DC’s Year One brand is back and Black Lightning’s the star. Truth be told, I didn’t have high hopes for this, having never been a huge Jefferson Pierce fan. I read a few issues of his original title in the Seventies, but the short-lived series was never a favourite. He joined Batman’s Outsiders but was just kinda there, a power set with a daft wig and a tendency to have previously unheard-of children pop up.
But daughters Anissa (Thunder) and Jennifer (Lightning) have settled in with the Outsiders and JSA, and a solid Justice League membership has brought Jeff new fans. So it makes sense to showcase the character more and this is a shinier display than I could have hoped for.
Writer Jen Van Meter honours the origins, as laid down by creator Tony Isabella, while enriching them with a deeper real-world feel. Jeff is still the Sidney Poitier-style athlete turned teacher, out to inspire kids away from Metropolis mob the 100, but we see that he has flaws, not least of which is that he can’t share his fears with his wife. Said anxieties surround the electrical aura he’s been suppressing for years (the original run had the powers generated by a belt, though they were later internalised) but wife Lynn, an equally crusading lawyer, isn’t exactly stupid. She knows something’s up.
It’s Lynn who is Van Meter’s masterstroke. The hero’s narration has become a staple of superhero comics but the writer turns this around by telling the story from Lynn’s point of view. So instead of, for example, Jeff telling us he’s running after local bad boys as we see him run after local bad boys, Van Meter takes the opportunity to give us some backstory (click to enlarge):
The rest of the script is equally intelligent, as we’re introduced to various members of Black Lightning’s family. Van Meter masterfully weaves the daughters and niece Joanna into an integral part of the story. And some nice small touches find their way into the artwork, such as the graffiti which makes Southside into Suicide Slum and the renamed trophy cabinet at Jefferson’s school.
And the art is wonderful. Cully Hamner draws attractive, real-looking people in a pleasingly comic style. And he doesn’t skimp on the backgrounds, which is vital if Metropolis’ seamier side is to be evoked. Laura Martin is his partner in colours and does a terrific job, making the scenery colour appropriate while toning for mood.
I had such a good time reading this that I didn’t care that Jeff never appeared in Trevor Von Eeden’s original costume, which Hamner has tweaked, for sanity’s sake, on the cover. Black Lightning: Year One is shipping bi-weekly for three months – buy it if you want a superhero drama that crackles.