Friday, May 25, 2012

BLACK DON’T COME OFF

Action Comics #304 [September 1963] hit the newsstands in the month
of my awakening.  Backtrack a bloggy thing or three to understand
what I mean by  "month of my awakening.".

Although my memory of this issue is vague, I almost certainly read
it when it was published or soon thereafter.  Superman comic books
were frequent trade material in my neighborhood, though the ranks
of comic-book readers were thinning out as my peers got older and
allegedly outgrew comics.

Comics publishers certainly believed their audience turned over on
a regular basis.  This issue’s “The Interplanetary Olympics” is a
reworked version of the Superman story of the same title in Action
Comics
#220 [September 1956} from seven years prior.  The reworked
version was written by Leo Dorfman, penciled by Curt Swan, inked by
George Klein and ran 12 pages.  The original version ran 10 pages
and was drawn by Al Plastino.  As tentatively identified by comics
detective Bob Bailey, that original version was likely written by
Edmond Hamilton.

The cover to Action Comics #304 was penciled by Swan with inks by
Sheldon Moldoff.  The cover to issue #220 was penciled and inked by
Plastino.

Also written by Dorfman, “The Maid of Menace” introduced a new foe
for Supergirl.  The Black Flame was Zora Vi-Lar, a super-criminal
who escaped from the bottle city of Kandor.  Drawn by Jim Mooney,
Zora was a combination of cute and evil.  The 12-page story was a
favorite of mine from that era.

Bad girls.  Whatcha gonna do?

More comics from the month of my awakening coming soon.

******************************

DC Comics has made this announcement: “One of the major iconic DC
characters will reveal that he is gay in a storyline in June.”
  The
announcement has generated hundreds maybe even thousands of online
comments and much speculation as to the identity of this character.
What it appears we know, besides the character being gay, is that
he hasn’t yet been introduced in the “New 52" Universe.

I’m all for the inclusion of more diverse characters in super-hero
universes.  I’m okay with a new gay character who was straight in
the old DC Universe continuity, the one that was rendered null and
void by the New 52 Universe.  Well, mostly null and void, as Batman
and Green Lantern got to carry most of their baggage from that old
universe to the new one. 

That character you liked from the old DC Universe is still the same
guy he was.  He’s just in the old universe, the one that is never
coming back and would you like to buy this bridge.  The new version
of that character is just that: a new character.

Black Lightning, the character I created in a partnership with DC
Comics that DC has never fully honored, has been suggested once or
twice in the online chatter.  I suspect some of that chatter came
from folks trying to get me riled.  Amateurs.

How would I feel about Black Lightning being the new gay character?
I’d be against it.

I’d be against it unless I was the one writing it.

Given my contentious relationship with DC and my profound lack of
confidence in their ability or desire to ever do right by either my
creation or myself, I’m sure they would muck it up.  The New 52 is
filled with badly-written and badly-drawn comic books.  There are
some good and even great titles among them, but some of the others
are among the worst comics DC has ever published.

However, for the sake of this bloggy thing, let’s imagine a reality
where I either have reclaimed Black Lightning from DC Comics or the
company has decided not to be douche bags when it comes to me and
my creation.  What would I do?

I’ve been telling friends for some time that if I ever wrote Black
Lightning again that I would largely reinvent the character.  He’d
still be Jefferson Pierce.  He would still be a teacher and man of
faith.  He’d still have the electrical powers, though I’ve figured
out some new ways to use those powers in my long absence from the
character.  But, just as I added then-modern sensibilities to Black
Lightning when I wrote his 1990s series, I’d recreate Jeff Pierce
for 2012.

When I was writing Black Lightning in the 1990s, I actually thought
about having him meet and become romantically involved with a man.
I ditched the notion because the obvious chemistry between Jeff and
his ex-wife was so much fun to write. 

I started thinking about it again after a conversation with a black
writer at a convention.  He had asked me about handling sensitive
social issues in comics scripts and I told him what I had planned
to do with a gay black male character I had introduced in an issue
of the 1990s Black Lightning.  As I saw it, Jeff Pierce would have
seen the struggle of LBGT people as akin to the struggles of black
people in our country.  It was entirely in character for Jeff to be
supportive of that struggle.

The writer took offense at what he clearly thought was a slight of
some sort.  He rubbed his arm and said something along the lines of
“black don’t come off.”  With all due respect, “gay don’t come off
either.”  The conversation ended on a friendly note, but that quick
moment of awkwardness stayed with me.

Are white Americans more supportive of equal rights for LBGT folks
than black Americans?  Quite a few Americans believe that, though
I’m not one of them.  For me, it’s a civil rights issue plain and simple.
Not the same struggle black Americans faced and, sadly, continue to
face, but a civil rights issue nonetheless.

I realize some deeply religious blacks are opposed to equal rights
for gays.  I think they are wrong to oppose them.  In the case of
Christianity, I think the message of Jesus is pretty clear in the
matter.  Love thy neighbor.  Simple and elegant.

I realize some blacks resent the struggle for equal rights of LBGT
Americans being put on the same level as their struggle.  There’s
a difference, to be sure, but it’s not a big enough difference for
anyone to support denying equal rights to gays.

Obviously, it’s not just some blacks opposing equal rights for the
LBGT community.  It’s an issue that raises all sorts of emotions in
all sorts of people from all walks of life. 

The contentious nature of this debate.  The personal drama of those
who are on the front lines of this debate.  The often high price a
gay person has to pay to accept, embrace and live what is in their
hearts and very beings.  These are the building blocks of terrific
stories and writers should always strive to tell terrific stories.

Is Black Lightning gay?  Maybe.  I know I could write some of those
terrific stories exploring what it would mean for Jeff Pierce if he
were.  What it would mean for the teacher.  For the man of faith.
For the involved participant in his community.  For the super-hero.
I could write the hell out of those stories.

In the real world, I won’t get the chance.  DC isn’t going to even
try to do right by me or Black Lightning.  If they were to remake
Jeff Pierce as a gay man, I probably won’t be happy with how it’s
handled.  Don’t blame me.  Blame DC’s long history of messing up my
creation.  I’ve no reason to be optimistic.

I don’t think the chances of Black Lightning being the major iconic
character who is now gay in the New 52 Universe are very high.  I
might think of him as iconic, but I don’t imagine the powers that
be at DC Comics do.  But, if he were and if that would bother you,
I can offer this consolation to you:

The Black Lightning stories I wrote in the 1970s are still there.
Unchanged.

The Black Lightning stories I wrote in the 1990s are still there.
Unchanged.

Enjoy those. 

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2012 Tony Isabella

5 comments:

  1. Well Mr Isabella as you probably now know.. SUPERMAN is the one coming out of the closet in june.. which oddly enough coincides with marvel "marrying off" northstar. If you ask me its all just publicity for dc to try and get more readers to their schlock-fest they call the new 52. i agree the titles suck, the artwork is even worse, and most of the characters make no sense.

    black lightning had always been a favorite of mine (i tend to favor the "2nd stringers".. no offense) because the "big names" are done to death anyway.. constant stories being written about "the big three" and none about the other guys that make up the universe they are in.

    my way of thinking is that there are no bad characters, just lazy writers. this is evidenced now in the whole superman being gay thing.

    with any luck, dc will wake up and realize that bobby ewing really IS in the shower, and the whole 52 debacle will just be a bad dream.

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    1. Strongly disagree with Superman. With a new movie coming out next year, it ain't him, and it ain't meant to be him, Batman, GL, or any of the first-tier. Not. Gonna. Happen.

      Dan Dimwit put his foot in his mouth with this one. The only way he can save face is swerving and introducing a new character with a classic ID, inheriting the legacy of an earlier hero. I'm not sure, however, if he can pull it off. He tried reviving Jack Kirby's OMAC, and that bombed out after 8 issues.

      With our luck, whomever gets the scarlet letter, if ya will, will likely have Rob Liefeld write the book, and that'll ensure a short shelf life.

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  2. Late Night FernegiMay 25, 2012 at 10:15 AM

    I used to read comics long ago. However when I see the "new" material, both DC and Marvel have to cater to a specific demographic. Instead of one Spidey title, now there are many. I liked it better when there was Amazing Spider-Man for all age groups. There was no Spectacular Spidey, no Spider-Sense Spidey etc. The list goes on. When I do get comics, it's the Marvel Essencials or DC Showcase black and white books. For my opinion, better or worse, comics have become story boards for major motion pictures. A lot of the guys in comics want to use it for a spring board to movies or animation. When I talk about my nostalga for the 1970's comics, I'd have to say it was when comics were comics. They weren't $3.99, they were 25 cents (back in 1975) and 50 cents for those DC Hundred Page Specials with reprints. The Hundred Page Specials hold a special place in my heart because they gave you a glimpse of our favorites, past, present and future. I have found Amazon.com to be my new comic shop because Books A Million doesn't discount very much. I pre-ordered "Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus volumes 3 and 4 for only $16 and change each. If I buy them at Books a Million I only get 10 percent off the $20 or $30 cover price.

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  3. Tony -- just a note to let you know that you have no idea how much I enjoy your blog. You're a good man, and I'm happy to know you, even if only electronically.

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  4. The Black Lightning stories I wrote in the 1970s are still there. Unchanged.

    Yeah, but I just wish DC would collect the darn things in a trade paperback so I could read them. I've never been able to find those back issues. But I suppose that's unlikely, given the company's hostility towards you.

    Oh, well, at least I have the 1990s series. And maybe one of these days I will be able to assemble a run of the first series. I'll have to continue to keep my eyes open.

    ReplyDelete