Friday, February 20, 2015

Trade Tales! - Icon: A Hero's Welcome

It seems that I’m on a bit of a “black superhero” kick this month because I got another one for today: Icon from the Milestone Universe. In the 1990’s, a group of black writers and artists got together with DC in order to create a universe where the heroes are minorities. One of the writers was the late Dwayne McDuffie, a favorite of mine. Another hero that came from this universe was Static who had his series and later cartoon series, Static Shock. The universe lasted for a few years but died off because of low sales. In the late 2000’s, DC tried to incorporate some of these heroes like Static and Icon into the then-current DCU. DC even had tried to bring Static into the New 52. I’m hearing that the co-founders of Milestone are getting stuff back together, so we might see these characters again.

Anyway, back to the hero of the post. Icon aka Augustus Freeman is pretty much the Superman of this universe.  Icon was one of the first books released by the company. The trade has the first eight issues of that book. I first read this when I found it in the public library. I eventually added it to my collection. McDuffie, who was also writing Static Shock at that time, is the writer. Green Lantern artist M.D. Bright provided the pencils. Mike Gustovich provided the inks for all eight issues. A variety of colorists and letterers did the eight issues.

The book starts out as Arnus, an alien who’s a mix between a quorian from Mass Effect and Kermit the Frog, escapes from a damaged starliner. He crashes in America during the early 1800’s. The first person who finds him is an enslaved black woman. In order to fit in, his lifepod transforms him into a black baby boy. He eventually gets named Augustus Freeman. Since his race lives long lives, Augustus does all he can to keep his alien heritage a secret by posing as his descendants. He was slaved, fought in wars, and graduated from the best universities during his 160 years on Earth.  In present-day Dakota City, he serves as a lawyer for a corporation.
Thankfully, no teenagers  have come my way to ask me to be a superhero.

His life gets a kick to the face when a group of black teens break into his house. It’s here when he reveals his powers for the first time in a while. Raquel Erwin, one of the teens, remembers this and comes back to Augustus’s house with an idea. They’ll both create heroic personas and fight crime as Icon and Rocket. He’s weirded out by the idea, but he eventually goes for it since a lot has happened to Dakota City in those last few months. He creates their costumes and gives Raquel an energy belt that absorbs inertia for her to use.
Actually, this happens to Superman a lot these days, Rocket. The law shoots at  him more than they do the Incredible Hulk!

Their first night on the job is a bit rough. They get accosted by the cops during a hostage situation involving the city’s mayor. A bunch of fighting ensues between the heroes, the police, and the gang who’s holding the mayor hostage. Eventually, the bad guys are taken down and the cops come to trust Icon and Rocket. The man behind the hostage situation is revealed to be able to transform into a… thing, I don’t know what that is. Anyway, he gained his powers on the night of the “Big Bang,” a night when a lot of Dakota’s gangs met up and fought. The police used some sort of nerve gas that gave most people abilities.
Uh... is that dog talking? Now, I'm interested in the Blood Syndicate!

Icon uses his contacts in order to find out what happened that night. This ends up having him go up against the Blood Syndicate, a super-powered gang formed by the remnants of Dakota’s gangs. Unfortnately, he can't beat them all. Luckily, Rocket shows up to help him and they try to set the gang on a better path. While Icon’s doing his Superman thing, Raquel finds out that she is pregnant. After getting confirmation from a test, she wonders what she is going to do. She’s 15 years old, lives in a crappy neighborhood, and she’s a part-time superheroine. Her boyfriend doesn’t want anything to do with the kid. She considers getting an abortion, but decides not to in the end. She also doesn’t believe Augustus when he tells her he’s from space. The trade ends with Augustus showing her the lifepod and telling her about his long life.

I thought that this was a good read. I liked the stories and most of the writing. I also liked the main hero. He is an obvious homage to Superman. I mean, Augustus even wears glasses in his civilian identity! At least Icon had the good idea to wear a mask. It’s small, but I guess it could work. I like  Icon and Rocket together and I like how their personalities mesh together. Augustus has a stiff personality and a serious outlook on life. I especially like his backstory. It’s like McDuffie wanted to mix Superman with Highlander and Shaft.  Yeah, it sounds like a weird mix but it works here.

Raquel is fun but not too over-the-top. She’s a real teenager with real problems. While she's a sidekick, she is also a major part of the book. Her standout issue is the fact that she’s pregnant. That part of the story and the abortion issue is really well told. It also treats the issue of abortion in an unbiased way which I liked. I also enjoyed the fights with the cops (I know, I know), Payback, and the Blood Syndicate.The artwork is pretty decent but not perfect. I like the costumes Icon and Rocket wear. They’re cool in that 90’s way though Icon’s costume is pretty cool in general. The action scenes are really well done. I also enjoyed the quiet moments and there are a good number of them.

I really don’t have any complaints on the stories in the trade. They’re not epic in scale, but they are pretty good. The dialogue is good but you may have a couple of klunkers in that area. As for the artwork, it does get wonky in some areas. Since it’s going for a realistic feel, the wonkiness just looked weird and took me out of the story for a bit. Most of the Blood Syndicate also looked ridiculous in a bad way. It’s like they came out of the long-forgotten, unmade sequel to Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. I can’t nor do I want to touch those clothes! Also, some of the coloring was a little off. There were times where Icon was supposed to be wearing his mask and it looked like someone forgot to color it in.

Overall, this was a good read. If you’re looking for good stuff from the 90’s, check it out. I am interested in seeing how the rest of the series panned out. It apparently lasted for 40 issues, so it looks like I’ll be bin-diving again. Well, I’m outta here. It’s gotten cold in these parts and that bed tends to be pretty warm. Peace, God Bless, and do your best to stay warm. When it’s actually warmer in Alaska than it is in Tennessee, you know something’s not right.

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