Character Spotlight: Black Lightning

The newest instalment to The CW / DC superhero canon will be with us towards the end of the year in the form of the massively under-appreciated character Black Lightning.

While there are currently no plans for this new character to cross over with the current roster of heroes (Green Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and The Legends of Tomorrow), as a fan of all their shows I am excited to see what the producers have in store for us.

Mara Brock Akil & Salim Akil have written the show and will produce  it alongside Greg Berlanti. The title role will be played by Cress Williams (Friday Night Lights, Prison Break). The additional talent and casting of an older central actor seem to imply that the producers are perhaps trying to break the mould of the (so far) quite teen-centric CWverse.

The premise is kind of a departure too. Twelve years ago, Jefferson Pierce left the superhero world and his Black Lighting persona behind after seeing the effects it was having on his family. Now he is forced to come out of retirement and again become a hero due to the rise of The One Hundred gang leading an increase of crime and corruption in his community.

Check out the very cool trailer for the show below.

In light of this upcoming reincarnation of this little known DC character I thought it might be a good idea to make him the subject of our latest Character Spotlight.

Publication

Back in 1977 Black Lightning #1 debuted. It was created by Tony Isabella (“Comics Buyers Guide”, “Black Goliath”, “Luke Cage”) alongside artist Trevor Von Eeden (“Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight”). Isabella wrote the first 10 issues of Black Lightning after DC Comics had asked him to salvage a character called The Black Bomber that had not yet made it to print but was widely thought of as an insult to pretty much everybody (but that is a story for another day).

After his initial 10 issue run he passed writing duties to the legendary Dennis O’Neil. Unfortunately, though, only one issue was released before the titled was cancelled in a mass editorial purge at DC (later known as the DC Implosion). Black Lightning has enjoyed a couple of runs as a solo title over the 40 years since his debut, but nothing that would compare to the other more well-known characters.

Origin

Jefferson Pierce grew up in the south side section of Metropolis commonly known as Suicide Slum. He was born with metahuman abilities and a friend of the family, a tailor known as Peter Gambi taught the young Jefferson how to suppress his abilities so that he would not accidentally hurt any of the people he cared about.

Pierce left Metropolis after his father, a journalist, was murdered by the organised crime gang known as the 100; who along with dodgy local politicians like Tobias Whale and shady corporations were starting to tear the neighbourhood apart.

Jefferson would later return to Metropolis after a successful athletic career as a decathlete in the Olympic Games. Living with his wife Lynn Stewart and daughter Anissa he became the principal at Garfield High School.

Upon his return, Peter Gambi suggested that Jefferson should use his metahuman powers to help the neighbourhood referring him to a plaque containing the quote;

“Justice, like lightning, should ever appear to some men hope, to other men fear.”

After the public murder of one of his students, Earl Clifford, Jefferson attempted to intervene but learned that the 100 gang acted violently to any interference.

Soon after, he adopted the costumed identity of “Black Lightning”.

Crimefighting Career Highs and Lows

After the cancellation of his own series, it was written that Black Lightning lost his electrical powers. Further down the line, it came to light that this power loss was due to a loss of confidence (kinda like in Spider-Man 2) after the accidental death of an innocent bystander while he was taking on a group of armed thugs.

It was none other than Batman who assisted him in regaining his powers teaming up with him to rescue Lucius Fox  and eventually adding him to the roster of Outsiders (with Geo-Force, Katana, Halo and Looker).

At one point during his affiliation with The Outsiders a group of villains known as the Masters of Disaster (whose members included New Wave, Shakedown, Coldsnap, Heatstroke and Windfall) captured Black Lightning while he was working for the parents of Tina Shelton (the bystander that lost her life previously) and hoping to avenge the death of their daughter.

After seeing how readily he was willing to be executed by them as he still regretted the death of their daughter the Sheltons sacrificed their lives to save him.

After the Outsiders broke up Jefferson moved again and found himself in Brick City to continue his own solo adventures in “Black Lightning #1” (1995).

At the turn of the millennium, Jefferson Pierce was appointed as Secretary of Education to the newly appointed President of the United States Lex Luthor.

He later resigned due to his secret life as Black Lightning causing controversy in Washington along with an alleged killing of a less than savory corporate CEO who had connections to some criminal activity. He was pardoned, however by Luthor’s successor President Pete Ross. Guest appearances in Green Arrow, and the new Outsiders (which included his daughter Anissa using the alias Thunder) followed.

During the Infinite Crisis story line, Black Lightning joined once again with Batman to assist in destroying the Brother Eye satellite which controlled the OMACs; human bodies transformed into living machines built to assassinate all beings with superpowers.

Jefferson later learned that Martin Somers, a corrupt businessman was responsible of the murder of his niece, Joanna three years ago.

Going after Somers with the intention to only wound, he accidentally (honest) killed him with a shot of lightning. Jefferson turned himself in and was sent to Iron Heights prison.

Jason Todd  later learned the truth Deathstroke was really the person responsible for Somers’ death; firing a dart of toxin at him moments before Jefferson fired his lightning.

Todd shared this information with fellow Ex-Robin Nightwing who, along with Anissa, told Jefferson the truth in prison. Glutton for punishment that he was, however, Jefferson didn’t believe it and wanted to pay for Somers’ death.

Inmates at the prison had learned of Jefferson’s secret identity and were soon to carry out a contract hit on him on behalf of an unknown party. The Outsiders assisted Anissa in freeing him and clearing his name with an audio recording of Deathstroke’s conversation with Luthor.

In the years leading up to The New 52 reboot Black Lightning found himself aligned again with many different characters and teams including the Justice League of America assisting them in the battle against Amazo as well as many other missions. He also joined a new version of the Outsiders that was put together by Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred Pennyworth.

During The New 52 Black Lightning had a few small appearances and has at time of writing yet to appear in the latest semi-reboot known as Rebirth.

Whether any of these story arcs will make it into the show is yet to be seen, but I for one will be watching every week.

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