In the pages of "Final Crisis: Submit" (October 2008), Jefferson Pierce - the hero known as Black Lightning -- unwillingly joined the forces of evil as the Anti-Life Equation continued its domination over all mankind. As we have seen with the recent deaths of Martian Manhunter and Doctor Light, this Final Crisis can indeed be final for heroes and villains alike. With Black Lightning's future now hanging in the balance, CBR takes a look at the electrifying life of the first African-American superhero to star in his own DC Comics title.
Black Lightning made his first appearance in "Black Lightning" #1 in April, 1977, courtesy of writer Tony Isabella and artist Trevor Von Eeden. Jefferson Pierce was an educator as well as an Olympic athlete who had won a gold medal in the Decathlon. He returned to his old neighborhood Suicide Slum, in the city of Metropolis. Pierce planned a career as a high school teacher, but the escalating violence and crime forced him to take action. As he attempted to intervene on behalf of his students, Pierce learned the criminal cartel known as the 100 were behind the rise in crime in the neighborhood. Seeking out his friend Peter Gambi, who designed for Pierce a costume and belt that gave him electrical powers. Donning a mask and an afro-wig along, Pierce hit the streets of Suicide Slum as Black Lightning.
The concept of Black Lightning's powers coming from his belt was later abandoned in a story in which the belt was destroyed, and it was discovered that Pierce had "internalized" the electrical powers, making Black Lighting a full fledged superhero.
The original Black Lightning series ran for just eleven issues, ten of which were scripted by Tony Isabella. The final issue was written by DC veteran Denny O'Neil. Despite this disappointing first outing, Black Lightning would appear as a regular guest star in the pages of many DC titles over the years, including "World's Finest," "Detective Comics" and "Justice League of America" #173-174 (December, 1979-January, 1980), where he was offered membership in the League. At the time, Black Lightning turned passed on the opportunity.
Black Lighting's electrical powers vanished after the cancelation of his own series, but he continued as a costumed vigilante without them. It was explained that his powers had vanished due to a "crisis of confidence" when an innocent bystander was killed during a battle with some street criminals. But Pierce eventually overcame his psychosomatic power-loss and was recruited by the Batman to join his new team, The Outsiders.
The Outsiders first appeared in "The Brave and the Bold" # 200 (July, 1983), which was the final issue of that incarnation of the title. The team later premiered their own book, "Batman and The Outsiders" with Mike W. Barr as the writer and Jim Aparo providing artwork. The new superhero team was formed by Batman as an alternative to the Justice League, who Batman felt had become less concerned with the common man and more focused on global and interplanetary affairs. The Outsiders team was principally made up of new characters like Geo-Force, Halo, Katana, and Looker, and two heroes that had turned down the Justice League; one was Metamorpho, the other was Black Lightning. Pierce would remain a member of the team from the inception through the title's eventual cancellation in 1988. While two other incarnations of The Outsiders would follow, neither team had Jeff as a member.
For the next several years, Black Lightning would languish in the limbo of guest-stardom. In February of 1995, "Black Lightning" v.2 #1 appeared, once again with series creator Tony Isabella at the helm. Isabella would remain with the series for eight issues before being fired as the writer. The second series was cancelled just five issues later with "Black Lighting" 13.
In 2000, when Lex Luthor became President of the United States in the DCU, he appointed Jefferson Pierce as his Secretary of Education. Pierce took the position with the intention of working within the system to insure the Luthor presidency was as honest as possible. When Luthor was unseated by the Justice League, Vice President Pete Ross assumed the highest office in the land. It subsequently became public knowledge that Jeff Pierce was Black Lightning, and he resigned amid allegations that he had killed Martin Somers, the CEO of a corporation that was a front for criminal activities. President Ross pardoned Pierce.
As was his pattern, Black Lighting began another long series of guest appearances in other titles, including "Green Arrow" and the latest incarnation of "The Outsiders." As his daughter, Anissa Pierce, was a member of the team under the identity of Thunder, this was a logical fit. During the 2006 Infinite Crisis event, Black Lightning teamed with Batman and Mr. Terrific to battle the rogue Artificial Intelligence known as Brother Eye. It was a combination of Terrific's invisibility to technology and Lightning's electrical powers that allowed the team to defeat the machine.
In the One Year Later era, the details of Martin Somers' death were revealed. Readers learned that three years had passed since the death of Pierce's niece, Joanna (who had had an affair with Green Arrow during a prior team-up with Black Lightning), at the hands of Somers. Pierce attempted to wound Somers with a bolt of lightning, but apparently killed the CEO by accident. Pierce turned himself in, but it was later discovered that Deathstroke had poisoned Somers and framed Black Lightning for the murder. Jason Todd (Robin II/Red Hood II) uncovered the plot while staking out a conversation between Deathstroke and Lex Luthor (actually Alexander Luthor, Jr.) and brought the information to Dick Grayson (Robin I/Nightwing). Grayson and Anissa Pierce brought the information to Black Lightning while he was in prison. The Outsiders broke Pierce out and used Jason Todd's recording of the conversation to clear the hero's name.
Black Lightning returned to the life of a crime-fighter and finally joined the Justice League. Once again based out of Washington, DC, Black Lightning used his connections in the government as an information gatherer and intelligence source for the League. Additionally, many supervillains believed that Pierce was still part of Lex Luthor's criminal network and were happy to share information with him based on this presumption.
In "Final Crisis: Submit" (October, 2008), the world was overrun by Darkseid's Anti-Life Equation. Black Lightning, serving as a courier for the resistance, was sidetracked by an S.O.S. sent by the Tattooed Man and his family. Pierce planned and executed an escape from Metropolis with Tattooed Man, but was shot by the villain's son during their retreat. Entrusting to the Tattooed Man his precious cargo -- a circuit that may turn the tide for the resistance -- Black Lightning held off Darkseid's storm troopers as Tattooed Man and his family made their way safely from the city. Tattooed Man delivered the circuit to the Justice League, but Pierce was captured and turned into one of Darkseid's mindless Justifiers.
In "Final Crisis" #4 (October, 2008), Black Lightning, now a thrall of Apokolips, attacked Justice League Headquarters in an attempt to retrieve the circuit. He failed to stop the heroes from escaping, but the war of attrition continued when he captured Green Arrow and added the Emerald Archer to the ranks of the Justifiers.
Our story of the life of Black Lightning concludes half-way through the "Final Crisis" storyline, and the fate of the hero is still unknown. Trapped as a thrall of Darkseid, things look very dire for Jefferson Pierce, but as we have seen with this character, lightning does sometimes strike twice. Following Final Crisis, Black Lightning will appear in "Black Lightning: Year One" in 2009.