|Created by||Dwayne McDuffie
by Milestone Media
|Theme music composer|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||52 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||22 minutes|
|Original channel||The WB|
|Original release||September 23, 2000– May 22, 2004|
Static Shock is an American animated television series based on the Milestone Media/DC Comics superhero Static. It premiered on September 3, 2000 on the Kids' WB! block programming and ran for four seasons, with 52 half-hour episodes in total. The show revolves around Virgil Hawkins, an African-American boy who gains electromagnetic powers after the release of a mutagen gas during a gang fight. Part of the DC animated universe, the series was produced by Warner Bros. Animation from a crew composed mostly of people from the company's past shows.
Although two of the original creators, namely Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan, were involved in the series, Static Shock had some alterations from the original comic book because it was oriented to a pre-teen audience. Nevertheless, the show approached several social issues, which was very received by television critics. Static Shock was nominated for numerous awards, including the Daytime Emmy Awards. While the show received criticism for its jokes and animation, the series's popularity revived interest in the original Milestone comic. It[who?] also produced some merchandise on the series, which sold poorly; McDuffie cited the poor sales as one of the main factors behind the series' cancellation.
Virgil is a 14-year-old high school student. His best friend is Richie Foley, and he has a crush on a girl named Frieda. He also has a dispute with a bully named Francis, or "F-Stop," and is saved by a gang leader named Wade. Recently, Wade helped Virgil in hopes to recruit him, but Virgil is hesitant, as he knows his mother was killed in a gunfire between gangs. Wade eventually leads Virgil to a restricted area for a fight against F-Stop's crew, but it was interrupted by police helicopters. During the dispute with the police, a shot is fired releasing gas causing mutations among the people in the vicinity. (This event was later known as "The Big Bang".) It causes Virgil to obtain the ability to create, generate, absorb, and control electricity and magnetism. He became known as "Static". But the gas also gives others in the area their own powers, and it also leads several of them to become supervillains. The mutated people become meta-humans known as "Bang Babies", and their mutations apparently spread to other people around them.
- Virgil Ovid Hawkins/Static (Phil LaMarr) – A high school student in Dakota City. As a result of accidental exposure to an experimental mutagen in an event known as the Big Bang, he gained the ability to control and manipulate electromagnetism, and uses these powers to become a superhero named "Static." Countless others who were also exposed also gained a wide variety of mutations and abilities, and Static spends much of his time dealing with these "Bang Babies", many of whom use their abilities in selfish, harmful, and even criminal ways.
- Richard "Richie" Osgood Foley/Gear (voiced by Jason Marsden) – Virgil's best friend and confidant. At first, he merely provides support for his friend, making gadgets for him and helping to cover for Virgil to protect his secret identity. In the third season, it is revealed Richie's passive exposure to the Bang Gas gave him enhanced intelligence, which enabled him to easily invent rocket-powered boots and "Backpack", a highly intelligent multipurpose device worn on the back capable of surveillance and other semi-independent activity. With this equipment, he adopted the superhero identity "Gear" and becomes Static's full-time partner in crime-fighting.
- Robert Hawkins (Kevin Michael Richardson) – A social worker who runs the Freeman Community Center as head counselor. He is a widower and the single father of two teenagers—Virgil and Sharona. He dislikes gangs and the destructive attitudes of most Bang Babies, and his work at the community center is motivated by a desire to counteract their bad influence on young people.
- Sharon Hawkins (Michele Morgan) – Virgil's older sister. Sharon attends college, but she still lives at home. She volunteers at a hospital, and counsels young people at the Freeman Community Center. Although deep down, she and her younger brother do love each other in a brother-sister way; they frequently argue, challenge, and tease each other, mainly about things such as the household chores, his studying, and her cooking (which is usually barely edible).
- Adam Evans/Rubber-Band Man (voiced by Kadeem Hardison) – A meta-human whose body structure consists of shapeable rubber. He is the younger brother of Static's archenemy, Ebon. Rubber-Band Man first appears a tragic villain when he goes after an opportunistic record producer who stole one of his songs. He subsequently breaks out of prison but decides not to pursue a criminal career, however; he begins dating Virgil's sister Sharon, and although he initially clashes with Static, he reforms and becomes one of his allies in crime-fighting.
- Ivan Evans/Ebon (voiced by Gary Sturgis) – The head of a large group of Bang Babies called "The Meta-Breed" and the series' main villain. Ebon is an unusually powerful and strong meta-human; a living shadow and inter-dimensional portal able to hide within, control and manipulate pure darkness and shadows, as well as transport others to various locations of his choice.
The series was produced by Warner Bros. Animation based on Milestone Media/DC Comics character Static. Its supervising producer was Alan Burnett and Scott Jeralds was the main producer under the executive production of Jean MacCurdy and Sander Schwartz. The production team was mainly composed by people who were involved with Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, but also included Static's co-creator Denys Cowan. Although the show hired the comic series creator Dwayne McDuffie as story editor and writer, McDuffie had no involvement on the development of Static Shock. By the time Milestone and DC drafted their contract over DC distributing Milestone comics, the characters were from separated fictional universes. However, when crossovers between Static Shock and other DC animated series were suggested, it was established they were from the same universe—the DC animated universe—"rather than having to muck around with multiple dimensions, or whatever."
The show changes some aspects of the original comic book because of its timeslot and target audience of pre-teens. For example, guns appeared less frequently, Richie is not portrayed as a homossexual, and he is Virgil's confidant instead of Frieda. Other differences include Virgil's age, costumes and use of his powers; his mother is also dead in the series while she is alive in the comics. McDuffie was concerned by the last change because he originally intended to oppose the stereotype of black people not having a complete nuclear family. However, McDuffie said "that [it] worked out okay" as the crew could use the absence of Virgil's mother to create a "couple of great stories". Richie also gains superhero powers only in the TV series and that was because it was becoming hard to fit the character in the story, and the producers did want to lose the "chemistry" between LaMarr and Marsden.
Broadcast and release
The first African American superhero-centered television series, Static Shock started airing on the Kids' WB! programming block of the the WB on September 23, 2000. The series ran for 52 episodes and the last episode was broadcast on May 22, 2004. Its episodes handles with a variety of issues that ranges from gangs, gun violence, homelessness, bullying, racism, and mental illness, to Chanukah and Christmas celebration. The series was also marked by several crossover episodes with characters from the DC animated universe like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, the Justice League, and the Batman Beyond cast. Reruns of the series were shown on Cartoon Network, starting from December 2001. The first six episodes were released to DVD on September 28, 2004, in a single DVD volume entitled "The New Kid". The complete first season was made available for download on iTunes on July 4, 2011.
Static Shock was an extremely popular show, granting its new renewal for a second season just a month later from its debut. As of December 2000, it was the highest-rated pre-teen show on its timeslot and the third best on Kids' WB! lineup. Ratings increased after Richie's character obtained superhero powers; McDuffie affirmed it was what secured the renewal for a new season. From February to April 2003 ratings among kids regularly performed over the 4.0 stake; it even reached the mark of 6.4 in May. On the last season, it was only overcomed by Pokémon and its reruns on Cartoon Network were only surpassed by Family Guy; nevertheless, it was cancelled due to the production of few merchandising products. It performed well on Cartoon Network to the point of being the only program of the channel to be among the top 30 most watched kids shows in a week of October 2004. It was also the best rated program of the channel among kids on a week of January 2005, and the best rated show on the Miguzi block as of March 2005. For the 2004–05 season, it was the 18th most watched Saturday morning children's show of all networks.
In the The Superhero Book, Andy Mangels praised its multicultural approach, declaring "Static Shock provides solid superheroic entertainment and a role model and promotion of diversity for not only African-American viewers, but for audiences of all colors and ages." Lynne Heffley of Los Angeles Times commented it "isn't your typical Saturday-morning cartoon series", praising its themes and electing the episode "Jimmy"—about gun violence—as an example. Emily Ashby from Common Sense Media was positive to the fact that Virgil usually counted on dialogues with Richie to plan before going into action. Ashby also appreciated Virgil's "relatable" character, his "surprising depth of character" to not follow a gang but to use his powers for good, and how it encourages diversity. Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Monique Jones praised the series for a positive depiction not only of an African American superhero but of an African country—Ghana. Jones also commended Virgil's portrayal as an everyman teenager and how the series incorporated social issues in "an easily digestible" way but without having to "sugarcoat" them. Jonathon Dornbush, in a 2014 Entertainment Weekly article, included it among the nine best comics-based animated TV series. He asserted, "Static Shock didn't have quite the name recognition of its DC brethren when it debuted, but the show proved it could stand alongside the greats." While described it as "a surprising and sometimes rewarding success", Leonard Pierce of The A.V. Club considered it to be "the most kid-oriented of all the [DC animated universe] franchise's shows."
Entertainment Weekly 's Ken Tucker questioned why the WB made a TV show based on a cancelled, poorly-sold comic and criticized "uttering tired, condescending lines" professed by Virgil. Nancy Imperiale Wellons from Orlando Sentinel said "Virgil has a believable relationship with his family -- including a strong father figure -- but the show's pacing lags." Paul Schultz wrote for New York Daily News that "Many of the characters -- the conservative, the annoying sister -- are cliches." Thelma Adams criticized it in the New York Post; first she called it "formulaic but appealing" and ultimately dubbed it "lame". John Sinnott of DVD Talk called it "a fun series overall" but considered some jokes to be "a little stale", and some of the animation to be "a little stilted." He also enjoyed seems Virgil trying to solve his problems by discusing them prior to using his powers, "something that most animated heroes never think to do." Neil Dorsett of DVD Verdict was generally dissapointed; he called voice acting "very standard", and said "artwork and animation are also both behind the times". Dorsett also criticized Virgil's one-lines, which "invites, like many other elements of the series, comparison to Spider-Man." He, however, pondered that his opinion may come from a bad first impression: "Although there are lots of things to nitpick about the show, there's not really anything wrong with it." Both Sinnott and Dorsett compared it unfavorably to the original comic book.
The episode "The Big Leagues" earned director Dave Chlystek a nomation for Outstanding Achievement for Directing in an Animated Television Production at the 2002 Annie Awards. The same episode was nominated for a Golden Reel Award of Best Sound Editing in Television Animation in 2003. For the episode "Jimmy", McDuffie was awarded the Humanitas Prize in 2003. At the 30th Daytime Emmy Awards in 2003 the show was nominated for Special Class Animated Program and Richard Wolf was nominated for the Achievement in Music Direction and Composition. At the 31st Daytime Emmy Awards in 2004 the series was nominated for the same category while Wolf won the award.
The show's popularity led to new demand for the Milestone's Static comics: the first four issues of it were reissued as Static Shock: Trial by Fire in 2000 and a miniseries, Static Shock!: Rebirth of the Cool, was released between January and September 2001. In May 2003, Midway Games announced the production of a platformer video game for the Game Boy Advance based on the show. Although it was displayed at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the game was later cancelled. From July 4, 2004, Subway Restaurants released a series of toys based on the TV series to be offered in the United States and Canada. On September 1, 2004, Scholastic Corporation published two tie-in children's books written by Tracey West.
McDuffie's work on Static Shock inserted him in the circles of animated series, and he became a writer and producer for shows like Justice League, Teen Titans, Justice League Unlimited, and Ben 10: Alien Force. McDuffie was responsible for a more diverse Justice League by including black and female characters. Moreover, Arie Kaplan credits him and co-writers for giving "a depth and complexity" the group was lacking since the 1970s. A future version of Virgil appeared in the Justice League Unlimited episode "The Once and Future Thing, Part 2: Time, Warped".
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