Black Lightning: “Justice– like lightning– should ever appear to some men hope, to other men, fear.” – Black Lightning #6 (cribbed from Milo Sweetman)
A teenage gang member approaches a school. A teacher saw a drug deal going down and has to be silenced. The gangster kicks open the doors and raises an assault rifle. The teacher and some students are in his sights when a bolt of lightning strikes him.
The assassin drops the gun as he is hurled backwards. He sees a man in a strange costume approaching and runs for his gun. The newcomer blasts the gun with lightning, turning it to slag. A third blast knocks out the assassin. Black Lightning shakes his head and wonders where the young assassin went wrong.
Black Lightning was the first black superhero to star in his own comic. He’s been one of the Outsiders, a member of the Justice League, and even the U.S. Secretary of Education. So who is he? Where’d he get his powers? Let’s find out.
Suicide Slum: Black Lightning’s Backstory
Black Lightning: “So you really call yourself Mr. Terrific? ”
Mr. Terrific: “You really call yourself Black Lightning? ”
Black Lightning: “Hey, back when I started in this business, I was the only one of us around. I wanted to make sure everyone knew who they were dealing with.” – Infinite Crisis
Black Lightning debuted in Black Lightning #1 in 1977. He was created by Tony Isabella and Trevor von Eeden. He was created to replace a planned character called the Black Bomber, a white supremacist who turned into a superpowered black man.
Jefferson Pierce was born in a Metropolis ghetto called the Suicide Slum. As a teenager, Jefferson gained the ability to control lightning from a mutation called the Metagene. He fled the slum after his father was murdered in a gang war and eventually became an award-winning Olympic decathlete. Jefferson returned to Suicide Slum and became a teacher, hoping he could help kids escape a life in the ghetto.
A gang called The 100 killed one of Jefferson’s students and attacked him. An enraged Jefferson decided to use his powers to fight back and became Black Lightning to take revenge.
Outsider Perspective: Black Lightning’s History
Jefferson Pierce: “I saved more lives as the principal of Garfield High than I ever did as Black Lightning.” – Black Lightning (season 1, 2018)
Black Lightning’s battle against The 100 drew Batman’s attention. Bats recruited BL to a new team called The Outsiders, a Justice League that operated outside the law. He eventually left The Outsiders and was offered a position as the Secretary of Education by President Lex Luthor, who had also been raised in Suicide Slum. Black Lightning accepted the position, but was forced to resign when his identity was revealed.
Black Lightning made sporadic appearances following his government stint. He was revealed to have two teenage daughters who joined The Outsiders as Thunder and Lightning. He joined an ersatz Outsiders during the story Infinite Crisis, and became a reserve member of the Justice League.
Thunderstruck: Black Lightning’s Powers and Personality
Black Lightning: “You are all kinds of evil.”
Reverse Flash: “I have racked up an impressive kill count.”
Black Lightning: “That’s why this lightning strikes twice!” – Injustice 2
Black Lightning can control lightning, often using it to enhance his martial arts skills. He shoots electric blasts, creates electric force fields, surfs on power cables, creates localized lightning storms, and can become lightning. BL occasionally uses literal black lightning, which appears to be magical and grows stronger when he’s angry. Batteries sold separately.
Black Lightning is an Olympic athlete who won a gold medal in Decathlon. He has trained extensively in martial arts and honed his skills with Batman.
Black Lightning began his superhero career in search of vengeance but eventually became jaded. He avoids acting as a hero when he can and often tries to convince his daughters to do the same. But when the world is in danger, Black Lightning always steps up to the plate.
The Actors who Play Black Lightning
Black Lightning co-creator Tony Isabella initially refused to let DC use BL in TV shows, leading to the creation of several stand-ins. Super Friends featured Black Vulcan, Justice League had Juice, and Static Shock had Soul Power. The sheer number of stand-ins caused black superheroes with lightning powers to become a stereotype.
Black Lightning made his television debut in Batman: The Brave and the Bold with character actor Bumper Robinson voicing. Blair Underwood voiced Black Lightning in the DC Nation Short “Thunder and Lightning”. Black Lightning next appeared in Young Justice: Invasion voiced by Khary Payton.
Black Lightning will star in a self titled TV show starring Cress Williams. Instead of an origin, the show follows Black Lightning coming out of retirement to fight The 100. It will also feature Nafessa Williams as BL’s daughter, Thunder. Strangely, Black Lightning is not part of the CW’s Arrowverse collection despite being a CW show. I give it a season and a half before that changes.
Didya Get All That?
The original electric black superhero.