Icon: A Hero’s Welcome
In a clever twist on the familiar Superman story, Augustus Freeman was an adult alien who escaped to earth in a rocket pod. When the pod was discovered by a slave woman, he was reconfigured into a black baby who, by the time of this story, has become an accomplished lawyer. A teenage girl from the projects, Raquel Ervin, encounters Augustus when she goes with her boyfriend to rob his suburban mansion. She’s surprised when she sees Augustus take a bullet to the chest and get up again, but she’s inspired when she sees him fly.
Raquel, who wants to be a writer but can’t even afford a typewriter, designs costumes for Icon (Augustus) and the Rocket (herself). She then convinces Augustus that he has a responsibility to inspire others by becoming a superhero. He can help his people by becoming a living example of what can happen if you try to live up to your potential, and Raquel, who once thought she had “nothing to write about”, will have a story for her life.
The opening origin story of Icon: A Hero’s Welcome is told wordlessly, illustrating the confidence of the creators. (It’s written by Dwayne McDuffie with pencils by M.D. Bright and inks by Mike Gustovich.) M.D. Bright is the perfect artist for this story. He can draw inspiring action, quiet reflection, and everything in-between. His characters, especially, are distinct and well-delineated. In scenes where Raquel’s thoughts are important, his art clearly carries the story, leaving room for her reflections without reader confusion. Without his skills, the combination of heroic drama and internal realism that makes up these stories wouldn’t be as successful.
Although superficially familiar in some ways, the story of Icon has a distinct twist. It works as commentary on how the standard superhero genre conventions change when the characters placed in those situations aren’t white. For example, at the beginning of Icon’s first public mission, he lands and tells the cops he wants to help when the mayor is held hostage. They instantly train all their guns on him.
The subtext is the conflict between the idea that all people have the responsibility to “pull themselves up their own bootstraps” and the virtue of a community assisting its members, even if only symbolically. The combination of viewpoints in the Icon/Rocket team is fascinating, whether they’re arguing over economics or whether to fight the cops or surrender to them.
After resolving the hostage situation, Icon meets the Blood Syndicate, a superpowered gang. Meanwhile, Raquel has discovered she’s pregnant, and she has to decide what to do about the situation. The various choices are presented even-handedly, with characters sharing their experiences as reasons behind the choices they made. The potential exists for this particular story to be cliched or concerned with sending a message instead of telling a story, but it transcends those traps to make the reader think. It also, surprisingly, fits well in what’s apparently “just” a superhero series. Even though my experiences in this case and many others are vastly different from Icon and Rocket, the characters are so clearly defined so that they’re easy to relate to.
The true title character of the series is Raquel. She’s the symbol of the virtue of tenacity and the hope for the future. Although Augustus is the obvious inspirational example, both as Icon and as a successful professional, Raquel manages to overcome so much more, gripping the reader in the process. She drives the story, and without her, there would be no superhero. Oh, and she tends to win the fights after Icon loses.
Beyond this book, there were another 34 issues. (The series ran to #42.)
A thorough, and interesting review. You rightly highlight the subtleties in McDuffie’s writing and Bright’s art. It’s only a shame that there aren’t more Icon and Milestone TPB’s; The Worlds Collide crossover, where Icon got to fight and team up with Superman was an excellent crossover.
I would LOVE to see some of the Milestone titles reprinted more fully. We’re in an era that tries to make available the best comics of all the previous periods, and those comics certainly qualify. I suspect, though, that the connections with DC might inhibit such efforts.
The Worlds Collide story would make for a fascinating reprint, especially if they added behind-the-scenes creator comments on what they wanted to do but couldn’t (which I’ve only seen alluded to in interviews and such).
I find your review funny in that my one and only professional sale was a review of this very TPB for the late, lamented psycomic.com. :)
But we fully agreed on what a wonderful series this was. It never failed to entertain during its entire run.