Icon and Rocket: Season One (2022)
Reprints Icon and Rocket: Season One #1-6
Written by Reginald Hudlin
Art by Doug Braithwaite
When I was thirteen, I got two comic book fan magazine subscriptions. Of course, one was Wizard Magazine. If you were a comic book fan in America in the 1990s, you likely owned at least a few issues of this publication. The other magazine, well, I cannot for the life of me remember the name of it. I have looked up lists of American comics mags from the period and cannot find it. I remember the cover was in color, but the magazine’s inside was black & white, not quite newsprint but not fantastic paper either. It was sold in our local Kroger grocery store. If you know what it might be, let me know. I say all of that to state that my first knowledge of DC’s Milestone Comics imprint happened with that second magazine.
Milestone Comics was a concerted effort by a handful of Black creators to get a line of comics devoted to BIPOC. It was started by Christopher Priest, one of the most criminally underrated comic creators, but he left before it could officially get off the ground. Priest has been open about his irritation at being seen as a Black creator only by white bosses. He was always happy to get work but annoyed that they went first to characters like Black Lightning or Black Panther when they saw him. Denys Cowan ended up as the editor-in-chief of Milestone, and he would bring in writers & artists that were at all stages of their careers; the main similarity is that they were all people of color.
Dwayne McDuffie, another co-founder and a comics creator who left us far too soon, wrote up the story bible that would shape Milestone. The stories were set in and around the fictional Dakota City. Milestone would be published by DC Comics, but the creators retained all publishing and licensing rights. DC did have the ability to refuse to publish anything they found objectionable, and McDuffie has said there were several times he could tell the company was not too happy with a particular story but were okay with pretty much anything. The most significant pushback came from a cover of Static kissing his girlfriend while lying on a bed. Unopened condoms were on the bedside table. McDuffie would openly state that he found DC to be afraid of Black sexuality as he was told how questionable the cover was while the liaison stood in front of a cover depicting a white woman in an extremely sexually suggestive pose.
The character of Icon was Milestone’s take on the Superman mythos. In the 1800s, a starship malfunctions and jettisons a lifepod. It crashes in a cotton field in the American South. The first sentient life-form to touch the pod is an enslaved Black person, so the vessel reconfigures its passenger’s appearance to look like a Black infant. The woman who touched the pod adopts the child as her own and hides it from the masters. He is given the name Augustus and ages only to adulthood, slowing down like Superman. Over the decades, he fakes his own death and re-emerges as the child of his previous identity. By the time the current series begins, he appears to be in his 30s/40s, going by the name Augustus Freeman III.
One day, a group of teenagers breaks into his mansion, unsure if anyone still lives there. They encounter Augustus, who uses his superpowers to frighten them. Among the group is Raquel Ervin, an idealistic and intelligent young woman in whom Augustus sees potential. Her prospects in Dakota City are not great, and she sees Augustus as a way out. Raquel convinces her new friend to become a crimefighter and protect the city from the dangerous elements. She gets a belt made from components inside his lifepod and takes the codename Rocket. Augustus is named Icon. Thus Milestone’s leading dynamic duo is formed.
Writer Reginald Hudlin has worked on some comics but has had his hand in many film & television projects over the years. He directed movies like House Party, Boomerang, and The Ladies Man but was also a producer on Django Unchained. Hudlin penned a Black Panther run in the 1990s that has become the major turning point for the comic character, a series that elevated where the character fits in the pantheon of heroes. Artist Doug Braithwaite is an Afro-British penciller whose work I’ve been reading for years. The standout for me was his art alongside Alex Ross & Jim Kreuger’s writing in the Earth X trilogy for Marvel. Braithwaite gets to draw literally every character in the Marvel Universe in those comics. I think the story is incredibly dense but good, and the artwork is what kept me hooked the whole way through. His work with Ross would lead to Braithwaite also contributing to the incredible Justice mini-series, where he got to draw almost everyone in the DC Universe. So this reboot of Icon and Rocket has some exceptional talent working on it.
Dwayne McDuffie was the original writer on Icon and would likely have done this book, but he passed away tragically at 49 in 2011. And I honestly miss McDuffie when reading this six-issue series. Hudlin does an adequate job but follows comics tropes a little too closely, so I didn’t really get a strong sense of personality from the book. Augustus Freeman is just too bland here, essentially a combination of Superman (powers) and Batman (secret identity) with little else going on for him. McDuffie’s original concept around Icon asked how this centuries-old conservative Black man would deal with the modern world he’d been hiding from. The original series was interested in what kind of hero Icon would be seen as by the public, and it varied depending on who was asked. In Hudlin’s Season One, those questions are always in the background, and it becomes a Marvel Cinematic Universe-style power fantasy, with wonderfully illustrated panels that put us in awe of Icon but not much else.
In issue three, writer Leon Chills comes onboard, and things improve slightly. He’s previously worked on films with Hudlin, and I think his presence course somewhat corrects things. However, the run is messy, and feels like it is missing a clear direction. I didn’t dislike the comic while reading it, but as the weeks have passed, I just don’t find myself excited for a follow-up if the same creative team is onboard. Instead, it has me interested in checking out the recently published Milestone Compendium, which collects a significant chunk of the first year’s worth of the original runs of multiple series. I’d really like to see McDuffie’s full vision of Icon and hope that if this new iteration of Milestone continues, they can return to that.