The Decaturian

Superhero Spotlight

Black Lightning

Chris Diver

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Jefferson Pierce, AKA Black Lightning, is one of the most shockingly overlooked characters in DC Comics’ history. Created by Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden and first appearing in Black Lightning #1 in 1977, there have been many rewrites of the character and his history, and has made history as the first African American DC superhero and the first African American to lead a team in DC Comics.

The origins of Black Lighting are interesting, as the character was originally called “The Black Bomber” and was a white supremacist who would turn into a black man whenever he got angry. Shortly after the Black Bomber was written, DC realized the implications of the character and pulled the plug. Instead, Tony Isabella pitched the character of Black Lightning instead, and he stuck as a character.

Jefferson Pierce grew up in Metropolis’ Suicide Slum and lost his father at a young age due to gang activity. Jefferson turned to athletics as a way to escape, and eventually became a member of the US Olympic team, where he won a gold medal in the decathlon event. Jefferson later majored in English and got a degree in teaching, eventually returning to the Suicide Slum and teaching at his high school Garfield High School. This time, Jefferson had to face a local gang known as The 100 who, in retaliation for kicking a drug pusher off campus, murdered one of Jefferson’s students in cold blood. After hearing about the death of the student, Jefferson decided to take action against The 100, and, at the advice of his mentor and father figure Peter Gambi, decided to become Black Lightning.

Being a tailor, Gambi made Black Lightning his costume and equipped him with a belt capable of creating lightning bolts. In his quest, Black Lightning went after members of The 100, taking down underlings and eventually working his way up to the top with the gang’s leader Tobias Whale. In his quest to get rid of The 100, Jefferson started to gain respect from the citizens of Metropolis, including high profile characters like Jimmy Olsen, Inspector Bill Henderson and The Man of Steel himself, Superman.

Going after The 100 and fighting the war on crime, however, came with consequences. After being stripped of his belt, Jefferson’s mentor Peter took a bullet for Jefferson and during the encounter, Pierce discovered he didn’t need the belt to generate lightning, as his body had adapted. During the encounter, he learned another dark secret: Peter Gambi was the man who killed his father.

Jefferson’s fights with The 100 would lead him to get the attention of superheroes including Batman, Superman, Black Canary, and Green Arrow who he would team up with frequently. Eventually, Green Arrow would recommend Jefferson as a member of the Justice League. However, Jefferson would turn them down and would continue to fight crime alongside other heroes however.

Even though he rejected the Justice League, Black Lightning would go on to join Batman’s team The Outsiders, and stuck with the team until his brief retirement. After retirement, Jefferson was appointed to the position of Secretary of Education by then President Lex Luthor, while his daughter Anissa would become the superhero known as Thunder. Jefferson would come out of retirement to help The Outsiders once again and mentor his daughter, leading him to resign from his cabinet position. Jefferson would also take part in the Infinite Crisis event and would go onto join the Justice League of America.

Jefferson Pierce has appeared outside of comics in several television shows. Black Lightning has appeared in the TV Series Batman: The Brave in the Bold appearing in the episode “Enter The Outsiders” voiced by Bumper Robinson. Jefferson also appeared in the DC Nation Shorts “Thunder and Lightning” based on his two daughters and voiced by Blair Underwood. Black Lightning also appeared in several episodes of Young Justice during the second season voiced by Khary Payton. Most recently, Jefferson has become the main character of the CW television series Black Lightning in live action played by Cress Williams.

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