Static Shock Revealed an Uncomfortable Truth about Inner Cities

Static Shock‘s origin incorporated themes relatable to countless teens that grew up in urban, low-income environments. First appearing in June 1993, Static was a new and innovative character to Milestone and DC Comics. Virgil Hawkins was the first of his kind because of his unique origin story. He was not an alien from another planet. His powers did not come from a lab accident. He was an inner-city kid in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He was bullied. To make matters worse, he was living in an area where gang culture and crime were normalized. Virgil did not have Bruce Wayne’s vast reimgs of Clark Kent’s superstrength to help him cope. He did what any scared, misguided kid would do under pressure. Virgil succumbed to the influence of the wrong crowd.

Despite moving to a different school and neighborhood to avoid conflict, Virgil found himself in danger. After being bullied and embarrassed at school by a local gang member, he was approached by an older, more popular teen who urged him to nip the conflict in the bud. He told Virgil that once a bully got comfortable antagonizing him, there would be no end to his misery, so the only solution was to end it by killing the gangbanger. “Jus’ another dead gangbanger. No cops, no payback, no problems,” was his justification to Virgil. He then gifted Virgil a gun, leaving him with an impossible decision. Though comic writers have highlighted issues that teens face in titles like Teen Titans, no title tackled the struggles of being a young person of color like Static did. The DC animated series followed suit and incorporated the same themes as the comic title.

The only options Virgil had been presented with were to be a victim or a murderer. While this may seem like extreme hyperbole when compared to the plight of the average inner-city teen, the fact is, the bullying and gang culture elements presented in Static Shock’s 1993 origin are still present in urban communities today decades later. Heroes like Peter Parker have fallen victim to bullying as well, and Peter was no stranger to poverty, but Virgil’s circumstances were much more frightful. Peter may have encountered gangs while masked, but Virgil lived in constant fear of their terror in his everyday life. The idea that the murder of Virgil’s tormentor would be written off so quickly by the authorities also speaks to the discrimination and abuse of power present in these communities. The Static title would go on to address countless social issues.

The event that led to Virgil gaining his powers is perhaps the most relatable for people who have grown up in low-income urban environments: he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Virgil Hawkins, an innocent, nerdy kid found himself armed and in the middle of a gang war because he was misled. The authorities deployed an experimental gas against everyone present in an event that would later be known as The Big Bang. This event granted everyone nearby different powers because of the strange gas. Static’s origin story encompassed every element of the inner-city experience for people of color: danger, gang violence, abuse of power by the authorities, and discrimination. Virgil Hawkins revealed an uncomfortable truth about inner-cities when he made his transformation into Static Shock. Many people often fall victim to their environment or are controlled entirely by circumstance in these communities. Virgil represented a story that needed to be told.

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