Related Videos

Comic Book Origins: Black Lightning

Written by Craig Butler Suicide Slum seems beyond saving – but nobody told him that. Welcome to and today we will explore the comic book origin of the electrifying Black Lightning. Have an idea you want to see made into a WatchMojo video? Check out our suggest page at http://WatchMojo.comsuggest and submit your idea.

You must register to a corporate account to download this video. Please login

Suicide Slum seems beyond saving – but nobody told him that. Welcome to and today we will explore the comic book origin of the electrifying Black Lightning.

As with most comic book characters, there are often re-imaginings and different versions to a character’s past. We have chosen primarily to follow the storyline which unfolded in 1977-78’s Black Lightning #3 and #6 through #8 and which was expanded upon in the 2009 six-issue limited series, Black Lightning: Year One.

Black Lightning is an incredibly significant character in the history of comics as the first African-American superhero to have his own DC comic book. Jefferson Pierce started out as a man who wore a super-powered suit to clean up crime-ridden Suicide Slum in Metropolis. But as time went on, the suit’s electricity-based powers became part of Jefferson, enabling him to both generate and control electrical energy.

Jefferson Pierce was a former Olympic decathlete who returned to teach at his old high school in the notorious Suicide Slum of Metropolis. The neighborhood was tightly controlled by a criminal gang known as the 100, and when Pierce tossed one of their pushers off of school grounds, the gang tried to retaliate. With the help of a student named Earl Clifford, Pierce sent those crooks packing, too. But the 100 couldn’t stand for that and killed Clifford in retaliation.

Pierce was determined to take down the gang but knew he needed to do so anonymously to avoid other innocents getting hurt. Pierce’s old family friend, Peter Gambi, created a special costume he could wear to become the hero Suicide Slum needed. It would protect his identity, but also had a weapons belt that provided a kind of force field to repel bullets as well as an ability to create electricity to shock his foes. Taking the name Black Lightning, Pierce began his quest to nail the guys that killed Clifford and to take down Tobias Whale, the leader of the 100 in the Slum.

Over the next few issues, several details were added to Black Lightning’s story. Pierce discovered that the more he used the suit’s powers, the stronger he and they became. This was apparently part of a plan that Peter Gambi had designed – but that plan was only referred to, never fully explained.

More was learned about Peter Gambi, though. Pierce was four when his father, a grocer, was killed by a stray bullet from a hit man. Peter moved into the neighborhood soon after and he helped keep Pierce on the straight-and-narrow as he was growing up. Little did Pierce or his mother know that Peter’s devotion to them came from guilt; he had been the hit man who killed Pierce’s father. Black Lightning was understandably angry to learn that the man he considered a second father had been responsible for his real father’s death. But Peter showed just how much he loved Pierce by taking a bullet intended for the hero. And that action apparently triggered something in Pierce which enabled the transfer of power from his suit to the man himself to become complete. Peter left Pierce a letter explaining his past in detail – but Pierce had already forgiven him and tore the letter up without reading it.

A 2009 mini-series made some significant changes to Black Lightning’s backstory. Pierce again was returning to Suicide Slum, but this time with a wife and daughter. He would live with his mother and his sister and her children. And it turned out that in this version, his father was a reporter who had been killed by the 100 because he was about to expose a plot by Tobias Whale and a man named Swann.

It also was hinted that Pierce was a metahuman, someone with a special gene which gave him superhuman abilities – in this case, control over electricity. He took to hunting down members of the 100, wearing a modified track-suit disguise. He eventually did come clean about his activities to his family – but they had already figured it out and presented him with a specially designed costume for him to wear.

Another major change was the fact that the 100 wasn’t really a criminal organization; it was instead a vampiric life force that latched onto a human body and then fed off of the misery of others. Its most recent host was Swann, but it had existed for centuries. And it wanted Black Lightning as its new host. Fortunately, in this instance at least, it didn’t get what it wanted.

It took some time, but Black Lightning eventually made it into other media, including a member of the animated DC shows. His profile has risen considerably thanks to his new Arrowverse show on the CW.

Sign in to access this feature

Related Blogs