Sunday, February 09, 2003


You know this superhero's cool; he stays in school


By JEANNE SPREIER / The Dallas Morning News

It must be stealth programming.

Kids WB may not have set out to create an action-hero cartoon that rises above the mundane. But here, entering its third season, is Static Shock, where the fight scenes are limited and relatively benign, the hero is a charming teenager, the language and vocabulary border on the educational and the story outcomes reward the good guys and are revelatory for the bad.

What Kids WB wants to talk about most is the race of Virgil Hawkins, who, through exposure to weird gas, gains electromagnetic. Virgil is television's first "African-American teenage superhero," Kids WB points out in its first sentence describing the show.

Fair and true enough. But unlike shows targeting general or adult audiences, kids' programming has been multiracial and multiethnic for years. Static Shock is better than just being the first in that category – it's a good show, period.

And this year's season has several eye-catching changes, the least of which is Static's new costume – a black-and-blue number with a shocking yellow bolt emblazoned upon his chest. Virgil's good friend Richie Foley this season starts experiencing a delayed reaction to the same gas that gave Virgil his Static "meta-human" powers. Richie, however, gets brains.

Oh my, the power of kids exhibiting thinking skills to young viewers – it's hip to be smart! Richie, in a boring math class, ignores the teacher and his insufferably long math equation. Instead, Richie is using military propulsion engineering to soup up his roller skates. When the teacher asks Richie to answer the question, he's ready – it's four over pi. Then, when Richie sets off to help Virgil, captured by ne'er-do-wells and held in an abandoned juvi hall, he dons helmet and knee pads for his first madcap sky flight on rocket skates.

In this Saturday's new episode, Virgil, his dad and older sister, Sharon, take a tourists' trip to Ghana. While Virgil gets an opportunity to fight the bad guys as Static Shock, he does it under the direction of Spider, an older, wiser superhero in Ghana. In his little brother form, Virgil accuses big sis of being "Ms. Shop-a-Zulu." "This is not a shopping thing. It's a cultural opportunity," she insists. Still, Virgil offers little moments of learning for all viewers. "It's amazing," Virgil tells Richie in a phone call from Africa. "There are black people everywhere. In Africa, I'm not a black kid, I'm just a kid. Is this what it feels like for you all the time?"

Lots of other good moments get air time. First and foremost, the buddies use their newfound powers in the pursuit of justice. Virgil and Richie's supportive friendship isn't laced with muscled-up, testosterone-driven bravado. The character of Virgil's kind and responsible dad avoids the buffoonery so often assigned to cartoon parents. The teens respect society's rules, staying in high school even if they really are better than everyone else. Most appealing, Virgil willingly admits he doesn't know everything.

Ah, now there's a concept ... a teen who doesn't know everything. Superhero, indeed."

Dwayne again. Nice review and apparently, Static Shock's "language and vocabulary" really does border on the educational, Sharon doesn't call her shopping spree a "cultural opportunity," as the writer reports, she calls it "a cultural epiphany."