Milestone Comics was the imprint of Milestone Media, a coalition of African-American comics creators who felt that mainstream superhero comic books severely under-represented minorities. In a special deal with DC Comics, the latter company distributed Milestone's output, but did not have editorial control over it. Milestone kept the copyrights, but DC got all the trademarks. It should be noted that, despite primarily featuring Black characters, Milestone aimed to showcase more ethnicities, and some of its heroes were Hispanic, Asian, and even, yes, White. It also featured gay and transgender characters. In addition, the line hired minority writers and artists such as the late Maddie Blaustein, who was openly transgender.
The primary continuity was known as the Dakotaverse, after the fictional Midwestern city where the initial titles published in 1993 took place. These titles were:
- Icon: August Freeman IV, a wealthy conservative African-American who secretly has superhuman abilities (he's actually an alien) is convinced by a socially aware young woman, Raquel Ervin (who'd been participating in a robbery of his home) to become an inspirational superhero, with her as his sidekick, "Rocket".
- Static: Virgil Hawkins, a bright high school student, gets mixed up with gang violence just long enough to be present when the city's assembled gangs have a riot, the "Big Bang" — which is broken up by police armed with an experimental gas. Gaining electromagnetic powers from exposure to the gas, he becomes a superhero. This was the most popular of the titles, gaining an animated adaptation, Static Shock.
- Blood Syndicate: A street gang that was at the riot mentioned above have all developed special abilities, and become the protectors/rulers of their slum neighborhood. The membership had severely clashing motivations and ethical stances, providing lots of drama.
- Hardware: Curtis Metcalf, a brilliant engineer, realizes his employer/mentor/father figure Edwin Alva (who only saw him as a "cog in his machine") is a supervillain-grade criminal mastermind and develops a suit of powered armor with embezzled funds to battle him and the organization backing him, the "SYSTEM".
After a year, and the first major crossover of the books, Shadow War, two more titles were introduced, with a third one following a bit thereafter.
- Shadow Cabinet: A globally-active superteam, led by the morally ambiguous Dharma. Initially they shunned publicity in favor of relatively covert action. Arc Words/Catchphrase:
- Xombi: A Korean scientist develops nanomachines that allow him to regenerate by absorbing nearby materials, making him functionally immortal. This was Milestone's supernatural title and seriously weird (we're talking Doom Patrol weird here.)
- Kobalt: A street-level vigilante is compelled to accept a new Kid Sidekick who is woefully unprepared for the realities of crimefighting.
In 1994, the main Milestone titles crossed over with DC's Superman-related books, in the Worlds Collide storyline. In this story, a being with the ability to turn fiction into reality merges Metropolis and Dakota, leading to the heroes meeting and wondering which of them were real.
While the distribution deal with DC was sweet, and Milestone's creative teams were good, the line was hobbled by a perception that Milestone was "comics for Black people", which kept many fans from investigating the books. (The fact many of their character's origins involved negative ethnic concepts -Icon's with slavery, Hardware's with the glass ceiling, Blood Syndicate and gang violence, etc.- didn't help.) At the same time, a glut of "new universes" was followed by a sharp downturn in overall comic book sales. In addition, each #1 issue tried its hardest to seem overly hardcore and militant — which backfired badly.
As a result, Milestone canceled some of its less well-selling series, and launched a new team book, Heroes, featuring Static and several popular secondary characters in more traditionally heroic action. This failed to overcome the marketing difficulties, and Milestone ceased publication in 1997, concentrating on their Static Shock series instead.
Later, DC Comics struck a new deal with Milestone, which folded the Milestone characters into the DC Universe proper, as though they had always been there; for example, Static was a member of the Teen Titans. The revived version of The Brave and the Bold was used to reintroduce the Milestone characters by teaming them up with DC heroes (e.g., Hardware and Blue Beetle, Xombi and The Spectre). Xombi became a short-lived 2011 ongoing series, and Static Shock was an (also short-lived) title in DC's New 52 relaunch. The miniseries Milestone Forever eventually explained how the two universes had merged; however, how much of the previous history was still in continuity was initially unclear, and even less so with the relaunch.
A few years after that, Milestone and DC made another deal, announced at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con, which established the Dakotaverse as Earth-M, one of the Earths in DC's multiverse, with Earth-M stories released as part of their own distinct line, rather than as part of the main DCU, akin to the original deal. This revival was later indefinitely shelved due to an ongoing legal dispute between Milestone co-creator Dwayne McDuffie's widow on behalf of his estate and the other two creators of Milestone, Denys Cowan and Michael Davis. In August 2017 she filed a lawsuit against the two of them alleging that they formed a new company entirely to make the deal with DC to cut her out of the half she is supposed to own. note The litigation is still ongoing
In addition to the above-mentioned Static Shock animated series, Static was featured in a guest-spot in an episode of Justice League Unlimited. Young Justice also features Icon and Rocket as members of the Justice League of America, and Static joins the cast in season two.
Tropes included in various Milestone Comics include:
- Afrofuturism: An early example, with African-American creators using superhero tropes to tell stories about people of color.
- A God Am I: Rift, the villain from Worlds Collide. He believed he'd created both the DC Universe and the Milestone one. However it seems he was just delusional (albeit really, really powerful).
- Alternate Company Equivalent: Icon for Superman, Hardware for Steel, Static for Superboy, etc.- Lampshaded in Worlds Collide.
- Amazonian Beauty: Donner from the Shadow Cabinet, granddaughter of a Nazi scientist who now disavows her family's legacy. Extremely tall and muscular, and in a relationship with the speedster Blitzen.
- And I Must Scream: In Xombi, Rustling Husks are mummies animated by the revived corpses of wasps who died caught between two window panes - as they died, they could see the outside but could never reach it. Needless to say, their reanimated corpses hate humans and by extension all living things. In short, they're pissed.
- Anti-Villain: Hardware's Arch-Nemesis, Edwin Alva. After spending dozens of issues ruthlessly pursuing our hero, he dies saving the lives of hundreds of people.
- Badass Gay: Several characters in different books, including Donner and Blitzen in Shadow Cabinet, Fade of the Blood Syndicate, and Marisa Rahm in Deathwish and Hardware.
- Big Bad: Holocaust, a former member of the Blood Syndicate, was the closest thing the line had to one. A crime boss, he would end up becoming an antagonist in all the main books at one point or another. Rift served as this in Our Worlds Collide Crossover.
- Breakout Character: Thanks to the Animated Series, Static has become the poster boy and best-known Milestone character.
- Burger Fool: The actual name of an in-universe fast food franchise, as featured in the "Long Hot Summer" miniseries.
- Canon Immigrant: For a while, all of the Milestone characters appearing in the DCU. The Earth-M deal pulled back on this, making them part of the DC multiverse rather than the DCU.
- Captain Ersatz: Buck Wild from Icon was a parody of Marvel's Luke Cage — specifically his Blaxploitation Jive Turkey Dork Age. The "Funeral for a Fool" story revealed that he'd become ersatz versions of other famous black superheroes in his career, and he even became Icon's successor for a while.
- Expy: Several examples:
- Icon intentionally evokes Superman, both in his origin and status as "Earth's greatest hero."
- Hardware can be seen as an expy of Steel. Personality-wise, they are on the opposite ends of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, with Steel on the former and Hardware on the latter.note
- Likewise Static can be seen as an expy of Spider-Man. Both Peter Parker and Virgil Hawkins are teenage superheroes who gained their powers through an accident. Both of them keep their crime-fighting a secret from their parents and tend to work alone yet always seem to wind-up involved in all the big team-up storylines. Both tend to use their genius-level knowledge of science to fight crime just as much as their superpowers. And they're both geeks with a sarcastic and referential sense of humor who crack wise during fights.
- Kobalt is Batman, but a more violent and reality-grounded version, if still non-lethal. Page, his Kid Sidekick, is a proto-Kick-Ass whose dad fed him to Kobalt as an attempted "Scared Straight" experience (that backfired).
- Fox News Liberal: Icon is a conservative black man, but this is partially "explained" by his background and longevity.
- Grand Finale: Milestone Forever, which also served as the point where the Milestone Universe was blended into DC Canon. It also ended up being Dwayne McDuffie's farewell to the characters, as he passed away not long after it was released. In this finale, we see several long-running storylines resolved: The Blood Syndicate reform, Holocaust dies, Hardware retires and gets married, Rocket eventually takes over the mantle of Icon, and Virgil grows up to become a doctor, retires from Superheroing, and marries Frieda. In the end, Dharma reboots the universe to migrate them into DC Canon.
- Green Rocks: Quantum Juice, the strange substance that caused the Bang Babies of the setting.Static: You know, Hardware once told me his theory of how Q-juice worked on people. He said at sub-atomic distances, that is, very small, like Planck's Constant small, human consciousness affects reality. He said, if you do an experiment, if you ask the universe a question, like, "Is light a particle or a wave?", the universe'll give you exactly the answer you expect. Q-juice is plasma that doesn't know what Planck's Constant is supposed to be. So if you breathe it, you ask the universe a question. And the desired effect is what you get. Guess a lot of people expected to die that night.Icon: And what do you expect from the universe, Static?Static: Justice, Icon. I expect justice.note
- Hide Your Gays: In-universe, Fade is heavily closeted. A demon calls him "faggot" just to get under his skin.
- Hurricane of Puns: Xombi. The entire series has punny characters like Nun of the Above, Nun the Less, Manuel and Manuella Dexterity (both of them are disembodied hands), Sheer Shears (living scissors), and so on.
- Kick the Dog: In the final issue of Kobalt, his Kid Sidekick gets both arms broken and quits superheroing forever, chiefly due to the storylines being forcibly wrapped up.
- Let's You and Him Fight: Rift does this in Worlds Collide to Superman and Icon, stating that the two similar characters had to fight because that's what they're supposed to do. They play along and pull their punches. Rift is Genre Savvy enough to realize this and forces them into a real No-Holds-Barred Beatdown when he states the loser's universe would be destroyed.
- Mass Super-Empowering Event: The Big Bang. All the various street gangs of Dakota decided to have a massive battle to decide control of the city once and for all. The police caught wind, and decided to use special tear gas that would let them track escaped gang members for days after the battle. However, the substance added to the tear gas, Quantum Juice, or "Q-juice," turned out to have unexpected effects: a vast majority of those exposed to it died instantly, but a small portion developed superpowers instead.
- My Grandson Myself: Icon resorted to this in his backstory, having first landed on Earth back in the 1860s.
- No Communities Were Harmed: Dakota, the main setting of the line, is heavily based on economically decayed cities with diverse populations like Detroit.
- Plea Bargain: Buck Wild had one of these in his backstory.
- Precision F-Strike: Deathwish #3: "Fuck art, let's dance!"
- The Resolution Will Not Be Televised: Due to Milestone abruptly folding in 1997, Icon, Hardware, and Static all did not get proper finales at the time. In 2001, a limited series was released for Static, "Rebirth of the Cool," to tie into the cartoon airing at the time. It wasn't until 2010 that Milestone Forever was released which picked up where the comics left off. note
- Save Scumming: Flashback of the Blood Syndicate had the power to rewind time by three seconds, which was a literal lifesaver more than once. Partially Deconstructed as the fact that she's had to see her friends die on several occasions takes a toll on her mentally.
- Story Reset: As per joining the DC Universe, they performed a sort of "soft reset" on the world.
- Marisa Rahm, the hero (but not the title character) of the Deathwish miniseries. Maddie (nee Adam) Blaustein based the character on herself. Like Marisa, Maddie was also pre-op.
- Also, in Blood Syndicate, Masquerade, a shapeshifter. Born a woman, but uses his powers to become the man he always felt he should be. This isn't known by other members of the team at first, and is a notable Reveal about a year into the book's run.
- We Can Rule Together:
- Hardware gets this offer from his employer/arch-enemy Edwin Alva. The second time, he accepts.
- Holocaust typically uses this ploy to try to recruit the heroes to his side. It never works as Holocaust is not nearly as smooth a talker as he thinks he is.