Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Concluding my report on the Mix 2013 comics symposium, which was
held Friday and Saturday, September 27-28, at the Columbus College
of Art and Design...

Black Lightning and Misty Knight are the two comics characters I’m
most asked about.  It used to be just Black Lightning but, as Misty
has grown in popularity, she’s right up there with him.  Here are
some recent thoughts on them, mostly derived from questions asked
of me at Mix 2013.

Black Lightning, as I have often stated, was never a work-for-hire
creation.  If you want more details, do a search on the character’s
previous mentions in this blog.  DC Comics and others have spread
quite a bit of misinformation about the character, his creation and
such, but, from me, you get the real story. 

Black Lightning was the result of my building towards what I wanted
in an African-American super-hero.  I wanted a positive character
who was neither a foreign king or an ex-criminal.  I wanted a hero
to whom young readers could relate.  That’s why I made Jeff Pierce
a schoolteacher.  Every child know what a schoolteacher is and the
lucky ones have had great ones.

I’ll defend the name “Black Lightning” until the day I die.  It’s
a strong name and it represents the pride Jeff Pierce has in who he
is and where he comes from. 

Every now and then, someone makes a big deal out of Black Lightning
having been an athlete.  That has become something of a cliche with
black heroes, but, if I wasn’t there first, I was there long before
it became a cliche.  If you have a couple days to spare, create a
list of all the super-heroes who were athletes.  I’ll guess-timate
it would run would run into the high hundreds...because it was and
is a convenient way to give a super-hero a skill-set necessary to
the physical demands of being a super-hero.

Every now and then, someone makes a big deal out of Black Lightning
fighting crime in the ghetto or, in the case of the second series,
the inner city of Cleveland.  That’s on me and I don’t apologize.
When given my druthers, I have always been more of a ground-level
super-hero writer.  I like the juxtaposition of super-heroes with
more down-to-earth, realistic settings.  Those are the stories in
which I was most interested.  Those are the stories that I wanted
to write.

Traditionally, super-heroes had secret identities to protect their
families, friends and even acquaintances.  When Jeff Pierce first
opposed criminals in Suicide Slum, one of his students died and his
body was hung on a basketball hoop as a warning to anyone else who
might stand up to the criminals.  So, more than most super-heroes,
Jeff knew from the get-go the necessity of a secret identity.  He
also blamed himself for that young man’s death, but Jeff has always
had a tendency to beat himself up over his mistakes and even over
events that aren’t his fault.  Anyway...

This proven necessity of fighting the criminals in another identity
is why, in the first Black Lightning series, Jeff Pierce wore that
Afro-mask and talked in street slang.  At the time, I thought this
was very clever.  But, even in my mind, it didn’t stand the test of
time and was ditched for the second and far superior in every way
Black Lightning series I wrote.

I have only one creative regret when I comes to Black Lighting.  I
wish I hadn’t introduced him as a divorced man.  I missed a chance
to make him a strong black man in a stable marriage with a strong
black woman, something we still don’t see often enough in the comic
books of today.

Which brings me to Misty Knight...

I created Misty in an issue of Marvel Premiere starring Iron Fist,
though I readily admit that the heavy lifting on this character was
done by Chris Claremont and those who followed him.  I only wrote
Iron Fist long enough to wrap up a story line.  Though I would’ve
liked to stay on the series, my other Marvel obligations wouldn’t
permit that.  Sigh.

Misty was not created to be a romantic interest.  She was created
to be his partner, someone to talk to, someone who could hold her
own in any fight, someone who wouldn’t take any nonsense from the
often-naive Danny Rand and let him know in no uncertain terms when
he was being stupid.  But, mostly she was created so that I would
never have to write those asinine second-person captions that had
become the standard narration for the series.

You are Iron Fist and, as you gaze at the silly Frenchman leaping
at you, you wonder why your writer has a fondness for such a dumb


Instead of those captions, if Iron Fist had any observation of any
importance to the reader, he would be able to tell it to Misty and
spare me writing in the second-person, which is my least favorite
literary person. 

I even had a scene in mind that, alas, I never got to write into an
Iron Fist story.  Iron Fist would have been lost in second-person
thought, Misty would notice his distraction and read him the riot
act over such foolishness.  If I were writing it today, it would go
something like this:

You’re doing one of those internal monologues, aren’t you?  That’s
just not right.  You do that again and I will slap you so hard the
letterer will feel it.

Okay, maybe not exactly like that.

I love Misty Knight.  Her original appearance was based on actress
Pam Grier, who I also love. I am delighted so many comics readers
have come to love her as well.


While I was signing at the Mix Store, I got to chat for a bit with
Carol Tyler, the award-winning cartoonist and a fellow Ohioan.  Her
You’ll Never Know is a great autobiographical graphic novel series.
If I had read it before I wrote 1000 Comic Books You Must Read, it
would have been included in that book.

Carol had a spotlight panel.  I stayed and signed for a bit longer,
than settled up with the Nix Store.  With my kids both going to the
Ohio State football game that evening, I decided to forego spending
another night in Columbus and drive back to Medina.

Even with buying over fifty bucks worth of stuff at the Mix Store,
I would have come out almost fifty bucks ahead on the weekend from
the sales of my book.  Columbus had a different idea.

Had I left my van in the Abigail Apartments parking area, I would
have been fine.  It’s a private parking area.  However, because I
thought it would be more convenient, I had moved my van to a meter
outside the Canzani Center.  Always the cautious sort, I made sure
I put enough money into the meter to cover me a hour beyond when I
expected to leave. 

What I didn’t expect was that Columbus would give me a ticket for
not having a license plate on the front of my van.  This is one of
those laws that makes little sense given how many modern vehicles
don’t have a place for front license plates.  Yet it’s still on the
books and Columbus demanded $45 in tribute from me.

Oh, well, at least I broke even on the weekend.


Earlier in this extended Mix 2013 report, I expressed my unease with the
union of comic books and academia.  But, in my short time at this
symposium, I didn’t see the laborious and ponderous pontification
of my previous experiences with comics academia.  That may be hope
for me...or for comics academia.

If I’m invited to Mix 2014 and my schedule allows, I’ll return to
the symposium.  Maybe we could discuss all the religious overtones
and redemption elements that keep showing up in my work.  Or maybe
we’ll just talk about the social-political meanings behind the DC
Comics go-go checks of the 1960s. 

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2013 Tony Isabella

1 comment:

  1. Black Lightning always worked as a title and a character for me as a reader. Looking back on when I first read those issues they worked to jar the perspective a bit, a different hero dealing with different issues and environments, but still having a lot of the expected superhero elements intact. There was a certain grimness, but never overdone or distracting. There was a nobility and a prevailing sense of responsibility about the character, maybe even a martyr-complex kind of guilt, but it all motivated Black Lightning to be Black Lightning, and it made for a different kind of super-hero/comic. In his creation I think you were really part of something important. Maybe Black Lightning for me was like the 'gateway' comic that eventually led to me finding Don McGregor's Sabre? It's interesting to read your thoughts on the characters you created.