Comic book showcase: Black Lightning

So I just watched the season premiere of CW’s Black Lightning yesterday.

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It’s pretty good.  The effects were great, the character dynamics were well thought out and have a lot of potential, and it pulls absolutely no punches when it comes to dealing with the…well let’s be polite and say “strained” relationship between black Americans and the police.

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By all accounts the CW has another hit on their hands and it looks like Black Lightning is here to stay, so let’s look at his origins and see what’s changed and if the show can learn anything from the comics.

Origin and Career

Black Lightning was created in 1977, a few decades after the Golden Age of Comics and the favorite time period of this blog.  This is going to require a little explanation.

It’s widely believed that the Golden Age of Comics ended in 1956 with the publication of Showcase #4 and the introduction of Barry Allen as the Flash.


This brought along the Silver Age of Comics, a time period that was known for comics that focused on a more sci fi and technological oriented appeal.

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Magic had been replaced by space science and monsters had been replaced by aliens.

This was also the time when Marvel Comics came into the world as the comic book company we all know and love today.  A little known creator named Stan Lee decided to create a super hero family that traveled across time and space to defeat strange and fantastic threats.

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It did pretty well and helped kick off the Marvel Universe that we all know and love today.

However, by the 1970’s things were changing again, and comics were moving out of the high concept science fantasy of the Silver Age.  Times were changing.  There were protests,

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racial violence,

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and there was a general sense of doom and gloom.

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Yes, the 1970’s were a unique and special time that we will never have to live through again.

The great thing about these changing times was that in the comic book industry restrictions on what comic books could be talk about were becoming looser and looser, and in 1970 we entered a time that comic book historians called “The Bronze Age of Comics”.

This was a time where comic books got darker and edgier, talking about issues like drugs,

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not shying away from violence,

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and launching an explosion of black superheroes.  Luke Cage is probably the most famous and successful of these heroes.

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Anyway, DC had a problem in the 1970’s, Marvel was growing too fast and taking away a huge portion of their business.  So DC decided to try and beat Marvel by flooding the market with a slew of new titles.  One of these titles was going to be DC’s first black superhero and they eventually decided to publish….the Black Bomber.

The Black Bomber was supposed to be a white bigot who hated black people, but thanks to an accident he gained the ability to turn into a black superhero when under duress.

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This is the only picture I could find of him.  The only other reference he got in a comic book was a small reference in a Justice League of America comic written by Dwayne McDuffie.

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Yeah, this was probably not a good idea.

So what convinced the editors at DC to change their mind?  Why one of the writers of Luke Cage of course!

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The guy on the right is Tony Isabella, one of the early writers of Luke Cage.  DC had hired Tony to create their first black superhero and in 1977 he partnered with artist Trevor Von Eden,

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to create Black Lightning.

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Black Lightning’s real name is Jefferson Pierce.  He actually grew up in the poorest part of Metropolis known as Suicide Slum.  After becoming a highly successful athlete an scholar he returned home and he used a newly created power belt that helped him shoot bolts of electricity to clean up the streets of drug dealers and gang members.

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Where was Superman in all of this?  Probably saving Earth from aliens but whatever.

Black Lightning did initially play up a lot of stereotypes that were prevalent among the black community in the 1970’s.  His costume and accent were over the top and almost comical but his intentions were good and he proved himself to be a respectable hero in his own right, gaining the trust of Superman and several other figures in the city in his battle against the gang that had made Suicide Slum their home, a group called The 100 and led by a large man known as Tobias Whale.

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Aside from changing the location, the show appears to be pretty loyal to the comics.  Granted, in his early appearances Black Lightning isn’t married and doesn’t have kids, but that would come later.

So what happened?

Unfortunately the individual series for the character only lasted 11 issues.  While DC had high hopes in regaining its market share by flooding the market with new comics, it didn’t work out so well due to rising printing costs, the 1977 blizzard, and an awful economic recession.  A year later the company cancelled 40% of its titles in an event known as the “DC Implosion”.

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Black Lightning survived, although he would only show up in other books for the next couple of years.  In 1983, he joined a group called the Outsiders, a group of superheroes led by Batman and featured mostly new characters like Katana and Geo-Force.

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So yes, the idea that Batman is everything is nothing new.

In 1989 it was revealed that his powers weren’t the result of his power belt, but they were actually derived from a genetic abnormality known as the “Metagene”, a plot point that has been used throughout the DC universe as the source of power for a large number of their heroes.

DC’s first black superhero would get another crack at a solo series in 1995, and they even brought back Tony Isabella to do the writing.

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Unfortunately, history has a nasty way of repeating itself and the series was cancelled after 13 issues.

Black Lightning has continued to exist in the DC universe as a hero making appearances in other books.  At one point, Lex Luthor actually made him Secretary of Education when he was elected President of the United States.

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But let’s not delve too much into the fact that a comic book company had a corrupt businessman elected to the Presidency, that’s just too unrealistic.

He would also get a family and two children to look after.  Their names were Anissa and Jennifer Pierce and they have been a staple of Black Lightning’s identity ever since.

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Even though he’s never had much of a solo career, Black Lightning is a capable and talented hero with a great backstory and plenty of potential.

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He is a teacher, a mentor, and a very capable role model for everyone in the DC universe but most importantly of all…he has the respect and attention of Batman.

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I think this CW show is going to be awesome.

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Golden Age Showcase: The Turtle

So let’s get back to the Golden Age villains and to start off the week I’d like to talk about rouges galleries.

It think it’s safe to say that a hero is really only as good as the villain he or he fights.  A good villain can provide the perfect foil for the hero, confronting the main character and by extension the reader with challenging questions like what is the true nature of evil?  Can a hero always be “good” or is he corruptible?  Or just how difficult is it to get rid of a bomb?


To that extent it is safe to say that Batman has one of the greatest collection of super villains in comic book history.


Each of the characters is unique, interesting, and provides their own special challenge to the Dark Knight.  But I’m not here to talk about Batman, I want to talk about another rogues gallery that is just as interesting and almost as famous as the caped crusader’s: the rogues gallery of Batman’s friend and everyone’s favorite speedster The Flash.


While the Flash’s Rogues Gallery has gone through several variations over the years villains like Gorilla Grodd, the Pied Piper, and Captain Cold (my personal favorite and what I think is the best thing about the Flash TV show on the CW) have made sure that the Flash has remained a popular and enduring superhero.


With that being said, characters and ideas like this take time to develop and the Flash’s current Rogues Gallery didn’t just spring up over night.  Like everything good there was a lot of trial and error before getting the right collection of super villains together and today I’d like to talk about one of Flash’s stranger and less practical villains: The Turtle.


Origin and career:

The original Turtle super villain first appeared in All Flash #21 in 1945.  This is the cover.


As you can probably guess he isn’t the most menacing super villain on the planet.


His gimmick was simple.  While the Flash was the fastest man alive the Turtle decided that the best way to defeat the Flash was to…slow down.  That was it, he was a super villain who thought the best way to defeat a speedster was to move and act very, very slowly.  It turned out there was a very good reason for this, the Turtle was a smoker and couldn’t move very fast since all those cigarettes had damaged his lungs.

To be fair his logic was somewhat sound (for a comic book) and be believed that since the Flash was moving so fast it would be easy to trick him into making mistakes, especially with enough prior planning.  However, his planning went about as well as you’d expect and the Turtle was captured by the Flash with little to no difficulty.


He would later adopt a turtle themed costume to fight the Flash and was able to give a semi decent account of himself in the 1940’s by tricking the Flash into running into things.


However, by this time the Golden Age was coming to an end and the original Turtle decided to fade into the background of the Flash’s city and slowly build up a criminal empire.

So what happened?

Apparently the idea that a person who was slow and methodical could beat a man who possessed super speed was such a good one that when it came time to replace the Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick with the Silver Age Flash Barry Allen

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It was decided that the Turtle, or in this case a criminal inspired by the Turtle, would be the first costumed gimmick super villain the new Flash would face.

Since the original Turtle was still in hiding a bank robber who admired the previous exploits of the original Golden Age Turtle decided to adopt the identity and gimmick of his idol and call himself…Turtle Man.

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While it may seem confusing at first this new villain was quite a bit more competent than his predecessor.  Like his idol Turtle Man was known for slow and methodical planning and for using the Flash’s speed against him.  For example, he painted his silhouette on a wall and tricked the Flash into running into it (and yes it’s exactly like this)


or he once used the Flash’s speed against him by forcing the Flash to run on water and using the shock waves to propel his own boat forward at the same speed.

However, this Turtle Man’s greatest difference is that he decided to apply some Silver Age comic book science to his crimes and used a vast personal fortune and scientific know how to create gadgets that could slow down others around him.  It’s also worth mentioning that in later appearances he adopted at more turtle themed appearance as well.


Interestingly enough, Turtle Man would actually go on to meet his Golden Age idol and the two would be come partners in crime.


The two attempted to take over the Golden Age’s home of Keystone city but were foiled when their underground lab was destroyed with the Turtle seemingly dying underneath the rubble and Turtle Man being taken into custody.

It would later be revealed that the Turtle survived the explosion and in his last appearance it was revealed that he had the ability to steal speed from others and make it look like they were moving in slow motion.

So that’s the Turtle, a lesson in that no matter how strange or inadequate a character can be all you need is time, and a seemingly endless number of re vamps and re writes, to turn that character into a competent super villain.

By the way, I also think that the modern Turtle would make an excellent addition to the Flash tv show on the CW.  Who’s with me?