Black Lightning

Black Lightning

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Black Lightning
200px Black lightning JLA Black Lightning
Black Lighting on the cover of Justice League of America #12. Art by Alex Ross.
Publication information
Publisher DC Comics
First appearance Black Lightning #1
(April 1977)
Created by Tony Isabella (writer)
Trevor Von Eeden (artist)
In story information
Alter ego Jefferson Pierce
Team affiliations Justice League
U.S. Department of Education
Abilities Electricity generation and manipulation,
Force field generation,
Skilled martial artist

Black Lightning (Jefferson Pierce) was one of the first major African American superheroes to appear in DC Comics. He debuted in Black Lightning #1 (April 1977), and was created by Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden.



[edit] Publication history

The original candidate for DC Comics’ first headlining black superhero was a character called the Black Bomber, a black hero who was actually a white racist and later described by cartoon and self proclaimed comics historian Don Markstein as “an insult to practically everybody with any point of view at all.”[1] When the editor who had approved the Black Bomber left the company before the character had seen print, Tony Isabella (whose previous writing experience included Luke Cage, Marvel Comics‘ first black superhero with his own title) was asked to salvage the character; Isabella managed to convince editors of his Black Lightning character which he had been working on for some time, mentioning that his characters along the way were merely stepping stones.[2]

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Black Lightning. Art by Kevin Nowlan.

Tony Isabella wrote the first ten issues of Black Lightning, before handing over to Dennis O’Neil. Only one O’Neil-scripted issue came out before the series was canceled in 1978 as part of a general large-scale pruning of the company’s superhero titles known as the DC Implosion (which also canceled the debut of Vixen, which would have been DC’s first title starring a female black superhero). Issue #12 was published in Cancelled Comic Cavalcade, then formally published in World’s Finest #260.

Black Lightning made a number of guest appearances in various titles over the next few years, including a string of issues of World’s Finest written by O’Neil, then shifting to Detective Comics and a two-part story in Justice League of America in which the League invited him to join, but he turned them down.

In 1983, with his powers restored, he regularly-appeared again as a member of the Batman-led superhero team the Outsiders. When The Outsiders ended, he returned to making occasional guest appearances. One such appearance, in 1988, resulted in increased powers.

In 1995, a new Black Lightning series began, with art by Eddy Newell, again written by Tony Isabella, who was fired after the eighth issue. After Tony Isabella left, the series was canceled after only five more issues. The reason for Tony Isabella leaving could have been because of editorial disagreements about the direction of the series. However, Isabella has since revealed that he believes the editor fired him because of a wish to bring in a new writer in order to “create his own power base at DC Comics”.[3]

A “Black Lightning: Year One” mini-series was to be released in 2007, to be written by Jen Van Meter and illustrated by Cully Hamner.[4] However, it has been pushed back to 2008.

[edit] Fictional character biography

A gold medal-winning Olympic decathlete, Jefferson Pierce returned to his old neighborhood (the notorious Nikko Suicide Slum in the proud city of Metropolis) to become a high school teacher. Appalled by the violence he saw, Pierce tried to intervene on behalf of his students, but quickly learned that the 100, the local criminal organization, objected violently to interference. Peter Gambi, a family friend and tailor, designed the costume and electronic power belt of Black Lightning. Pierce donned a mask, an Afro wig, a hip way of talking, and Gambi’s outfit to become Black Lightning, defender of the poor and underprivileged. Later, Black Lightning’s belt was destroyed while he was imprisoned by his enemies. He discovers he had internalized the electrical power and no longer needed the belt.

[edit] Outsiders

After his own series was canceled, Black Lightning lost his electrical powers, but continued fighting without them. The loss eventually turned out to be psychosomatic, a symptom of a crisis of confidence resulting from the accidental death of a bystander during an altercation between Black Lightning and some gun-wielding thugs. After his powers returned, he joined the Outsiders.

[edit] Secretary of Education

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Cover to Black Lightning v2, #1, Eddy Newell

When Lex Luthor was elected President of the United States in 2000, he appoints Jefferson Pierce as Secretary of Education, Pierce accepting as he concludes that he can do more good working within the system than outside it. He resigned amidst controversy over his “worst-kept secret in Washington” identity as Black Lightning, and his alleged inadvertent killing of a criminally-minded corporate CEO, for which President Pete Ross (who had since succeeded Luthor) then pardoned him.

Making frequent guest appearances in several DC series, Pierce has appeared in Green Arrow (who had a one night stand with his niece a successful attorney named Joanna Pierce). Pierce helped Green Arrow track down Dr. Light in the Green Arrow “Heading into the Light” story arc. He also appeared in the new Outsiders, of which his daughter, Anissa (using the alias Thunder), is a member. He came to fight the new Sabbac and help is daughter along side Captain Marvel Junior and the Outsiders. He had on an outfit that mixed his second outfit with the colors of the first. After teaming up with the Outsiders, Pete Ross asked him to resign as Secretary of Education and he did.

[edit] Infinite Crisis

In issue #5 of the Infinite Crisis storyline, it was shown that Black Lightning was one of the eight people Batman had considered to aid him in destroying the Brother Eye satellite, which controlled the OMACs. Booster Gold, who was not on the list of eight, but knew about the candidates from his knowledge of the future, contacted Lightning before Batman did, as historical data from the future had shown who had aided Batman. Lightning accepted, arriving at the Bat cave to await orders. He then forged an uneasy yet effective alliance with Mister Terrific, combining their powers of electrical manipulation and invisibility to technology to strike the villainous AI from the inside.

After the third Society of Super Villains was formed, Black Lightning began using his status as Luthor’s former Secretary of Education to gain information from super villains.

[edit] Outsiders redux

In Outsiders (vol. 3) #45, it was revealed that three years have passed since Jefferson’s niece Joanna Pierce was murdered, and that upon initially learning of her death, Jefferson went after the corrupt businessman Martin Somers, the man who was responsible. He had intended to wound Somers with his lightning shot, but apparently ended up killing him. Jefferson turned himself in to the authorities. However, it is revealed that Deathstroke was responsible for Somers’ death by firing a dart of toxin to Somers moments before Jefferson shot his lightning. Hence, he was dead before he hit the ground. Jason Todd discovered the truth while eavesdropping on the assassin’s conversation with Lex Luthor (who was really Alexander Luthor, Jr. in disguise) and contacted Nightwing with this information. When Nightwing and Anissa told Jefferson of this in prison, he disbelieved it and intended to pay for Somers’ death. Anissa herself intended to break her father out of Iron Heights Prison. Upon learning from Todd that other inmates were about to carry out a contract hit on Pierce (whose identity as an inmate had leaked to unknown parties), the Outsiders resolved to assist her. They freed him from jail and with the audio recording of Deathstroke’s conversation cleared his name.

[edit] Justice League of America

Most recently, Black Lightning has joined the JLA under the creative team of Brad Meltzer and Ed Benes, once again appearing with a modified costume. He appears to be primarily based in Washington DC again. Black Lightning assists the JLA with intelligence gathered from the criminal community. Many super villains still believe he is ‘in’ with Lex Luthor and are willing to cooperate. Jefferson also helps the team in a battle against Amazo. He was the first member of the League to respond to the recent attacks made by the Amazons of Themyscira, and he also saved the President of the United States in this event.

[edit] Black Lightning’s daughters

Jefferson has had two daughters by his ex-wife Lynn Stewart, both of whom have followed in his footsteps and become superheroes. His oldest daughter Anissa Pierce has taken on the name “Thunder” and serves on his former team the Outsiders.[5] And his sixteen year old younger daughter, Jennifer Pierce, was recently recruited by the Justice Society of America possibly under the moniker “Lightning”.[6] A version of Lightning first appeared in Kingdom Come a 1996 mini-series published by DC Comics.

[edit] Powers and abilities

At first, Black Lightning wore a belt that enabled him to surround himself with a protective electromagnetic force field and to generate, project, channel, and absorb electromagnetic energy. In the course of his adventure and perhaps from using the belt for so many years, these powers became internalized, and he can now throw bolts of bio-electrical energy generated by his body. Exactly how much electrical energy Black Lightning can generate is unknown but he can easily stun or kill a man with his powers, and on one occasion he was able to restart Superman‘s heart after the Man of Steel had suffered from a near-fatal Kryptonite exposure. He can also generate an electro-magnetic force-field capable of stopping projectiles, however, this requires considerable effort and concentration.

Pierce also maintains his Olympic-level physical conditioning, giving him above average strength, speed and endurance. Under the Batman’s tutelage, he has become a highly skilled hand-to-hand combatant.

[edit] Other versions

  • Black Lightning has appeared in the Justice League Unlimited spin-off comic book. His appearances are in issues #15[7] and #27.[8]

[edit] Other media

  • Black Lightning has never appeared in any of the many television series based on DC Comics superheroes. This in itself is not unusual for a character of Black Lightning’s relative obscurity, but is notable because at least three such series have contained specially-created black superheroes with electrical powers who weren’t Black Lightning – series regular Black Vulcan in Super Friends (Hanna Barbara did not want to pay the larger licensing fee required to cover the royalty due to the creators, so decided to create its own version of the character); Soul Power, who appeared in Static Shock and was originally intended to have been Black Lightning, but DC Comics would not permit the use of Black Lightning; and Juice in Justice League Unlimited, based on Black Vulcan. *Black Lightning’s earliest appearances outside of his own title in 1977 were in the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes newspaper comic strip. There, he met Batman and other heroes before his rejection of Justice League of America membership.
  • Sinbad once appeared on NBC‘s Saturday Night Live dressed as Black Lightning, crashing Superman’s funeral. The other dignitaries and superheroes didn’t recognize him, even though he claimed to have taught Superman how to fly. As the funeral breaks up, he is spotted grabbing free food from the buffet table.
  • Also, the punk band ‘Bring Back Jefferson’ took their name because bassist Chris Knowles and drummer Anthony Watts discovered the character no longer had his own comic book, and thought he should once again have his own series.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Black Lightning entry at Toonpedia, by Don Markstein
  2. ^ Tony Isabella interview at [
  3. ^ Tony Isabella’s post at Newsarama
  4. ^ DC Nation: #31 DC Comics website, October 18, 2006
  5. ^ As seen in Outsiders vol. 3 #1 (August 2003)
  6. ^ As seen in Justice Society of America #12 (March 2008)
  7. ^ GCD :: Issue Details
  8. ^ GCD :: Issue Details

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