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Black Lightning was DC Comics' first black superhero with his own series. He was created by Tony Isabella and debuted in Black Lightning #1 (April, 1977), although his series only lasted a year before falling victim to a mass cutback that resulted in twenty DC titles being cancelled. He continued to make guest appearances, was a founder member of Batman and the Outsiders, and served with the Justice League of America. He got another series of his own in the 1990s, again written by Tony Isabella, which lasted slightly longer than the first one had.
Black Lightning was Jefferson Pierce, who grew up in a slum in Metropolis, made good as an athlete, and returned to his old neighborhood to teach at the high school and help the next generation make something of themselves. Finding the neighborhood in the grip of organised crime, he became a costumed superhero equipped with a belt that gave him electrical powers. Later in his career, as so often happens, he developed the ability to manifest the powers without the belt.
Black Lightning has not appeared in any other media until recently, when the Outsiders appeared in Batman the Brave And The Bold. Since then he has also appeared in the animated movies Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and Justice League Crisis On Two Earths and the DC Universe Online video game. It has been noted that the history of DC Comics spin-offs also includes several characters that could have been Black Lightning but for some reason weren't, including Black Vulcan in Superfriends and Soul Power in an episode of Static Shock.
Black Lightning provides examples of:
- Clothes Make the Superman: Black Lightning's powers were initially a property of his costume.
- Color Character: Black Lightning. Officially the name comes from the fact that the lightning he generates is literally black.
- Evil Albino: Tobias Whale, the Big Bad of the original series.
- Fountain of Expies: Ever noticed how it seems like there are an awful lot of African-American superheroes with electricity powers? That's because most of them are either directly related to Black Lightning (his daughter Lightning) or are Captain Ersatz versions of him (Black Vulcan, Soul Power) or deliberate Shout Outs (Static, Volt). An episode of Justice League Unlimited even featured Expies of the Superfriends, making the character Juice (the Black Vulcan equivalent) an Expy of an Expy.
- The One Who Made It Out: Jefferson Pierce got out of the ghetto and then came back to help the next generation.
- Shock and Awe: The basis of his powers.
- Stealth Hi Bye: In his 1990s series, Black Lightning demonstrates that he acquired this trick from Batman.
- Technical Pacifist: BL retired from superheroing for awhile when an innocent bystander was killed as he was stopping a villain. He also swiftly objected to Outsiders teammate Katana's willingness to kill.
- Upbringing Makes the Hero: Jefferson Pierce's strong moral foundation and community spirit are a big part of his character.