Warner Archive Collection is offering another animated superhero gem with the release of Static Shock: The Complete Third Season on DVD on January 30. To mark the occasion, lead voice star Phil LaMarr shared some of his memories of playing Virgil Hawkins and his heroic alter ego in Warner Bros. Animation’s adaptation of the Milestone Comics hit.
In the show’s third season, Static got a tricked-out new costume, and his crime-fighting partner Richie developed powers of his own to become Gear. The African-American superhero took an enlightening trip to Africa, shared an episode with Superman, and combined forces with the Justice League.
“In the third season, everything sort of got spruced up,” recalls LaMarr, known far and wide for his voice performances in Samurai Jack, Futurama and Family Guy, and his live-action roles for MADtv and Pulp Fiction. “The writing was just as good as ever, but they really raised the stakes. Static’s costume went from homemade to a legitimate super hero costume, Richie became his own super hero in Gear, and that meant there was less sitting back at headquarters – we started going on a lot more duo-action adventures.”
LaMarr and Jason Marsden, the voice of Richie/Gear, had already developed a strong camaraderie working closely together on the Disney animated series, The Weekenders. Their on-screen/in- booth rapport in Static Shock was a natural extension of their “real life” relationship.
“Static Shock provided a second opportunity to play partners and best friends – which was great because we were already good friends,” LaMarr says. “Our friendship on the show was authentic. And there’s nothing better than getting paid every week to work with your friend.” LaMarr says he truly coveted the role of Static – a super hero who spoke to his personal aspirations and cultural upbringing.
“As a comic book guy, Static was a dream come true – a character who really felt real to me,” LaMarr says. “I always thought Static would be what I would be if I got powers as a teenager. I loved Spidey and Bats, but I never wanted to be them. There are tortured souls, and everything they do is informed by that guilt. For Static, the worst problem was having to do homework.
“Moreover, it was so great to finally have a black super hero who didn’t have ‘black’ in his name. I could relate to him. Here’s a kid who is smart, who’s trying to do the right thing, dealing with relatable problems whether it was family or school or friendships. Despite that fact that it was a cartoon that revolved around super heroes, it felt real to me.”
Static Shock season 3 featured numerous guest performances from actors as acclaimed and diverse as four-time Emmy Award winner Alfre Woodard (Miss Evers’ Boys, Desperate Housewives, Hill Street Blues), Emmy Award winner Roscoe Lee Browne (Logan’s Run, The Cowboys), Brock Peters (To Kill a Mockingbird, Soylent Green), Golden Globe winner Terence Stamp (Billy Budd, Superman), three-time Emmy Award winner Jean Smart (24, Garden State), Bud Court (Harold & Maude, M*A*S*H), Dennis Haysbert (24, Major League), Golden Globe winner Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Michael Jai White (Black Dynamite, The Dark Knight), T’Keyah Crystal Keymah (In Living Color, That’s So Raven), Danica McKeller (The Wonder Years), Phil Morris (Smallville), Charles Rocket (Moonlighting), Sean Patrick Thomas (The District), Kimberly Brooks (Mass Effect), Bumper Robinson (The Game), David Faustino (Married with Children), Nicolette Sheridan (Desperate Housewives), David Arquette (Cougar Town), Tia Texada (Third Watch) and rapper Romeo Miller.
Also performing guest roles during the third season are the voices of Warner Bros. Animation’s core group of DC Super Heroes, including actors from Batman: The Animated Series (Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Arleen Sorkin, Robert Hastings) and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (George Newbern, Carl Lumbly, Maria Canals Barrera, Michael Rosenbaum), as well as LaMarr himself as the voice of Green Lantern/John Stewart.
“The crossover episodes with the Justice League were so much fun for me – it was great to feel like Static Shock was part of the legacy of the super hero entertainment that I grew up watching and reading,” LaMarr says. “Associating Static with the Justice League sort of legitimized our little show, putting Static on the same level as supers like Batman, Green Lantern and all the rest. Plus getting to act again alongside my Justice League acting pals – Maria Canals Barrera, Susan Eisenberg, Carl Lumbly, Michael Rosenbaum, George Newbern, Kevin Conroy – was a blast, especially because now they were coming to MY house. It was actually a little weird because we were sitting in the same chairs as we always did when recording Justice League – but now I had more lines. Of course, I had two different characters – Static and Green Lantern/John Stewart.”
LaMarr said the dual role – which put him in the unusual position of recording two characters talking to each other – was the first time he encountered that situation in his career.
“I thought the writers wrote those scenes as a challenge for me,” LaMarr recalls. “At least they didn’t have them singing harmony or something crazy like that!”
Static Shock: The Complete Third Season features an all-star lineup of writers behind the scripts: Paul Dini, Dwayne McDuffie, Len Uhley, Ernie Altbacker, John Semper, Courtney Lilly and Adam Beechen. For the Static-Superman team-up episode entitled “Toys in the Hood,” Semper crafted a story that was written by Academy Award winner John Ridley (12 Years a Slave). An episode entitled “Static in Africa” saw the Hawkins family on vacation in Ghana, where Static teams with a legendary African folk hero to combat a group of bandits. The episode was particularly important to LaMarr.
“Static in Africa was a blast for so many reasons,” LaMarr recalls. “It was a thrill to work for the first time with Michael Jai White and Roscoe Lee Browne, as well as my Justice League castmate Carl Lumbly. Carl and Roscoe are guys whose work I’d seen growing up, and to share a studio with them was fantastic.
“Moreover, it was really cool to be able to explore our roots in a Saturday morning cartoon. I had never seen contemporary Africa on Saturday morning – an Africa that was not unlike our own world. We have super heroes, they have super heroes. Africa wasn’t showed as exotica – it was a world where people like us live. And to me, that was a great part of Static Shock. It wasn’t about that Static was black; but he was black. His life, his world – those were real. And that kind of normalization is what’s key to true diversity.”
The DVD release also includes Superman: The Animated Series episode “Obsession” (S3 E4), which is a kind of prequel to “Toys in the Hood” and spotlights the first meeting between Superman and Static. The Static Shock: The Complete Third Season two-disc set is available through wb.com/warnerarchive and top online retailers.