. It’s these moments that put readers in awe of a character and show them how cool they are. It’s these moments that make readers into fans and superfans.

Sure Hardware and Static show great knowledge with science. And Icon and Rocket use their powers well in a battle. But they’ve never had that one moment where they did something so amazing readers still talk about it to this day.

In the SJS DIRECT Universe Isis had that moment in her battle with the super-powered Raheema Sanders in Isis: Wrath of the Cybergoddess. E’steem had that moment in Isis when she razed the Island of Solitude in a firestorm at the climax of the first Isis book. John Haynes had that moment when he confronted E’steem in the climax of The Temptation of John Haynes. Milestone’s heroes needs to have that kind of defining moment to really make that statement about what makes their heroes great.

I was happy to hear about the return of Milestone Media and the Milestone heroes. But as a publisher with seven years in the game and a writer with over 20 years of experience I know this company is starting down a long road filled with lots of potholes and obstacles. And I’m hoping they can learn from their previous mistakes and go on to grow and expand their brand and take their characters to the next level. If I got the chance I’d love to share my experience with them and join them on the journey as they build their new brand. I wish them the best of luck and I hope the creators are ready for all the challenges they’ll face publishing comics in the 21st Century.

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