|First appearance||Black Lightning #1 (April 1977)|
|Created by||Tony Isabella|
Trevor Von Eeden
|Alter ego||Jefferson "Jeff" Pierce|
Black Lightning (Jefferson Pierce) is a superhero appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. The character, created by writer Tony Isabella and artist Trevor Von Eeden, first appeared in Black Lightning #1 (April 1977), during the Bronze Age of Comic Books. While his origin story has been retconned several times, his current origin story states that he was born in the DC Universe as a metahuman, a human being with superhuman abilities. Black Lightning was DC's first African-American superhero with his own series.
Black Lightning is originally depicted as a schoolteacher from the crime-ridden Suicide Slum area of Metropolis who acquires electrical superpowers from a technologically advanced power belt that he puts to use to clean up crime in his neighborhood. Over time, Pierce establishes himself as a successful superhero in the DC Universe, and later stories depict him as having "internalized" the belt's powers as a result of his latent metagene. Later retellings of Black Lightning's origins simplify his story by depicting him as a metahuman with the inborn ability to manipulate and generate electricity.
Tony Isabella, an experienced writer having done work for the Luke Cage character at Marvel Comics, was signed on to develop DC's first starring black character. He pitched the idea for Black Lightning and it was developed though only 11 issues were published in the first series due to the 1978 DC Implosion. However, the character continued to make appearances in other titles over the years, including a Justice League of America storyline in which Pierce is offered but turns down a position with the group. Elements of Black Lightning were controversial when the character debuted. In the character's early days, Black Lightning was depicted wearing a combined Afro wig/mask and affecting an exaggerated Harlem jive vernacular as part of his efforts to conceal his identity as highly educated school professional Jefferson Pierce. Black Lightning later becomes one of the founding members of the Batman-helmed Outsiders superhero team.
In the 2000s, DC Comics introduced Black Lightning's daughters, who inherited metahuman abilities from their father. His eldest daughter Anissa, known as Thunder, can alter her density, rendering her almost indestructible, and create shockwaves by stomping the ground. Pierce's younger child Jennifer, also a superhero known as Lightning, has powers almost identical to her father though she is still inexperienced and not in full control of them.
Black Lightning was ranked 85th overall on IGN's "Top 100 Comic Books Heroes" list in 2011.
Along with his presence in comics, the character has made various appearances in DC-related animated television series, video games, and comic strips. He made his live action debut in The CW's eponymous series, portrayed by Cress Williams. The character also appeared in the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" crossover event with the other series of the Arrowverse.
The original candidate for DC Comics' first headlining black superhero was a character called the Black Bomber, a white racist who would turn into a black superhero under stress. Comics historian Don Markstein later described the character as "an insult to practically everybody with any point of view at all". When the editor who had approved the Black Bomber left the company before the character had seen print, Tony Isabella (whose previous writing experience included Luke Cage, a black Marvel Comics superhero with his own title) was asked to salvage the character. Isabella convinced editors to instead use his Black Lightning character, which he had been developing for some time.
Isabella wrote the first 10 issues of Black Lightning before handing it over to Dennis O'Neil. Only one issue scripted by O'Neil came out before the series was canceled in 1978 as part of a general large-scale pruning of the company's superhero titles known as the DC Implosion. Issue #12 was published in Cancelled Comic Cavalcade and World's Finest Comics #260.
Black Lightning made a number of guest appearances in various titles over the next few years, including a string of issues of World's Finest Comics written by O'Neil, then shifted to Detective Comics and a two-part story in Justice League of America in which he declined an offer of membership. In 1983, with his powers restored, he regularly appeared again as a member of Batman's spinoff superhero team, the Outsiders. When The Outsiders ended, he returned to making occasional guest appearances.
In 1995, a new Black Lightning series began with art by Eddy Newell and again written by Tony Isabella, who was fired after the eighth issue and replaced with Australian writer Dave de Vries. The series was canceled five issues after Isabella left the title, the decision having been made before these issues had seen print. Isabella said he believes the editor replaced him with a newer writer to consolidate his position in the company.
A "Black Lightning: Year One" six-issue limited series, written by Jen Van Meter and illustrated by Cully Hamner saw a bi-weekly release in 2009, and was nominated for two Glyph Awards in 2010.
Fictional character biography
A gold medal-winning Olympic decathlete, Jefferson Pierce, returned to his old neighborhood in the Southside (Suicide Slum) section of the city of Metropolis, with his wife Lynn Stewart and his daughter Anissa to become the principal of Garfield High School. Southside, as it was once known, was where his father—renowned journalist Alvin Pierce—had been murdered. Guilt over this event was a factor in his decision to leave the city of Metropolis. Suicide Slum was being torn apart by a local organized criminal gang called the 100, shady corporations, and crooked local politicians like Tobias Whale. A family friend and tailor, Peter Gambi, had taught a much younger Jefferson how to suppress his inborn metahuman abilities so that he would not accidentally hurt any of the people he cared about. Upon his return, Gambi suggested to Jefferson that he should use his powers to help the neighborhood, and refers him to a plaque with the paraphrased Milo Sweetman quote "Justice, like lightning, should ever appear to some men hope, to other men fear." (the original text of which was "Justice, like lightning, ever should appear to few men's ruin, but to all men's fear. Of mortal justice if thou scorn the rod, believe and tremble, thou art judged of God.") Appalled by the public murder of Earl Clifford, one of his more promising students, Pierce tried to intervene on behalf of the schoolchildren, but quickly learned that the 100 objected violently to any interference. Pierce adopts the costumed identity "Black Lightning" where he had the costume, mask, and wig made by his tailor Peter Gambi.
Years later, he would tell fellow African American superhero Mister Terrific that he chose the name Black Lightning because he "was the only one of us around" at the time, and he "wanted to make sure everyone knew who they were dealing with."
After his own series was cancelled, Black Lightning lost his electrical powers, but continued fighting without them. The loss eventually turned out to be psychosomatic, a symptom of a crisis of confidence resulting from the accidental death of a female bystander named Trina Shelton during an altercation between Black Lightning and some gun-wielding thugs. Batman, wanting to recruit him to rescue Lucius Fox in Markovia, helped him regain his powers; this eventually led him to join the Batman's team the Outsiders. During his time with the Outsiders, a group of villains called the Masters of Disaster captured Black Lightning at the behest of the parents of Trina Shelton to avenge the death of their daughter; however, upon learning that he still regretted what happened and was willing to be executed by them, they risked their lives to save him. During the Invasion! crossover event, the Dominators detonated a Gene-Bomb that wreaked havoc with anyone possessing the metagene by making them lose control of their powers. After the breakup of the Outsiders, Black Lightning moved to Brick City to continue his solo career.
Secretary of Education
When Lex Luthor was elected President of the United States in 2000, he appointed Jefferson Pierce as Secretary of Education, Pierce accepting as he concluded that he could do more good working within the system than outside it. He resigned amidst controversy over his "worst-kept secret in Washington" identity as Black Lightning, and his alleged inadvertent killing of a criminally-minded corporate CEO, for which President Pete Ross (who had since succeeded Luthor) then pardoned him.
Making frequent guest appearances in several DC series, Pierce has appeared in Green Arrow (who had a one-night stand with his niece, a successful attorney named Joanna Pierce). Pierce helped Green Arrow track down Dr. Light in the Green Arrow "Heading into the Light" story arc. He also appeared in the new Outsiders, of which his daughter, Anissa (using the alias Thunder), is a member. He came to fight the new Sabbac and help his daughter alongside Captain Marvel Jr. and the Outsiders. He had on an outfit that mixed his second outfit with the colors of the first. After teaming up with the Outsiders, incoming President Pete Ross asked him to resign as Secretary of Education and he did.
At some point prior to his resignation, Pierce used his pull in Washington to deny the powerful metahuman gangster known as Holocaust a permit to build a casino on Paris Island in Dakota. This would come back to haunt Pierce sometime later when the enraged Holocaust attacked him while he was giving the graduation speech at Ernest Hemingway High School.
In issue #5 of the Infinite Crisis storyline, it was shown that Black Lightning was one of the eight people Batman had considered to aid him in destroying the Brother Eye satellite, which controlled the OMACs. Booster Gold, who was not on the list of eight, but knew about the candidates from his knowledge of the future, contacted Lightning before Batman did, as historical data from the future had shown who had aided Batman. Lightning accepted, arriving at the Batcave to await orders. He then forged an uneasy yet effective alliance with Mister Terrific, combining their powers of electrical manipulation and invisibility technology to strike the villainous AI from the inside.
After the third Secret Society of Super Villains was formed, Black Lightning (as a member of Brad Meltzer's new Justice League) began using his status as Lex Luthor's former Secretary of Education to gain information from supervillains.
In Outsiders (vol. 3) #45, it was revealed that three years have passed since Jefferson's niece Joanna Pierce was murdered, and that upon initially learning of her death, Jefferson went after the corrupt businessman Martin Somers, the man who was responsible. He had intended to wound Somers with his lightning shot, but apparently ended up killing him. Jefferson turned himself in to the authorities. However, it is revealed that Deathstroke was responsible for Somers' death by firing a dart of toxin to Somers moments before Jefferson shot his lightning. Hence, he was dead before he hit the ground. Jason Todd discovered the truth while eavesdropping on the assassin's conversation with Lex Luthor (who was really Alexander Luthor, Jr. in disguise) and contacted Nightwing with this information. When Nightwing and Anissa told Jefferson of this in prison, he disbelieved it and intended to pay for Somers' death. Anissa herself intended to break her father out of Iron Heights Prison. Upon learning from Todd that other inmates were about to carry out a contract hit on Pierce (whose identity as an inmate had leaked to unknown parties), the Outsiders resolved to assist her. They freed him from jail and, with the audio recording of Deathstroke's conversation, cleared his name.
Justice League of America
Years ago, Green Arrow brought Black Lightning to the attention of the Justice League of America, who extended an offer of membership to the protector of Suicide Slum. He turned down the offer, preferring to work as a loner and focus on street-level crime, though he did offer to become a reservist. Years later, when all of the JLA reservists were called in to fight a newly revived Amazo, Black Lighting was one of the heroes called, confirming that the League had accepted his offer. Most recently, however, Black Lightning has joined the JLA, once again appearing with a modified costume. He appears to be primarily based in Washington, D.C. again. Black Lightning assists the JLA with intelligence gathered from the criminal community. Many supervillains still believe he is 'in' with Lex Luthor and are willing to cooperate. Jefferson also helps the team in a battle against Amazo. He was the first member of the League to respond to the recent attacks made by the Amazons of Themyscira, and he also saved the President of the United States in this event.
Black Lightning was the focus of the one-shot Final Crisis: Submit, in which he helped the new Tattooed Man and his family escape at the cost of his own freedom. He is subsequently shown in issue #4 of Final Crisis under Darkseid's thrall.
Recently, Black Lightning was recruited by Alfred Pennyworth to join a new version of the Outsiders following an attack by Doctor Hurt which left Thunder comatose. Unlike previous iterations of the team, these Outsiders must live "off the grid" and stay out of contact with friends and family for months at a time. It is confirmed that, due to this new commitment, Black Lightning has left the Justice League.
The New 52
In DC's 2011 reboot of its continuity, The New 52, Black Lightning comes into conflict with Blue Devil, over their confrontation of Tobias Whale's crime wave. He later made an appearance as a possible recruit for the Justice League.
Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands
Black Lightning appeared in DC Rebirth in Detective Comics, and from there spun out into the series Batman & The Outsiders. Tony Isabella, the creator of Black Lightning, rebooted the character in a new six part series that began in November, 2017. The series, which takes place in Cleveland, "forgets" much of the previous history of the character. Tony Isabella says that this will not be an "origin" story, but one may follow.
Powers and abilities
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (November 2019)
Originally, he was described as having no innate powers, using a belt that allowed him to generate a force field and project electrical bolts. This power was later revealed to exist as a result of the Metagene, according to Invasion! #3.
Jefferson has had two daughters by his ex-wife Lynn Stewart, both of whom have followed in his footsteps and become superheroes. His oldest daughter, Anissa Pierce, has taken on the code name "Thunder" and served on an incarnation of his team the Outsiders. His 16-year-old, younger daughter Jennifer Pierce, was recently recruited by the Justice Society of America under the code name "Lightning". A version of Lightning first appeared in Kingdom Come, a 1996 miniseries published by DC Comics.
Pierce claims that people frequently ask him if he is the father of Static, much to his chagrin. It is later revealed that Static is in fact a fan of Black Lightning and has a poster of the hero in his room in Titans Tower. In Young Justice, after meeting and fighting alongside Static, Black Lightning offers to become Static's mentor.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (July 2013)
Black Lightning's rogues' gallery consists of:
- 100 - A criminal organization.
- Tobias Whale - Black Lightning's archenemy, a crime lord who heads up the Metropolis branch of the 100.
- Andrew Henderson - The son of Inspector Henderson who is a master of disguise.
- The Cyclotronic Man - A former jewel thief who became a metahuman with powers similar to Black Lightning after being exposed to radiation. Following an earlier fight with Batman, the Cyclotronic Man works as an assassin for the 100 when he was hired to kill Black Lightning and Superman.
- Joey Toledo - A drug pusher who was responsible for the death of Earl Clifford. He was killed by a League of Assassins operative.
- Syonide - A whip-wielding mercenary who is an expert toxicologist.
- Demolition - An armored supervillain.
- Ishmael - A shapeshifting servant of Tobias Whale who was sent to assassinate Gangbuster while posing as him, but was defeated by Black Lightning and Gangbuster.
- Lamar Henderson - A kid in Brick City and cousin of Gail Harris that was pressured into joining the Home Crew gang.
- Merlyn - An archer who is a member of the League of Assassins.
- Miss Pequod - The enigmatic secretary of Tobias Whale.
- Painkiller - A supervillain who was sent to kill Black Lightning.
- Queequeg - A shapeshifting servant of Tobias Whale and the brother of Ishmael.
- Sick Nick - A doctor-themed villain.
- Warhog - An assassin who was sent to kill Black Lightning.
- White Thunder - 
- Black Lightning has appeared in the Justice League Unlimited spin-off comic book. His appearances are in issues #15 and #27.
- During a Justice League mission, the Vixen encounters an alternate version of Black Lightning called the "Brown Bomber", a contemporary version of the original Black Bomber envisioned prior to Tony Isabella's involvement with the character.
- In the 1997 Tangent Comics series "Black Lightning" is the codename of Francis Powell, a member of the Tangent World variation of the Metal Men, as well as one of the key members of the government organisation Nightwing. He is in charge of a mission to apprehend the Lia Nelson version of the Flash with the help of "Dark Star" (Todd Rice).
- Jefferson Pierce is featured in the Smallville Season 11 digital comic based on the TV series. He is a member of the Outsiders.
- Black Lightning appears in the Injustice: Gods Among Us comic as a member of Batman's Insurgency. He aids them for Year One, but disappears from the team in following years. The Year Five Annual reveals this is because he became disillusioned by the drastic measures the Insurgency took, as he felt it made them no better than the Regime. However, he joins the Regime so that he can help rebuild Metropolis. He is visited by Batman and is informed that the Insurgency's plans are not yet over. In the sequel comic/prequel to Injustice 2, he rejoins the Insurgency after the fall of the Regime and is elected President of the United States after the deaths of several government officials caused by the actions of Aqualad on the order of Ra's al Ghul.
- A version of Black Lightning appears on Earth-23 in The New 52 as part of a predominately African American Justice League led by a Black Superman.
In other media
- In the cartoon series Static Shock episode "Blast from the Past", the character Soul Power (voiced by Brock Peters) is based on Black Lightning. He is an elderly superhero with powers similar to Static's. Back in the 1960s, Soul Power protected Dakota from criminals. He gained his powers in an accident at Hoover Dam. Soul Power had a Batcave-like headquarters hidden underground in/near Dakota's rapid transit system called the Power Pad and drove a car called the Soulmobile. Back then, he also had a sidekick named Sparky (voiced by Rodney Saulsberry) whose powers were derived from a suit he originally invented so that he can aid Soul Power in fighting crime. He, Sparky, and Static teamed up in order to defeat Soul Power's greatest foe Professor Menace who disappeared after a battle with Soul Power in 1963.
- Black Lightning appears in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Enter the Outsiders!", voiced by Bumper Robinson. He seems to be the lead of the trio composed of him, Katana, and Metamorpho. They work for a sewer dweller named Slug at first, but turn on him when Wildcat convinces them to fight for good. Black Lightning later uses his electricity to save Wildcat's life with instructions from Katana when the elder falls victim to a heart attack. Black Lightning and his comrades are later seen training with Batman in the teaser of "Duel of the Double Crossers!". Black Lightning's hatred for society is shown in "Inside the Outsiders!". Black Lightning had a fleeting cameo in "The Siege of Starro! Part One" (as one of the heroes under Starro's mind control) in which he blasted Firestorm with lightning and was shown to have a new costume. He reappeared in the teaser of "Requiem for a Scarlet Speedster!", in which he and the rest of the Outsiders (Katana, Metamorpho, Geo-Force, and Halo) help Batman stop Kobra and his cultists from completing a ritual. He and Geo-Force save Batman from being crushed by a snake. Though Batman compliments Black Lightning's ability to lead, the Outsiders forgot to take out the bridge behind them, resulting in reinforcements coming in.
- Black Lightning appears in the "Thunder and Lightning" short of DC Nation Shorts, voiced by Blair Underwood.
- Black Lightning appears in Young Justice: Invasion, voiced by Khary Payton. In "Happy New Year", he is shown as a member of the Justice League five years later from Season One. In "Cornered", he attempts to remove the force-field that Despero has set in the Hall of Justice. He displays pitch-black electricity when using his powers. In "Endgame", Black Lightning and Static take down the Magnetic Field Disruptor in Dakota City. Afterwards, Black Lightning offers to be Static's mentor. In the third season, Young Justice: Outsiders, an incident where Black Lightning's powers kill a mutated 14 year old meta-human girl leads to Pierce quitting the Justice League and considering quitting his super heroics all together until he is convinced to join Nightwing's team. But he becomes disgusted when he finds out the secret methods Batman Inc. has been using against the Light and to boost the Outsiders' popularity. At the end of the season, he helps to expose Luthor's illegal metahuman trafficking to the world and is appointed as the new leader of the Justice League. He accepts on the condition that there will be no more secrets and that the heroes will not sacrifice their principles while fighting against the Light.
- A live-action television series based on the character debuted on The CW on January 16, 2018. The series is developed by Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, who also executive produce along with Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter, for Akil Productions and Berlanti Productions, alongside Warner Bros. Television. Fox gave the series a "pilot production commitment" in September 2016. In January 2017, Berlanti stated the series, if ordered, would not crossover with his other DC Comics television properties on The CW nor would it exist in their established universe. The following month, Fox passed on the series after deciding it was "not a good fit into its already crowded genre drama space." Shortly thereafter, it was picked up by The CW with a pilot order. The pilot episode was directed by Salim Akil. Cress Williams plays Black Lightning. In May 2017, The CW officially ordered the project to series. In the series, Black Lightning operates in Freeland while his civilian persona Jefferson Pierce is the principal of Garfield High School where his family has Inspector Henderson as a family friend. In the past, Jefferson witnessed his father Alvin getting killed by gangster Tobias Whale and his men which led to Jefferson getting taken in by Alvin's friend Peter Gambi. During the first season, Jefferson resurfaces as Black Lightning and fights Tobias and the 100, as well as A.S.A. agents led by Martin Proctor. His daughters Anissa and Jennifer start to develop their own metahuman abilities. In the second season, Jefferson loses his position as principal due to him not being there when the 100 attacked the school which caused a new principal named Mike Lowry to be installed. In addition, Henderson figures out that Black Lightning and Jefferson are one and the same which briefly strains their friendship until Tobias Whale kills a cop that was on his side. By the end of the season, the Pierce family is approached by A.S.A. agent Odell who voices his knowledge of their identities and wants them to help the A.S.A. when the Markovians turn Freeland into a war zone. In the third season, Jefferson has been placed in the Pit, where Tobias is also held, for 37 days where he is experimented on. In the third season mid-season finale, Jefferson is recruited by Pariah to help the heroes stop the anti-matter cannon in the 2019-2020 Arrowverse crossover Crisis on Infinite Earths. The Anti-Monitor erases Jefferson's Earth but is later bought back to life after Oliver Queen's sacrifice to reboot the universe. This include's Jefferson's Earth being merged with the others, now called "Earth-Prime", and becomes a member of a league of heroes lead by Barry Allen in memory of Queen.
- LeVar Burton provides the voice of Black Lightning in his single speaking line in the animated movie Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. He is one of the heroes who agrees to work for Lex Luthor after the supposedly reformed villain is elected President.
- A version of Black Lightning known as Black Power appears as a member of the Crime Syndicate of America in the animated film Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. The heroic Black Lightning also makes an appearance where his grunts are provided by Cedric Yarbrough who was uncredited for the role. He alongside Aquaman, Black Canary, Firestorm and Red Tornado, presumably appear as backup members of the Justice League where they help defend the Justice League Watchtower. Although their actual membership status is never explicitly stated, Black Lightning, and the other backups, appear again after the final battle as Batman suggests initiating a membership drive.
- Black Lightning appears in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies.
- Jefferson Pierce was mentioned by Thunder in DC Super Hero Girls.
- Bumper Robinson reprises his voice role of Black Lightning in Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
- Alexander Brandon voices Black Lightning in DC Universe Online.
- Black Lightning appears as a playable fighter in Injustice 2, voiced by Kane Jungbluth-Murry. He is the Premier Skin for Mortal Kombat character Raiden. In the mobile version, he is playable as "Multiverse Black Lightning", explicitly based on The CW's adaptation of the character.
- Black Lightning appears as a playable character in the DC TV Super-Heroes DLC pack in Lego DC Super-Villains.
Black Lightning's earliest appearances outside of his own title in 1977 were in The World's Greatest Superheroes newspaper comic strip. There, he met Batman and other heroes before his rejection of Justice League of America membership.
- The superhero Black Vulcan on Super Friends was supposed to be Black Lightning, but he could not be used due to disputes between DC and Black Lightning's creator Tony Isabella. Black Vulcan has the same powers as Black Lightning and wears a similar outfit too, albeit with a helmet more like the Flash's.
- Sinbad appeared on Saturday Night Live dressed as Black Lightning, crashing Superman's funeral in an episode airing during the publication of The Death of Superman storyline. In the sketch, the other characters do not recognize him, even though he claimed to have taught Superman how to fly. As the superheroes leave to confront the Legion of Doom, he is spotted at the buffet table grabbing the shrimp that Aquaman had brought to the funeral.
- Black Lightning appears in an episode of Mad, voiced by Gary Anthony Williams. In the "That's What Super Friends Are For" segment, he and Plastic Man lead the other heroes in a musical number where they ask Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman about why their group is called the "Super Friends".
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How did you come up with the character of Black Lightning? What was he intended to be? Describe the character as you created him." "That's a long story, which has been told many times. The short version is that I'd been working toward creating a new black super-hero who would be an iconic role model. The other characters I'd written along the way were stepping stones to Black Lightning. 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. When DC Comics planned to publish a black hero who was actually a white racist, I talked them into dumping that character and going with my creation instead.
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