Remember when John Stewart was up and we mentioned he was the second black superhero to be featured in DC Comics? How much money would you have lost if bet against Black Lightning being the first?
He was the first black character to headline a DC Comics title, and although it took them a while to compete with Marvel, which already debuted Black Panther, Luke Cage, Blade, and Black Goliath, it shouldn’t diminish this guy’s role in the grand scheme of Detective Comics’ diversity.
Ironically, his image of growing up in the hood, living above the life he saw, and being a sentinel in his community didn’t come from civil rights heroes or social advocates. It came from Luke Cage. Tony Isabella, credited for developing the image and backstory to Black Lightning first worked at Marvel on a young Carl Lucas.
The dichotomy of the man behind the hero, while still being the man, is something few heroes’ story arc achieves. Most of them live behind a power, a shield, a fictitious guise. While Black Lightning has that, he also has a job, a family, and a generation who look up to him. That’s reason to fight back. Today’s Black History Month Comic Profile is…
Name: Jefferson Pierce
Creators: Tony Isabella (writer), Trevor von Eeden (artist), DC Comics (comic)
1st Appearance: Black Lightning #1 (1977)
Backstory: Pierce is an intellectual, now teacher, and former Olympic Gold Medalist. Before he found fame representing the country and stability in a school, he grew up in the south side of Metropolis in Suicide Slums with a big secret–he was a metahuman. Never leaving home, he grows to hate what is happening to his hometown. He buys a suit, gets a technologically advanced power belt and vows to stop the forces of evil that plague the youth of his city.
Powers: Electrokinesis, self-generating energy
Medium: For close to 30 years, there he is, lighting things up, super daughters, dual living, taking down a full criminal empire led by Tobias Whale. It was notable within the DC family but not necessarily popular. That is, until the underrated CW came along and made it one of its top 10 TV series. Period.
Cress Williams is such an underrated actor because of his range, authenticity, and adroit handling of any role. From Friday Night Lights to Veronica Mars, dude just needed a big break. More than 90% of them have been TV shows. He was even a recurring bit on Living Single. This hero needed something familiar for him to be believable. CW found Cress and Black Lightning was born. So was his break.
Impact: Heroes–black heroes–in comics usually have a bit: Nobility and futuristic tech, vampiric powers, military weaponry and suits, bulletproof skin. While Jefferson Pierce is a walking power plant, he tries to do the most good without “being ready.” He studies his community through the kids he teaches. He protects his family through the job he does. Only when necessary does he become Black Lightning.
He obviously had an impact because Jefferson Pierce set the standard for most black heroes (and even some villains) in the DC Comic multiverse–strong in will and power, intelligent and introspective, and always vying for the greater good even if it means self-sacrifice. This is a strong person, in every sense of the word.
Culture: From the late 70s to today, many young black men have to look elsewhere for their male role models because their father isn’t in the picture. In the case of Black Lightning, his motivation for fighting Whale and the plagues of his community are in his house — his daughters and wife. When Isabella created Black Lightning, he wanted a family man in the center of his comic because he knew it mattered.
In a world where young boys look to gangs or other ne’er-do-wells at school because they lack the presence of a paternal figure, it’s nice to see a man stand stall above the pressures at home. And then, if those pressures get overwhelming, it’s also nice that he can charge the hell out of them.