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.

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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Magic had been replaced by space science and monsters had been replaced by aliens.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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The Primordial Soup: The most interesting sci fi show you’ve probably never heard of

Here at Cambrian Comics we talk about many things from comics, to Game of Thrones, to tech, to Game of Thrones, to superheroes, and Game of Thrones (okay so mostly Game of Thrones but hey, there’s a lot to talk about with that show).  Today I’m going to talk about one of my favorite sci fi television shows out there and one of the most radically different and interesting ideas in science fiction: Farscape.

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While most of the sci fi television landscape is dominated by joint Canadian and American shows for tax reasons (and the same reason why almost every single planet in these shows looks like the same patch of British Colombian forest) Farscape was a joint American and Australian show that ran for four season from 1999-2003.  The show was written and run by the future creator of the current Sci Fi channel show DEFIANCE Rocke S. O’Bannon and has developed something of a cult following over the past decade.

The show begins with the series protagonist and audience surrogate John Crichton, played by science fiction television stalwart Ben Browder

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being flung into a distant part of the universe via wormhole.  After being dropped in the middle of a alien spaceship dogfight he finds himself aboard a living ship that was transporting a group of prisoners which include a Luxon warrior named Dargo.

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A renegade priestess, who is also a living plant, named Zhaan.

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A small, fat slug like creature named Rygel who needs a hover chair to get around and was once the ruler of over 600 billion people.

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And one of their former jailers.  A mysteriously humanoid soldier from a race of menacing soldiers called Peackeepers (because with a name like that what else could you be other than a militaristic warrior society dedicated to using violence in the name of order?) named Aeryn Sun.

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And the ship itself, a biological organism known as Moya who is controlled by her Pilot, a creature grafted into Moya’s systems in order to help her function and navigate the stars.

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And that’s the main cast.  There were several other characters that joined the crew as some of the original cast left but the show followed the ship and its crew as they wandered the galaxy and searched for a way home all while dodging Peacekeepers and trying to stay out of trouble.

This is my favorite show for two reasons.  First, you may notice that Pilot and Rygel look like they’re puppets.  That’s because they are.  Farscape was produced by Hallmark and Jim Henson Productions, the same guys who helped bring the Muppets to life.  As a result all of the prosthetic body work and puppetry was done by a company that knew what they were doing and really cared about their work.  This resulted in creatures like this.

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and this

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and this

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Sure some of the designs looked freaking and were occasionally clunky but in an age where real visual effects were becoming a rarity (this was the early 2000’s, CGI was king) this level of creativity and dedication deserves a lot of respect.

The second thing I love about this show is the sheer imagination it had.  Instead of having everyone speak the universal language of English and just have the audience accept it, Farscape said “no, we’re going to have each of the characters injected with translator microbes and give a plausible explanation as to why everyone speaks English”.  They were also the first show in my memory to not only treat the concept of a “living ship” as a gimmick but as a fully developed character as well.

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Over the course of the show Moya displays signs of love, loss, anger, and even depression and if she’s upset you can bet the crew will feel it.  They even wrote a plot line where Moya gives birth to a baby (it turns out to be a berserk hybrid warship baby but to go on would spoil a huge part of the story).

Oh, and for any fans of the new Battlestar Galactica series, you know how they replace the word “fuck” with “frack” in order to circumvent censors?  Guess who did that first?

Bear in mind I’m just scratching the surface of what Farscape did, I didn’t even get to the interdimentional vampires or the time Crichton got turned into a statue because he was a genetic match for an alien princess, but you get the idea.  That being said the show was not without its problems.  The show was so full of creative ideas and creatures that it tended to wander about, what was originally a group of fugitives trying to get home turned into an inter galactic manhunt for something in Crichton’s head that would help the Peacekeepers win a massive war and it just got silly after a while.  Also some of the dialogue is incredibly campy and weird but it was the early 2000’s where that sort of thing was understandable.

Still, the show’s faults and foibles were few in comparison to it’s many strengths.  Farscape is an awesome show that deserves a look if you have chance.  It’s on Netfilx instant if that’s your thing and there is talk of a movie coming in the not too distant future.  Whether you’re a fan or not we can all appreciate the genius and imagination the show brought to television.