Black Lightning

Created by Tony Isabella & Trevor Von Eeden

Thanks to contributor John Wells

NAME + ALIASES:
Jefferson Pierce

KNOWN RELATIVES:
Alvin (father, deceased), Leona (mother), Connie (sister), Lynn Stewart (ex-wife), Anissa Pierce (Thunder, daughter), Jennifer Pierce (Lightning II, daughter), Joanna Pierce (niece, deceased), Alvin Pierce II (nephew), Frank Tanner (ex-brother-in-law)

GROUP AFFILIATIONS:
Outsiders, Justice League Reserves, U.S. Presidential Cabinet

FIRST APPEARANCE:
Black Lightning #1 (April 1977)

History

When he was nine, Jefferson Michael Pierce's father, Alvin, was killed while trying to intervene during a hold-up involving Tobias Whale. Later, Whale became Councilman in their neighborhood, Metropolis' Suicide Slum. After that, he started to run. As he described it, he wasn't so much running away from his problems, but away from the fear of the place where his hatred might take him. Through high school he continued to excel on the track and in his eighteenth year, Jeff participated in the Olympics. Four years later he won the gold medal in the decathlon. This might have been his mere "fifteen minutes" if not for the extraordinary path his life would take after that.

Jeff's mother Leona was aided by his father's friend, Peter Gambi, who owned a tailor shop nearby. Peter became a surrogate father and mentor to Jeff. His mother also became a partner in Peter's shop. The two of them saw him through high school, two Olympics, and a teaching degree from Kent State.

Arriving back home in Southside, Metropolis. (L-R) Niece Joanna, Jeff, wife Lynn Stewart, daughter Anissa, and mother Leona. From Black Lightning: Year One #1 (2009). Art by Cully Hamner.

When his education was finished, Jeff became a teacher at a high school in New Carthage. In his time away from Metropolis, he also married lawyer Lynn Stewart and they had their first daughter, Anissa. Jeff moved through five schools, gaining experience and helping to clean them up. They decided to return to his alma mater, Garfield High School, after receiving a grant from Thomas Wayne Education Trust. In his absence, Southside had garnered the nickhame "Suicide Slum" and had been overtaken by a criminal organization known as the 100. The 100's presence permeated the community—even into Jeff's family. His older sister Connie had since divorced Frank Tanner, who now worked for the 100. Connie and her children Joanna and Alvin lived with Leona, but were planning to relocate to Chicago.

Though he had not yet donned a full costume, Jefferson Pierce had begun fighting crime on the streets after developing metahuman powers; Pierce could generate electricity. In the beginning, his control over this power varied (lightning would even arc in his sleep).

In his first day at Garfield, Jeff took Earl Clifford under his wing. When he ran into members of the 100 dealing in the school, Jeff and Earl took a stand against them. In retaliation, the 100 killed Earl. (Black Lightning: Year One #1)

Pierce dons his wig and mask. From Black Lightning #1 v.1 (1977). Art by Trevor von Eeden

Jeff was guilt-ridden by Clifford's death. He sought advice from Peter Gambi, who encouraged Pierce to fight back by using a persona that wouldn’t invite counter-attacks against those close to him. Using a special fabric, Peter made Jeff a costume that would help him harness his electrical power. (Unbeknownst to Gambi, his brother had been gotten the fabric from Ra's al Ghul.) Gambi encouraged him to become a symbol, one which could inspire and frighten. His motto: "Justice, like lightning, should ever appear to some men hope, to other men fear" (words based on a poem written Thomas Randolph). Black Lightning was born.

While in costume, Pierce threw off suspicion by wearing a wig and adopting a more "street smart" style of speech. He would also spray paint a black bolt at his the scene of his encounters, which immediately pinged the 100's radar. Black Lightning's escapades also drew the attention of another prominent Metropolitan—Clark Kent. As Superman, Kent found that something barred him from interfering in Suicide Slum. As a reporter, he would step in to find out why. Kent introduced himself to Pierce and began studying the situation in Suicide. (#2)

Peter Gambi soon added another feature to Jeff's costume, a force field device that could be powered by his electricity. And just in time, as the 100 ramped up their campaign against him. In a pivotal incident, Black Lightning came face to face with the 100 himself: the psychic vampire, Victor Swann. Though authorities were on the hunt for this new "hero," Jeff had gained the support of Superman, and another ally on the police force, Bill Henderson. Meanwhile, Jeff's brother-in-law Frank Tanner, decided to help. Tanner was trying to win back Connie and agreed to become a double agent within the 100. (#3)

After this first major encounter, Jeff learned the history of the 100 from Talia. The daughter of Ra's al Ghul had come to offer him a place in the League of Assassins. There she recounted the origins of the 100, who dated back to the 15th century. A group of scholars living in in Aragon, Spain, were obsessed with longevity, and in 1462, 71 of them dubbed themselves "El Ciento" (the one hundred), to honor 29 fellows they'd lost before. Using magic, the survivors succeeded in tapping into some arcane force that bestowed longevity. But because they did not revere the power they'd invoked, their ritual went awry; they lived, but in pain. They now drew life force from the land and from others' emotions; misery was their favored sustenance. Their ranks dwindled to one, Bjorn Gustavsen, who'd lived for 80 years in modern Metropolis as Victor Swann. Swann used Tobias Whale and other street thugs to create the misery that sustained him. Swann targeted the new Black Lightning's powerful body as his new host.

During his first meeting with Swann, Jeff also learned that Peter Gambit had led Jeff's father to his death. Peter claimed that he was forced by Whale to choose between the lives of Alvin and his family. Jeff never had the chance to reconcile this with Peter. Gambi was killed by the 100 in defending the Pierce's home. At Peter's funeral, Jeff and Lynn staged an argument that provided grounds for her and Anissa to flee Southside for safety. (#4) Jeff received a letter from Peter at the service which posthumously promised an explanation for his actions. Jeff decided to trust in the dream that Gambi had inspired and forgave his family's friend. (Black Lightning v.1 #8)

The 100's plan culminated at Garfield High, where Swann was forced to retreat when a crowd of people defended Black Lightning. (#5) Swann possessed several teens' bodies, forcing Lightning into the open. Jeff's power was sufficient to drive off the vampire. When Swann was vulnerable, Tobias Whale stepped in, keen to steal his power for himself. But because the magic ritual was incomplete, Swann's power transformed Whale into a monster—a monster with none of the 100's supernatural powers. Whale was carted off by police, who had set up a new precinct. At this time, Lynn was pregnant with their second daughter, Jennifer. Anissa had also begun to manifest metahuman powers: the ability to increase her density. (#6)

Tobias Whale interrupts Swann's magic ritual, killing Swann and transforming Whale into a freak.
From Black Lightning: Year One #6 (2009). Art by Cully Hamner.

Along the way, Black Lightning defeated several super-powered underlings of the100, from Merlyn (Black Lightning v.1 #2) to the Cyclotronic Man (#4-5) to Syonide. (#6-7) Tobias Whale also returned. (#1-8)

Jeff was so protective of his family that he scarcely mentioned them to anyone. He considered his career as Black Lightning a necessary sacrifice to help provide them the freedom to live a normal life.

Regardless, the stresses of Jeff's careers eventually led to his and Lynn's divorce. The reasons behind it have never been revealed in full. Most accounts confirm that the couple have always loved each other profoundly. But Jeff's crusades, both in and out of costume were not condusive to raising a family or sustaining a romantic relationship. (Secret Origins #26) When Jeff and Lynn divorced, the girls stayed with their mother. Despite the early onset of Anissa's powers, she conceded to her parents' wishes and pursued a pre-med degree instead of costumed adventuring. (Outsiders v.3 #1)

Alliances

Dissin' the JLA! From Justice League of America #173 (1979)

Black Lightning next met a man who would become one of his biggest allies in crime fighting — the Batman. Together they investigated a series of student abductions (which included Dick Grayson) and met Superman and Black Canary before the case had closed. This led him to meet Green Arrow as well; these two acknowledged a kindred spirit. (World's Finest #256-261)

It seemed that Black Lightning was ready to hit the big leagues. After meeting Green Arrow, his new friend nominated Pierce for membership in the Justice League, but Lightning rejected the honor. (JLofA #173-174) The JLA respected his decision and B.L. soon teamed up with Superman to solve the murder of a girl named Trina Shelton, who was shot and killed by a stray bullet during an altercation between Lightning and some muggers. (DC Comics Presents #16)

Perhaps from psychosomatic reasons stemming from guilt, Lightning’s powers disappeared after Shelton's death. He returned to teaching (Detective #490-491, 494, 495) but still crossed paths again with the Dark Knight who admitted "I am impressed." (Brave & Bold #163)


Batman and the Outsiders

The Batman kept Pierce in mind when he also grew frustrated with the Justice League. Hoping to rescue his friend Lucius Fox from war-torn Markovia, the Dark Knight recruited Jeff to infiltrate the country, posing as Fox’s brother. Inevitably, he was forced to become Black Lightning and ended up being captured alongside Batman. Batman was convinced that the loss of Lightning's powers was psychological, and so he began to verbally prod at Jeff and brought his electrical powers back to life once more. (Batman and the Outsiders #1-2)

The next four years saw a new confidence envelop Black Lightning, as he forged new friendships with the Outsiders, found a teaching post at Gotham City’s Edison High (BATO #4, 6), gained a bit of closure in Trina Shelton’s death after a confrontation with her parents (BATO #9-10), revisited the Olympics (BATO #14-15) and even had an amicable reunion with Lynn Stewart, (Outsiders v.1 #4, 9-14), now the president of a public relations firm.

From the cover of Black Lightning v.2 #1 (1995)

After several years the Outsiders disband (Outsiders #28) and Jeff settled into a teaching job in yet another city. (Secret Origins #26) His powers went berserk upon the detonation of the Dominator’s Gene-bomb (Invasion! #3) and Jeff could no longer deny that "the power was part of me — there was no doubting it any longer. It had been given to me for a reason." Reflecting on his newfound goals, he explained that he’d moved to the so-called Brick City, a neighborhood in his father’s hometown. “I knew I couldn’t save the world — but I could save one neighborhood — and maybe even the future." (Black Lightning v.2 #5)

The ongoing menace of a gang known as the Royal Family figured into a school shooting that left Jeff critically wounded and one of his best friends, teacher Walter Kasko, dead. (#4) During Jeff’s physical and emotional recovery, he reflected on his career as Black Lightning and the deaths of so many along the way. (#5)

Despite the Outsiders' falling out with Batman, Jeff renewed his ties with him to help clear him of charges that he was a serial killer. (#11-13) After the Outsiders, Black Lightning kept a low profile, but continued to appear occasionally alongside his friends and allies. (Day of Judgment #4) When seven "heavy hitters" reformed the Justice League, Black Lightning became a Reserve member. (JLA #27) His efforts during the Mageddon crisis, in particular, were critical as he taxed his abilities like never before, attempting “to tap the electrical field of the planet.” (#41)

Increased Visibility

When Lex Luthor was elected President of the United States, Pierce chose to retire temporarily as Black Lightning and accepted an appointment as President Lex Luthor's Secretary of Education. This surprised many of his former allies but in truth, Pierce saw this as an opportunity to keep tabs on Luthor. (Superman #166, Superman: President Lex)

In the meantime, his now-22-year-old daughter, Anissa graduated in pre-med at the medical school. She had done this only to satisfy her parents and the very next day, she set out to fight crime, much to the disapproval of her father who had always pursued his own adventures so that his daughter would not have to. She drew the attention of the former Titans member Arsenal, who after the demise of the Titans sought to assemble a new team of Outsiders. She accepted his offer, reasoning that her father might feel better about her crime fighting if she was in the company of others. (Outsiders v.3 #1)

DC Direct Action figure (2007)

Black Lightning came out of retirement to help the Outsiders battle Sabbac. (Outsiders v.3 #9) Following this battle, he begged Anissa to give up adventuring, but to no avail. If anything, she was inspired by her father's heroics. When Jefferson returned to the White House, Luthor's successor, President Pete Ross asked for Pierce's resignation as Secretary of Education because the government feared the political implications of having a known super-hero on staff. Jeff complied. (#10)

Black Lightning's next year would be one of his most tumultuous. He began by reuniting with his Outsiders friend, Metamorpho to clean up an old Outsiders case involving the "human bomb " called Fuse. Katana also joined them on this case. (Outsiders v.3 #26-27)

His affiliation with Green Arrow would be his most pivotal. First, his niece, Joanna, was killed after becoming a lawyer in one of Arrow's cases. (Green Arrow #27-30) At the conclusion of this, Black Lightning was responsible for the death of Joanna's killer, Martin Somers — or so he believed. In truth, Deathstroke had seen the whole incident and made the killing blow himself, but he allowed Lightning to believe he'd caused the death. (Outsiders v.3 #45)

Jeff blamed Ollie in part for Joanna's death (the two of them had been intimate) but they were soon forced into action together again when attacked by Dr. Light. Light was acting in retaliation to the Justice League's erasing his memories years before. (Identity Crisis #2, 6) Jefferson then revealed to Ollie that the Department of Defense had evidence of the JLA's habit of mind wiping villains (which he discovered while serving on Luthor's cabinet).

Dr. Light managed to surprise the heroes and critically injured Green Arrow's young protege, Mia. Jeff was forced to attempt to jump start her heart with his powers. Though Mia was saved, Oliver's home, Star City was not. Dr. Light detonated bomb that took out an entire city block. (Green Arrow #54-59) The ensuing chaos ultimately led to Queen's election to the office of Mayor of Star City.

Following this and the sacrifice of the Superman of Earth-2 and others in the "Crisis," Jefferson Pierce turned himself in for killing Martin Somers. His friends and family tried unsuccessfully to dissuade him, but he turned himself over to Checkmate, who put him in Iron Heights Prison under the identity of "Derek Cooper." Meanwhile, Nightwing was approached by the Red Hood, who had evidence to acquit Black Lightning. The Hood had eavesdropped on a conversation between Luthor and Deathstroke, who admitted that he'd killed Somers just as Pierce's lightning struck too. Jeff's daughter Anissa hurried to bring her father the good news, but Pierce wouldn't believe it, and remained in prison. (Outsiders v.3 #44-45)

Anissa implored the Outsiders to free her father from prison, which they initially refused. It wasn't long before other inmates discovered the truth about "Cooper" and put a hit on Black Lightning. The gang leader called Skeet charged the young Captain Boomerang to kill him "Cooper." The Outsiders learned of this plot and finally agreed to get him out. (#46)

Pierce was also eventually convinced that he was innocent of his "charges," and realized the danger of being in Iron Heights. Boomerang had become his cell mate, but young Owen Mercer was not his father's son — he could not bring himself to kill Pierce and became his ally instead. Just as they plotted to escape, Nightwing sent the Outsiders into the prison. Things quickly got out of hand and Warden Wolfe responded by using his metahuman muscle-control powers to bring the prisoners under control. In his anger, his powers caused extreme pain and the Outsider called Shift conjures a gas to counteract the effects. Wolfe responded by increasing his control and killed dozens of guards and prisoners. Shift protected the Outsiders, Jeff and Boomerang from the effect. In this pivotal moment, the Outsiders decided to use this as a ploy to fake their deaths. They sent off a decoy craft which was destroyed. Jeff resumed his life while the world believed that Thunder and the others had died. (Outsiders v.3 Annual #1)

Joining the "Jive Turkeys" of America

Black Lightning renewed his career as a costumed adventurer and eventually met up with Hawkgirl on a case in St. Roch, Louisiana. He followed a trail from Metropolis about the recent super-villain activity involving the android body of the Red Tornado. (Justice League of America v.2 #1) Lightning and Hawkgirl brought one of the villains, Trident, to the Batcave, to show Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman evidence that the Star Conqueror had returned. (#3) He aided these heroes in saving the Red Tornado from exploitation by Professor Ivo and Solomon Grundy. (#4-6)

All the heroes participating in this case agreed to form a new Justice League, of which Black Lightning was a founding member. Ironically, it was Lightning who was sent to invite Batman to officially join the group. (#7)

Original History

According to Jen Van Meter, writer of Black Lightning: Year One, certain changes were necessary to Black Lightning's origin:

"I've tried to make his core origin stuff weave more neatly with his current continuity; we'll see the family that must have been there if he's got young adult daughters 'now' and I've tried to make the whole thing a little more timeless. ... When I first took the project on, one of the things that seemed hardest to reconcile in terms of all that's happened to his continuity was his daughters both having native powers while his started with the belt. I thought giving him the powers from the start, and dealing with how he feels about them, why/how he has/hasn't used them before now—made things coherent and allowed me more time to deal with who the man is rather than how he does what he does."

Van Meter made several notable changes:

  • Black Lightning has always been a metahuman. Originally, his powers came from a belt.
  • Tobias Whale was not always the head of the 100, but was transformed Victor Swann's power into a monster. Originally, there was no mention of Swann and Whale appeared freakish from the start.
  • Jeff and Lynn have two metahuman daughters. Originally, they had divorced and no children were ever mentioned.
  • His mother is alive. In his original appearance, she was said to be deceased.
  • Lynn has always known that Jeff is Black Lightning. Originally, he hid this fact from her. (B.L. v.1 #9)
  • His father died when he was nine. Originally he was three.
  • Peter Gambi's tailor shop was originally beneath the Pierce's home. They're now separate places.

The one major detail that has not been addressed is nature and timing of Jeff's divorce from Lynn. Jen van Meter herself admits she left that detail alone. Black Lightning's new origin story leaves their relationship in good stead, just before Jennifer's birth. Yet during his time with the original Outsiders, it was clear that they had gotten divorced. More recently, in Outsiders v.3 #??, his daughter Anissa makes a comment "??"

The letter column of Black Lightning #1 v.1 (April 1977) prints an obituary for Earl Clifford, "written by" Jimmy Olsen.

 

Publishing History

Black Lightning, as related by Tony Isabella in The Comics Buyer's Guide #921 (1991) and #1093 (1994), had originated in another writer’s proposal, a character who, in Isabella’s words, was “a white bigot in his secret identity.” In 1976, Paul Levitz approached Tony about salvaging the character but Isabella found the two completed scripts to be so horrendously misguided that he suggested an entirely new hero. Isabella and penciller Trevor Von Eeden’s Black Lightning became one of DC’s major launches in the first months of 1977 and the first two issues (plus #6) set up most of the back story.

Isabella was an advocate of the shared universe of DC comics and peppered Black Lightning with characters and locales that originated elsewhere. Gambi, for instance, was the brother of 1960s criminal tailor Paul Gambi, who had debuted in The Flash #141 and was named after fan Paul Gambaccini. Suicide Slum had originated in Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s 1940s “Newsboy Legion” series while New Carthage was the locale for Dick Grayson’s Hudson University. Inspector Henderson had been a staple of the Superman radio and television shows of the 1940s and 1950s while Officer Jim Corrigan (no relation to the Spectre) had appeared in a few early 1970s Jimmy Olsen episodes.

DC’s line-wide purge of its weaker titles in the summer of 1978 claimed Black Lightning as one of its victims. It ended in June with #11, Denny O’Neil’s debut as scripter. Within six months, Black Lightning returned for his most-widely circulated appearance to date — a guest-spot in the nationally-distributed World's Greatest Super-Heroes comic strip, by Marty Pasko, George Tuska and Vince Colletta. In comic books, O’Neil continued the series in early 1979; his take on Black Lightning continued with stories in #259 and 260 that had originally been intended for Black Lightning #13 and 12, respectively, and closed with #261.

Who's Who #16 (1992) hinted that a new Black Lightning series was in the offing with an entry that included a never-seen-again costume illustrated by Mark Bright. The book wouldn’t come to fruition until Tony Isabella made a triumphant return to his creation in 1995, now paired with artist Eddy Newell. The official new costume included a red and black jacket and lighting coursing between the hero’s eyes, eliminating the need for a mask. Isabella and Newell’s reality-based series hoped to emphasize genuine political and social concerns even as metahuman threats such as Painkiller (Black Lightning #2-4) presented themselves.

Other Versions

In a noble effort to add diversity to the whitebread Super Friends cartoon, Hanna Barbera created three non-Caucasian heroes: Apache Chief, Samurai and Black Vulcan. For years, many wondered why they chose to create an African-American character with Lightning powers instead of simply using Black Lightning. Wizard magazine got the full scoop on Black Vulcan, including commentary from Tony Isabella. In a nutshell, if Black Lightning was used on the Super Friends, Isabella would have to be paid royalties. Hanna Barbera didn't want to do that and so they created a copy. No origin or background was ever given for this character.

There's also the young African-American hero, Static, who first appeared in comics then went on to his own TV cartoon. And Juice, a similar character who appeared on Justice League Unlimited. This character was part of an homage to the above-mentioned trio of "Affirmative Action" heroes from the Super Friends. They appeared in season three in the episode "Ultimatum."

Black Lightning was also the name of the horse owned by Johnny Thunder, one of DC's old West characters. The horse first appeared in All-American Comics #100 (August 1948).

+ Powers

Black Lightning can generate, conduct, sense and absorb and electrical energy. After the detonation of the Dominators' "gene bomb," Jeff's powers were boosted. In his early years, he sometimes used the electricity to power a force field belt. He has also trained with the Batman to develop new ways of employing electromagnetic power, such as creating his own natural shield.

NOTE: In original continuity, Jeff's powers originally came from a special belt made by Peter Gambi. Over time, he somehow internalized the power.

Appearances + References

» FEATURED APPEARANCES:

  • Amazons Attack! #1-2
  • Brave & Bold #163
  • DC Comics Presents #16
  • DCU Holiday Bash II
  • Detective #490-491
  • Justice League of America v.1 #173
  • Outsiders v.3 #3, 9
  • Secret Origins v.2 #26
  • Superman v.2 #166
  • Superman/Batman #3
  • Superman: Lex 2000
  • Villains United: Infinite Crisis Special #1
  • World's Finest #256-259

» SERIES:

  • Black Lightning v. 1, 11 issues (1977-78)
  • Batman & the Outsiders, #1-32 (1983-86), becomes...
  • Adventures of the Outsiders, #33-38 (1986)
  • Black Lightning v.2, 13 issues (1995-96)
  • Outsiders v.1, 28 issues (1985-88)
  • Justice League of America v.2, #1-30
  • Black Lightning: Year One, 6-issue limited series (2009)
  • Outsiders v.4 #15-present (2009-)