|First appearance||Black Lightning #1 (April 1977)|
|Created by||Tony Isabella|
Trevor Von Eeden
|Alter ego||Jefferson "Jeff" Pierce|
Black Lightning (Jefferson Pierce) is a superhero appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. The character, created by writer Tony Isabella and artist Trevor Von Eeden, first appeared in Black Lightning #1 (April 1977), during the Bronze Age of Comic Books. Although his precise origin story has varied over the years, he has generally always been depicted as a metahuman superhero who uses the ability to generate and control electricity to defend his community – and the world – as Black Lightning. Although not the first black superhero to feature in DC Comics stories, Black Lightning was DC's first African-American superhero to headline his own series.
In his earliest stories, Black Lightning is depicted as a schoolteacher from the crime-ridden Suicide Slum area of Metropolis who acquires electrical superpowers from a technologically advanced power belt that he puts to use to clean up crime in his neighborhood. Over time, Pierce establishes himself as a successful superhero in the DC Universe, and later stories depict him as having "internalized" the belt's powers as a result of his latent metagene. Later retellings of Black Lightning's origins simplify his story by depicting him as a metahuman with the inborn ability to manipulate and generate electricity. The character later goes on to father two superhero daughters, Thunder and Lightning, and work closely alongside Batman as a founding member of the Outsiders superhero team.
DC originally commissioned Isabella to create its first black character following on from Isabella's successful work for Marvel Comics with Luke Cage. However, only 11 issues of the series were published before DC ran into financial trouble in 1978 which led them to cut back the majority of their titles. This proved to be a blessing in disguise however, as the character went on instead to feature prominently in books like Justice League of America in DC's new slimmed down offering of titles, exposing him to more readers, with the character was remembered for promoting critical perspective on established superheroes like Batman and Superman. Early elements of the character were controversial, and later removed or toned down. For example, in early stories, he wore an Afro wig and spoke in an exaggerated Harlem jive vernacular to disguise that he was in fact the highly educated schoolteacher, Jefferson Pierce.
Black Lightning has proven a popular character for DC and was ranked 85th overall on IGN's "Top 100 Comic Books Heroes" list in 2011. The character has been adapted into various media, including animated television series, video games, and comic strips. The character and his stories were adapted for live-action Black Lightning TV series, which ran from 2018 to 2022. The title character was portrayed by Cress Williams, who also went on to make appearances in the related TV shows The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow.
The original candidate for DC Comics' first headlining black superhero was a character called the Black Bomber, a white racist who would turn into a black superhero under stress. Comics historian Don Markstein later described the character as "an insult to practically everybody with any point of view at all". When the editor who had approved the Black Bomber left the company before the character had seen print, Tony Isabella (whose previous writing experience included Luke Cage, a black Marvel Comics superhero with his own title) was asked to salvage the character. Isabella convinced editors to instead use his Black Lightning character, which he had been developing for some time.
Isabella wrote the first 10 issues of Black Lightning before handing it over to Dennis O'Neil, and Trevor Von Eeden designed the character's original costume and drew the first 11 issues. Only one issue scripted by O'Neil came out before the series was canceled in 1978 as part of a general large-scale pruning of the company's superhero titles known as the DC Implosion. Issue #12 was published in Cancelled Comic Cavalcade and World's Finest Comics #260.
Black Lightning made a number of guest appearances in various titles over the next few years, including a string of issues of World's Finest Comics written by O'Neil, then shifted to Detective Comics and a two-part story in Justice League of America in which he declined an offer of membership. In 1983, with his powers restored, he regularly appeared again as a member of Batman's spinoff superhero team, the Outsiders. When The Outsiders ended, he returned to making occasional guest appearances.
In 1995, a new Black Lightning series began with art by Eddy Newell and again written by Tony Isabella, who was fired after the eighth issue and replaced with Australian writer Dave de Vries. The series was canceled five issues after Isabella left the title, the decision having been made before these issues had seen print. Isabella said he believes the editor replaced him with a newer writer to consolidate his position in the company.
A "Black Lightning: Year One" six-issue limited series, written by Jen Van Meter and illustrated by Cully Hamner saw a bi-weekly release in 2009, and was nominated for two Glyph Awards in 2010.
As part of the New 52, a revamped version of Black Lightning appeared in DC Universe Presents that was paired with the Blue Devil.
A gold medal-winning Olympic decathlete, Jefferson Pierce returned to his old neighborhood in the Southside (Suicide Slum) section of the city of Metropolis with his wife Lynn Stewart and his daughter Anissa to become the principal of Garfield High School. Southside, as it was once known, was where his father—renowned journalist Alvin Pierce—had been murdered. Guilt over this event was a factor in his decision to leave the city of Metropolis. Suicide Slum was being torn apart by a local organized criminal gang called the 100, shady corporations, and crooked local politicians like Tobias Whale. A family friend and tailor, Peter Gambi, had taught a much younger Jefferson how to suppress his inborn metahuman abilities so that he would not accidentally hurt any of the people he cared about. Upon his return, Gambi suggested to Jefferson that he should use his powers to help the neighborhood, and refers him to a plaque with the paraphrased Milo Sweetman quote "Justice, like lightning, should ever appear to some men hope, to other men fear". (the original text of which was "Justice, like lightning, ever should appear to few men's ruin, but to all men's fear. Of mortal justice if thou scorn the rod, believe and tremble, thou art judged of God".) Appalled by the public murder of Earl Clifford, one of his more promising students, Pierce tried to intervene on behalf of the schoolchildren but quickly learned that the 100 objected violently to any interference. Pierce adopts the costumed identity "Black Lightning" where he had the costume, mask, and wig made by his tailor Peter Gambi.
Years later, he would tell fellow African-American superhero Mister Terrific that he chose the name Black Lightning because he "was the only one of us around" at the time, and he "wanted to make sure everyone knew who they were dealing with."
Main article: Outsiders (comics)
After his own series was cancelled, Black Lightning lost his electrical powers, but continued fighting without them. The loss eventually turned out to be psychosomatic, a symptom of a crisis of confidence resulting from the accidental death of a female bystander named Trina Shelton during an altercation between Black Lightning and some gun-wielding thugs. Batman, wanting to recruit him to rescue Lucius Fox in Markovia, helped him regain his powers; this eventually led him to join Batman's team, the Outsiders. During his time with the Outsiders, a group of villains called the Masters of Disaster captured Black Lightning at the behest of the parents of Trina Shelton to avenge the death of their daughter; however, upon learning that he still regretted what happened and was willing to be executed by them, they risked their lives to save him. During the Invasion! crossover event, the Dominators detonated a Gene-Bomb that wreaked havoc with anyone possessing the metagene by making them lose control of their powers. After the breakup of the Outsiders, Black Lightning moved to Brick City to continue his solo career.
When Lex Luthor was elected President of the United States in 2000, he appointed Jefferson Pierce as Secretary of Education, with Pierce accepting as he concluded that he could do more good working within the system than outside it. He resigned amidst controversy over his "worst-kept secret in Washington" identity as Black Lightning and his alleged inadvertent killing of a criminally-minded corporate CEO, for which President Pete Ross (who had since succeeded Luthor) then pardoned him.
Making frequent guest appearances in several DC series, Pierce has appeared in Green Arrow (who had a one-night stand with his niece, a successful attorney named Joanna Pierce). Pierce helped the Green Arrow track down Dr. Light in the Green Arrow "Heading into the Light" story arc. He also appeared in the new Outsiders, of which his daughter, Anissa (using the alias Thunder), is a member. He came to fight the new Sabbac and help his daughter alongside Captain Marvel Jr. and the Outsiders. He had on an outfit that mixed his second outfit with the colors of the first. After teaming up with the Outsiders, incoming President Pete Ross asked him to resign as Secretary of Education. which he did.
At some point prior to his resignation, Pierce used his pull in Washington to deny the powerful metahuman gangster known as Holocaust a permit to build a casino on Paris Island in Dakota. This would come back to haunt Pierce sometime later when the enraged Holocaust attacked him while he was giving the graduation speech at Ernest Hemingway High School.
Main article: Infinite Crisis
In issue #5 of the Infinite Crisis storyline, it was shown that Black Lightning was one of the eight people Batman had considered to aid him in destroying the Brother Eye satellite, which controlled the OMACs. Booster Gold, who was not on the list of eight, but knew about the candidates from his knowledge of the future, contacted Lightning before Batman did, as historical data from the future had shown who had aided Batman. Lightning accepted, arriving at the Batcave to await orders. He then forged an uneasy yet effective alliance with Mister Terrific, combining their powers of electrical manipulation and invisibility technology to strike at the villainous AI from the inside.
After the third Secret Society of Super Villains was formed, Black Lightning (as a member of Brad Meltzer's new Justice League) began using his status as Lex Luthor's former Secretary of Education to gain information from supervillains.
In Outsiders vol. 3 #45, it was revealed that three years have passed since Jefferson's niece Joanna Pierce was murdered and that, upon initially learning of her death, Jefferson went after the corrupt businessman Martin Somers, the man who was responsible. He had intended to wound Somers with his lightning shot, but apparently ended up killing him. Jefferson turned himself in to the authorities. However, it is revealed that Deathstroke was responsible for Somers' death by firing a dart of toxin to Somers moments before Jefferson shot his lightning. Hence, he was dead before he hit the ground. Jason Todd discovered the truth while eavesdropping on the assassin's conversation with Lex Luthor (who was really Alexander Luthor, Jr. in disguise) and contacted Nightwing with this information. When Nightwing and Anissa told Jefferson of this in prison, he disbelieved it and intended to pay for Somers' death. Anissa herself intended to break her father out of Iron Heights Prison. Upon learning from Todd that other inmates were about to carry out a contract hit on Pierce (whose identity as an inmate had leaked to unknown parties), the Outsiders resolved to assist her. They freed him from jail and, with the audio recording of Deathstroke's conversation, cleared his name.
Years ago, the Green Arrow brought Black Lightning to the attention of the Justice League of America, who extended an offer of membership to the protector of Suicide Slum. He turned down the offer, preferring to work as a loner and focus on street-level crime, though he did offer to become a reservist. Years later, when all of the JLA reservists were called in to fight a newly revived Amazo, Black Lighting was one of the heroes called, confirming that the League had accepted his offer. Most recently, however, Black Lightning has joined the JLA, once again appearing with a modified costume. He appears to be primarily based in Washington, D.C. again. Black Lightning assists the JLA with intelligence gathered from the criminal community. Many supervillains still believe he is 'in' with Lex Luthor and are thus willing to cooperate with him. Jefferson also helps the team in a battle against Amazo. He was the first member of the League to respond to the recent attacks made by the Amazons of Themyscira, and he also saved the President of the United States in this event.
Black Lightning was the focus of the one-shot issue Final Crisis: Submit, in which he helped the new Tattooed Man and his family escape at the cost of his own freedom. He is subsequently shown in issue #4 of Final Crisis under Darkseid's thrall.
Recently, Black Lightning was recruited by Alfred Pennyworth to join a new version of the Outsiders following an attack by Doctor Hurt which left Thunder comatose. Unlike previous iterations of the team, these Outsiders must live "off the grid" and stay out of contact with friends and family for months at a time. It is confirmed that, due to this new commitment, Black Lightning has left the Justice League.
In DC's 2011 reboot of its continuity, The New 52, Black Lightning comes into conflict with Blue Devil over their confrontation of Tobias Whale's crime wave. He later made an appearance as a possible recruit for the Justice League.
Black Lightning appeared in DC Rebirth in Detective Comics, and from there spun out into the series Batman & the Outsiders. Tony Isabella, the creator of Black Lightning, rebooted the character in a new six-part series that began in November 2017. The series, which takes place in Cleveland, "forgets" much of the previous history of the character. Tony Isabella says that this will not be an "origin" story, but one may follow.
Originally, he was described as having no innate powers, using a belt that allowed him to generate a force field and project electrical bolts. This power was later revealed to exist as a result of the metagene, according to Invasion! #3.
Jefferson has had two daughters by his ex-wife Lynn Stewart, both of whom have followed in his footsteps and become superheroes. His oldest daughter, Anissa Pierce, has taken on the code name "Thunder" and served on an incarnation of his team the Outsiders. His 16-year-old, younger daughter Jennifer Pierce, was recently recruited by the Justice Society of America under the code name "Lightning". A version of Lightning first appeared in Kingdom Come, a 1996 miniseries published by DC Comics.
Pierce claims that people frequently ask him if he is the father of Static, much to his chagrin. It is later revealed that Static is in fact a fan of Black Lightning and has a poster of the hero in his room in Titans Tower. In Young Justice, after meeting and fighting alongside Static, Black Lightning offers to become Static's mentor.
Black Lightning's rogues' gallery consists of:
Black Lightning appears in The World's Greatest Superheroes newspaper comic strip.
IGN listed Black Lightning as the 85th greatest comic book hero of all time, describing him as a "true hero and a born badass who has earned his spot on the Justice League".
How did you come up with the character of Black Lightning? What was he intended to be? Describe the character as you created him." "That's a long story, which has been told many times. The short version is that I'd been working toward creating a new black super-hero who would be an iconic role model. The other characters I'd written along the way were stepping stones to Black Lightning. I created Jefferson Pierce to be a reluctant warrior, a man of many extraordinary talents who would hear the call of his community and respond to it, even at great cost to his personal happiness. When DC Comics planned to publish a black hero who was actually a white racist, I talked them into dumping that character and going with my creation instead.