Sunday, March 11, 2018

Reader's Diary #1758- Tony Isabella (writer), Trevor Von Eeden (artist): Black Lightning 1

Less familiar with DC Comics' superheroes, it wasn't until this year's TV adaptation of Black Lightning that I became aware of the character though he's been around since the 70s.

This is a collection of these early days and as such should also be prefaced with a few disclaimers. Created by Tony Isabella, who's not black, Black Lightning is nonetheless a black character. In the introduction to the collection, Isabella recalls his motivation in the first place. Specifically, he noted the few black superheroes, fewer still at DC than at Marvel, and sought to remedy that. So, I suppose, the intentions were fine. That said, if DC really wanted to support the idea, it would have probably been a safer bet to go with an actual black writer.

Much has been said about a much more offensive character named Black Bomber who DC had been eyeing as a headliner before settling on Black Lightning. To be sure, that character was much, much worse (he was a white racist who turned black when stressed). But, Isabella's stereotyping doesn't get him off the hook completely. Black Lightning was a schoolteacher by day, Afro-wig wearing, jive-talking superhero by night. And while I'm certainly no expert on 70s slang, especially urban black slang, I think some of Black Lightning's "authentic" dialogue was dubious at best.

Another, but less important issue considering how often the two companies did it to one another, is the ripping off of Marvel. While there's not a perfect carbon copy of Black Lightning at Marvel, other ideas and characters in Black Lightning's world seem lifted from there. First off, Black Lightning is presented as a street level alternative to the world-saving exploits of Superman, set in the Suicide Slum quarter of Metropolis. Clearly this a take on Marvel's heroes of Hell's Kitchen. Speaking of which, one of Hell's Kitchen's most notorious baddies, Kingpin, is clearly the inspiration behind Black Lightning's nemesis Tobias Whale. One difference between these two villains, and an unfortunate aspect they kept for the TV show, is Whale's albinism. Why are so many albinos presented in the media as villains? Oh wait! I forgot. Different = evil.

All of these issues aside, it's a fun introduction to the character even if, I'm told, much of his origins and superpowers have since been retconned. It's a 70s superhero comic so the stories are exactly profound, but they are entertaining. Also like other 70s DC and Marvel outputs, there's too much talking, the colours are garish and flat (the shading is all done with line work), but from a 2018 perspective this level of cheese is fun in itself.

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