Black Lightning is a character that has been underused in recent decades, but that looks like it is about to change for DC fans. With a potential TV series on the way, many people are looking to read his comics, and especially his origin story, for the first time.
Jefferson Pierce has had few solo series to himself since being created by Tony Isabella with Trevor Von Eeden in 1977. He had previously been in solo Black Lightning runs in the 70s and 90s by Isabella before getting the Year One treatment Jennifer Van Meter and Cully Hamner in 2009.
While not a classic like previous year one titles such as Batman or even Green Arrow, this serves as a good introduction to the character for modern audiences.
Comic Books Collected: Black Lightning: Year One Issues #1-6
Written by: Jennifer Van Meter
Artist: Cully Hamner
Where to buy: Trade Paperback
Where to buy: Digital Comic (Kindle/Comixology)
Key Characters and Organizations:
Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning
The official synopsis, from DC Comics:
The electrifying origin of Black Lightning is collected in this hot new title featuring the complete 6-issue miniseries. See how Jefferson Pierce went from teacher to the hero of Metropolis’s Suicide Slum, taking on Tobias Whale and the crime syndicate The 100 along the way.
Year One tells the complete origin story of Jefferson Pierce, a former Olympic gold medalist who returns to his home in Metropolis’s Southside to find it in terrible shape. He uses his electrical powers, fighting skills, and athleticism to try to rid his city of organized crime.
Without getting heavy into spoilers, Jeff quickly realizes how much trouble his city is in. He returns to Southside, which is frequently called Suicide Slum, as the principal of Garfield High School. This allows Jeff to create change by both leading high school students during the day and fighting crime in a costume at night.
One of the other unique aspects of Jefferson Pierce’s character is that he is an adult with an actual family. Rarely do we see superheroes as parents of small children. Jeff’s extended family plays a large role in this story, which helps us to understand why he is so adamant about protecting his city.
The action is at its best when Lightning is taking on smaller criminals and more ground-level attacks. One of the weaker parts of the story is the introduction of (super)powerful villains. The street crime and violence is enough that there isn’t a need for a greater threat, although I can understand fans wanting to see a hero with superpowers take on an evenly matched villain.
Still, it is somewhat anti-climatic to see a new threat emerge late in the story. After developing a strong and personal story, it devolves a little bit into generic superhero action. That is what many fans will expect, but to me it felt like a bit of a shift from what had been set up.
As you would expect, Jefferson Pierce is clearly the strongest character in this story. He is truly a likable hero who sacrifices to help those around him. Peter Gambi is the standout of the supporting cast, as he provides wisdom and other practical help for Jeff.
One other interesting supporting character is none other than Clark Kent. With the story taking place in a part of Metropolis, it only makes sense that Kent would show up as both himself and Superman. The story does take the time to explain why the Man of Steel can’t just quickly clean up Southside and the excuse should be good enough for most Superman fans.
Tobias Whale and the criminal organization known as The 100 serve as solid villains throughout. Again, it could have been a more enjoyable struggle to see only street level villains but I understand the desire to see super-powered action.
The artwork in Black Lightning: Year One is consistent throughout and helps to set the tone of the serious crime story that is taking place. The art is easy to follow along and there are several good action panels sprinkled in throughout the six issues.
Black Lightning’s costume was probably past due for a modern update, but I’m not sure this is going to stick as an iconic look for the character. While the costume doesn’t look bad, and it makes sense for the story, they could have found a better way to update it for a sleeker look.
The TV series
This is an exciting time for Black Lightning fans, as he may be coming to live-action soon. A TV pilot has been ordered by Fox to be produced by Greg Berlanti, Salim Akil, and Mara Brock Akil. Berlanti has a strong track record with DC Comics TV series and Fox has become more interested in the genre.
Berlanti and company borrowed heavily from Green Arrow: Year One when developing the early seasons of The CW’s Arrow. I wouldn’t be so sure that they will do the same for Lightning, as this was not quite the defining introduction that Green Arrow had.
Still, it’s easy to see how some of the concepts and characters could translate to the small screen. Tobias Whale and The 100 could be built up to be a strong villain for one season or several other seasons. Jeff Pierce’s background as a parent and an educator would add a new dimension to superhero TV. In some iterations, his daughter(s) also has superpowers, which would be truly unique.
Overall, this is a fine story that can serve as a quick way to get the origin story for new fans. Readers who don’t mind reading 1970s dialogue might be better served checking out Isabella’s original vision for the character, which has been collected in Black Lightning: Volume 1.
Hardcore lightning fans will certainly want to own this. There are very few solo titles led by the character and this would be a worthy addition to any collection.