Let’s rewind time a little, back to the year 2000. Superman: The Animated Series has just ended, and there’s now a gap in your Saturday morning cartoon lineup. Sure, you can rely on Batman Beyond for your superhero fill, but it’d be cool to see a young hero, someone fresh and new to spice things up.
Enter in Static Shock.
Static Shock was a series that was totally out of left field at the time of its premier. It was based on the DC hero, Static, who can manipulate electromagnetism. Don’t feel bad if you aren’t familiar with the character; very few were at the time. His comics didn’t perform at the Superman or Batman level, and those were the exact names Static Shock was up against in the Kids’ WB programming block. However, instead of being pushed into the background these more popular heroes, Static’s series managed to stand out and earn quite a few accolades in its short four Seasons run time. When you look at these nine episodes, it’s easy to see why.
Season 1, Episode 8: “Sons of the Fathers”
One of the things Static Shock is known for is its refusal to back down on talking about important topics. “Sons of the Fathers” is an episode that shows that they were right to tackle these topics. The episode begins with Virgil and Richie hanging out at Virgil’s house, and Virgil’s sister, Sharon, mentions that the two of them never spend time at Richie’s house. This leads to a discussion that eventually results in Richie inviting Virgil over – but only because his father won’t be home. When Virgil does come over, though, it turns out Richie’s father is home, and he’s none too happy to see Virgil. Throughout the night, Richie’s father makes increasingly hateful remarks about African-Americans and Virgil decides to leave. Richie and his father get into an argument and Richie leaves, only to be captured by a villain. Static, Virgil’s father, and Richie’s father have to work together, and along the way, Richie’s father begins to see things differently. The episode ends on a hopeful note that implies that Richie’s dad will try to learn from his mistakes and change his view.
It’s one of the best episodes in the first season, and it handles the topics of racism and bigotry well, especially in the way it had both Richie and Virgil react to it. It’s also important to note that Richie’s father does in fact keep his word and makes his apology meaningful by unlearning his racist mindset; in later episodes, he can be seen spending a lot of time with the Hawkins family and embracing them as friends and equals.
Season 2, Episode 1: “The Big Leagues”
Holy mackerel, Batman, it’s a team up! “The Big Leagues” sees Static teaming up with Batman and Robin when the Joker comes to Dakota to wreak havoc with a group of metahumans he collects. The episode is pretty straightforward, with the Joker recruiting the Bang Babies of Dakota to do some petty (at least for a big bad) crime, like robbery. Static comes to save the day, but by the time he gets there, everyone is gone, except for a Bang Baby that has been exposed to the Joker’s gas. When Batman comes to investigate, Static is excited about the chance to work with a major hero! This episode is just a fun crossover for the two heroes, and watching Static and Robin interact is pretty hilarious at certain moments.
Season 2, Episode 5: “Frozen Out”
“Frozen Out” is a holiday-centric episode that also touches on quite a few tough issues, including homelessness and mental health. Virgil is swamped between his hero duties and his holiday plans, and he laments his responsibility as a hero to help others all the time when he just wants to hang out and take in all of his friends’ holiday traditions. Throughout the city, freak snow storms and freezes arise and Static is tasked with finding the culprit. He’s eventually led to a homeless girl that calls herself Permafrost; she’s a Bang Baby with little control of her ability to create snow and ice. He’s frustrated with the fact that she keeps getting away, and his frustration only increases as he is also expected to help with food drives and other community activities. Eventually, he manages to find the girl with the help of a homeless woman who explains that the girl’s name is Maureen and that she has a mental illness due to past traumatic experiences. Static decides not to defeat her; he instead offers to take her to a safe place, so she can find help.
Along with being a remarkably well-done depiction of mental illness and homelessness for the time, this episode also taps into the fact that a hero’s job isn’t only to fight evil with their fists; it’s more so to help those in need and create a better world. And that’s something everyone can do.
Season 2, Episode 24: “Jimmy”
Another episode that tackles tough issues, “Jimmy” focuses on a boy named Jimmy, a quiet and outcast kid who is constantly picked on at school. Virgil and Richie see Jimmy being teased and aren’t sure what to do about it; they don’t tell any adults, but they start trying to include Jimmy in their activities. They invite him to play basketball with them and ask for his help to set up a maze for the community center’s Halloween party, and Jimmy seems to be fitting in well. However, the bullies decide to pull a horrible prank on Jimmy, chasing him through the maze and shoving him in the locker. The next day, he returns to the community center and pulls out a gun; he’s disoriented, agitated, and hurt, but after Richie talks him down, he lowers the gun. The bullies try to tackle him, and it causes Jimmy to accidentally fire the gun, and the bullet hits Richie.
The episode has an excellent way of conveying the event – having Virgil retell the story as he talks to a therapist about the events – and it does a great job of getting its point across regarding bullying and gun violence. This episode won a Humanitas Prize for Children’s Animation in 2003 for its handling of those topics, as well.
Season 3, Episode 2: “Gear”
Have you ever watched a show and realized that a certain character just didn’t fit? Maybe it was because they weren’t very important, or maybe it was because they didn’t serve much of a purpose, but we can all agree that when a show tries to force a character on you, it makes you hate that character. In a way, “Gear” is the episode that prevented this fate for Richie. The episode has Virgil worrying about Richie’s constant inventing and tinkering, and he begins to suspect his best friend is a Bang Baby. Eventually, they find out that Virgil’s suspicions are true; being in proximity to Virgil has exposed Richie to the same mutagenic gas that gave Virgil his abilities, and it has given Richie super intelligence. With his newfound ability, he’s able to invent items to keep up with Static and become the superhero Gear. This episode is another one that shows off the excellence of the writing team; it didn’t feel forced or out of place for Richie to have the power he does.
Season 3, Episode 12: “Toys in the Hood”
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s another team up, but this time with the Man of Steel himself! “Toys in the Hood” sees Toyman taking up residence in Dakota and unleashing his army of giant toys to wreak havoc on the city. When Static goes up against the devious creations, he finds that Superman has arrived to help and becomes excited to team up with another big league hero. After they defeat the enemy, Static assumes that’s the last he’ll see of Superman, but the next day, while being interviewed by Clark Kent, another group of toys attacks, and Superman reappears. This time, the toys manage to take away Virgil’s friend, Daisy, and it becomes a race against the clock to find her. Just like “The Big Leagues,” this episode is a fun meeting of the heroes and shows that Static isn’t some small fry hero; he’s on par with Superman himself.
Season 3, Episode 14: “Flashback”
A large part of Virgil’s backstory has to do with the death of his mother, Jean. It’s part of the reason he was where he was when he became a Bang Baby; he was caught up in trying to prevent a gang fight, and it’s because his mother was killed due to gang violence. “Flashback” is an episode that allows the audience to go back and see one of the moments that defines Virgil not only as a hero, but as a person. When he meets Bang Baby Time-Zone, Richie helps her by creating a device that lets her control her time travel ability. However, Virgil accidentally zaps the device with his electrical power, and it sends them back in time five years to the Dakota gang riots. As they try to get back home, Virgil comes face to face with his mother. “Flashback” proves that Static Shock was capable of being serious just as much as being silly, and it’s also one of the most poignant episodes in the series.
Season 4, Episode 6: “No Man’s Island”
We all love a hero team up, but let’s hear it for those moments when the hero has to team up with a villain. When Edward Alva kidnaps Static and Hot-Streak in an attempt to find a way to revive his son, the two are handcuffed together and must find a way out of the experiment facility. Though there are tons of arguments and annoyances along the way, the two manage to bring out each other’s strengths and escape; they even save the other Bang Babies being held in the facility. Though they aren’t exactly friends by the end, they do find an appreciation for each other. While this may not seem like anything completely unique, this is another episode that demonstrates that the job of a hero isn’t only to fight; it’s to help and understand others, even when you may not be on the same side.
Season 4, Episode 9: “Where the Rubber Meets the Road”
One of the great things about Static Shock is its dedication to handling difficult topics and representing struggles that its young audience might face. One of those struggles is learning disabilities, and “Where the Rubber Meets the Road” handles it well. Sharon goes on a date with Adam, a Bang Baby that also goes by Rubberband Man. While hanging out at Adam’s place, Richie and Virgil notices there are no books or magazines around, and all the mail has been left unopened. A villain goes on a rampage at Alva Industries and Static, Gear, and Rubberband Man all rush to the scene. Rubberband Man struggles to read the controls that will close the doors and contain the villain, and the villain escapes with a fusion reactor. Edwin Alva berates Rubberband Man, and even Richie seems frustrated with him. However, Static goes to find Rubberband Man after he leaves and learns that Adam has dyslexia and struggles greatly with reading. Static encourages him to keep trying and says that he’s already become so successful between his heroism and music; nothing can hold him back if he tries and takes his time.
The episode does an amazing job of depicting dyslexia and the way it can make someone feel, especially when they don’t receive proper help, encouragement, and attention, and it once again shows that Static is a hero not just because of his powers, but because of his character.