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.
53. Black Lightning
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.
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!”
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 allÂ great superheroes, he’s a good man trying to do the right thing despiteÂ 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…)