Stream it or skip it?

Now on HBO Max, milestone generations is an hour-long documentary chronicling the all-too-brief history of Milestone Media, the first comic book company owned by Black artists and telling the stories of Black characters. The company enjoyed a four-year run in the 1990s thanks to a publishing deal with DC, which produces this potentially revealing reminder that a handful of writers, artists, and entrepreneurs were ahead of their time in pushing cultural representation. .

The essence: Cliff Smith, better known as Method Man, sits behind the teacher’s desk in a staged classroom and talks about comics. (Side note: I WOULD LIKE TO TAKE THAT CLASS, PLEASE.) Historically, the vast majority of the medium’s creators were white men who wrote and drew the adventures of white heroes. It was that way for decades, until the needle started moving in the 1970s with DC’s hero Black Lightning, whom voice actor Phil LaMarr liked because his afro was attached to his mask, not his. head of him. LaMarr has fun pretending to be how he imagines Black Lightning talking with the afro on and without the afro.

Around the time of that character’s comic book debut, Denys Cowan was a young teenager who started reading comics and dreamed of making them. In the early 1980s, he was part of the DC (and Marvel, too, but that’s glossed over here) stable, making a name for himself drawing. The question. He plugged in, splitting time between white crusaders like Batman and Flash, and the occasional black hero, like Dethlok and…Prince? Yes, Prince, the musician and unique subject of a DC comic.

The method switches to black history when it talks about the explosive crossover of black culture in the early 1990s: hip-hop, sports superstars, in vivid color. In 1992, Cowan was wandering through a comic book convention, pondering the stark lack of people who looked like him drawing and starring in comics, when he came up with the idea of ​​creating his own company made up of black creators telling stories about black characters. . He brought together Michael Davis, Dwayne McDuffie and Derek T. Dingle as partners and they founded Milestone Media. And get this: they kept the property rights to their characters when they got DC to publish and distribute their books.

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So POW! AND GO! They came up with blood syndicate and characters like Static, Icon, and Hardware, all representing black culture. No detail was spared: the books were slightly more expensive than others due to a complex coloring system that allowed them to display a diverse array of black skin tones. The document is a bit fuzzy on the numbers, but Cowan and the like attest to the books’ strong sales stats, and yet they didn’t get the respect they deserved from retail establishments and DC brass who thought They were totally black. superhero comics would never appeal to non-black readers. Clashes and divisions ensued. In 1997, Milestone Comics stopped making books, though Static found new life in an animated television series. static shock. The project was great while it lasted, and its creators looked upon it fondly. Until 2020, when Milestone was reborn, as comics (available now!) from a few founding artists, as well as a bevy of new ones for today’s sometimes turbulent times. There are also big plans for movies and animation. Hooray for franchises!

Photo: HBOMax

Which movies will it remind you of? Well it’s not Crumb. No problem. brings to mind enter the animea doc about anime that isn’t really about the anime itself, but about a specific streaming company’s anime offerings, and isn’t really a doc, but a glorified promotional reel.

Performance worth seeing: LaMarr is the fun guy who can also put the subject in the proper context. But Cowan is the constant, constant presence of the doctor, the man who tells the story of Milestone with fervent conviction.

Memorable Dialogue: Opening narration: “When you’re a kid, you really focus on drawing comics. You’re not thinking, ‘I’m a black comic book artist.’ I’m going to change the industry’… the only thing that matters is what you’re trying to do. Make what you want to do exist, come what may.”

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Sex and skin: None.

Our take: Being a DC-produced documentary about a DC property, milestone generations it gives off a lot of promotional vibes, bridging the gap between historical hindsight and soft-serve marketing. It maintains a serious tone with playful notes while delicately addressing systemic racism in the comics business without sinking too much into heavier content. It doesn’t mention names, because DC in 2022 doesn’t want DC in the mid-1990s (or ’80s or ’60s or…) to look also bad.

But I also think that the story of Milestone will be an eye-opener for people who weren’t deeply rooted in the comics culture of the 1990s. The works of Cowan and company. definitely went under the radar, partly due to discriminatory attitudes, and partly due to the great glut of comics of the decade (it was a time when many creators successfully fought to retain commercial rights to their properties, and enough independent publishers launched to give Marvel and DC a run for their money). Hardware Y spark – spark it definitely didn’t get the marketing boost that the work of big-name artists did. At the very least, some of us will be inspired to look up some back issues and enjoy the forward-thinking stories.

But this is also a story about people who were so far ahead of the curve of cultural progress that their innovation wasn’t appreciated until long after the Milestone offices closed. Milestone’s revival is clearly the result of a recent push for broader representation in many entertainment media; milestone generations he quietly states that this handful of black men were doing it before anyone else.

Our call: milestone generations it’s a worthy, potentially educational (and concise!) watch that highlights some unsung heroes of the comics field. TRANSMIT IT.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at

Stream milestone generations on HBO Max

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