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Black Lightning: 15 Things You Never Knew

by  in Lists, TV News Comment
Black Lightning: 15 Things You Never Knew

This is an exciting time for fans of comic books to be watching TV, and DC has been able to dominate network television like no other. With shows like “Supergirl,” “The Flash,” “Arrow,” and “Legends of Tomorrow” on the CW, and “Lucifer” and “Gotham” on Fox, you can find a comic book show on almost every night of the week. So it’s not particularly surprising that F0x announced a pilot development commitment for Black Lightning back in September.

RELATED: Black Lightning: 15 Powers You Didn’t Know He Had

This would be the first live-action network television show adapted from a comic featuring an African-American superhero, as well as the first superhero who already had an established family.
The show will be helmed with Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter in the executive producer’s chairs, and the adaptation from the comics will be written by Salim and Mara Brock Akil. But a cast has not been found and a pilot has yet to be filmed. So for now, to get you hyped, here’s what you never knew about Black Lightning.

15. HE’S A GOLD-MEDAL OLYMPIAN

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Black Lightning’s real name is Jefferson Pierce. He’s from Metropolis (the stomping grounds of one very famous Kryptonian), but he grew up in area nicknamed the “Suicide Slums.” Following the death of his father, Alvin Pierce, Jefferson became an Olympic gold-winning athlete in the decathlon (100-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-meter dash, 110-meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1,500-meter run).

Prior to the beginning of his first comic in 1977, Jefferson Pierce returned to the Suicide Slums to be a public school teacher and try to improve the conditions of students like himself. It’s here that he met Earl Clifford, a promising young student who helped fend off Joey Toledo, then-leader of the gang called The 100 from the school’s property. When Toledo has Clifford killed and displayed publicly, Pierce makes the decision to put on a suit and defend his students outside of the classroom as well.

14. HE’S ELECTRIC

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At the beginning of Pierce’s superhero career, he relied on his strength and skills as an athlete to be a fearsome combatant against local criminals. However, he also used an electric belt designed by his friend Peter Gambini to shoot electric arcs out of his hands. However, later in his series’ initial run, a moment of extreme emotion trigged latent electric powers in Pierce, making the belt unnecessary. Later incarnations would show Pierce having a wide range of electricity-based superpowers, from force-fields to teleportation.

However, in all incarnations, Pierce’s charisma and genius-level intellect is what propelled him out of the Suicide Slums and towards the spotlight as a community organizer and a top-notch educator. This won’t be expanded upon until much later in the character’s history. It’s not until Pierce teams up with Batman that he starts to show some weaknesses. His electric powers begin to fluctuate at all the wrong times, and Batman comes to the conclusion that Pierce’s difficulties are psychosomatic. Luckily for him — and justice in general — they eventually return.

13. DC’S FIRST BLACK SUPERHERO SERIES

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Writer Tony Isabella developed the character for DC with design input from artist Trevor von Eedon. Several other editors were involved, but when talking about Black Lightning creation, those two names are on the same breath. Isabella still has a profit-sharing interest in the character, which is reportedly unusual for a creator. As of 2007, Isabella posted an interview where he called “Black Lightning” the project that he was most proud of in all his work.

He said, “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.” Trevor von Eedon was something of an artistic prodigy at DC, which hired him at 16 to draw comics. He was still very young when he started working with Isabella on Black Lightning. He’s also referred to himself as the “first black comic artist.”

12. HIS FAMILY

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Jefferson Pierce is a character who maintains very strong familial ties throughout his entire history. His primary romantic relationship is his wife, Lynn Stewart, who was introduced in “Black Lightning” #3. Stewart works as a lawyer and activist. She discovers him with his powers, and Pierce’s superhero actions are a source of conflict for the couple. They divorce eventually, but remain close. Pierce also has two daughters, Anissa and Jennifer, who would go on to make up the crime-fighting duo, Thunder and Lightning.

Anissa has the ability to increase her body density in order to create devastating shockwaves through the ground. She studied medicine in order to please her parents, but eventually went into fighting crime against their wishes. She has been affiliated with the Outsides (2003) and was in a relationship with Amazonian, Grace Choi. Jennifer, on the other hand, has electricity powers like her father, but is unable to interact with any electrical devices. There’s also an implicit rivalry between the sisters as Jennifer was allowed to use her powers and fight crime as a teenager while Anissa was not. As you might assume, this makes for a very interesting family dynamic for Jefferson, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

11. HIS FRIENDS (AND ENEMIES)

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Jefferson Pierce doesn’t have any significant rivals to date, as much of his origin story centers around fighting flavor-of-the-week gangsters like the aforementioned Joey Toledo and the The 100 gang. He is usually associated with street-level crime, but he has gone toe-to-toe with super-powered baddies, especially during the eras that he’s associated with a team. The most notable of these is his time with the first incarnation of the Outsiders.

The Outsiders were originally formed and led by Batman in the early 1980s during the series “Batman and the Outsiders.” While the team was made up of heroes like Geo-Force and Katana, Black Lightning joined after his own series was cancelled and he developed psychosomatic problems with his powers. The most notable villain team for Black Lightning in particular were the Masters of Disaster, a group of mercenaries who were hired to kill Black Lightning by the family of Trina Shelton, a person Black Lightning failed to save.

10. A PRODIGAL ARTIST

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Trevor von Eeden was a trail-blazing artist even greater than the character he helped develop. He was the first “dark-skinned” comic book artist to be hired by DC Comics, as well as the youngest. He emigrated to the U.S. from his home in Georgetown, Guyana in 1970, and has made industry waves for his work on Batman and Green Arrow, as well as his most original work “Thriller,” which he worked on with Robert von Loren.

Von Eeden was also the artist for the Black Canary mini and regular series in the 1990s, along with other Batman titles. His most recent and notable work is his self-written and drawn graphic novel biography of Jack Johnson in “The Original Johnson,” chronicling the life of the first black heavyweight boxing champion. Von Eeden also worked with independent publisher, Gateway Comics, on the series “Stalker,” which made its debut in 2012 and is a flagship comic for the publisher.

9. WORDS TO LIVE BY

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The inspiration for Black Lightning’s name appears borrowed from a motto that is attributed to Alvin Pierce within the universe. However, in the real world, it’s borrowed from the Thomas Randolph poem “Jump,” which reads as follows: “Justice, like lightning, ever should appear / To few men ruin, but to all men fear.” However, Black Lightning’s motto changes the last line in order to make the poem “Justice, like lightning, ever should appear / To some men hope, to some men, fear.”

This motto appears in the later incarnations of the character, most notably from “Black Lightning: Year One,” which served to retell the origin story of Black Lightning to the 2009 audience. Jefferson Pierce is reminded of this motto by Peter Gambini, the same man who designed the original Black Lightning suit and friend of Pierce’s late father. This quote has also been attributed to Milo Sweetman, a fourteenth-century archbishop.

8. DESTINY BY DESIGN

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Pierce has gone through a lot of costume changes in his long history, but no costume is quite as great as the original. It was made up of a skin-tight blue suit with yellow lightning bolts on the side, and the belt which initially gave him his powers. However, there was also a psychological element to his disguise. Pierce wore a fake afro (sometimes heretofore referred to as a “fro-of-power”), and adopting a “jive-talking” stereotype while in costume in order to protect his identity.

Pierce came to the conclusion that living inside that racist stereotype would keep people from figuring out who he really was, as many wouldn’t be able to connect Black Lightning with the educated school-teacher which was his civilian life. For instance, Black Lightning called the Justice League “jive turkeys” during their first meeting, essentially turning down their offer to join the team. Later on, the costume would be toned down (i.e. no more afro), but usually included some newer iteration with that same blue suit and yellow lightning bolts. Gotta stick with the classics!

7. CONTROVERSIAL ORIGINS

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As is not surprising with an initial character’s origins, there was some controversy at the start of Black Lightning’s fictional crimefighting career. The most character-driven controversy was before Black Lightning was even conceived by Tony Isabella. DC’s original plan for their first black superhero was the Brown Bomber, a white bigot who would turn into a black superhero in times of stress. This would be the result of chemical camouflage experiments during the character’s time in Vietnam.

Isabella convinced DC to go with his idea instead, and is quoted as saying ““Do you REALLY want DC’s first black super-hero to be a white bigot?” Isabella isn’t a stranger to controversy over this character, as he had crossed horns with Gerry Conway, a DC editor at the time Black Lightning was being developed. In the wake of news that Black Lightning would be getting a live-action pilot, Conway said that he was one of the creators of the character, but Tony Isabella disagreed. The two eventually worked it out, with Conway apologizing for his faulty memory.

6. A TEAM PLAYER

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As mentioned previously, Black Lightning’s first official team affiliation was with the original Outsider’s back in the early 1980s. He’s been cycled on and off the roster since, as well as serving as the team’s leader. One notable entry was in 2004, when Pierce discovered that his daughter Anissa and the new generation of Outsiders were fighting Sabboc. Pierce came out of retirement to fight, but returned to civilian life thereafter.
He joined the Justice League later on in “Justice League of America” Vol. 2 #2, and his first official duty was offering membership on the new team to Batman himself. They would serve under Black Canary and would induct more members than any previous iterations of the team. In the New 52, Black Lightning hasn’t been inducted into the Justice League yet, but instead partnered with Blue Devil (a stuntman named Daniel Cassidy) in order to fight the growing crime wave of Tobias Whale. He was later seen as a potential addition to the League, however; a situation that still may come true… hopefully.

5. STATIC SHOCK

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Static is probably the most likely young superhero to be featured on the live-action television show, since he has similar powers to Black Lightning. Static is the alter-ego of Virgil Hawkins, an African-American teenager who was subject to harmful tear gas in the wake of altercations with the police in “Static” #2. The people who survived the gas were given superpowers, which for Hawkins included electricity and energy manipulation.

Static was a huge fan of Black Lightning, as revealed in “The Brave and The Bold” Vol. 2 #24, but they clashed before realizing how much they had in common. In the New 52, Static had his own series in the wake of the “Flashpoint” event, and made appearances in the Teen Titans series after his own was cancelled. It’s being hinted that he’ll eventually join the team, much to his fans’ delight. The character was created by Dwayne McDuffie and John Paul Leon, and is a perfect addition not just to Black Lightning’s mythos, but to any lucky enough to have him.

4. A HERO ON AND OFF THE STREETS

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Jefferson Pierce was perhaps most visible in-universe in 2001’s “Superman” Vol. 2 #166 when President Lex Luthor named him Secretary of Education. During his tenure, Pierce retired his costume, but accepted the job in order for a Justice League member to know what Lex Luthor was doing as President. However, after he came back from saving his daughter Anissa and the other Outsiders, Lex’s replacement Pete Ross asks for his resignation in the wake of murder allegations.

It was an open secret that Jefferson Pierce was Black Lightning, and a man who had tried to kill his niece Joanna had died of electricity-related injuries. Pierce admits his guilt and has a relatively short stay in prison for his crimes. As of the date of writing this, Jefferson Pierce has not re-entered public office, but instead splits his time between being a superhero and an educator again in the Suicide Slums, back where it all began.

3. THE DEVIL HE KNOWS

blue-devil

The newest and most prominent team-up for Black Lightning is with Blue Devil, a character created in 1984 by Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, and Paris Cullins for “DC Sampler” #3. As we mentioned earlier, his real name is Daniel Cassidy, a stuntman who created a demon costume of the character Blue Devil, for a film of the same name. What happened next was a cautionary tale of life imitating art!

A demon appeared on the set of the film, and in the process of fighting him off, Cassidy’s costume absorbs the demon’s energy and becomes an organic part of his body, much to his chagrin. This changes his appearance drastically, which further upsets Cassidy, but also gives him magic powers including fire control, incredible stamina and superhuman strength. In the New 52, Cassidy and Pierce were high school friends and teammates, and fight each other in their costumes before they realize the identity of the other. That’s when Black Lightning and Blue Devil team up to fight Tobias Whale, the new leader of the 100.

2. IMPOSTERS

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Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… except when it comes to intellectual property. Black Vulcan was a Hanna-Barbara character on the 1973 show “Super Friends.” The show follows the exploits of popular DC characters like Superman and Wonder Woman to “uphold the good,” with messages aimed at young children. That’s a nice message, of course, but not if it’s not being followed!

See, according to Tony Isabella, DC didn’t want to pay him part of their cut from licensing characters for “Super Friends,” and Hanna Barbara didn’t want to pay extra for the right to use the character. So, they created the character Black Vulcan as a copy of the character… and DC let them do it. In response, Isabella wrote the last story of Black Lightning called “The Other Black Lightning” where a villain called Barbara Hanna used a Black Lightning imposter as part of her crime syndicate. Hilariously, DC published the story anyway, as Isabella said in an interview “I don’t think they realized what I was doing there.”

1. TV AND FILM APPEARANCES

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Black Lightning is most notable for being a superhero whose most famous (or is that infamous) live action feature was in a Saturday Night Live sketch featuring actor and comedian, Sinbad. Airing in 1992, the sketch was written at the same time as “The Death of Superman” storyline and, in classic SNL fashion, was used to lampoon the pop culture touchstone. The premise of the sketch was Jimmy Olsen (Rob Schneider) seating superheroes at Superman’s funeral. However, when Black Lightning (Sinbad) comes to pay his respects, nobody recognizes him. It wasn’t necessarily biting, but it was an interesting take on the character’s real-life issues of invisibility (and we don’t mean that as a superpower). It also featured Sinbad, and was suitably hilarious.

Other appearances include the “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” animated series, and “Young Justice: Invasion” animated series. In the animated film “Superman/Batman Public Enemies,” Black Lightning is voiced by LeVar Burton and follows Jefferson Pierce as he continues to work under Lex Luthor as President. In the same humorous tone of SNL, MadTv’s “That’s What Super Friends Are For” parodies the original “Super Friends” show where the minor characters ask to be treated better by the founding trio.

What is your most electrifying bit of black Lightning trivia? Let us know in the comments!

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