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.
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/Catch Phrase:
- Xombi: An Asian 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.
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.
Recently, DC Comics struck a new deal with Milestone, which folds the Milestone characters into the DC Universe proper, as though they had always been there. For example, Static was recently 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 is one of the titles in DC's New 52 relaunch. How much of the previous history is still in continuity was unclear before, and even less so with the relaunch.
Tropes included in various Milestone Comics include:
- 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 (if 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
- Ambiguously Gay: Edwin Alva and his magnificent feather boa.
- Anti-Hero: A good majority of Milestone heroes, save for Icon and Static, fall into this.
- 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.
- Breakout Character: Thanks inpart to the Animated Series, Static has become the posterboy and most well known of the Milestone Universe.
- Canon Immigrant: As of right now, all of the Milestone characters appearing in 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.
- The Chessmaster: Dharma.
- Crisis Crossover: Shadow War, Worlds Collide, Long Hot Summer.
- 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 Versus Cynicism, with Steel on the former and Hardware on the latter.
- Kobalt is Batman, but more violent and reality-grounded version, if still non-lethal. Page, his Kid Sidekick, is
Robina proto-Kick-Ass whose dad fed him to Kobalt as an attempted "Scared Straight" experience (that backfired).
- Fox News Liberal: Icon, who started his series as a conservative black man, but had an unusual background to explain this away.
- Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Rocket.
- Grand Finale: Milestone Forever which also served as the point where the Milestone Universe was blended into DC Canon.
- In the finale 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.
- Kick the Dog: Last 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 World's 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 real No-Holds-Barred Beatdown when he states the loser's universe would be destroyed.
- Mutually Fictional: The "Dakota-verse" and the DCU in Worlds Collide.
- My Grandson, Myself: Icon resorted to this in his backstory.
- No Communities Were Harmed: Dakota.
- Plea Bargain: Buck Wild had one of these in his backstory.
- Precision F-Strike: Deathwish #3: "Fuck art, let's dance!"
- Redemption Equals Death: Edwin Alva.
- Sacrificial Lamb: Tech-Nine.
- Save Scumming: Flashback of the Blood Syndicate had the power to rewind time by three seconds, which was a literal lifesaver more than once.
- Story Reset: As per joining the DC Universe, they performed a sort of 'soft reset' on the world.
- Shock and Awe: Static.
- Transsexual: The hero of the Deathwish miniseries.
- Also Masquerade of the Blood Syndicate, a shapeshifter. Born a woman, but uses his powers to be a 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.
- Universe Bible
- We Can Rule Together: Hardware gets this offer from his employer/arch-enemy Edwin Alva. The second time, he accepts.
- And then there's Holocaust, who typically tries this ploy to recruit the heroes to his side. It never works as Holocaust is not nearly as smooth a talker as he thinks he is.
- Weirdness Magnet: Dear God, Xombi, in spades.
- Dwayne Mc Duffie explained that this was fully intentional, as he wanted to write a series where the lead begins as the typical violent, callous Nineties Anti-Hero, then gradually changes and grows into someone more sympathetic and idealistic. Hardware's motivations shift as the series progresses, going from revenge to justice.