In an era where the creator's rights conversation is as loud as its ever been in comics, this week saw some surprising news quietly slip out onto the web: Black Lightning creator Tony Isabella and DC Comics have taken the first steps towards reconciling a very contentious relationship.
The writer has long contended he’s the sole creator of DC's first black superhero to star in a solo series as the character wasn’t introduced under a work-for-hire agreement but rather a partnership between he and DC. It was only after Isabella sought to buy out the publisher’s interest in the character following the cancellation of that first series in 1978 that he says DC declared artist Trevor Von Eeden as Black Lightning’s co-creator.
While Isabella did some later work with the publisher -- most notably the first nine issues of a 13-issue Black Lightning revival in 1995 -- he's spent the majority of the past two decades being very vocal about his discontent with the publisher and their treatment of him. Most recently, the writer spoke out against DC's choice to revive and redesign the hero as part of the New 52 initiative.
But last week, an Amazon listing appeared for a new reprint volume of the original Black Lightning series (including a rare final issue by Denny O'Neil, Trevor Von Eeden and Mike Nasser originally published in Cancelled Comics Cavalcade). This prompted Isabella to confirm via Facebook that he and DC were back on speaking terms (as publicized by The Beat's Jeff Trexler). Isabella later told the story of the reconciliation on his personal blog.
"Geoff wanted to talk about Black Lightning and my dissatisfaction with my decades-unpleasant relationship with DC Comics," he wrote. "Just as I always have, Geoff sees a lot of potential in my finest creation. It’s a potential the previous DC management clearly never saw. We talked about what it would take to make things right between me and DC so that Geoff could, in good conscience, consider developing the character in this bigger-than-1976-or-even-1995 new comics world.
"That conversation will remain private for now. Let’s just call it a good start. It was the first time in two decades a DC executive didn’t speak to me like I was a child or insane."
Isabella went on to say that he has high hopes for the collection and his future with DC, praising both Johns and co-publisher Dan DiDio for treating him in an upright manner. Whether that means more collections, more work or more Black Lightning in other media will wait to be seen after the collection arrives in April of 2016.