As issues of representation and equality take center stage in the comics industry, the delay of the relaunch of Milestone at DC has become something of a big question mark. Milestone 1.0 was launched in 1993 as a line of superheroes who were black and other ethnicities and genders, and one character, Static, has gone on to have his own cartoon show (Static Shock) which lasted four seasons and take a place as a regular in the DCU.
The original Milestone was founded by creators Denys Cowan, Dwayne McDuffie and Michael Davis, and entrepreneur Derek Dingle. The comics were published by DC, and the creators who worked on the books – on the page and behind it – have gone on to make many marks in the comics and animation industries. The Milestone characters themselves made a cameo at DC in 2010, and Static has appeared on and off and even as a member of the Teen Titans.
Tragically, McDuffie died in 2011 at the too young age of 49. However, at McDuffie’s wake, as widely reported, Cowen, Dingle and film director Reggie Hudlin decided it was time to get the gang back together for Milestone 2.0.
In 2015 at a press breakfast and later a panel, DC announced that Milestone was coming back, this time as part of the mainline DC Universe and not its own Earth. Cowan and Hudlin were on hand, and there was a lot of excitement to see the iconic (I know we overuse that word, but this time it’s really true) characters come back. The world couldn’t be more ready for a line of superheroes of color.
Since then, we’ve been told repeatedly that Milestone is coming soon but things are being worked out. Indeed, only five days ago, Newsarama proclaimed DC’s MILESTONE Relaunch Coming Soon Says JIM LEE:
DC Entertainment Co-Publisher Jim Lee said that the planned relaunch and reboot of the Milestone line announced two years ago is still alive, and would be moving forward with news possibly coming in the next few months. Touched upon briefly at the “Meet the DC Co-Publishers” panel at Comic-Con International: San Diego earlier this month, this comes alongside news of Milestone’s N Steven Harris drawing a new Static/Hardware illustration for September 16’s MECCACon in Detroit.
However the story behind the scenes is far more complicated and troubling. As first reported in Variety, McDuffie’s widow, Charlotte Fullerton, herself an extremely accomplished animation and video game writer, is suing Milestone Media Company LLC (the 2.0 entity) claiming that McDuffie’s share of the original Milestone has not been included in the new plans and she has been excluded from all involvement with the revival. You can read all the filings in the complaint below, but here’s a representative passage:
This is sad reading. I’m an admirer of everyone involved in this; in addition, for the past three years I’ve been extremely honored to serve as a judge for The McDuffie Award for Diversity, an award founded and administered by Charlotte Fullerton McDuffie.
It’s probably best for me not to comment on any of this; however the reporter in me knows that wading through 66 pages of legal filings isn’t for everyone, and there are some interesting facts brought up. So a couple of observations, without interpretation.
The “Fourth man” of Milestone, Michael Davis, has been very vocal about being left out of the Milestone revival. According to the filings, he assigned his shares of the company back to Milestone 1.0 back in 1994; legally, they would have no need to include him, however what’s proper is more open to interpretation.
Another filing confirms that Jim Owsley, now known as Christopher Priest, also signed away his shares of the company before it even got off the ground, in 1992. Owsley was to have been the editor in chief of Milestone but left before it launched.
According to the complaint, Cowan also sold his shares back to Milestone sometime before 2011. In a shareholder agreement that seems to go back to the founding of Milestone–an agreement the complaint says was never executed– Davis, Dingle, McDuffie and Cowan all had 50 shares of the original company. Where this leaves who owning what in 2017 is for the lawyers and courts to figure out.
In addition, it’s worth noting that Milestone had an unusual-for-the-time publishing agreement with DC: it was more of a licensing deal than anything else. I don’t have any Milestone comics handy to check the indicia, but I believe Milestone 1.0 maintained the copyrights and ownership. Every time DC publishes Static or other Milestone characters they’d probably have to renew the license or execute a new one.
You can read all the filings below.
So yeah, very sad. VERY VERY sad for all the people involved, for the memory of Dwayne but mostly because it sounds like we won’t be seeing the Milestone characters back until this all gets sorted.
But how many times in comics have we see these kinds of ownership scuffles? It all seems buddy buddy at the start, but this is why you need to have contracts drawn up by actual lawyers, contracts that stipulate what will happen if someone dies or if there’s a fight, or suddenly a friendship goes sour.
The original Milestone was a universe full of potential – the bible laying out the Dakota universe was one of the best bibles I’ve ever read – that was often realized but has potential still unrealized. It started the careers of more people than I can mention. It also created heroes and mythologies for people who don’t always see their lives reflected in mainstream superhero comics. Static’s continuing popularity shows that. Milestone really mattered.
It still does.
These filings paint a sad picture, but I hope there’s still some way every one can work things out and we really will see more Milestone comics someday, comics that fairly recompense ALL the original creators. It may be naive of me to express this hope, but comics are built on hope.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.