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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Comfort Cartoons: Mature and electrifying 'Static Shock'


This week, we’re looking at “Static Shock” (2000–04), an influential animated series following Virgil Hawkins, a 14-year-old boy who fights crime as “Static,” a superhero with electromagnetic powers. The show is another installment in the DC Animated Universe, premiering before the culminations of the DCAU, “Justice League” (2001–04) and “Justice League Unlimited” (2004–06).

“Static Shock” begins with a focus on Virgil’s home life: He lives with his older sister Sharon, a college student, and their widowed father Robert. The family is haunted by the death of Virgil and Sharon’s mother, Jean, a paramedic. She was killed by gunfire during the fictional Dakota Riots. Following her death, Robert and Sharon centered their lives on collective and cooperative care in their neighborhood — Robert started working at a community center and Sharon started volunteering at the same center and a hospital. At its best, the show is sort of a family drama, exploring the tensions and traumas of the Hawkins family.

But, it’s also interesting to see how Static’s powers and role as a superhero mesh with that. He gets his powers after being exposed to a mutagen — Quantum Vapor — during an event the show refers to as the "Big Bang." It’s a transformative moment not only for Virgil, but also for others, specifically gang members and other Dakota citizens. Some of those exposed to the quantum juice gain either superhuman ability or deformity; this event prompts most of the stories in “Static Shock.” In many episodes, Static works to either thwart or assist the “Bang Babies” (those who gained powers during the "Big Bang").

The main villain of “Static Shock” is also a Bang Baby. Ebon, the alias of Ivan Evans, can manipulate darkness and dimensions — he’s basically a walking, talking shadow. It’s a great complement to Static’s abilities of light and electricity. Ebon’s younger brother, Adam, is also transformed, becoming Rubberband Man. Adam’s plot is more redemptive and he becomes Static’s ally throughout the series, which creates interesting conflict.

Much of this leads to explorations of government corruption, community organization, gang crime and scientific experiments. They’re all heavy topics seen from the perspective of the Bang Babies. The mutants become oddities and pests for the government and community organizers. For example, in the Season 4 episode “No Man’s an Island,the mutants are kidnapped for experiments on a mysterious island and they have to band together to save themselves. It becomes an “us versus them” story.

All of this is told through almost comic book-esque animation style and color; much of the animation feels a little flat in the first season, as if we’re reading a comic book. By its later seasons, it becomes more akin to something like what we see in “Justice League.” Similarly, the show’s fights only get better throughout. The fire and electricity between Hotstreak, another villain, and Static in “Aftershock” are fun to watch, but by “No Man’s an Island,the fights are much more visually complex.

Now, more than 20 years since its premiere, “Static Shock” is still an excellent animated series, a strong member of the DCAU and a great rewatch.

“Static Shock” is currently available on HBO Max.