Sunday, May 15, 2016
Black Lightning Matters!
The recent collection of Black Lightning gathering at long last the Bronze Age stories by Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eden is an important addition to the marketplace, if only because it at last makes readily available an important character from DC's long history. Black Lightning was not an especially successful character but important nonetheless.
Tony Isabella, a white guy from Cleveland plunked himself down onto the comics scene during the early shifts at Marvel and soon enough was writing a few titles, which eventually included Hero for Hire (the title by which I always think of the vintage Power Man feature). Based on this experience he apparently had cred as a writer of "black heroes" and tried to barter that rep into a gig at DC which was experimenting with the brand new concept of "Blaxploitation" (actually quite old and marginally out of date by this time). Isabella tells a remarkable story how the DC powers wanted a series built around a white racist who becomes black skinned by dint of science and has to deal with this changed situation (arrghh), and how this concept was scrapped to make way for the hero we'd know as Black Lightning.
The name famously comes from the cover of Wonder Woman seen above in which the Amazing Amazon is attempting to lasso a weirdly potent black lightning bolt. Isabella apparently saw this cover on Julie Schwartz's wall and the name "Black Lightning" seemed apt to describe DC's new ethnically diverse hero.
All that was left to was to find an artist and DC showing the kind of boldness which made them so exceedingly successful in the decade (not-so-much) selected an untried rookie to draw the book, his greatest qualification apparently was that he was himself a young black man. So Trevor Von Eden springs onto the scene and actually it's quite fortunate that he did since his artwork, limited though it is, remains one of the best things about the series.
The series blasted onto the scene, bubbled along for several months and then like many other DC enterprises of the time got "imploded" when the company was forced to cut back its production, the final stories seeing publication in the offbeat exceedingly limited Cancelled Comics Cavalcade and later in issues of World's Finest.
Black Lightning went on to become a part of the DC universe, even being considered for admittance to the JLA. But he eventually joined up with Batman's Outsiders group and lived there for many years.
Here are the covers for the Black Lightning stories in this new trade volume.