Trading Card Set of the Week: Milestone: The Dakota Universe (1993, SkyBox)
It’s often been remarked how lily-white the world of comics has been throughout its lengthy history. In fairness, good old stapled newsprint wasn’t alone in this lack of minority representation, as its pop-fiction cousins, TV and movies, have had similar struggles. But comics seemed to be even more non-representative, a problem that has trickled down to the present day as other once under-representative mediums have integrated much more fully. Yes, there have been strides made in the past couple of decades, but it’s not easy to completely fix things when there are a number of venerable black characters with the color of their skin appended to their very names: Black Panther, Black Lightning, Black Racer, et al.
In the mid-nineties, a newly formed company called Milestone Media sought to redress this imbalance. Securing a publishing deal with DC Comics and developing their own shared world, the Dakota Universe, a group consisting primarily of African-American creators tried to tilt (or untilt) the scales. To close out Black History Month, our featured trading card set for this week is going to be the series of cards that commemorated that world.
Milestone: The Dakota Universe was put out in 1993 by SkyBox, and the 100 card set slid right into the groove of other line-wide comic book trading cards, from the DC Cosmic entries to the superb early Marvel sets to less-heralded niches like the Ultraverse product. The Dakota cards, like their kin, mainly focused on individual characters from their fictional shared geography (Dakota was the fictional Metropolis/Gotham equivalent), characters like the Iron Man-ish Armor seen on the box top above. Their design isn’t the most attractive, with muddled borders on the front and standard explanatory text on the back, but there are a few aspects that make them stand out. The first 18 cards, for instance, are somewhat unique in that they form two different murals depicting origin tales. The first of these, centered on the Superman proxy named (fittingly enough) Icon, combines a crashed ship with slavery and the Civil War:
The character cards are what you’d expect — not a lot of surprises. A couple were interesting, the first being the card for the heroine Donner, who looks like a strapping East German swimmer wearing Captain Marvel knockoff togs:
She was a lesbian as well as the granddaughter of a Nazi. A big tent, was the Dakotaverse.
And then there’s Lysistrata Jones, a Pam Grier clone who’d be at home in any number of 1970s blaxploitation flicks:
Another singular feature of this set are the creator cards that profile the staff at Milestone, which had a higher percentage of African-American talent than was normally found in company hierarchies. You have to admire how Denys Cowan advertised the brand even when he was reduced to two dimensions:
There were two chase cards in the set, which came one per box. Here’s good old Static, the only character from this universe to have any sort of legs:
The Milestone line went the way of the dodo not long after its debut, much like the zillion other start-ups of that era. Though it was originally segregated (no offensive pun intended) from the broader DC Universe, elements were eventually absorbed into that menagerie, and there was even a good old cross-over — World’s Collide — back when its comics were still being published. And Static — or Static Shock, as it were — even got his own cartoon show ten-plus years ago. So the whole thing didn’t vanish in a puff of blue smoke like so many mid-nineties forays.
Milestone was a decent idea, though a broad new line of superhero books seems, in retrospect, destined to collapse under its own weight. The number of unopened boxes of the Dakota Universe cards cheaply available are evidence of that glut. The width and breadth of the character cards in this set, though, stand as a testament to how diverse the universe was, and not just in terms of skin color. It had decent intentions behind it, and the execution certainly wasn’t the nadir of that era. And you can’t put the final nail in its coffin, either. Like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Milestone isn’t dead yet, as there’s been talk of a rebirth in the not-too-distant future. So maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing for you to go find these cards, and re-familiarize yourself with a somewhat forgotten corner of the comic book world — a corner with a dash more color to it.