DC Histories: Icon and Rocket

Here at DC Histories, we try to make sense of the continuity that perplexes, befuddles, and intimidates. We discuss what worked and what didn’t. This week, we’re talking about two pillars of Milestone Comics, Icon and Rocket.

Icon In-House Ad (1994)

Before we get into the story of Icon and Rocket, first a little history of Milestone Comics is in order. In 1993, Dwayne McDuffie (mentioned two weeks ago as one of the creators of Damage Control), Denys Cowan, Michael Davis, and Derek T. Dingle created Milestone Media. Their goal with this company was to create a diverse stable of characters who would appear in comics, in animation, and beyond. These men all saw a hole in the market for quality minority characters and they attempted to fill it. When the first comics launched from Milestone Comics, Dwayne McDuffie had a hand in writing many of them and was the company’s Editor-in-Chief.

Though I don’t pretend to know the specifics of how the deal worked, Milestone had a relationship with DC Comics where DC would publish and distribute Milestone’s comics for a cut of the profits. This let DC put their logo on the cover of every issue though it meant that they didn’t own any of the characters. The Milestone characters and the DC characters lived in different dimensions on different Earths.

Among the Milestone characters, who included Static, Hardware, and the Blood Syndicate, were my personal favorites, Icon and his teen sidekick, Rocket. Created by Dwayne McDuffie and M. D. Bright, their story is, on the surface, similar to classic DC heroes like Superman and Batman. However, when you dig a little deeper, they were like no one else.

When a collection of teens broke into Augustus Freeman IV’s mansion, they were expecting to find money, jewels, or other valuables. They weren’t expecting to find that a single Black man lived there alone. It surprised them even more when this man proved to be bulletproof and could fly. Augustus scared the teens half to death. Only Raquel Ervin, a 15 year-old who had been dragged along on the caper by her boyfriend, returned to face Augustus a few nights later. Raquel came to apologize but she also had a plan. A plan called ‘Icon.’

From Icon #1 (1993)

Raquel had never seen anyone like Augustus. Not only did he have amazing abilities and was rich, but the fact that he was Black would make a big different to her poor, inner city, predominately minority neighborhood. Augustus would defend the weak as Icon and Raquel would be Rocket. Augustus agreed and created the suits that Raquel had designed. He also gave Raquel a belt which let her fly and it absorbed kinetic energy, which could then be used offensively against foes. Icon and Rocket were then born.

During the first year or two of Icon’s existence, his cape was a bit all over the place. Remember that this was 1993 and Todd McFarlane’s Spawn was influencing tons of superhero artists. I can’t fault Bright and McDuffie for occasionally overdoing it with Icon’s cape.

From Icon #3 (1993)

In time, Icon told Raquel where he was from and how he got his abilities. He revealed that he was an alien who had crash landed in the Deep South in 1839. The ship that Icon was in had the ability to change much of his DNA in order for him to match the alien world upon which he’s just landed. In order for him to come to learn about his world and its language without arousing suspicion, it also made him a baby. While Superman had been found by kindly Midwestern farmers, Icon was found by a 19th Century Black slave. He was then raised as a slave as well, though he eventually escaped. Afterwards, he secretly used his skills to help the Underground Railroad, to fight for the Union in the Civil War, to participate in the Harlem Renaissance, and even to fight for the Allies in World War II. Every generation or so, Augustus would officially “die” and his “son” would inherit his estate. By the time Raquel had found him, Icon’s civilian identity had died three times. Each time, it was just a cover for the seemingly ageless alien.

Obviously, this was a lot for Raquel to take in.

From Icon #8 (1993)

Though Icon’s name was on the cover of each issue and he had superpowers, it was Raquel who was the true star of the story. Much of the drama in each issue dealt with her home life, which included her mother and grandmother. The three woman all lived in the same apartment together. When it became apparent to Raquel that she had become pregnant at age 15, this caused a lot of problems for the family. Raquel’s pregnancy was a cornerstone of the series.

McDuffie wasn’t afraid to get political with Icon as long as it made sense with the characters. When Raquel became pregnant, an honest conversation about abortion took place. A memorable issue concerned a community activist who claimed that Icon wasn’t truly “Black.” One of the series’ main conflicts dealt with Icon’s pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps brand of conservatism with Raquel pointing out that not everyone had a level playing field from which to start that process. It made for some intriguing reading, far beyond anything that would be dealt with in a standard issue of Superman.

Icon and Rocket were fully rounded characters whose ethnicity was a key component of who they were, but it wasn’t the only thing that defined them. McDuffie drew a clear line between these heroes and many of the Black comic characters who had came before. When Buck Wild came on the scene as Icon‘s second publishing year started, it was pretty obvious McDuffie was commenting on characters like Marvel’s Luke Cage.

From Icon #13 (1994)

In 1994, a year into Milestone’s existence, they had their first (and only) inter-publisher crossover. While the Milestone Comics themselves crossed over all the time, Icon and Rocket met Superman, Superboy, and Steel in a crossover titled Worlds Collide.

From Superboy (Vol. 3) #6 (1994)

The story concerned a postal worker who had a problem very similar to the protagonist in last spring’s TV show Awake. Whenever Fred Bentson went to sleep, he found himself in another universe. If he went to sleep in Metropolis, he immediately awoke in Dakota, the city where the Milestone characters lived. The opposite would happen when he slept in Dakota. In both universes, Fred was alone but had a job at a nearby post office. Eventually, his subconscious ability to leap between worlds grew dangerous when he decided that he had created both worlds. Only a combination of heroes from both universes was able to save all of existence when Fred became a being known as Rift.

Worlds Collide wasn’t great comics, but it was fun enough. This is what opened my eyes to the Milestone characters originally, since they crossed over with the Superman line of books I was reading in 1994. It should be noted that this event contains my favorite cover of all time. Worlds Collide #1’s cover had a static background with Colorforms-esque stickers that readers could stick on and remove at will. It was a lot of fun for 12 year-old Jeff.

Worlds Collide #1 (1994) Cover (Jeff Reid Version)

It was in the series’ third year that Icon began playing up its sci-fi elements. Thanks to the work of Hardware, Icon’s ship was repaired and he was able to communicate with his home world again. Around the time that he returned to space, Raquel finally had her baby. Knowing that she simply couldn’t be Rocket and be a teenage mom, Raquel turned the Rocket persona over to her best friend. With Augustus gone into space, Raquel also turned the Icon costume over to Buck Wild, who wasn’t quite as bad as he used to be, but he wasn’t quite there yet either. Unfortunately, this is when Oblivion, Icon’s most powerful foe, chose to make his debut.

From Icon #25 (1995)

It’s too bad that Oblivion looks so much like a Venom-version of Icon because this is actually a pretty great superhero story. The derivative nature of the character’s look distracts from the story, which involved sacrifice and the true cost of heroism.

Raquel followed Icon into space a little while after Oblivion was defeated. There she found that a race of aliens was planning to invade Earth. Deciding that she couldn’t sit around and wait for that to happen, she decided to challenge the aliens’ leader to single combat. The scene’s second-to-last panel was easily the best joke of the series.

From Icon #35 (1996)

Sadly, Milestone Comics was in a bad way financially. While I don’t have sales figures for this time period, the mid-90s was a boom-and-bust era for comics. Many publishers had lines launch at around the same time as Milestone and many went belly-up a few years later. Milestone was no exception. Icon #42 was the series’ final issue, though it didn’t realize that it was. The final letters page told fans to come back next month for the the end of the latest storyline. Issue #43 never came out.

In fact, the final issue of Icon didn’t feature Augustus or Raquel in costume. It dealt with the unexpected death of Raquel’s grandmother. The final page of the comic said that the story was dedicated to McDuffie’s grandmother who had passed away earlier that year. This issue made me tear up when I reread it in anticipation of this article.

From Icon #42 (1997)

Icon and Rocket didn’t return to comics until 2009. By this point, it appeared that DC Comics had flat-out purchased all of the Milestone characters. Static showed up in the pages of Teen Titans, Hardware had a crossover in The Brave and the Bold, and seemingly everyone got the invite to Justice League of America, which Dwayne McDuffie was then writing. There it was revealed that Dharma, a powerful mystic figure from the Milestone Universe, had been able to combine the DCU and the Milestone worlds together into a single universe. Thanks to his meddling, everyone thought that they had always existed together and that the city of Dakota was just another major city in the Midwest. Liking how everything currently was, Superman, Icon, and Dharma all agreed that this was the best solution for everyone.

From Justice League of America (Vol. 2) #34 (2009)

A year later, a two-issue miniseries directly wrapped up all of the dangling plotlines left by the abrupt implosion of the Milestone line in 1997. Part of this miniseries was, essentially, the never published Icon #43. For those fans waiting anxiously for the resolution to the Icon storylines, this was it.

From Milestone Forever #1 (2010)

Icon wasn’t a perfect series. McDuffie stepped away from the writing a lot. Being the Editor-in-Chief of Milestone meant that he just couldn’t always focus on the title and he had to call in a group of writers to do a large number of fill-in issues. These are mostly not so good, though the big exception are those stories written by series penciler M. D. Bright. He had a solid handle on the characters and he seemed to be the only person aside from McDuffie that it’s possible to say that about.

From Static Shock #8 (2012)

Unfortunately, Icon and Rocket haven’t had speaking parts in the New 52. In fact, as far as I know, Rocket has yet to even show up. However, Icon got featured in a nice flashback in the pages of Static Shock. Hopefully, a future writer will recognize the potential of these two characters and use them as well as McDuffie and Bright did nearly twenty years ago.

Jeff Reid hopes that all of the McDuffie penned issues of Icon become available for current readers either in print or digitally. Speaking of digital, follow Jeff on Twitter.


  1. Cool, both of them have featured recently on the Young Justice cartoon as well, Rocket on the Young Justice team and Icon a full Justice League member. it’s amazing how a slight update makes a world of difference for the costumes.

    • I was really happy to see them on Young Justice. It’s nice to see that they haven’t been completely forgotten recently.

  2. Here’s hoping that they will show up soon!

  3. You should do a DC Histories for Static.

  4. Saw Icon and Rocket on Young Justice, thought they were interesting so I checked the comics. Glad I did that!

  5. Things I’m looking forward to in the next two years:
    Icon & Rocket showing up in the New 52 in a story that is cannon
    Icon/Augustus Freeman showing up in a series of eight page stories in DCU Annuals spotlighting his participation over the years (Jonah Hex, the Kents, Blackhawk, the Shade [?], whatever else DC has up its sleeve in the ‘near’ past)
    ICON & ROCKET deluxe action figures
    a blooming friendship with Superman

    … Just saying…