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Black Lightning Vol. 1 Paperback – April 12, 2016
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About the Author
Tony Isabella is a comic book writer and editor, known for his work at both Marvel Comics and DC Comics. In addition to creating the iconic '70s hero Black Lightning, he also worked on several cult-classic series like Ghost Rider and Heroes for Hire.
Dennis O'Neil began his career as a comic book writer in 1965 at Charlton, where then-editor Dick Giordano assigned him to several features. When Giordano moved to DC, O'Neil soon followed. At DC, O'Neil scripted several series for Giordano and Julius Schwartz, quickly becoming one of the most respected writers in comics. O'Neil earned a reputation for being able to "revamp" such characters as Superman, Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, and Batman, whom O'Neil brought back to his roots as a dark, mysterious, gothic avenger. Besides being the most important Batman writer of the 1970s, O'Neil served as an editor at both Marvel and DC. After a long tenure as Group Editor of the Batman line of titles, he retired to write full-time.
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This book lovingly collects DC's first African American Superhero to get his own comic. These stories are almost 40 years old but still are easily readable , discounting some occasional " 70's Street Slang". Creator Tony Isabella believes this is his best work and after re-reading it, I found it pretty easy to agree.
The book runs 232 pages with pulpy paper stock and stiff cardboard cover. I prefer this paper stock to the current ultra thin glossy stock used by most of DC collections, although I like Marvel's paper stock for it's Epic Collections (which is a little whiter) better.
Extras include an excellent two page introduction by Tony Isabella which covers DC's original offensive plans for a character called The Black Bomber. Trevor Von Eeden provides a six page sketchbook of early character designs (some done when he was age 16). Plus we get Mike Netzer's unfinished cover for the never completed Black Lightning #13. For under $20 this is a pretty great value.
Tony Isabella was in his mid-twenties when he created this concept with teen aged Trevor Von Eeden. Isabella had broke into comics five years earlier with Marvel Comics. His work there included a stint on Luke Cage where he co-created Misty Knight.
Trevor Von Eeden was a child prodigy who was also African American. While skilled, he had very little experience, so DC decided to pair him up with a couple of workhorse veteran inkers to cover up any inexperience problems which might arise. Frank Springer inked the first two issues, then Vince Colletta did the remaining issues. Denny O'Neil wrote the last two stories collected here and Mike Netzer ( called Mike Nasser at the time) illustrated the proposed issue 12.
Tony Isabella plants the book firmly in the DC universe by setting it in Superman's Metroplis and using numerous characters and villains from DC's universe.
The first issue sets up the series with a kind of non-origin. Jefferson Pierce is a High School teacher in an area ripe with crime and drugs. His surrogate father Peter Gambi makes him a costume and off we go. His mask is attached to some fake Afro Hair. In the first issue he doesn't even have any powers. The main foe for the first eight issues is the evil organization known as "The 100". This group had previously appeared in such books as Lois Lane and her back up strip Rose & The Thorn.
In Black Lightning #2 Gambi gives him a power belt that gives him powers. It was co-created by his brother Paul Gambi (Central City's famous tailor). Appearing in this story is a villian crucial to the Arrow TV series, Merlyn.
In Black Lightning #3 he combats the head of the 100, Tobias Whale. He looks like a bullet headed albino version of The Kingpin. He will become Black Lightning's archenemy.
Black Lightning #4 and #5 are a two parter with guest stars Jimmy Olson and Superman. An old Batman villian (Bag O' Bones ) becomes the Cyclotronic Man. I am not sure which is a worse name.
Black Lightning #6 through #8 is really a great little run which wraps everything up. It features Jefferson Peirce's ex-wife, Inspector Henderson and his masked villain son, the death of a major character and a final battle with Tobias Whale plus the defeat of the 100.
In Black Lightning #9 the ex-wife Lynn is held hostage in an assault on the school. Then in Isabella's last issue #10 Black Lightning battles the Flash Villain Trickster.
In Black Lightning #11 Dennis O'Neil takes over as writer. This is a street level crime story and has none of the regular supporting cast. It has a very different feel to it, as if maybe O'Neil didn't yet have a feel for the character. This was also the first issue of DC's I'll fated 44 page comic experiment. It co-featured The Ray as a back up (not included).
Black Lightning #12 was already completed when the Great DC Implosion of 1978 caused over two dozen different titles to be canceled simultaneously. This story was later printed in the back of Worlds Finest #260 ( a 100 page comic). It is by O'Neil and new penciler Mike Netzer (Nasser). O'Neil has a better grasp on the charcter as he battles Green Lantern's Dr. Polaris.
This is an excellent and fun read from the Bronze Age of Comics. I urge you to buy this collection and hope that the volume #1 printed on this book's spine means we will get further volumes including O'Neil's subsequent Worlds Finest features and Isabella's glorious return series from 1995.
Happily, Black Lightning was much better conceived and written. The basic premise was simple but has stood the test of time. A man leaves his home, achieves success in the world, and returns to find his home in the grip of evil and powerful forces. He decides to fight those forces. He has help from a number of quarters. Although he starts out as an athletic superhero in the Batman mold he eventually (although it is not explained how) acquires super powers along the way.
The first 8 issues collected here deal with Jefferson Pierce's/Black Lightning's war against the organized crime syndicate the 100 and its head, the albino black Tobias Whale. Whale is is very much like Marvel's Kingpin, both in position and physically. The setting is the Suicide Slum neighborhood of Metropolis which serves two purposes. It allows Black Lightning to interact with Superman and his supporting cast and it gives Metropolis, hitherto depicted as a nearly perfect urban setting, a more realistic look.
The last 4 issues are stand alone stories, albeit entertaining ones. It would have been interesting to see where the title would have headed had it continued. One hopes that Black Lightning would have remained a street level superhero.
Much of the series' interest comes from the supporting cast. Pierce's father figure Peter Gambi emerges as a complex character with a fascinating background that is only hinted at here. And I think that Pierce must be the first divorced superhero. His ex-wife seems like a real keeper so it would have been interesting to see what made their marriage fail.
The art is nothing to write home about but seems perfectly adequate. There seems to be no restoration done. I bought the Kindle/Comixology edition and once again I strongly urge reading this on the Comixology ap where the images can be resized to suit.
My only complaint is the omission of the Black Lightning feature in various World's Finest issues of the time. It would have been nice to have the entire '70s Black Lightning in one collection. It is to be hoped they'll appear in volume 2.
All in all, highly recommended. I hope we see a follow-up volume in due course. Black Lightning had a lot going for it and it was a pity it fell victim to the infamous "DC Implosion".