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CSBG Archive

Almost Hidden – Isabella and Newell’s Black Lightning

Even with this large amount of comic books that have been collected in trade paperbacks, there are still a number of great comic books that have never been reprinted (I’d say roughly 60% of them are DC Comics from the 1980s through the mid-1990s). So every day this month I will spotlight a different cool comic book that is only available as a back issue. Here is an archive of the comic books featured so far.

I want you folks to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com with your suggestions for comics that I should feature this month. I’d like to see what you all would like to see get more attention.

Reader Roger N. wanted me to feature Tony Isabella and Eddy Newell’s Black Lightning run. So, well, here ya go!

Enjoy!


The second Black Lightning series debuted at the end of 1994, and very quickly, writer Tony Isabella (who created Black Lightning about twenty years earlier) quickly established that this Black Lightning comic book would be a lot different than most other superhero comics on the shelf.

In the issue, Jefferson Pierce has moved to a new city, Brick City, and he is debating how best he can help people – as a teacher? as a superhero? as a fellow with some (Bruce Wayne supplied) money?

Ultimately, he decides that he is going to try to make some fundamental changes to the drug trafficking system in Brick City, beginning with a dramatic “hello” to the neighborhood in #1…

Isabella also slowly populated the supporting cast with various students and teachers at Jefferson’s new school.

Early on, though, Isabella threw a total curveball when, at the end of #4, a member of a gang bursts into a room where Jefferson and another teacher (Walter Kasko, a guy who seemed to be cut in the “Steve Lombard” mold) were with a teen who had spurned a gang (through their help). She opened fire, and Walter shielded the boy with his body, thereby getting riddled with bullets (Jefferson also suffered terrible gunshot injuries).

That led to the absolutely brilliant #5, which was one of the most critically acclaimed issues of 1995, but sadly, since it has not been reprinted, a lot of people have forgotten how excellent of an issue it was (although I featured it during the Year of Cool Comic Book Moments, so you might be familiar with it by now!).

The issue shows Jefferson recuperating, and mostly feeling sorry for himself and mourning Walter’s death.

There’s a great touch when Jefferson’s ex-wife visits, and he talks about where he was when Superman died…

Then we get a stunning sequence when a man (who had stared at Jefferson when he first came into the hospital) comes by again…

Beautiful, huh?

That doesn’t even fully give you the appreciation of how good #5 is – do yourself a favor and find yourself a copy!

There’s a good story arc in #7 and 8 involving Gangbuster, but sadly, that’s as far as Isabella ever went. Even before #1 had come out, Isabella had already been fired, with #8 being his last issue.

And after he left, the book quickly fell apart and only last four more issues (which really paled in comparison to Isabella’s run).

But that eight-issue run by Isabella and Newell remains a wonderful read. Be sure to check it out and maybe someday DC will put together a trade collection of the run!

33 Comments

Power-2 most-the-Peoples

August 19, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Nice.

Oh man I remember this issue! It was the only issue of Black Lightning that I read when I was a kid! Of course back then I didn’t fully understand the context of the doctor being gay (I was like 9 at the time), but seeing this again and re-reading it, it really hits home. Unfortunately, the store where I bought the comic didn’t order the rest of the series. I wish DC would do a trade of these old comics. Hell, I even owned Black Lightning’s first action figure from the Total Justice line of toys.

Fired before issue 1 came out and stil 8 issues in the can?
DCnU take notice… That’s how you pump prime a series

The Crazed Spruce

August 20, 2011 at 1:41 am

Man, I really need to look those books up one of these days…

Hey, did you already cover why Isabella was fired from this book in your Legends Revealed feature? ‘Cause if he was canned for the reason I heard he was, it’d make for a great column.

I’ve got issues 3-5, and now I need to fill out that series (at least the Isabella issues). I just read something about this series (for something I’ll be telling Brian about soon…) and Isabella said that he’d done about 2 years of research for this book. He’d also made sure to keep the city “generic” so that it wasn’t looked at as one specific city with the problems (gangs, drugs, etc) that he was highlighting. Damn shame that he got yanked off the book (before it started? Yeah, you gotta feature that in Legends if you haven’t yet).

One of the most under-rated characters in comic book history! It drives me crazy sometimes that DC keeps “re-inventing” Batman, Superman, etc. when they should continue to flesh out some great B-level characters like Black Lighting!

Let’s please collect this series. I’ll buy it!!

Pharon F Fanboy

August 20, 2011 at 3:36 am

I have those issues as well. I thought the book was excellent then I picked up a wizard magazine which had a small article that Tony Isabella had left the book seemed to be conflicting stories about and probably some trouble with the books editor. If anyone knows that would solve a 16 year question for me.

Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin

August 20, 2011 at 5:39 am

Don’t forget, Isabella and Newell did a short Black Lightning story in “DCU Holiday Bash II”.

The cover to # 1 was good, striking. I dropped the book probably before Tony left it, but yeah, that issue was good. Jefferson Pierce was a favorite character of mine since the initial 1980s “Batman and the Outsiders” (BATO) when I was a kid. His first artist and co-creator Trevor Von Eden drew the best BL in a few issues of BATO. Like Alex Toth being inked by Klaus Janson. Some minor problems I had with it, was calling the downtown/center city area “the big town”, and the section BL lived in “brick city”. I mean, name the city these sections were in, fer cryin’ out loud. The article states Brick City as the city’s name, but it was just one neighborhood. Oh, well. The best Isabella stories I ever read. I haven’t liked BL ‘s treatment ever since, despite the higher profile. I did like seeing him and his evil counterpart in that DVD “JLA: Crisis on 2 Earths”.

This looks fantastic. Why was Isabella fired if he was producing quality work way ahead of schedule?

Despite what Travis has said about the city being “generic,” I can’t help but wonder if the actual “Brick City,” Newark, NJ, didn’t figure into Isabella’s research. The city has had more than its share of problems in the past, and Isabella would not be out of line at all to tackle issues of gangs and drugs in Newark.

That is really good. Great pick Brian.

One minor nitpick: the use of “jive gangbangers.” Maybe I’m oversensitive because I’m black and part of the demographic being portrayed, but NO ONE used the word “jive” anymore in the 70s, not even old black folk.

But that’s an extremely minor nitpick. The work is incredible, both on the writing and art side. Eddy Newell needs some more high exposure work. I checked his website and he’s improved considerably since Black Lightning, which is impressive considering he was already very good back then.

I never followed Black Lightning (except as part of the Outsiders) so I paid no attention to this series, and the street crime angle would not have attracted my interest either. But that WAS a powerfully written (and drawn!) story. It respected its characters and took its message seriously. Which is something many writers today won’t do. They are just characters, who cares if they get massacred, right? :(

PS. I too would like to know exactly why Isabella was fired.

I would love to see this reprinted. It was a really brilliant run of stories with fantastic artwork. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to happen any time soon. I am not certain of the details, but DC has apparently been very hostile towards Tony Isabella within the last several years. Even back when the book was first being published, as I understand it, Isabella was fired by the editor in order to give the writing assignment to a friend of his. So this is one more series whose legs were cut out from it right at the starting gate. It’s a credit to Isabella and Newell that they were able to get eight good issues in under those circumstances.

I wasn’t reading the 90s Black Lightning series when it came out, and after reading these excerpts I feel like I really missed out. Reprint these issues so that I can correct my mistake, DC! And then hire Tony Isabella to write some more BL stories for you! Third time’s the charm, right?

Thanks, Brian.

I’ll probably get around to writing (again) about the second Black Lightning and my being fired from it sooner or later. In the meantime.

It was never “Brick City” in my scripts. It was “The Brick City” and it was a neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio. I never named Cleveland in the scripts because I didn’t want the rest of the DCU to find Jeff.

Poor Black Lightning, he is one of those characters that cannot seem to catch a break.

Tony Isabella was really a Marvel guy from what I can tell. He never seemed to have enough connections at DC to manage a long run on his creation. Black Lightning never developed either a Rogues Gallery, or much of a supporting cast. The resulting acrimony also prevented him from being adapted into the old SUPER-FRIENDS cartoon, which would have exposed him to a broader audience. As a result, he is trapped in the A-minus/B-Plus list.

Most of the others characters in that range (e.g. – Black Canary, Ant-Man) have found their niche on team books of one kind, or another. Wolverine even made the leap that way. Sadly, Black Lightning landed on a team with a B-list conception (i.e. – BATO) and a lesser era of the JLA. Now, it seems as though he has been bumped from the DCnu by characters that are a generation younger.

Jefferson Pierce is like the Bizarro Hal Jordan.

Anyway, this material is terrific. I was not consistently reading comics during the period that this series came out. It is a shame that they have not been re-printed.

Cool. Tony Isabella. Current writer on Atlas Comics’ Grim Ghost. One great aspect of the internet; it lets the subject of an article actually weigh in on it. Nice.

glad to see this on the list. but sadly given dc and tony not having a working relationship . this run will wind up never seeing the light of reprint.

wow. looks incredible!

i was a fan of this run it was quite good loved the look a lot

Black Lightning never developed either a Rogues Gallery, or much of a supporting cast.

Well, I always associate him with Tobias Whale and the 100–and Lex Luthor, of course, but that’s a different relationship–but yeah, his other sparring partners were pretty forgettable.

Shannon Weathers

August 20, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Several years ago, I luckily obtained a page from this great story:

http://www.comicartfans.com/GalleryPiece.asp?Piece=433053&GSub=43970

Syonide (fromt he 70s Black Lightning title by Isabella and Trevor von Eeden) was a pretty good villain, but was killed off pretty convincingly and also rather effectively. His less interesting female successor, co-created by Mike W. Barr, got to help create another superhero (Halo) and seems to pop up in random places.

Have the early Black Lightning stories ever been reprinted? I’m a fan of Von Eeden’s art and would love to see more of it.

If only the Isabella/ Newell team had been able to stay on the book! I remember the Daredevil one-shot they did for one of Marvel’s 5th week events (in which the comics published that week were supposed to be the comics published in the Marvel Universe), but haven’t seen anything by them since. I’ll have to track down the DCU Holiday Bash II (thanks, Akakay!).

Wow,

That montage of panels, with the realistic scenes in the hospital, and the colour in the flashback really ‘clicked’.

I don’t know if it’ll do any good, but if readers like what I did on Black Lightning with Eddy Newell, they can and should request that DC reprint those stores.

As for new Black Lightning stories by me, I’ve always said I would be eager to write them.

What I don’t know is what it would take the DC brass that it’s in the company’s best interest to end their Tony Isabella blacklisting and reunite me with my creation.

I have made no secret about my support for Tony writing Black Lightning stories. His work (especially on Volume 2) vs. that of how other writers handled the character CLEARLY show that without Tony, Black Lightning doesn’t get the star treatment the character deserves.

I gave the series a pass when it first came out but I think I flipped through just about every issue at the store because of the great, gritty artwork. At that time I was becoming discouraged with the superhero genre and was dropping just about all mainstream Superhero material and moving to Vertigo which was really taking off at the time.

I’d really be interested in hearing how Tony got fired from a book before it was released and yet 8 of his issues got produced. It’s definitely not because his direction clashed with the editor’s otherwise I think they’d have replaced his scripts with another writer’s much earlier into the run. This goes much deeper. But I guess I shouldn’t speculate or even be all that nosy. But I am curious! :)

I think at the very least DC should release this series digiatally. It’s a great way to get the material out there without having to invest in high printing/binding/distribution costs. I missed out the first time around, but I’d definitely pay $1.99 an issue to download the series to my iPad.

I brought some of this series back when it came out. I was just getting into comics – the death and return of superman was one of my first reads (which I loved) so I followed Eradicator to Outsiders (again, loved it!) So I brought all the 80′s Outsiders comics (they were even better than I could of hoped!) and so I followed Black Lightning to his own series…. but it wasn’t my cup of tea :(
But now being a bit older – I might reread then and see what I think. ;)

I loved the Black Lightning comics. I was intrigued by the original house ads for it in the ’70s and the one and only time I was able to get through to the DC Comics Hotline, talking about the forthcoming Black Lightning series was the main feature. When it finally came back, I was thrilled. I enjoyed Tony’s comics and his columns in CBG. I loved the new series more than his original run.

Removing the creator from the book [I won't say why in case you do decide to do a Legend on it] removed this reader as well; if sales plummeted, I’d guess that a lot of other people weren’t interested in reading BL without Tony, either.

And the action figure is cool, I still have mine!

Power-2 most-the-Peoples

September 3, 2011 at 12:37 am

Thanks to this article I went and bought the first 6 issues.
I found them in the 3 for a dollar box! Go figure.

[…] issue is an examination of heroism, guilt, history, and everything Black Lightning. After seeing scans on Comic Book Resources, I made a beeline for the back issue bins at my next comic con and snatched up the underrated gem […]

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