Written By: Reginald Hudlin & Leon Chills
Pencil By: Doug Brathwaite
Ink/Color By: Scott Hanna & Andrew Currie / Brad Anderson
Letters By: Andworld Design
Publisher: DC Comics
Premiering in May of 1993, Icon was one of the flagship trinity of Black superheroes (alongside Static and Hardware) published by Milestone Media and created by the late great Dwayne McDuffie and artist M D Bright. The character was, for all intents and purposes, to give African-Americans their own Superman; a dark-skinned defender of the downtrodden and oppressed for a modern time and for an often disenfranchised and exploited minority; with the added advantage of a streetwise sidekick to keep him grounded (if not relatable). There is no denying the glaring similarities in the extraterrestrial origin and power sets between the last son of Krypton and the alien refugee from Terminus. This has “haunted” the character’s popularity since his inception and remains his biggest detractor. More so, since his creation almost three decades ago, other “Black Supermen”, and Superman-esque Black characters have debuted. I said all this to say that, as opposed to all the other properties under the Milestone brand, revitalizing Icon for a modern audience would be an uphill battle from page 1.
Now the relaunch of “Milestone Returns” with Static: Season One #1 last month started strong and hit the ground running. The relaunch presented a very conscious and contemporary take of Milestone’s most popular property, complete with a revamped origin that fully honored the source material. In addition to this, it offered something new without compromise. Static: Season One #1 was exemplary of the kind of potential this revitalized imprint could have for a modern readership, resonating with them in the current racially tense climate through the medium of comics.
Regrettably, Icon & Rocket #1 is presented as the antithesis. While I read it, I was overcome with a nagging sense of déjà vu. This was well-founded when I went back to the original 1993 issue #1 and discovered that it was essentially a copy and pasted script with the only noticeable changes (besides the upscale art) being altered dialog and narration. This issue is a beat for beat recycling of Icon #1, with less content. The original #1 was able to cram in more stuff than this retelling, or rather a regurgitation, which I found baffling. I struggled to find some semblance of novelty, innovation, nuance, or attempts to modernize or re-interpret the story that would set it apart from the original print, and showcase some contemporary relevance or commentary.
Writer and entertainment Renaissance man Reginald Hudlin has a long history in comics; of note his seminal work with Marvel’s “Black Panther”. He seemed like a qualified author for this auspicious character. Perhaps overwhelmed by the reverence for/of the source material, Reginald seems to have rendered himself too behooved to McDuffie’s original #1 to gamble on even the slightest divergence.
All that aside, our leading man Arnus/Augustus Freeman, comes off as your apathetic recluse. Having lived for over 170 years on Earth, he may have become jaded by humanity, having lived as a Black man through the era of slavery, to abolition and segregation, and the various wars in-between and long after. What I hope this series can address is explaining his absenteeism or clandestine activities in his formative years, in contrast to the present day. It is alluded to that he may have dabbled in some way in the past to make a difference or inspire others. This can go a long way in humanizing Augustus and make him sympathetic.
Augustus’ alienation is indicative of the character, however, which is why much of the original run rested on his sidek…er…partner Raquel Ervin’s shoulders. As the reader’s surrogate, Raquel is the only character with any semblance of depth. There is a literal overnight 180 pivotal moment in the original story which was glossed over (and at the time excusable). Here, and with modern sensibilities, it seemed like a wasted opportunity to extrapolate Raquel’s motivations or the circumstances that drove her to that point or to make the decision she makes. This would have added much-needed layers to her character off the bat and really fleshed her out from the start. Icon & Rocket #1 could have easily focused on Raquel (the book’s fulcrum character) from the get-go, culminating in her fated confrontation with Augustus Freeman, and left the mystery of Icon’s true origins for later issues.
The strongest compliment I can give to Icon & Rocket #1 is the stellar art, courtesy of veteran Doug Brathwaite (Justice, Universe X, Paradise X, Storm Dogs, et al) whose industry pedigree is deserving of property of such high caliber. His drawings of Augustus do invoke the kind of majestic majesty you would expect of a stoic Superman-like being in every panel Icon is in, no matter how small. This is only magnified by the brilliant coloring by Brad Anderson. Honestly, it was the only thing that held my attention after I was turned off by the self-plagiarism.
Icon & Rocket: Season One #1 is succinctly a trimmed-down rehash of the meatier original material. An abject lack of experimentation or creativity from the source leaves too much to be desired and left me disinterested. Perhaps, to its detriment it may have been too iconic; but there is still potential to salvage here going forward if it can extract itself from the 90s and its initial run. If I hadn’t been spoiled by Icon #1 I could have seen this in a better, untainted light. Even then, in a vacuum, this doesn’t grab my interest with a rushed and lackluster introduction to our dynamic duo.
Hailing from the eastern-most Caribbean island of Barbados, Fabian Wood has long since been fascinated by the power of storytelling to inspire and invoke emotions – whether in film, comics, or videogames. No longer content to be just an avid comic book reader and videogamer, he’s eager to exercise his literary acumen as an aspiring writer and reviewer.