Saturday, February 10, 2018

Black Lightning Strikes Twice!

Black Lighting Volume Two is the kind of collection of vintage comics that I love. It's a batch of Bronze Age comics, many never collected from a wide variety of titles by an even wider array of talents which happen to feature one of DC's more obscure heroes, but one who is having his day in the sun right now thanks to a new TV show. Black Lightning was a welcome addition to the exceedingly white DC universe at a time when such issues were of great moment. Things have much improved in comics as to the blend of ethnic heroes, but at the time black heroes were rare indeed.

(Not in this collection.)
Marvel had the Black Panther, Black Goliath, Storm, and most notably Luke Cage, but DC was bereft save for a little used John Stewart of Green Lantern fame, Legion of Super-Heroes member Tyroc, and the offbeat Black Racer of the New Gods. DC really needed to have a higher-profile black hero fill an incredibly obvious void in an overwhelmingly white DCU. So the call went out and they came up a concept, which by some reports was amazingly racist. Tony Isabella was called in to help that along, scrapped it and eventually came up with Jefferson Pierce, Black Lightning. Black Lightning held down his own title for eleven issues or so and then was cancelled  (along with lots of other interesting DC concepts) and became available for other duties.

It's the story of those other appearances we have in this collection.

After losing his own title, Black Lighting eventually showed up help Green Arrow in a World's Finest. The story features some juicy art by Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin.

That led to a brief run of solo Black Lightning stories in World's Finest, some of which did not even get a cover mention. Art was supplied by the Marshall Rogers, Rich Buckler and Romeo Tangahl.

Eventually Lighting struck in DC Comics Presents alongside Superman, an attempt to raise his profile in a nifty story with Joe Staton artwork.

Then came a memorable two-issue saga by Gerry Conway and the dandy art team of Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin in Justice League of America in which Black Lightning was eventually offered a gig with the team, but turned it down. I was unhappy at the time, but frankly his turning them down was of more moment than his taking them up on it after it was all said and done.

Then came a gig with Batman in The Brave and The Bold with Dick Giordano on the artwork. Black Lighting did get some dandy art, that's for sure.

The collection wraps up with Black Lightning's short run in Detective Comics, a logical enough place for the street-level hero. Despite being a denizen of Metropolis, his style was more akin to the Darknight Detective than other big-power heroes.

(Not in this collection.)
Eventually Black Lightning would join Batman as part of The Outsiders and that would be his home for quite a spell. The saga of Jefferson Pierce was certainly a peripatetic one. I'm glad that journey has now been gathered together for easy consumption. Bronze Age fans should rejoice.

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  1. I was never impressed by a character merely having the word 'black' stuck in front of his superhero name (Black Goliath, for example), and I believe some black readers found it patronising to do do this. It was different with Black Panther, because I think that referred to the colour of his costume rather than his skin, but most of these minor-league heroes (of which Black Lightning was probably chief) were completely underwhelming. Incidentally, I saw the trailers for the new TV show, and thought it looked dreadful.

    1. I read good things about the show, but I have not seen it myself. As for the "Black" Lightning, I take your point, and I think it's valid in connection to "Black Goliath". I would not lump Black Lightning into that since his name seems to have a more non-racial genesis and frankly he's not a derivative character, a black version of another hero. Black Lightning was above average to my eye at the time of his creation (there were a lot of really ho-hum heroes generated in the late Bronze Age) and I especially liked his interactions with the JLA at the time.

      Rip Off

    2. I just think it's patronising to stick the word 'black' in front of almost any black superhero's name, whether the name is derivative or not. With the Panther, you can't see he's black when in costume, so the name doesn't denote the colour of his skin, whereas (unless BL's lightning is black - I dunno), it seems to in Black Lightning's case. And the wig idea is just too silly for words. Regardless though, the character was always a minor one (or he'd have lasted more than 11 issues in his own title), and it's probably only due to the success of the Luke Cage show that BL has been given the same treatment. Maybe it's unfair of me to judge the show on the strength of the trailer, but I thought that some of the effects looked a bit 'ropey' and the fighting was clumsily executed at times. It certainly didn't inspire me to want to watch the show. I'm now off to read my favourite comic, then watch my favourite superhero TV show - White Super-Scot. (Joking of course - that's one comic and show I hope is never made - for obvious reasons.)

  2. The Black Lightning TV show is really excellent so far (4 episodes in)


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