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Magic had been replaced by space science and monsters had been replaced by aliens.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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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Through the Cognitive Rift

Today we’re talking about Through the Cognitive Rift, a graphic novel project currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.

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The project is about the human mind and hypothesizes that the universe we know and love is simply the thoughts and dreams of a single individual.  The story takes place in a universe experiencing the apocalypse because its creator has severe mental problems and is contemplating suicide.  The plot is about the one person in this universe that has been given the opportunity to connect with its creator and attempt to save the creators life and, by extension, all of existence.

The project was created by Natalie McKean and is seeking to raise $3,200 by August 9th.

Kickstarter link:

Why I like it

The first reason I like this project is because I have a tremendous amount of respect for the creator.

Now, I never knew Mrs. McKean before I saw her project but when I learned that she is doing all of the writing, art, and production work by herself I couldn’t help but take my hat off to her.

Trust me when I say that creating comics takes a lot of work.  Heck, all I do is write mine and I’m still frazzled.

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The second reason that I like this project is its subject matter.

When I saw that this book was about the internal workings of people’s minds and thoughts my mind immediately thought of this:

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Now, Inception is one of my favorite movies of all time.  It’s deep, thoughtful, and trippy as all hell.

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Now, it looks like Through the Cognitive Rift promises to be trippy as well, just in a different way.

But I think this book promises to be more than Inception, in fact I think it has the potential to be more.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for Christopher Nolan and the cast of the film, but as a director he’s more of a robot than a human.

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Don’t believe me?  Go back to any of his films and try to find a character that conveys emotion and feeling through something that isn’t exposition or dialogue that doesn’t move the plot forward or reveal some sort of great theme or world shaking plot point.

I like this project because it looks like a more human and thoughtful version of Inception and while I don’t know if that was the creator’s intention, I write this with nothing but the highest praise and excitement.

Why you should donate

Take everything I said about Inception,

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throw in the awesome artwork,

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AND add the fact that this is probably one of the most creative and interesting stories that you will ever see dealing with depression, suicidal thoughts, and mental health,

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and you have a recipe for a book that is engaging, thoughtful, and gorgeous to both read and look at.

Kickstarter link:

Golden Age showcase: Suicide Squad

Today we’re going to take a break from the actual Golden Age of Comics and talk about one of the greatest comic book teams in history, one so famous that their getting their own movie which is coming out this week!

I have very high hopes for this movie.  I like the cast, I like the director, I even like the comic book company that created them and I can’t think of a better way of sharing my excitement than by talking about the comic book series that inspired the movie.


The Suicide Squad works like this.  Any DC villain in government custody can be recruited into the squad, led by a highly capable government official named Amanda Waller.


Each squad is sent on missions that are deemed too dangerous or nearly impossible for ordinary people to complete, which makes a team of super villains perfect because in the even that they fail the government can deny any involvement.  In order to ensure compliance each team member is given an explosive collar (in some versions it’s a batch of explosive nanites in the bloodstream) that can be detonated if they step out of line, killing them in the process.

Here’s the thing, the original Suicide Squad wasn’t made up of hardened criminals with superpowers, it was actually a 1959 comic book about ordinary soldiers taking on seemingly impossible tasks, which meant that for the longest time The Suicide Squad looked less like this


and more like this.


Origin and Career

The first use of the name Suicide Squad appeared in 1959’s The Brave and the Bold #25.  However, this was not the first team to use that name in the DC timeline.  That honor belongs to the Suicide Squadron that first appeared in 1963’s Star Spangled War Stories.


This Suicide Squadron was made up of a ragtag group of soldiers who the government considered to be expendable enough to be sent to a mysterious island to fight dinosaurs.  This iteration of the team is important because they were led by a man named Rick Flagg,

a highly capable military officer who would lead the squad to victory and would help by becoming and established part of the Suicide Squad mythos.  After WW2 ended the Suicide Squad was reformed into Task Force X under President Truman to be the government’s response to an increasingly large number of supervillains and spies.  They were eventually disbanded when Rick Flagg sacrificed himself to stop a device called the War Wheel.


The next group to adopt the name Suicide Squad (although this was the first team to use that name) was a group of four individuals who appeared in 1959’s The Brave and the Bold #25.


Once again the group was led by a man named Rick Flagg, although in this case it was Rick Flagg Jr. the son of the original Rick Flagg.

The group was assembled under the operational name “Task Force X” and adopted the name “Suicide Squad” because each of the members of the team had experienced a horrible tragedy that had affected them so badly they had lost their will to live and didn’t care if they died on a mission or not.  They were the commander and leader Rick Flagg, medic Karin Grace, physicist Hugh Evans, and nuclear scientist Jess Bright.

Their adventures were pretty strange.  Just like the original Squadron, this team did a lot of fighting against dinosaurs.


and they were often placed in very perilous situations with little to no back up or support.


However, the title wasn’t selling very well and every member of the team was either killed or wounded during their final mission fighting a Yeti in Cambodia.


Hugh Evans died after falling down a ditch, Jess Bright was captured by the Soviets and turned traitor, Karin and Rick survived but went their separate ways.  The Squad was disbanded and the title was shut down.

So what happened?

Well, the 1980’s happened.  In 1985 DC Comics launched the Crisis on Infinite Earths story line that essentially erased all the previously existing history and continuity of the DC universe and started from ground zero.


This universe wide reboot led to comic book creator John Ostrander,

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to take the Suicide Squad title and revamp it considerably.  The end result was Suicide Squad that we know and love today.


The differences between the new and old versions were quite remarkable.  Instead of volunteering for these dangerous missions by choice many members of the Suicide Squad were forced into service under the rule of Amanda Waller, although the team was still led in the field by Rick Flagg Jr.

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Instead of dealing with fantastic threats like dinosaurs this version dealt with classified government black ops missions that had a high mortality rate (this played into the political culture of the 1980’s but we’ll get into that later) and most importantly: there was a revolving cast where any member could be killed at any time.

The current version of the Suicide Squad is one of the most interesting and exciting ideas in comic books today.  However, it is important to remember that if it wasn’t for a heroic band of misfit soldiers and four random people ready to die for the mission, we wouldn’t have this title today.