His free-flowing hairstyle and catchphrases were as much a part of his image as the electromagnetic superpowers he possessed. At a young age, he had to overcome tremendous obstacles and incidents of tragedy, bullying and even racism, all while trying to defend the city that created him.
His television series and its contribution to the world of black superheroes is occasionally overlooked in comic circles, but it can be argued that he may have helped paved the way for films like Black Panther and television shows like Luke Cage and Black Lightning to exist today.
His name was Virgil Hawkins, but we know him better as Static Shock.
From 2000-2004, Static captured the attention of young superhero lovers each Saturday morning on the “Kids’ WB!” Network, and his crime-fighting escapades gave them one memorable moment after another, from teaming up with Lil’ Romeo to defeat a power-snatching villain named Leach to meeting a legendary African folklore hero, Anansi the Spider, to unforgettable partnerships with the likes of Batman and Superman. But the series also provided us a healthy balance between Static the superhero and Virgil Hawkins the young man. Whereas Static was grappling with the daily perils of defending a city from the notorious “Bang Babies,” Hawkins had to grapple with losing his mom to gang violence and subsequently avoiding the gang culture himself, an incident of blatant racism from the father of his best friend, and occasional instances of bullying, things many young kids and teenagers unfortunately.
“Here’s a kid who is smart, who is trying to do the right thing, dealing with relatable problems whether it was family or school or friendships,” actor Phil LaMarr, the voice of Static, said in a 2017 interview with Warner Archives and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “Despite that fact that it was a cartoon that revolved around superheroes, it felt real to me.”
For black Americans born from 1995-96, it’s impossible to fully appreciate Blade or Meteor Man, because they were too young; Static Shock was their first black superhero. Static was their first sense of representation on television of positive images of young black boys (and girls). He provided life lessons about the importance of family and friendship, as well as what it means to be proud of who you are and where you come from, regardless of what people say or think about you.
“That was a great part of Static Shock; It wasn’t about that Static was black, but he was black,” said LaMarr. “His life, his world – those were real. And that kind of normalization is what’s key to true diversity.”
Black History Month is a month dedicated to honoring those that came before us and paved the way for our success. It’s not nonsensical to suggest that the success of Static Shock—albeit short-lived— played a role in making it possible for films like Black Panther, or television shows like Luke Cage and Black Lightning, films where black heroes lead the way.
Static Shock was more than a hero. He was an icon.