Despite spawning a hit TV show and appearances in DC Comics’ Teen Titans series, I have no idea when I’ll be getting a new Static series. Because the universe is cruel and uncaring, Milestone Media’s breakout character is in limbo until such time as he isn’t. Thankfully, a new series called Solarman exists to fill the Virgil Hawkins-shaped hole in my life.
The main reason I’m interested in Solarman #1 is because it’s being co-written by Joseph Illidge, who was an editor at Milestone and DC. His work on this first issue feels kindred to Static in the same way that the Milestone Media character owed some of its DNA to Spider-Man.
When we first meet lead character Ben Tucker, we see that he’s firmly seated in the lineage of snarky teenage superhero creations. He’s getting pounded on by a group of peers, but it turns out that he’s the one who instigated the drama by hacking their phones and tweeting out dickpics. They don’t seem like nice guys by any means, but usually nerd heroes aren’t the ones starting shit.
Released by indie publisher Scout Comics, Solarman is a new iteration of an obscure Marvel character created by Stan Lee in the ‘80s, a little before the legendary figure’s name was just showing up on way too many things.
Co-written by Joseph Illidge and Brendan Deneen, the new Solarman features art by N. Steven Harris and colorwork by Andrew Dalhouse. The hook with a project like this is in what the creators do with familiar genre tropes. We know that we’re in the middle of an origin story that will likely have beats we can already guess. Implementing an instance of parental trauma is a classic (if overused) ingredient, and making Ben a Wikileaks-style hacker savant with a chip on his shoulder grounds the new take in modern-day events. He’s not a sweetly naive dork the way that Virgil Hawkins was.
Hopefully, the choices leave readers wondering when and how much they’ll be expecting to root for Ben. This is an update to an established formula, and the intrigue of the reading experience is in the textures applied to familiar hero’s-journey storytelling pillars. Specificity and personality matter a lot in attempts like this.
So it’s a good sign that one of the things I like about this incarnation of Solarman is that it presents a yawning chasm between Ben and the rest of the universe. He’s smart enough to intercept the communications of a space station that’s at the bleeding edge of human scientific advancement, but is still living in his parents’ basement. We see that he can navigate that distance, albeit it illegally, by using his intelligence, but he can’t change the circumstances of his reality.
That same intelligence winds up being the conduit for the powers he gets. While Ben’s a New York hood nerd intent on hacking the one-percent, I like that his milieu doesn’t feel wincingly, stereotypically ghetto.
And it’s a little thing, but I like how Harris draws various black folks with visually differentiated hair textures. The dreads, tightly coiled curls, and dad-style natural all look “right”; that’s a little glue to the world-building that wins me over. There’s enough charm to the writing and art in Solarman #1 to keep me interested in where it goes, which is more than I could have said for the original version of this idea 25 years ago.