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a gig at DC which was experimenting with the brand new concept of "Blaxploitation" (actually quite old and marginally out of date by this time).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.

















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5 comments:

  1. The character never grabbed me to be honest, although, admittedly, I had only limited exposure to him. Someone on my blog pointed out that some black readers found Marvel's Black Goliath quite patronizing (after all, the other Goliath wasn't called White Goliath), and I think that Black Lightning falls into the same category. Also, I can't take someone who wears a wig as part of his superhero persona entirely seriously. I'll definitely be giving this one a miss.

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    1. Black Canary wears a wig; I won't hit on him for that. The name works in this instance, better than Black Goliath, but the point is taken.

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  2. I always thought it was a play on "white lightning" which is a hillbilly slang term for particularly potent moonshine, but if Isabella says he got it from Wonder Woman, so be it.

    In a long and somewhat eccentric interview for the Comics Journal, Robert Kanigher mentioned that he'd come up with the idea about a white racist who turns black periodically for a series he wanted to call Black and White. He also came very close to having a Charlie's Angels type book come out (cover art was drawn) with six female protagonists called Sextet, but someone gagged on a title with the word "sex" in it. What a card.

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    1. That latter racist concept does sound like the one Isabella took over. Makes sense it was Kanigher given the time frame. That's one whopping bad idea.

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  3. I was a bit surprised to realise I'd read six issues of the series ( and the JLA appearance). My younger brother was quite keen on BL. I'm more interested in the Year One series. Is that any good?

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