Created by Tony Isabella and artist Trevor Von Eeden, Black Lightning first appeared in his own title “Black Lightning” #1 in 1977. He was one of the first African-American superheroes in comic book history, and broke new ground in the portrayal of people of color in the industry. He’s also an awesome superhero on his own, African-American or not.
Black Lightning is well-known as a superhero with electrical powers, but he’s more than that. Much more. Black Lightning has powers that many superheroes can only dream of, and uses all of them to fight crime in Metropolis. With the news breaking that Fox has committed to a pilot TV show with Black Lightning, here’s the lowdown on one of comics’ most powerful and fully charged heroes.
15. THROW LIGHTNING
Black Lightning’s most commonly known ability is the power to throw bolts of electricity, so let’s get that out of the way. Unlike Thor, who needs Mjolnir to make lightning, Black Lightning can generate electrical currents in his hands and shoot them out as lightning bolts, hence his clever name. What you may not know is how powerful his lightning bolts are.
Short version: they are extremely powerful, strong enough to kill a man if he wanted to, but he usually uses the lightning to scare his enemies. When he does fire his lightning at people, he tries to stun if he can. In a pinch, he can also ionize the atmosphere, creating localized lightning storms with strikes hundreds of times per minute. He can also create quick charges of electricity in his fists to give his punches more of a shock. With just the power to fire lightning bolts, Black Lightning would be a world-class hero, but he also has some other powers in the mix.
14. TURN INTO ELECTRICITY
Besides being able to control electricity, Black Lightning can turn into electricity himself. As a former decathlete, he’s in peak physical condition, but doesn’t let his body hold him back. He can shed it to unleash the natural electrical forces inside himself to become a being of pure energy. Why would he want to become energy? Let’s count the ways…
In his electrical form, Black Lightning is almost invulnerable. He can’t be hit with physical objects, can’t be poisoned or infected with any diseases, and he doesn’t need air, food or water to survive. He can go through conditions that would normally kill him, and even into space, as electricity, and survive. Black Lightning also has all the benefits that you might expect from living energy. Like the Vision and Spectre, Black Lightning can pass through walls or solid objects, and can move extremely fast (which we’ll get more into later). He can’t throw a punch when he’s made of electricity, so he doesn’t stay electric all the time, but while he can’t make a fist, it sure does comes in handy.
13. GENIUS INTELLIGENCE
Black Lightning isn’t just all body. He also has brains to go with it, as in he’s a certified genius. Before gaining his superpowers, Jefferson Pierce had already graduated from the elite Kent State University with a Teaching Degree in Physics. His physics background comes in handy in his crime-fighting, since he knows how electrical fields work more than just your average superhero. After getting his degree, Pierce became a very respected high school teacher where he educated others.
It’s debatable whether Black Lightning’s genius is on the same level as Mister Fantastic or Iron Man, but he also doesn’t need to be. His smarts allow him to outthink his opponents, more than just relying on lightning, and also allows him to use his knowledge of physics to constantly explore and expand the range of his powers. Many of the other powers we’ll be getting into were only discovered by Black Lightning because he knows how particles respond, and can manipulate them at the quantum level. That takes big brains.
What do you get when you run electricity through wiring wrapped around metal? You get an electromagnet, and Black Lightning knows that better than anyone (being that he has electrical powers), and he’s used them to produce electromagnetism in his superheroics. With his power over electricity, he’s able to make magnetic fields, allowing him to move and control objects. While he’s not on the level of a magnetic superhuman like Magneto, moving bridges or ripping out adamantium skeletons, Black Lightning can still get the magnetic job done when the situation calls for it.
With his electromagnetic powers, Black Lightning gets a sort of telekinesis to move around objects, and his those magnetic powers seem to be incredibly strong. One time, Black Lightning was able to stop a group of thugs trying to escape in a car by flipping over the vehicle using his mind alone. He hen split the car in half… y’know, because he can. With all the metal that’s found in the average city, this power comes in handy.
11. BLACK LIGHTNING
It might seem redundant to say that Black Lightning can throw black lightning, but it’s not, because black lightning isn’t just his name. It’s also a power. As we said before, Jefferson Pierce can throw electrical lightning, but he also has a mystical ability to throw a different lightning that’s literally colored black. What’s the difference? Well, quite a lot, actually.
Normal electricity has to follow the laws of physics. It can’t come out of nowhere, it can’t travel through things like insulation. It can be discharged, and electricity travels through the path of least resistance. Black lightning, since it’s based on magic, doesn’t follow any of those rules. It’s basically what Black Lightning uses when he needs to do something that violates the laws of physics; a way of getting around plot holes when it’s needed to let him do something he wouldn’t or shouldn’t be able to do otherwise. It also gives him an edge on enemies who have magic-based powers. He’s no Doctor Strange, but he’s got magic under his control.
10. ANGER BOOSTS POWER
The Hulk is literally fueled by his rage, growing stronger as he gets angrier, which gives him almost limitless strength. However, he’s not the only superhero who can use his strength to get more powerful, and Black Lightning is definitely one of them.
Just from what we’ve already seen, Black Lightning has a lot of power, but his anger takes him to a whole new level. The best showcase of that was in 2010’s “Outsiders” #28, written by Dan Didio with art by Jonathan Glapion and Philip Tan. In that issue, Black Lightning and his teammate Geo-Force fought for control of the Outsiders. Geo-Force was one of the most powerful members of the roster, with control over earth and gravity. With his power, he should have been able to crush Black Lightning under a mountain of rocks, but the electric-powered hero tapped into new strength with his rage. Black Lightning not only survived and fought back, he actually caused an explosion that destroyed city blocks all around him. You don’t want to see Black Lightning angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.
When Spider-Man needs to get somewhere quickly, he swings on a web. When Superman wants to speed somewhere, he flies. What does Black Lightning do when he’s in a hurry? He uses another little-known power, teleportation.
As we mentioned earlier, Black Lightning can turn himself into pure electricity, and another perk that comes with that is he’s much more portable. He can shoot himself across vast distances in electrical form, but also travel the same way regular electricity can; by jumping into electrical cables or wires, Black Lightning can move through the power system as fast as a spark can. That means he can jump into a light bulb in Metropolis and pop out in a light switch in Gotham City or he can travel through telephones as electrical impulses to get where he needs to go. If there are no wires around, Black Lightning can summon lightning bolts to strike him and travel from one place to another.
8. FORCE FIELDS
All the lightning in the world wouldn’t mean a thing if a bullet could take Black Lightning down, which is why the power to generate force fields is another little-known but useful benefit of his. With his electrical power, he can create huge walls or bubbles of energy, which can take a lot of punishment so he doesn’t have to.
Much like Sue Storm, Black Lightning’s force fields can stop bullets from hitting him, making him basically bulletproof. But the fun doesn’t stop there. The fields can also block incoming fists and other physical attacks, including cars that try to run him over. The fields block energy blasts from weapons or other metahumans, and they can even block explosions, keeping him from being hit by grenades or bombs. As long as he has his force field up, nothing can hurt Black Lightning, even when he’s not looking or concentrating on what’s attacking him. The force fields are Black Lightning’s armor.
7. DETECTING ELECTRICITY
Black Lightning’s electrical power isn’t all about destroying or attacking things. He also has the ability to sense electrical fields around him, and can tell where it’s coming from and how strong it is. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, it becomes quite useful when tracking the frequencies of electricity, starting with the fact that most living things produce faint amounts of bio-electricity in their nervous system and muscles.
Black Lightning can sense those fields and can tell where people are, thus avoiding sneak attacks. He can also use them to track down living creatures like people or animals. If someone’s lost a cat or he needs to track down Lex Luthor, he’s like a living GPS. In a stronger sense, Black Lightning can also detect the electrical signals created by different machines, which lets him home in on non-living objects as well. If you need to track down a speeding car or a guided missile, he’s got the hook up.
6. RAPID HEALING
If all those powers fail, what does Black Lightning have to fall back on? Rapid healing, that’s what! Yeah, Wolverine isn’t the only one who can heal quickly. Black Lightning has the power to accelerate healing in his body to recover from injuries, growing new cells faster than normal. Unlike Wolverine, Black Lightning can also share that power to heal others. What would normally take weeks or months to heal can be handled in seconds.
The best example of this particular ability came in 2001’s “Superman” #175, written by Jeph Loeb and penciled by Ed McGuinness. In that issue, Superman’s enemy Doomsday was revived and released by the Joker on Washington D.C. on the anniversary of Superman’s death — talk about insult to injury. To stop him, Lex Luthor exposed them both to kryptonite, leaving Superman on the brink of death. In order to save him, Black Lightning used his power to restart Superman’s heart and revive him.
5. ENERGY ABSORPTION
Black Lightning doesn’t just dish it out; he can also take it. His powers allow him to absorb energy in order to make himself stronger. Let’s say he’s used up all his power fighting Geo-Force and is just producing sparks. Using electricity from other sources, Black Lightning can make himself stronger, faster, heal quicker and produce more lightning. Any source of electricity will do, but he has a fondness for absorbing lightning from thunderstorms. He can even drain power plants, which give him a huge boost, even if it does shut down power for the rest of the city sometimes.
He can also use his powers in an offensive way by draining energy from machines that might be attacking him. Let’s say a giant robot was sent by Lex Luthor to destroy Metropolis. Black Lightning can drain the power from the robot, and leave it sputtering on fumes, setting it up for a takedown. In “JLA” #41 (2000), written by Grant Morrison and penciled by Howard Porter, the Justice League decided to use a purple ray generator to give everyone on Earth superpowers. In order to fuel the machine, Black Lightning tapped into the electrical field of the Earth itself, and nearly killed himself channeling the planet’s power.
4. BIOELECTRIC MANIPULATION
Like we said earlier, electricity isn’t just found in machines, but also in living creatures. Even the smallest animals produce trace amounts of electricity in their nerves to pass along information or to make muscles contract. Since all electricity is under Black Lightning’s control, even that tiniest amount of power can be manipulated by Black Lightning, giving him control over the bodies of others. It’s not a power that he uses often, like Jean Grey, because it’s kind of sneaky, but the power is there.
With that electricity, Black Lightning can target people or animals and zap them in different ways. How about causing muscles to stop contracting so someone trying to run away collapses? Or he can cause a heart that’s stopped to start beating again. He can also drain electrical energy from other people if he needs a recharge, although (again) he doesn’t do that often, except in bad guys. They’re fair game.
Now we’re getting to a whole new level when we talk about flight. A lot of superheroes from Namor the Sub-Mariner to Hawkman have the power to fly, and Black Lightning is no lightweight in that department. Let’s say Black Lightning needs to get somewhere, but he doesn’t want to turn himself into electricity and lose the ability to punch people. He can use his electrical powers to charge his lower body and float off the ground.
His flight powers are kind of limited that way compared to other heroes, since it’s more floating than flying (especially since it’s faster for him to ride lightning bolts). That’s right, Black Lightning can summon a lightning bolt and ride on it, which not only looks cool, but lets him travel faster than the speed of sound. It sure beats a big pair of feathered wings strapped to his back or little wings on his ankles!
As a world-famous Olympic decathlete, Jefferson Pierce was already 200-pounds of muscle before he became Black Lightning, so he had more strength than the average person. He could run, throw and jump higher than the average man could, but when we add his superpowers into the mix, you get a superhuman force to be reckoned with. Black Lightning can’t move mountains like Shazam or She-Hulk, but he can summon more strength when he needs it.
When he’s surrounded by his force field, his energy stimulates his muscles with electricity and makes them work harder. That gives him the strength to perform feats of strength like he did in “Black Lightning” #2 (1995), written by Tony Isabella and penciled by Eddy Newell. While fighting a local gang of drug pushers, Black Lightning was able to stop a speeding car with his bare hands just by standing in front of it. His strength — both in arms and of character — is all part of what makes him awesome.
Lightning doesn’t travel at the speed of light, but it moves really fast at around 220,000 miles an hour. Black Lightning is all about electricity, so he can use the speed of lightning whenever he needs it. He can’t maintain the speed over long periods of time like the Flash, but he can use it for brief moments to move faster than light. With that kind of speed, he’s able to pull off some incredible tricks.
When Black Lightning uses his speed, he’s fast enough to dodge whatever is thrown at him, and that includes bullets. He also gets super-fast reflexes in the bargain, able to see the world at incredibly slow speeds so he can react quickly. That speed, combined with his natural acrobatic skills, means he can be almost untouchable in combat, and also makes it hard to sneak up on him. Black Lightning is the definition of fast and furious.
Did you know Black Lightning had all these powers? What’s your favorite? Let us know in the comments!