Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Starting this past Sunday and concluding today, I've been writing about Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1 and presenting annotations to my script for that issue. I think you’ll be amused and surprised by some of today’s notes.

Our opening image is a photo of my father Louis Isabella a little before he married my mother. It’s my favorite photo of him and the next page of the story explains why I chose it to start off today’s bloggy thing.

However, before we get to that next page, I must go back to pages two and three to give you an annotation that I forgot to include in yesterday’s column.

The overall title of this series is “Cold Dead Hands” and I figure that gives you some idea the real-world issue that looms large in our story. Each chapter title also has meaning.

Consider the chapter titles to be Jefferson Pierce’s play list. As you will see, each of these chapter titles also bears some relation to the individual issue.

“Ready To Do It All Over” is from Ludacris’ “New Beginning Intro.” Here are the first four lines:

Yeah, ahh~! I'm ready to do it all over
My heart colder, hip-hop I'm part owner
Southern rap specialist, verses intelligent
Elegant, it's Ludacris, don't EVER question my relevance

This issue is a new beginning for both Jefferson Pierce and myself. Can a 65-year-old comic-book writer be relevant in the comics world of 2017? Ultimately, the readers will answer that question.

The “Press Club thing” for Jeff’s father is held at McGregor Hall. That’s a nod to my dear friend Don McGregor. Don is a one-of-a-kind writer who was working to include diverse characters in his comics stories before almost everyone else. His stories grow richer with each re-reading. His passion for the stories is inspirational. We need more McGregor comic books.

Louis Pierce is named after my father. The “Cash Bar” on the sign in the second panel harkens back to my three years working for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Maybe it was just the PD editors/reporters, but they consumed vast quantities of alcohol. Some of the reporters even had a bottle in their desks. I once watered down the booze of a reporter I thought was an arrogant ass. One of my co-workers had wanted to use a different liquid.

I asked Clayton to draw a young Louis Pierce on a motorcycle using my father’s photo as a guide. We also learn of the prejudice Louis faced as a black newsman. The line about Jeff’s mom hating the bike is based on reality. My grandmother and my mother nagged Dad until he sold his bike.

This page introduces retired police sergeant Ernie Colavito and his daughter, Tommi Colavito. Ernie and Louis were best friends. Jeff and Tommi were like brother and sister. Tommi’s a police detective. These are two of the most important people in Jeff’s life.

The remaining panels on the page give more information. Jeff was an Olympic gold medalist. I’ll reveal in what sport when I need that for a story. Tommi is Cleveland’s finest detective and, as you’ll see, is a high-ranking member of the department. We get another jab at TV65. We get another mention that Black Lightning has not been active for a couple of years.

Tommi refers to Black Lightning as “Sparky,” a nod to the Tommy Colavito who appeared in my 1990s series.  Jeff is not fond of that nickname. This brings us to another astonishing revelation.

When I first wrote this script, Tommi was Tommy Colavito. After I sent it to DC, I realized I didn’t have a positive woman character in the story. So I did a quick and surprisingly simple rewrite to change Tommy into Tommi. Since Jeff and Tommi are not romantically involved - and never will be - it wasn’t hard to make the changes.

Though it has been reported often, I don’t know if legendary Marvel Comics writer Chris Claremont actually ever asked the question “Why can’t this character be a woman?” But that was the question I asked myself before changing Tommy to Tommi. Props to Chris for being way ahead of the crowd in the 1970s.


The first three panels of this page sum up the problem with modern police work as I see it. I want to believe the good cops are in the majority. However, until those good cops take a stand against the bad cops, the already tense relationship between police and citizens, especially minority citizens, will continue to deteriorate.

No one, police or civilian, should accept this as any kind of new normal. I worked with police in the 1990s when I was researching my second Black Lightning series. Yes, there were some bad cops then, but those bad cops didn’t have the automatic and unwavering support of their fellow officers. That’s what has changed between now and then. That’s what needs to change again.

My script for Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1 was originally 20 pages. Because that was what the book’s original editor told me was standard for DC super-hero titles. Imagine my surprise when I was told the book was actually budgeted for 22 pages.

The additional pages, which were written after I had turned in my revised 20-page script, gave me a chance to add a brother/sister scene with Jeff and Tommi. Surprisingly, I've never written such a scene in my 45 years of writing comic books. It was a fun page to write. A few funny lines. A cautionary note. A warm human moment. A mention of the Flash. So now you know Black Lightning has met a second super-hero in his new existence.

The second additional page allowed me to introduce Detective Denise Simms, Tommi’s partner, sooner than I’d originally planned. I have  more to tell you about Denise and about creating Denise, but I don’t want to spoil what you’ll be learning over the next few issues. At some point in the future, I’ll devote an entire installment of “Black Lightning Beat” to the formidable Detective Simms.


Panel two is the first time we mention “alien guns” in this series. That’s a big deal. It also reinforces Tobias Whale’s involvement in the appearance of these weapons in Cleveland.

Panel three reveals each member of the Weathermen will get $50,000 if they kill Black Lightning. That should give you an idea how much money is involved in this operation.

Panel four shows the divide among the cops. One of them hates Black Lightning’s presence in the city. The other recognizes they might need him.


Black Lightning mentions Batman in the second panel. So now we know he’s met Batman. I haven’t found the right place to put it into a script, but, just so you know, in this rebooted continuity, Black Lightning only worked with Batman for a hot minute. He didn’t like it. He didn’t like Batman.

Likewise, I’m on record saying that, as long as I’m writing Black Lightning, the days of him being subservient to Batman or Superman or any other hero are long gone. Jeff is and will always be his own man. Bet on Black Lightning.


The second panel introduces a cop named Casey. He doesn’t care for Black Lightning. I didn’t think I’d have much use for him. He has since proven me wrong.

This is the page where I realized my original ending was, to put it mildly, crap. Desperation can spark a great idea, especially when you have a villain like Tobias Whale who is both really crafty and utterly merciless. I should have figured he would have some sort of contingency plan if the Weathermen failed.

So...we have Tommi clearing the way for Black Lightning to make an exit by ordering Casey to help push back the perimeter of the crime scene. Her excuse is that she doesn’t want the citizen reporters of uWitness News to interfere with this bust.

This is followed by Miss Pequod activating her boss’s contingency plan. She doesn’t hesitate.

Sudden death. Caught on dozens of cell phones. Horror in the eyes of Black Lightning, Tommi and everyone else witnessing the picture Tobias has painted for them. The cops react in anger, but I don’t think their actions are inappropriate given what they think they’ve just seen.

I love the last two panels of this issue. Black Lightning runs down an alley, utterly alone. Tobias gets a killer last line.

The next issue blurb? That’s a reference “Every Hand Against Him,” the title of the third issue of my original 1970s series.

Sometimes these stories do write themselves.

I hope you found these annotations enlightening and entertaining. If enough of you liked them, I’ll certainly consider doing them for Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #2. That issue should be hitting the comics shops in a week or two.

In the meantime...

Come back on the morrow for another installment of our hard-riding “Rawhide Kid Wednesday” series. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella


  1. I'm guessing that Ernie and Tommi Colavito are named after Rocky Colavito of the Cleveland Indians. Since the book is set in Cleveland, many people are likely to notice and/or comment on the name.

  2. Love the annotations! Please continue.