Who's Black Lightning?

Who's This? An Olympic-level hero.

The facts: When it came to giving a black superhero their own series, DC was really late to the party. Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 came out in '72 during the Blaxploitation craze; Black Lightning wouldn't premiere until 1977. Created by Tony Isabella (not African-American) and Trevor von Eeden (yes, African-American), the solo series only lasted 11 issues (a 12th wound up in Cancelled Comics Cavalcade, so the book was one of the victims of the DC Implosion). During his heyday, he was one of the few heroes to refuse Justice League membership, but was assigned to Batman's Outsiders in the early 80s, an association that has kept him in business ever since. There were other solo series, one in the mid-90s by Isabella and Eddy Newell (13 issues, but Isabella was fired after 8 for creative differences with editorial) and a Year One mini-series in 2009.
How you could have heard of him: Hey, he's got his own TV series! But not a comics series, because DC doesn't do synergy very well. In the New52, he had adventures with Blue Devil (Black and Blue, I guess?) and this rebooted Black Lightning appeared in a mini subtitled Cold Hands, with Isabella returning to the character. He might be more recognizable to an older generation if he'd been allowed into the Super-Friends, but rights disputes with Isabella made Hanna-Barbara replace him with Black Vulcan.
Example story: Black Lightning #10 (July-August 1978) "The Other Black Lightning" by Tony Isabella, Trevor von Eeden and Vince Colletta
Rather early von Eeden here, and inked by Mister Eraser Vince Colletta to boot, so don't expect the best art. A lot of wide empty panels. And I simply can't explain how big this airplane bathroom is...
...but it's big enough for the Trickster to escape from mid-flight. Dude has little booties that allow him to run on air after all. So you know who the villain of the piece is going to be, borrowed from the Flash's Rogues Gallery. Tired of getting caught by the Scarlet Speedster, James Jesse decides to take a vacation in Metropolis where he should be able to get a job as a circus performer, at the circus where his parents worked. Fine, but how does Black Lightning figure in all this?
Copyright infringement is the real crime here! Encouraged by his ex(but getting warmer?)-in-the-know Lynn Stewart to go fight for his rights, he agrees to go to the circus and check it out. MISSION STATEMENT!
The circus could conceivably settle a lawsuit because a sultan gave them the biggest damn diamond on Earth and the ringmasters haven't slept a wink since for fear it would be stolen and it inciting World War III. Well, as long as they don't hire any criminals, right?
I don't think he should be trusting this Barbara Hanna Detective Agency (THERE'S another lawsuit in the making) with the rock. Especially considering Babs has "Black Lightning" guarding the thing. And also performing in the show? What could go wrong?
Jocko is perhaps not the best "superhero" - his football stories speak to his being prone to mistakes - but I think Ms. Hanna is banking on that. She's got him believing he's working for the real Black Lightning, and as we peer into her thoughts, we find it's all part of a plot to steal the thing. Jocko guards the diamond by standing around under the Big Top where the ringmaster shows it to the audience, and the BL is shocked that this big ox is supposed to be him, but doesn't see any criminal activity. Until the Trickster makes his move during his trapeze act and grabs the thing! His trapeze costume is his supervillain costume, so the vetting process is pretty poor at Bewsima Brothers (ok so can John and Sal sue?!). Good thing he came after all!
I expected more zapping, but if a run and a tackle will do... Here I find out his nickname is "The Suicide Slum Smasher", which again, not very electric. I know he lost his powers AFTER his series got cancelled, but not BEFORE, right?! Anyway, the fight goes on, with Jocko attacking BL because he can't recognize the hero who apparently contracted him to protect the gem. The Trickster makes off with it. Barbara Hanna is NOT working with him and sics her men after him. Black Lightning is forced to knock his impostor into the next panel.
The Trickster sticks BL in glue and taunts an elephant so it charges at him. Lightning's "force field" (so, powers) won't take it though, so Jocko Lightning, not too sure what's happening, can't let a guy get stomped.
Dumbo gets redirected a little bit, Black Lightning is saved, Jocko stunned, the Trickster on the run. Time to use that lightning bo--I mean, those Olympic Decathlon skills!
I don't think Jefferson Pierce really needs the powers, frankly. The Trickster crashes down. Barbara Hanna is picked up by the cops. And rather than see Jocko get implicated in a crime he didn't understand, BL tells the authorities he was working with him on the case. Anyone else 'shipping them?
And there you have it. Much of Black Lightning is concerned with Tobias Whale and the 100, and I instead opted for a done-in-one story. Perhaps to his detriment. But despite the fact he doesn't use his powers (really, what's up with that?!), he's shown to be an inspirational figure in his community and I think that, electricity or not, that's what makes this character tick, always has and always will.

Who's Next? Aquaman's Legion of Doom homologue.


joecab said...

FYI Super Friends was Hanna-Barbera, not Filmation. (And I’m still amused that the Afro was actually attached to the mask.)

Jeremy Patrick said...

Funny coincidence, I just read this issue last night (I checked out the TPB from the library). The first 8 or 9 issues of the series are really good.

Siskoid said...

Yes, I went a step too far.

Unknown said...

la mascara viene con el peinado afro incorporado!

Siskoid said...

¡Era un casco!


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