It’s a strange thing to be first. Many times, the first iteration of something isn’t the most iconic, the best or even the most well-known, but today’s Hero History entrant puts the lie to that expectation. After years of nearly no super-heroic representation of anyone who wasn’t Caucasian (and even that one green kid had blonde hair) the streets of Metropolis gave birth to a hero whose mettle and courage are the equal of any who came before, and whose feats of power quickly made him one of the most respected heroes around. An multiple-time Olympic champion as well as a teacher, he has trained both mind and body to peak of perfection, and you can’t begrudge the man his unique style. This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of Jefferson Pierce, Olympic Gold Medalist and all-around badass, known to the world as… BLACK LIGHTNING!
First and foremost, Faithful Spoilerites, be advised that there will (other than this brief disclaimer) be NO Sinbad jokes or references in today’s Hero History. Instead, we’ll start where it all begins, in the streets of Suicide Slum, the bad part of the city of Metropolis. Even Superman can’t patrol every single side-street, every minute of the day, which has allowed a criminal syndicate known as The 100 to take control of the racketeering, drugs and minor-league criminal activity there. This night, however, their thugs are stunned to find their bosses’ interests threatened by an angry man in a midnight-blue costume…The mystery man cuts a swath through the criminals, using incredible fighting skills, electrical bursts and a seeming invulnerability to their bullets, thrashing them all soundly on his way to his goal: a minor-league drug-pusher named Joey Toledo. Grabbing the shaken would-be drug-lord by the lapels, the mystery man announces himself… Returning home, Black Lightning reveals himself to be high-school teacher Jefferson Pierce, a man who returned to the streets where he grew up, hoping to give back, but only found death. Jefferson watched as his students got hooked on drugs, and worst of all, he believes that his own actions caused the death of a promising young student athlete named Earl Clifford, a boy whose promise causes people to compare him to Jeff himself. (As an Olympic Champion, the people of Suicide Slum think of Jefferson as a local boy made good.) His family friend, Peter Gambi comforts him after Earl’s murder… and offers an alternative. As the two men commiserate, it’s Gambi who reminds Jefferson of the motto his late father lived by, a motto that would shape not only the younger Pierce’s superhero career, but his entire LIFE… Black Lightning finds Joey Toledo, but finds him to be only the smallest fish in a very large, very polluted pond. Working his way up the ladder, Jefferson Pierce eventually finds the man who masterminds the 100, a monstrous albino known only as Tobias Whale. Clashing repeatedly with The Whale and his lieutenants, Black Lightning eventually gets his chance to match Tobias Whale mano-a-mano… …suffice to say, it does not go well for The Whale. Having broken the 100 syndicate’s control and taken out their top man, Black Lightning doesn’t give up, however. He continues fighting for the people of Suicide Slum, using his athletic skill and electrical might to take down bad men wherever they may be. Focusing on the common man, Black Lightning makes enough of a name for himself that even the bigger heroes take notice. Superman himself gives Black Lightning the nod of approval, but not every first meeting goes nearly so well… The irony of it all is that Green Arrow is probably the most bleeding-heart liberal, socially conscious of the major heroes of the time (though he did kind of start the fight himself.) Black Lightning continues his activities in Metropolis, completely unaware of the attention he has garnered for himself. When the Justice League of America goes recruiting, they immediately target Lightning for membership, but he’s not down with the “jive turkeys” of the League… Though impulsive and occasionally bull-headed, Black Lightning has a good point in his refusal to join the League: The crime that HE fights is in his streets every day, and won’t go away if he flies off to Mordor or Thanagar or something. Of course, there’s also the matter of working with a team, something that the solitary Jefferson Pierce hasn’t always been good at… Leaving the JLA on good terms, Lightning continues fighting the good fight in Metropolis for some time (several years worth of adventures, to us.) But his heroic career takes an unexpected and heart-rending turn when he responds to a mugging on the Metropolis E-Train…. Using his powers to subdue the muggers, he is unable to stop one of the mooks from firing into the crowd, fatally striking a young woman named Trina Shelton. The bullets also injure the conductor, causing the train to race out of control. The intervention of the Man of Steel saves the train, but young Trina is not so lucky… Trina’s tragic death would have long-lasting repercussions for our hero, as his powers begin to fluctuate, then to fail him entirely at PRECISELY the wrong time… Even without his powers, though, Black Lightning is still a threat to those who would harm the innocent people of his city. Besides, if Bruce Wayne doesn’t need a force field, why the hell would Jefferson Pierce? His lack of powers proves less difficult for Jefferson Pierce than living with the guilt of the death caused by his actions, as Trina’s demise weighs more and more heavily on him, causing him to retire his Black Lightning identity completely. But, when Bruce Wayne calls upon him for a favor, Black Lightning agrees to help out, infiltrating the European monarchy of Markovia, pretending to be the brother of kidnapped Wayne Enterprises employee Lucius Fox. It goes badly, though, and all of Batman’s operatives are captured by the wicked Baron Bedlam… Batman chastises Jefferson for his inaction, believing Black Lightning to still be at full voltage. The truth quickly comes out, as Lightning lets loose on the Darknight Detective… Black Lightning’s power-loss, as well as the timing of it, makes the Batman suspicious that the entire thing could be psychosomatic. He uses his amazing power of “callousness” to shake Black Lightning out of his doldrums… Jefferson channels his powers successfully, blasting free of his bonds and allowing Batman’s associates to win the day. So awesome is this teaming, that they dub themselves ‘The Outsiders,’ and begin teaming up regularly. Even with his powers back, though, Black Lightning considers his return to action to be temporary, and fights his own conscience. Finally, it all comes to a head, as Trina’s family hires metahuman terrorists the Masters Of Disaster to take Black Lightning down, only to find that he isn’t the heartless monster they expected… As his Outsiders companions fight off the Masters, Black Lightning tries to apologize to the Sheltons. His regret moves Tina’s mother, to the point where she has a change of heart about his execution… a change of heart that proves quite fatal for her. With his guilt finally lifted, Black Lightning and the Outsiders overcome the Masters Of Disaster, and he finally accepts his role as hero again. Black Lightning serves with the Outsiders throughout the rest of their tenure, even after Batman leaves the team, relocating with the team to Los Angeles, leaving only when the Outsiders disband in the wake of ‘Millenium.’ Black Lightning then left the West Coast for the streets of Brick City, a city that makes Suicide Slum look like Barbie’s Dream House. His first target is the gang activity… Along with his new leather outfit and attitude. Black Lightning also finds new uses for his powers, as when he uses his electricity to destroy an ENTIRE BUILDING that has become a haven for the local street gangs, bringing out the locals to watch… During his time in Brick City, Black Lightning realizes something that he had never been able to admit before: His powers were NOT provided by Paul Gambi’s belt, they were natural, making him a metahuman before it was even a thing. When the gangs retaliate against him, Black Lightning is nearly killed, but once again finds his life changed by an innocent. His fellow teacher is killed defending their class, but Jefferson Pierce finds a new lease on life and super-heroics. Soon after, as Justice League of America regroups with their original seven members, Black Lightning agrees to serve as a reserve member, and acquits himself well when mad android Amazo returns to menace them all, showing off a new look as well. He again aids the League in crisis when the monstrous entity known as Mageddon attacks, taking over the mind of Superman himself! Black Lightning provides the League with more energy than he has channeled before, and in doing so finds himself capable of more than he had ever imagined… Things take a strange turn for Jefferson Pierce, though, when Lex Luthor manages to do the unimaginable: He gets himself elected President! And when he needs someone to serve as Secretary of Education, he goes to… a minor school-teacher in Brick City? Why, it’s the kind of plot twist that seems like it could only be made up by an idiot, he said out-of-universe, but it also serves to allow the JLA a man on the inside, someone who can keep them abreast of what President Luthor is up to. At the same time, though, Black Lightning’s life is about to be changed once again, and once again it involves the Outsiders. When Nightwing and Arsenal, former Teen Titans, decide to put together an off-books, proactive super-team to go after the worst of the worst in the DCU, they call on every resource, including a young metahuman calling herself Thunder… …aka Anissa Pierce, Jefferson Pierce’s daughter! Thunder joins up with the new incarnation of the Outsiders, using a wig just like Daddy used to (his first mask had a built-in afro, you might recall) and getting in waay over her head just as he once did. The difference comes when Anissa’s Outsiders cross swords with former Captain Marvel villain Sabbac, a demonic monster whose profile is high enough to reach even the President’s cabinet… Realizing how out-powered his daughter’s team is, Black Lightning comes out of retirement to assist the Outsiders in taking down Sabbac, and he does it OLD-SCHOOL… No Fro-Of-Power, though, which kind of makes me sad for a minute… Then, things get interesting, as the Pierce family goes into action together for the first time. Anissa tries to protect her feeble old daddy, only to discover first-hand truly what Black Lightning is all about… Black Lightning is key to their victory (with a little help from Captain Marvel, Jr) and afterwards, takes a few moments to try to talk his little girl out of the career that has tortured him for so long… She refuses, having found her once-embarrassing pops to be an inspiration, and stays with the Outsiders. Things get worse when Jefferson returns to his day job, only to be told by President Pete Ross (Luthor flipped his wig and was apparently removed from office after trying to murder Superman in an armored battlesuit… Y’know, like you do.) that his Secretary of Education chair has been pushed back in, and his corner of the table done been cut off… There is also the matter of Martin Somers to consider… When Jefferson’s niece Joanna got involved with Green Arrow, she was murdered to punish G.A., leading to Somers (the man who put the hit on her) being struck dead by lightning on a clear day. With the spectre of murder over him, Black Lightning cannot continue, and agrees to go to prison for his crime… His short prison stay (under an assumed alias, since Jefferson Pierce had become a public figure) was an eventful one, marked by interference from Outsiders both old and new, ending with the revelation that DEATHSTROKE murdered Somers, and the Outsiders breaking him out of prison. Still, being known as a confidante of Lex Luthor ends up working in Black Lightning’s favor, as the superhuman jerks consider him to be one of their own, something that he uses to his own advantage… Jeff’s connections put him in the right position to assist an unofficial Justice League team in their battle against Solomon Grundy, leading to him being offered an official role on the JLA once again. For the first time, though, Jefferson Pierce finds himself saying yes to a full-time JLA role, and even relishes his first official duties: Offering membership to the Batman himself… Bats says yes, and the new Justice League, under the chairmanship of Black Canary, takes shape with the largest membership since the days of the satellite-era League. This Justice League is one of the most tumultous in history, gaining and losing members at an astonishing pace, teaming up with the Justice Society AND the Legion of Super-Heroes, and battling a wide array of villains. Most telling is the mission wherein Vixen is trapped in an alternate reality by the trickster god Anansi, a world where the JLA she is used to don’t exist, but their analogues do, including… The Brown Bomber! (Out-of-universe, this is more than just a silly joke. B.L.’ creator Tony Isabella has often told the story of how DC was preparing the Brown Bomber for publication in the 1970s, and he responded by asking, “Do you REALLY want your first black superhero to be a white racist?” Isabella suggested that they prep his creation, Black Lightning, instead, making me wonder what this Hero History might be like in an alternate universe. More than likely, it’d be stupid.) Vixen’s encounter with the Bomber leads her to realize how amazing the real Black Lightning is, an opinion shared by another young African-American with electromagnetic powers, the young man called Static! Static quickly finds that hero worship isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, as he teams up with, then finds himself clashing with Black Lightning in their first meeting. Still, the two men have more than just a little in common, and Jefferson finds himself warming to his young fanboy as their battle continues… Indeed, Black Lightning’s status as elder statesman in the DC Universe becomes more and more obvious, especially when the Justice Society of America comes a’calling, wanting to recruit his OTHER daughter, Jennifer for their latest team expansion… Jefferson agrees to let the oldest superheroes around help to train his daughter, but even the JSA treats him with respect afforded by his long tenure. Of course, it’s not just his long tenure that makes people impressed with Black Lightning, as shown when the forces of Apokalips take over the Earth, even incapacitating the core members of the Justice League. One of the few heroes still left uncorrupted, Black Lightning takes up his original mission again: Protecting those who can’t protect themselves… Crossing paths with the new Tattooed Man, Black Lightning shakes the villains world-view, showing him what heroism can be like, and even sacrificing his own safety to allow the Tattooed Man’s wife and children to escape the Justifiers of Apokalips… Rejoining with his old comrades again and leaving the League, Black Lightning is active with the Outsiders when The Flash’s selfish manipulations of the timestream cause an entirely new world to form around them. In this universe, though, a few things are still true. Tobias Whale controls the crime in Suicide Slum, and he cares nothing for the innocents of the city. But, it’s also still true that Black Lightning is not a person to mess with… Teaming with another hero, the young stuntman Daniel Cassidy, Jefferson Pierce reveals that, even after the world reboots, he’s still an unstoppable force, still an Olympic champion, and still an electrical dynamo. The only thing that has changed is his sense of style… I miss the disco shirt and afro. When Blue Devil’s enemy Nebiros, an extra-dimensional demon, empowers Tobias Whale, Black Lightning and Blue Devil team up, but even the power of arcane evil can’t stop Black Lightning from fighting the good fight… Once, during a crisis, the second Mister Terrific sarcastically asked Black Lightning why he chose such an “obvious” name. Black Lightning replied that, back then, “I was the only one of us around, and I wanted to make sure everyone knew who they were dealing with.” Jefferson Pierce chose to fight, chose to be a hero, because he could, and because somebody had to… Though sometimes hot-headed, he has grown into his role as a hero regardless of what anyone had to say about it, and he did things his own way. And no matter what you say about it, that original costume damn-near perfect, and they’ve never been able to improve on that design. **If you’ve enjoyed this Hero History, you might want to ‘Read All About It’ at your Local Major Spoilers! You can just click “Hero Histories” in the “Columns” section on our main page, and read an ever-increasing number of other guys and gals who are likewise awesome as heck. The adventures of Black Lightning are published by DC Comics, and I’m of the opinion that it’s about damn time that he got another monthly series!
Next up: Webbin’ Crime… In A Future Time!