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Milestone Comics is back! But where's the Blood Syndicate series?
The Dakotaverse is officially back!
The brand-new digital release of Milestone Returns: Infinite Edition #0 marks the return of the legendary lineup of characters created by Milestone Comics back in the early '90s. Icon, Rocket, Hardware, and, of course, Static all make their return in this story, which retells and updates the "Big Bang" event that gave rise to nearly all of the superpowered beings in Dakota, the fictional city that is the heartbeat of Earth-M.
**Spoiler Alert! Details of the brand new digital-first comic, Milestone Returns: Infinite Edition #0 are discussed below.**
The issue, written by Reginald Hudlin with art by Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz, and others, will be available in print format on May 25, but digital is where the Milestone renaissance is taking shape. Mini-series starring Static, Icon and Rocket, and Hardware will debut exclusively as digital comics beginning in April. What was interesting about the press release DC Comics put out was what it didn't say: Namely, where the heck is the most daring and in many ways, the most relevant book in the Milestone catalog? Where is Blood Syndicate?
To be fair, the superhuman gang did show up in Infinite Editions #0, and the story suggests future appearances, perhaps in the big Milestone event DC teased in its press release. That's all good news, but I'm greedy and want more. Because while the return of Milestone and all its memorable characters is long overdue, Blood Syndicate seems almost a necessity at this point in time. With diversity and inclusiveness at the center of many of our national conversations, a comic that was well ahead of the curve on both counts deserves a chance to find its audience again.
Blood Syndicate, co-created by Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, and Ivan Velez, Jr., was simply unlike any comic book of its time when it debuted in 1993. As comics journalist Jermaine McLaughlin told me in an interview for our two-part video retrospective on Milestone, "The [Black] characters that existed at Marvel and DC were monoliths. They had to stand for everything the Black experience [encapsulated]. Milestone gave you a nice, broad view of the entire Black experience."
While each Milestone book provided different viewpoints, through the lens of superhero adventures, of what life for African Americans was like in America, Blood Syndicate was the rawest. It was a book about a gang made up of members from local street gangs who found themselves with extraordinary powers after being hit with chemicals during a gang war. They sought justice in a brutal, unrelenting fashion. They robbed crack houses to fund their operations, killing the dealers and the addicts. To say Blood Syndicate resided in a moral grey area would be an astounding understatement. The series had a high body count, including many mainstay characters, and raised an equal amount of questions about society and how it treats people of different colors and backgrounds. It also looked at teenage alienation in ways many comics never approached.
The new version of the event that triggers the powers onslaught in Dakota changes the setting from a gang war to a Black Lives Matter protest. Panels depicting the police in the fictional city firing off what they believe is tear gas at peaceful protesters will offer an uncomfortable reminder of the BLM protests in the summer of 2020, when police and activists clashed at protests across the country. Those types of moments are exactly the types of situations Blood Syndicate was created to address within the parameters of its comic book setting, according to artist ChrisCross. "Dwayne and the others wanted to put out stories that weren't out there," he said during our Milestone retrospective. "They wanted you to see what it was like when we [Black creators] do stories."
The book had a huge cast of regular characters, which simultaneously made ChrisCross' job more difficult and provided the opportunity to present a group that reflected the diversity of the real world. "They were Black, white, Latino, gay, straight," according to The Blerd Gurl herself and my SYFY WIRE compadre, Karama Horne. "There was a trans character, and they were even saving the lives of people who hated them."
Remember, this was in the mid-1990s, when comics were hyper-masculine with absurdly oversized guns and even bigger biceps. Marvel had not yet revealed that Northstar was gay, and DC basically only had the minor character Extrano as its gay representative. And here was a comic series, distributed by one of the Big Two publishers, with gay and transgender characters. What made it even more effective was that it made them complicated, well-rounded characters.
In Issue #10 of the original comic, Fade discovers that Masquerade is transgender. He assures Masquerade that he would keep his secret. However, in the next issue, instead of expressing gratitude, Masquerade reveals he knows Fade's secret: He's gay. That moment of vulnerability, replaced by desperate blackmail, provided a much different approach to the situation than many readers likely expected. But it underscored that beneath the outlandish costumes (Milestone had some great costume designs!) and unique powers, these characters were as flawed, as human, as anyone.
With LGBTQ rights front and center in political debates in Washington, D.C., as well as the ongoing conversations about racial equality, there is arguably no book in the Milestone catalog as well-equipped to tackle those issues as Blood Syndicate. Fingers crossed that the "explosive Milestone event" teased by DC in its press blasts indicates an event that brings the Syndicate back into the Dakota mix and into the pages, digital or otherwise, of a new ongoing series. In this day and age of corporate sensitivity, that may be asking a lot. But we're asking anyway!
In the meantime, DC Comics is making the first issue of the original series available on its DC Universe Infinite subscription service beginning in March. I hope that leads to the eventual release of the entire run, and hopefully a trade paperback printing. Fans deserve a chance to discover the original series. And we deserve another look at one of the great concepts in recent comics history.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.