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365 Reasons to Love Comics #53

The star of today’s column is very shocking! Ha ha! Puns! Augh.

Seriously, folks, we’re talking about an awesome character today who is very underappreciated. Time to share the love.

2/22/07

53. Black Lightning

Black Lightning 1.jpg

Jefferson Pierce fills a lot of interesting roles in the DC Universe, and a few uninteresting ones. Debuting in 1977, he was the first African-American superhero to have his own book at DC. Creator Tony Isabella had to produce the first issue in three weeks because of how awful DC’s unused idea for a headlining black character would’ve been.

Black Lightning is, like many black heroes, “streetwise,” interested in the common man and going after drug dealers and the like. That was a very popular thing in the 70’s– Luke Cage had the same thing going for him.

Pierce was a high school teacher and Olympian decathlete who put on an electrical power belt designed by the brother of that guy who makes all the Flash’s rogues’ costumes and decided to clean up the streets, taking down the criminal organization known as The 100. Lightning has since internalized the power. And it’s a snazzy power.

Black Lightning 9.jpg

His original series died in the DC Implosion, but he survived through back-ups and guest shots until he joined the Outsiders in the 80’s, playing second or third fiddle to Batman for a while. Isabella launched a second series in the 90’s, but left shortly afterward, and sales crashed.

Rights issues kept Black Lightning out of the cartoons (we got Black Vulcan and the like instead) and the Justice League (he’s one of the few guys to refuse JLA membership. Methinks Metamorpho did the same thing; funnily, they both ended up in the Outsiders). He’s on the JLA now, though, thanks to Brad Meltzer, though he’s become another “angry bald black super-character!”

Black Lightning 2.jpg

It’s okay if we lost the ‘fro, though. It’s not that big a deal (I’ve heard it was actually a wig, anyway – no foolin’). And he’s gone from a teacher in Suicide Slum to Secretary of Education in Lex Luthor’s cabinet. He’s sinced resigned, though.

I think the role as a teacher works really well for an inner-city superhero like Black Lightning. He’s a better fit for it than Peter Parker, I think. That’s what I’d base a new series around– keeping the streets safe as Black Lightning and the children’s futures safe as Jefferson Pierce. Let his identity be public, if need be, and you can synch the school stuff up with the superhero stuff better (and fit it in better than, oh, Peter Parker).

Like all great superheroes, he’s a good man trying to do the right thing despite his circumstances of setting– it’s what makes a strong character. His story isn’t about race, but about poverty, crime, and hope. Let’s use his new position in the JLA to launch a new series (and see if Tony Isabella’s busy) and finally have him fulfill his potential and get the appreciation he deserves.

But put him in a better costume first, yeah?

(Ooo, and imagine if Static could be brought into the DCU so he can team up with Black Lightning on a regular basis! Their powers are somewhat similar, but different enough to make things interesting– Static uses electromagnetism, and Lightning uses, um, zappy-stuff and the like, in a versatile manner. And hey, Static can go and hit on Lightning’s super-daughter Thunder much to her disdain. Hmm…)

23 Comments

Whenever articles showcasing the under appreciated or little known characters go up, you see people posting, clamoring for new collections of said character…

BL is fully appreciated by moi and well known and I can say that this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to say, can we get a BL Showcase?

The afro was a wig, yes. It was part of his Secret Identity disguise, like Clark kent’s glasses, but the other way — he wore the wig in costume.

The fact that the first Black Marvel character to have his own comic, and the first Black DC character to have his own comic could be so diametrically opposed to each other has always struck me as very interesting. Black Lightning was a guy who cared about his neighborhood and where he was from; working as a school teacher and on the streets as Black Lightning, he was trying to make things better and help out the kids there. The Hero for Hire, however, was self-interested. Luke cared about making money to pay his rent, avoiding having his fugitive status exposed, and roughing up people who picked fights with him. Cage didn’t even go back to his old neighborhood, setting up shop in Times Square — a long way from Harlem.

I can’t imagine Cockroach Hamilton calling Black Lightning “street tough Black” they way he badmouthed Cage.

That these two characters — linked through little else other than their history of their publishers — could be so opposite is quite cool to me. It’s still stinks that BL (along with Steel, my other fav from the DC Explosion) lasted so short a time, considering that I think that the concept could have been mined for entertaining stories for years.

Thanks for this entry! Very cool!

I don’t think the puvlic identity would work if he was trying to find work as a teacher. Schools are so afraid of lawsuits nowadays, I can’t think of any way they agree to the liability of having a known superhero on campus every day.

Will Black History Month have any appearences by any member of the Black Marvel Family? Specifically Black Adam?

And I hope we get the Falcon in this month before it’s over.

Where did the declarative bill post go? why has it been pulled?

Tony Isabella’s second run on Black Lightning was fantastic. Makes me long for those thrilling days of yesteryear. Or at least a good tpb.

CSBG retcon! Hurray for corporate whitewashing! Reason #52 was edited to take out the link, too.

At least we’ll always have the Burgas/Beland spat.

Personally, I liked Peter Parker as a teacher…but that’s me.

Personally, I liked Peter Parker as a teacher…but that’s me.

I didn’t mind it, really, and it gave us some good issues, but it was also used to jettison a huge portion of Spider-Man’s fantastic supporting cast… and we didn’t get any new supporting cast members out of it!

Black Lightning has a cleaner slate to work from in terms of that status quo.

Everett "Synch" Thomas

February 22, 2007 at 7:19 pm

I rememeber a rip-off of Black Lightning called Soul Power, I think, in a Static Shock episode. He was his idol or his fathers or something.

Quoting Luke:

“The afro was a wig, yes. It was part of his Secret Identity disguise, like Clark kent’s glasses, but the other way — he wore the wig in costume.”

It was more than just a frizzy toupee, as I recall. Originally the white mask was attached to the afro wig. He’d slap the wig/mask combo on his head, start talking jive, and instant Black Lightning.

I don’t think there’s anyone else with that mask/wig setup. Even the GS Black Canary, when she wore a little domino mask for a while as well as the blonde wig, didn’t have them as one piece.

“CSBG retcon! Hurray for corporate whitewashing! Reason #52 was edited to take out the link, too.”

…wow, awesome. So for no apparent reason, one of the best discussions I’ve seen on here for ages is just deleted along with any and all thought that went into the comments afterwards?

I love this site, but honestly, it does make me wonder what the point of bothering to post on it is if anything is subject to a hosing with no apparent reason for it.

Of course, everything IS always subject to a hosing at any given time, but you don’t actually expect it to happen which is why you’d actually bother posting somewhere in the first place…if you see what I mean.

Quoting Mike Blake:

“It was more than just a frizzy toupee, as I recall. Originally the white mask was attached to the afro wig. He’d slap the wig/mask combo on his head, start talking jive, and instant Black Lightning. ”

You are of course absolutely correct. I had forgotten about this fact, since it has been a few years since I busted out my first volume “Black Lightning” stuff. As much as I like his original look, afro and all, I really dig his second look, from his 90s book. Now that was a badass costume!

His daughter Thunder wore a blonde wig for a while, didn’t she? That’s just amusing!

“CSBG retcon! Hurray for corporate whitewashing! Reason #52 was edited to take out the link, too.”

Regrettable. It was a good discussion.

Yeah, the loss of the post is strange. I deleted a post following Beland’s unfortunate appearance here because I thought it was overkill and didn’t want it to reflect poorly on the main site. It was just me being whiny. But Declarative Bill was just stating a simple opinion that led to some interesting comments. Bizarre!

nuts. i was going to base a blog on my comment, too :(

I was among the few (I imagine) who bought BL (the mid-’90s series) — well, at least as long as Isabella wrote it. This was one of his finest issues:

http://www.comics.org/coverview.lasso?id=57235&zoom=4

I have high hopes that he’ll be well-written again … like, say, in Justice League after Meltzer leaves.

What, I can’t believe the Declarative Bill post was deleted. I’m never reading this blog again!

(I’ve decided to announce that I’ll never read this blog again at every chance I get)

Oh yeah, and Black Vulcan, er, Black Lightning was cooler with the fro-wig. Are his daughter and Grace still shacking up in Outsiders (if anyone even reads that tripe)?

Alas poor declarative bill, we knew him not very much, but he rocked.

Black Lightning used to rock, but then they shaved all his hair off and made his head shiny. its horrendously distracting.

my lost post on the declarative bill post rocked too, but alas, it is no more. it is a dead parrot.

I will see what I can do.

“I will see what I can do.”

if you can manage to salvage it and hurl it my way, the blog post derived from it will bear a shining testament to your glorious name.

Black Lightning was created during the period that DC was giving their creators a larger percentage of the rights to their work (the stated reason why any future Jonah Hex Showcase volumes would be an issue). Tony Isabella owns a percentage of the character and is entitled to a percentage of whatever merchandising is done of BL (which is likely why he wasn’t on SuperFriends). Though this didn’t stop Isabella from getting fired from the 2nd series due (allegedly) to an editorial agenda. He’s been fairly vocal about DC’s handling of the character in the years since as well, so I’m not sure what the likelihood of a return series would be.

Which is a shame as Isabella’s a very underrated writer, responsible for what is not only my favorite Luke Cage story, but one of my fave superhero comics period (the Powerman vs Powerman issue).

The Kirbydotter

March 10, 2007 at 3:14 pm

“He’s on the JLA now, though, thanks to Brad Meltzer, though he’s become another “angry bald black super-character!””

Isn’t sad that we are back at doing stereotypes black characters in 2007 comic books…???

I haven’t read JSA for a while but last time I looked the Michael Holt/Mr.Terrific still had some hair, was more of a brainy and posed character than an angry one. And was one of the rare modern black heroes not condemned to be played by Samuel L. Jackson if a movie is ever done about him. I hope this character is featured in your Black History month series.

About Black Lightning, I have to say I was never really a fan, except for the early Outsiders by Jim Aparo.

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