INTERVIEW/REVIEW: The Radical Tradition of Uplifting Marginalized Stories Continues With the New Milestone Initiative
The New Talent Showcase: The Milestone Initiative is out this week and I not only got the chance to preview the book early, I got to interview some of the artists and writers that participated in the Milestone summit that resulted in this fantastic showcase.
“I definitely feel like I have 23 new siblings after going through the program,” writer Morgan Hampton said, as we discussed the Milestone program along with cohorts Ashley Allen, Kameron White, Yasmín Flores Montañez, Jarod Pratt, Jordan Clark, Andrea Rosales, and Dorado Quick.
The New Talent Showcase: The Milestone Initiative features 12 stories coming from the writers and artists that took part in the Milestone Initiative in 2022. I was able to snag some time with eight of the cohorts that were a part of the program.
Light spoilers ahead for some of the plot points in the book. Edited for clarity.Part two with audio will be available later this week.
The New Talent Showcase: The Milestone Initiative in collaboration with Ally:
“Third Wheel” written by Ashley Allen with pencils from Yasmín Flores Montañez.
A cutesy, flirty (from his side at least) superhero adventure with Static aka Virgil Hawkins and Rocket aka Raquel Ervin. Ashley and Yasmín team up here on a fun book featuring a new character (Silhouette) they collaborated on together.
Vanessa: Why did you choose to play with the teasing of their [Static and Rocket] little romance, the ‘will they, won’t they’? With Rocket kind of being annoyed?. What was the decision behind making that choice?
Ashley: My first initial exposure to the Milestone universe was I grew up during the time of the Static Shock and Young Justice series. I remember being really annoyed that I’m super excited that Rocket was in Young Justice, but Static never came. So I was like, I would love to write a team up.
Ashley: Also, just reading the comics, I loved their dynamic. I also grew up obsessed with shoujo, like romance anime, that sort of stuff. So I thought it’d be fun to bring that sort of dynamic into this, especially with it being such a short story, having it be like a team-up.
Vanessa: How was it working together?
Ashley: It was a dream. I’m obsessed with Yaz’s art. I think the way that she draws Rocket and Static, if you removed all the captions, all the dialogue, it would be an amazing story just by the art alone.
Yasmín: In my case, it was great working with Ashley because she’s new. She has these fresh ideas and we created a character together. That was so much fun. I like that she gave me a description and we just kind of rolled with it. One of the best things an artist can ask for is to work with a writer that really can make it easier for us. And by that, I mean that they describe something and you can clearly picture it in your mind.
Inks: Walden Wong Colors: Bryan Valenza
“Often Imitated” written by Jarred A. Lujan, with pencils from Kameron White.
A short story featuring Curtis Metcalf aka Hardware fighting an imitation of his iconic suit. Although the fight takes up most of the story, I appreciate the mention of Curtis being in therapy and how visceral his self-sacrifice feels. Speaking of Hardware’s very 90s suit, I asked artist Kameron White about it.
Vanessa: How hard is it to draw Hardware? I’m curious, because there’s so many pieces.
Kameron: It was a bit wild, because my art style tends to be kind of easygoing, so to have someone like Hardware who’s so bulking huge with all that machinery… I remember I was just so nervous about it.
Kameron: I asked [Denys Cowan], how should I go about drawing Hardware, even pulling out sketches. Denys said ‘you got this just draw it in your style, don’t care what other people think’. It turned out fine. I think it’s cool to be able to experience different characters and different styles, and how an artist would portray that character. It at first was intimidating, but along the way, after that advice, it became very fun.
Inks: Le Beau Underwood Colors: Luis Guerrero
“Makings Of You” written by Jarod Rhys Pratt, with pencils from Daimon Hampton.
Another, vastly different Hardware story that features a lesser-known Blood Syndicate villain, Soul-Breaker. Where the previous Curtis tale was very physical, this story focuses on the mental. A villain that can get inside your head and make you their “slave” is nasty work and excellently written by Jarod.
Vanessa: Why did you go for a mentally-focused villain like Soul-Breaker, who speaks in ‘we’ and is apparently Haitian? (I know we got a little tease at the end.) What made you decide that for this character?
Jarod: He was a Blood Syndicate villain. I just thought because he was magic and technology, that’d be a great fit to go against a character like Hardware. You take a character like Curtis, who is always prepared, and I think people, (this might be my own theory), that tend to have that level of preparation does come from a little bit of fear. So it’d be a little interesting to explore what it means for a character like that, to find something that he couldn’t prepare for, and just see where it landed.
Vanessa: How does that kind of tie into it, a little bit of black paranoia? How does that tie into Hardware and his need to be over prepared?
Jarod: Once we achieve a certain level, we’re always taught that you have to work twice as hard as the next person, you have to be twice as good as the next person. That’s already embedded in a lot of us. We know if we get these opportunities, we can’t just do a good job, we have to do an absolutely amazing job, or we might lose that opportunity. I think a character like Curtis, that’s something that he lives with.
Jarod: Curtis has always been a pretty relatable character to me even back in the 90s. It was somebody that I know a lot of Black men and women that [feel] the same way. So I thought that was just something to tap into, that would be relatable and that people will understand.
Inks: Anthony Fowler Jr. Colors: HI-FI
“Patria Y Vida” written by Julio Anta, with pencils from Andrea Rosales.
Set during the 2021 Cuban protests, Julio weaves a tale of what happens when an agent of the U.S. government, Tech-9, decides to purposely obstruct a mission in order to help an Afro-Cuban hacker, named Maria Teresa. I dive into the diverse faces and decision to set the story in Cuba with Andrea.
Vanessa: I do appreciate the art showing Cuban people as an array of color, because there are white Cubans, brown Cubans, Black Cubans. How was your experience with the process of drawing for this story?
Andrea: It really helped to hit it off with Julio Anta. We had a couple conversations, getting to know each other, because we both have very different backgrounds being Latina. Growing up within the Americas, he’s Cuban, I’m Mexican, with very different experiences.
Andrea: One of the things that we often talked about was that we both find it very important to show Latinidad as being as diverse as it is, because we come in a wide array of colors and backgrounds. There’s no “one way” to be Latina. We very intentionally designed one of our main characters, Maria Teresa, to be Afro Cuban.
Vanessa: Did you guys face any pushback? Because Cuba’s touchy in general, when it comes to America. Did you have any struggles trying to tell a story that is still a touchy subject within American politics?
Andrea: Oh, that’s a really good question. I don’t know that there was a lot of- I guess, the most important piece of advice that Julio and I were given was that we try to be very respectful and to focus on these characters in the story and kind of build out from there.
Andrea: Yes, it’s Tech-9, but the focus is not about him being in the spotlight, it’s about how he goes in, and he serves as an ally. I think one of the most empowering and important ways that you can be a hero is by creating a safe space where a person has the skills, the knowledge, the expertise, so they can just do their thing, to help their own communities.
Inks: Scott Hanna Colors: Andrew Dalhouse
“What’s Left Behind” written by Morgan Hampton, with pencils from Tiah Ankum.
A Rocket-focused short story that features Raquel helping fellow Dakota citizens the ghosts of their past. Raquel’s narration is incredibly poetic and serves as the foundation in a story that largely isn’t about her.
Vanessa: How did you come up with that particular bit of storytelling? Because in this story, you could’ve had any other hero besides Rocket, because it wasn’t really about her, it was about the people that were being affected by what happened to them. So what was your decision picking Rocket for that story?
Morgan: I wanted to kind of lean into Rocket being a writer. It was in Icon #1 in ‘93, when she tries to steal the typewriter. So I wanted to feed off of that and have her, being a writer myself, explore what it feels like to not be inspired or have writer’s block, know what it feels like to have that pressure on you to do something, but you just can’t like you can’t get it out. That’s what she’s going through in this story, especially having this gifted to her from Icon.
Morgan: We haven’t seen too many Rocket stories where she’s by herself. I know Yaz and Steph Williams are doing that in the Icon series now. I wanted to see what she was like, apart from Icon and how she approached the world.
Inks: Jose Marzan Jr. Colors: Chris Sotomayor
“Family Values” written by Jordan Clark, with pencils from Miguel C. Hernández.
Starting from the day Virgil Hawkins was born, Jordan takes us through a heart-tugging timeline of the entire Hawkins family, after Virgil joins the household. The short story shows the ups and downs of raising a Black boy in America, who now has super powers.
Vanessa: A lot of people were excited that Virgil’s back but my favorite part about Static is his family and how strong they are. Why did you decide to really focus on the family versus Static’s normal adventures?
Jordan: We’ve seen a lot of Static, focusing specifically on him and all of his adventures. When they [Vita Ayala] revealed Static’s identity, I saw an opportunity to have a situation that you don’t necessarily always see. A lot of times, specifically with the younger heroes, ‘Mom and Dad can’t know’, and there’s that anxiety of being a teenager and feeling like you’ve got to do this on your own. So having this family behind him to support him, I thought it would be interesting.
Jordan: But also I can only imagine the stress of being the parents to a Black child, going out in the world, no matter what age they are, no matter what they’re doing. Imagine that they are a superhero, imagine they probably have to interact with the police on a regular basis. The Hawkins family is great, because between mom and dad, and their experiences and their careers, and all the ways that they would probably approach trying to parent this child. They also have their daughter, who is going to med school, and she’s got her own thing going on.
Jordan: I wanted to really explore what it would be like for everybody in the family to kind of come to grips with Virgil’s the superhero. Like he’s got, you know, superpowers, but also like, what does that mean for our family? Like, how are we going to support him? But also like, it’s kind of scary, right? Because we don’t know what could happen to him.
Inks: Jose Marzan Jr. Colors: Andrew Dalhouse
“My Brother’s Keeper” written by Dorado Quick, with pencils from Charles Stewart III.
One of the more fascinating antagonists in the Dakotaverse is Ebon, featured in this story by Dorado Quick. A master of shadows whose sole focus is finding his brother, no matter who else needs help. However, seeing another person in a similar situation as he is, has him adjusting his viewpoint by the end.
Vanessa: It starts with ‘I’m here for me and mines, that’s it’. Then by the end, it changes, it shows complexity, not everyone is going to be good or bad, a hero, anti-hero, or a villain. We’re all complex. What made you decide to choose Ebon?
Dorado: I was seeing the hints in Static: Season One that Ebon was going to be in the new Dakota 2.0. I wanted to shoot my shot and see if I could have access to him. At that point, he hadn’t made his debut in season one yet, but he’s one of my favorite characters.
Dorado: The reason I chose him is because there aren’t black superhero villains. In comics, whether Marvel or DC, there are very few and if there are, they’re either throwaway villains, or we never really get a true understanding of who and why they are.
Dorado: I want to take on that challenge and show that there’s a moral compass and empathy. That he’s not a villain just to be bad, but there are some serious concerns on why he is the way he is. I also just want to just explore that mindset of what do you do if you run into another brother, who is in the same situation as you, what would you do? I wanted to kind of put Ebon into a position where he’s not a villain, but he’s not also an anti-hero, either. He’s walking this path of trying to save his family, and he’ll do anything he can, but he might help some people along the way.
Inks: Dexter Vines Colors: Nick Filardi
This interview was edited for clarity.Part two with audio will be available later this week.
Along with the stories mentioned above, there are five other fantastic stories exploring Icon’s past (“Ablution” by Greg Burnham and Marcus Smith), with an anti-police, anti-I.C.E. short featuring Latina superhero, Aquamaria (“Blood In The Water” by Cheryl Lynn Eaton and Atagun Ilhan), tackling American imperialism with Icon (“Something Sweet” by Nathan Cayanan and Gregory Maldonado), Rocket’s tussle with a powerful enemy (“The Hate You Live” by Jerome Rhett and Petterson Oliveira), and a mindblowing, multiversal yet tragic queer romance featuring hero, Fade (“Every World Fades” by Zipporah Smith and Lucas Silveira).
Cover by Yasmín Flores Montañez, Atagun Ilhan, Kameron White, Marcus Smith, Daimon Hampton, Lucas Silveira, Andrea Rosales, Tiah Ankum, Petterson Oliveira, Gregory Maldonado, Miguel C. Hernandez and Charles Stewart III with layout by Denys Cowan and colors by Chris Sotomayor.
In May of 2022, 12 writers and 12 artists came to DC headquarters to hone their skills with some of the best comics creators in the business, and one year later, we’re showing the results of the cohort’s hard work! This special showcases all 12 stories created out of the Ally-sponsored Milestone Initiative…If you don’t grab a copy, you’ll be missing some of the first published work of the stars of the future!