Paul Levitz is rightfully regarded as one of the smartest people in
comics. Yet he said what may well have been the dumbest thing that
has ever been said to me in my four decades in the comics industry.
It was in an e-mail exchange.
I should preface this by saying Paul was a friend before I moved to
New York to work in comics, showed me great kindness when I first
moved to New York, and is someone I still consider a friend. This
despite the sad facts that, when Paul was in a position to change
DC’s oft-despicable treatment of me, he not only failed to act but
actually added to my misery. Despite that, I continue to wish all
the best for Paul. Some people you forgive, others you don’t, and,
even in my own heart and head, I can’t explain why that is.
We were having one of our not-infrequent discussions about DC not
honoring its agreements with me. That’s when Paul wrote, and I’m
paraphrasing this, “Why would you want to write Black Lightning
again when the character has brought you so much pain?
To this day, I can’t tell you if Paul was being really dumb, really
clueless or knowingly misrepresenting the situation. Because Black
Lightning and particularly writing Black Lightning has never been
anything other than the greatest joy of my professional life. Any
pain has come from DC’s failure to honor its agreements with me and
its destructive behavior towards my creation.
It’s hard for me to pigeonhole DC Comics and its employees. True,
the company has a history of screwing over creators dating back to
Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, its founder, and rewriting history
in attempts to make its actions less contemptible. Sadly, too many
fans accept the DC spin as truth. But are the executives and the
employees knowingly evil, ridiculously clueless, looking out only
for their own interests, honestly okay with these actions, or just
delusional about what’s been done? The range of possibilities is
far greater than most imagine.
There are a dozen things I would rather write about today. I want
to write about my Sainted Wife Barb and my excellent adventures in
helping our son Eddie move into his new digs in historical Marietta
Ohio. I want to write about my upcoming garage sale, which will be
at 840 Damon Drive, Friday and Saturday, July 13 and 14, from 10 am
to 6 pm. I want to write about the comics and the other things I
have read recently. I want to dive into my folder of interesting
things I haven’t written about yet. The last thing I want to write
about is my “contentious” relationship with DC Comics or the latest
violation of their agreement with me.
However, once The Beat, one of my favorite comics news site, broke
the story about the coming entry of Black Lightning into DC’s “New
52" universe, and once my initial comment of “Words fail me” turned
out not to satisfy anyone, I knew I’d have to write about it again.
Because, whether I write anything about it or not, there will always
be that small army of gutless trolls who anonymously post egregious
misinformation about the situation. To someone who cares about the
history of comics and the writers and artists who have contributed
so much to my enjoyment of comics, it’s almost impossible to allow
that misinformation to go unchallenged.
So, here I am, writing about it again, two days before this year’s
Comic-Con, hoping that the truth will overcome the crap that floods
the Internet in situations like this. I can’t say I’m confident I
can succeed in this, but I have to give it a shot.
It started with a news item at The Beat: “DC Finally Remember that
Black Lightning is Amazing” by Steve Morris. Black Lightning and
the Blue Devil would be teaming up in an upcoming story arc for DC
Universe Presents. The Blue Devil was created by my friends Dan
Mishkin and Gary Cohn in the 1980s. However, the writer for this
arc was not me or Dan or Gary. It was Marc Andreyko, an excellent
writer who, nonetheless, apparently doesn’t realize that this was
far from joyous news for any of us.
Looking at the sketches of the characters included in the article,
I thought they were awful. Black Lightning looked like a teenager
and also like Marvel’s new Power Man. The Blue Devil looked like
he hadn’t had a decent meal in months. From what Morris reported,
this would be a “buddy” series, not unlike the Power Man/Iron Fist
series from Marvel.
Please understand Black Lightning is not a work-for-hire creation.
Everything vital to the character was established before I agreed
to a partnership deal with DC Comics, an equal partners partnership
deal. Neither partner could do anything with the character unless
the other was in agreement. I know I was highly motivated to make
this extraordinary deal work. DC...not so much.
DC’s doing this story arc without my approval is just the latest in
a long series of violations of our original agreement. Only once
in the past have I agreed to a use of Black Lightning that I didn’t
write myself and that was Mike Barr’s Batman and the Outsiders. I
was okay with Mike writing my character and, when he told me about
his series, I gave it my blessing. However, I suspect that, had I
not given my blessing, DC still would have gone forward with that
series. I’ve come to expect that.
So...Black Lightning teaming up with the Blue Devil, the changes in
his appearance, his being written by Andreyko, DC’s choices for the
artists...are all violations of my agreement with DC. Knowing that
fighting DC is, at present, an un-winable battle for me, my initial
comment to the news was:
“Words fail me.”
A little while later, when Dan Mishkin tagged me in a Facebook post
on the news, I replied:
“Forget it, Dan. It’s DC Town.”
In short, I didn’t want to deal with this crap again. That’s when
Andreyko, innocently, I’m sure, crossed a line. He posted this to
the original Beat article:
“tony and dan: i love these characters and will treat them well. i
hope you like it:)”
I’m delighted Marc loves my creation. I’m less thrilled he will be
eating my lunch. And, since there’s no reason on God’s Earth that
I should read his imitation of my creation, we’ll never know if I’d
like it. I never read the unclean thing that was Black Lightning
Year One and, judging from what readers have told me, that turned
out to be a good call on my part.
While I would generally wish Andreyko well because I have enjoyed
other things he’s written, I don’t wish him well on this project.
I don’t think he’s a bad guy. Not in the least. That he made an
unintentionally dumb post doesn’t make him a bad guy. I know well
the thrill of being asked to write great characters and, at times,
I’ve crossed a line freelancers shouldn’t cross when offered such
assignments and when the original creators are still alive and very
capable of and eager to write their creations. In my youth, it was
because I didn’t understand the issues involved. As recently as my
Grim Ghost mini-series last year, it was because I stupidly didn’t
remember that Michael Fleisher created the Ghost and was credited
as the creator in the original comics. While it doesn’t seem too
likely I’ll be writing more Grim Ghost comics, if that happens, I
will do my best to contact Michael and do right by him.
But I digress.
When the “what do you think of this” e-mails and Facebook messages
started coming in by the dozens, I hoped to respond to this unhappy
situation as briefly and swiftly as possible. I posted this brief
message in my blog on Thursday, July 5:
Yes, I have heard the news about Black Lightning. You don't have
to e-mail me, private message me, phone me, or post links on my
Facebook page. My only public comments to date have been "Words
fail me" and, to my friend Dan Mishkin, "Forget it, Dan. It's DC
But, really, if you've ever read anything I've written about Black
Lightning and DC's continued refusal to honor its agreements with
me, and if you have half a brain, you already know how I feel about
I figured/hoped that could stand as my comment on this new series.
I hadn’t figured that several comics news sites would run with the
story and my comments.
If I’d figured on the additional news stories, I could’ve predicted
all sorts of mostly anonymous jerks would electronically emerge to
post the usual insults and misinformation online. I would usually
ignore these cretins and creeps, but, this time, I’ll take another
run on enlightening those who actually care about the facts of the
Come back tomorrow and we’ll talk about this.
© 2012 Tony Isabella