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Black Lightning

Old 05-29-21, 02:29 PM
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Black Lightning

While Marvel brought multi-ethnic, multi-cultural representation to their comics back in the 60's, DC lagged behind. Intentionally, unintentionally - whatever - but DC lagged behind.

Tony Isabella had an idea for a new superhero, and he was black.

But he didn't want the character or the title to just be a bunch of pandering, or a cash-in on the popularity of TV shows like Good Times and The Jeffersons. Blaxploitation movies had already faded in popularity, so while Marvel rode that wave with Luke Cage (a great character with great stories), DC either couldn't or wouldn't come up with one of their own. (Marvel had already created a black superhero in the 60's with Black Panther). No, this character that Isabella was creating wouldn't be an angry, bitter, attitud-y character that fit in the stereotype. This character would be different - a realistic, well rounded character. He would be a schoolteacher. An intelligent, well educated man with a good job. And important job. But one that wouldn't completely leave him fulfilled as he could only do so much to affect people's lives as a teacher. But as a SUPERHERO? Ahhh... There he would be able to do more. Much more.

And that was the idea.

Well, it was Isabella's idea.

DC contacted him while he was working for Marvel, writing Luke Cage, and writing comics that turned Bill Foster in to Black Goliath. They felt he could help them with their first black superhero. They had two scripts written, and the concept was not only bizarre, it was patently offensive. You see, the, "Black Bomber," would actually be a white racist bigot, who, in times of stress, would be able to camouflage himself and become someone else. In this case, a black man. This was all thanks to some government experiment that treated him with chemicals so he could better blend in to his surroundings as a soldier in Viet Nam. Presumably, he would become the race/ethnicity of those around him to blend in. Bizarre. THEN it got worse - he would come out of these periods of change and revert to being a white supremacist and say something horribly offensive like, "You mean I risked my life to save that jungle bunny???"

Isabella was asked to punch up the first two scripts and come up with a third.

In shock, he begged the editors at DC to re-examine that character. Explaining to them that the entire concept was offensive, not to mention bizarre and stupid, he finally got them to relent and he came up with Black Lightning to replace the Black Bomber. Needless to say, disaster was averted.

To round out Black Lightning, Jefferson Pierce would also be a former olympic athlete (decathalon, if I remember right), to give him that edge on the bad guys without needing to be bitten by a radioactive lightning bolt or something. I can't exactly remember how he got his electrical powers, but his fighting ability came from being a world class athlete.

Isabella, to this day, believes that all of his best work has been done writing for Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning, and from what I've read of these comics, he's right.

Sure, the 70's series was VERY much a product of it's time, but it was well written, and the art by Trevor Von Eeden (who developed the look of the character) wasn't as bad as his work later on Power Man and Iron Fist. Hell, the issues inked by Vince Colletta actually looked halfway good. (Colletta's style helped clean up Von Eeden's rough edges.)

The 90's run (only 8 issues for Isabella before he was replaced on the title) is considered by many to be his finest work to date. And the 2018 mini-series, Cold Dead Hands, is excellent. (Yeah, Cold Dead Hands is ULTRA Woke, ULTRA PC, to the point of almost being pandering with every opportunity to be inclusive and politically correct taken, but it's also a very well written and drawn 6 issue mini-series.)

Obviously, there's a TV version, which I still haven't seen, so the character is now pretty well known. But his comic has never managed to survive long term, despite the quality of the stories and dialogue.

I know I'm digging what I've been reading!




Last edited by B5Erik; 08-07-21 at 07:30 PM.
Old 05-29-21, 09:16 PM
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Re: Black Lightning

Tony Isabella has a pretty well-known website where he shares all sorts of things about his times in comics, including Black Lightning.

https://tonyisabella.blogspot.com/
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Old 07-13-21, 02:37 PM
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Re: Black Lightning

Isabella could really write. The 1990's run of Black Lightning started of amazingly well. Really intelligent, sophisticated stuff. And, of course, a new editor came on and replaced Isabella after issue 8. FIgures.

Artist Eddy Newell was pretty darned good, too His style was somewhere in between Neal Adams and 1980's Frank Miller (with Klaus Janson inking). It really fit the style of the stories well.

This trade is highly recommended!

Old 08-07-21, 07:29 PM
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Re: Black Lightning

I'm a litle surprised that there hasn't been more interest in Black Lightning, given the fact that the character got his own TV show and all, and the comics have been top notch over the years.

I guess since the title has never lasted more than a dozen or so issues in any given run that makes a little sense - but each run has been really good.

What bugs me is that for the 90's run Isabella was doing a PHENOMENAL job writing the title, and before the first issue even hit the stands (they had several issues done before the first one was printed) a new editor took over and forced him off the title, leaving it to flouder after the final Isabella issue, leading to a quick demise after that.

I wonder if the character will ever catch on in comic form. What do you think is holding the title back from being a lasting success?
Old 08-08-21, 09:38 AM
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Re: Black Lightning

I know nothing about Black Lightning beyond the existence of his name. He never had enough of a successful run in the comics to promote his name out of the giant pack of unsuccessful characters.

Compare it with how DC worked hard for decades trying to advance Wonder Woman from a backlist character (who was formerly popular) to a top selling character. From your account, it sounds like no one in management really cared about Black Lightning.

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