With the first season of the Black Lightning series on the CW nearing an end, it seems like a good opportunity to catch you up on where the electricity-slinging hero of the streets came from.
The black superhero is actually pretty young when it comes to the 80-year history of the American comic book. Marvel created Black Panther in 1963 (check out our article on the King of Wakanda’s history here), and introduced Falcon to be Captain America’s co-star in Captain America #117 (September 1969). Marvel followed that up with Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 (June 1972), making Power Man the first African-American hero to have his own book.
DC Comics introduced Molo in Sea Devils #23 (May 1965) and several other minor characters until they made John Stewart a Green Lantern in Green Lantern #87 (December 1971). DC was behind the times when they finally decided to give a black superhero their own book in the late 70s. Their first idea was to make him a white guy that changed into a black guy by yelling “Black Power!” Seriously. Yes, I am shaking my head, too.
Thankfully that idea was scrapped and they tagged Tony Isabella to come up with a much better idea. (Just about anything would have been better, but I digress). Isabella came over from Marvel where he had written Luke Cage in Hero for Hire, and now he teamed up with artist Trevor Von Eden to create Black Lightning #1 (April 1977). It was the “thunderous origin issue” of “DC’s boldest new hero” and the action just jumped off the cover.
Black Lightning is Jefferson Pierce, an Olympic gold-winning decathlete who has returned to his high school alma mater to teach. It is in a neighborhood called Suicide Slum, and Pierce sees that a murderous group of drug dealers known as The 100 is taking over. That does not sit well with Pierce. He physically throws a drug-dealer out of school, and when The 100 come back to kill Pierce, they kill a student instead.
A distraught Pierce blames himself and vows revenge. However, he knows he has to hide his identity so no other innocents will be put in danger. He turns to an old friend, neighborhood tailor Peter Gambi, who helps design a funky suit, a “weapons belt” giving him electric fists and a simple force field, and an afro helmet. Yep, you read that right.
The 100 are led by a powerful albino by the name of Tobias Whale and his right-hand man Joey Toledo. Pierce has a woman in his life named Lynn, who he eventually marries. In later incarnations, his powers come from within his own body, and he and Lynn have two daughters, Anissa and Jennifer, who eventually start exhibiting powers.
Does any of this sound familiar? If you have been watching the CW, it certainly should. It is almost as if the TV series picks up right where the original Black Lightning comic book ended. It seems like most of the supporting cast came right from Isabella’s brain. It may be the most true-to-the-source adaptation of a superhero ever.
See for yourself. Check out Black Lightning it airs Tuesdays at 9 pm Eastern on The CW.
by Rob Otto