Sunday, November 26, 2017


We move into scary new territory for me today. I’ve never before done annotations for a comic book I’ve written. However, I thought the readers of Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1 might find some value in a behind-the-brain examination of why I did what I did in the first issue of my return to my proudest creation.

We’ll start with some general background. The decision to present Jefferson Pierce as a relatively young man of 28 was not something mandated by Dan DiDio or anyone else. When I was asked to write a new Black Lightning series, cognizant of the fluid continuity that had been visited on the character since I last wrote him, I asked DC which version of Black Lightning they wanted me to use. It was a question asked before I had any solid information on what the TV series would be doing.

Using this younger version of Jeff Pierce was entirely my call. I could have attempted to reconcile the oft-confusing continuity or I gone with the Black Lightning I wrote in the 1970s or the 1990s. I could have used the Black Lightning of Black Lighting: Year One, a series I disliked, or even the Black Lightning introduced in the new 52. None of those appealed to me, though parts of them seemed like something I could work with.

What I decided...was to do stuff with Jeff and Black Lightning I had never done before. He would be younger than I had ever written him before. He would have an actual family as opposed to the families he tended to build around himself. He would not have been a married man in his past. And he would be explicitly based in my home town of Cleveland. All my decisions.

Note. My 1990s Black Lightning book was also set in Cleveland, but I was so coy about it that many people thought he was operating in some place called “Brick City.” For the record, I always referred to it as “The Brick City” in my 1990s scripts. It wasn’t the name of the city. It was the name of the more-or-less real-life Cleveland neighborhood in which Black Lightning was operating and where Jeff Pierce lived.

When I started writing the first issue of Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands, no artist was attached to the series. Several artists were considered to draw the series with one being formally attached. That artist’s busy schedule eventually precluded him doing the series. We had the same problem with one or two artists. When Clayton Henry became available, it was a most joyous day for Team Lightning. We had an artist who could knock it out of the park whether drawing the super-hero action or the human moments which have always been so vital to the dual worlds of Jefferson Pierce and Black Lightning.

Black Lightning’s suit - we don’t call it a costume around here - was also a development problem. The first designs that came in were not remotely right for the character. Other designs were closer to what we wanted, but not close enough. My suggestion of using some elements of existing Black Lightning suits was rejected. The top brass felt we needed a new look for the relaunch.

If memory serves - and it may not - I suggested we use a modified version of the Black Lightning suit from the TV series. By then, we had all seen Cress Williams looking all electrically bad-ass in it and had liked that image.

We had to simplify the TV series suit for the comic books. It’s one thing to construct such a suit for a live-action show. It’s there and, outside of occasional maintenance, you’re good to go whenever the director shouts “Action!” But, with comics, the artist is going to have to draw the suit in panel after panel. Drawing the suit as it looked in the TV series would have driven the most diligent artist insane. We all agreed it was important to keep our talented artist from ending up in an institution.

Some thoughts on my “method” as it were.

I wrote a synopsis of sorts of the entire six-issue story. I also write a synopsis of sorts for each individual issue before I begin writing it. Remember what German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke said about no battle plan surviving contact with the enemy? Welcome to my method.

I write full script. I worked Marvel style - writing a plot for the artist and writing captions and dialogue after the artist penciled the story - at the start of my professional career and for a great many years thereafter. Ultimately, I discarded that style. Since I generally wrote panel-by-panel plots anyway, it made more sense for me to switch to full script.

The great advantage of not being locked into a synopsis or a plot is that it allows me to surprise myself. It allows me to take the characters or the stories in unexpected directions. Some of what I think are the very best moments of my 1990s Black Lightning series and this one are the result of those surprises. The characters and the story take on lives of their own.

Cold Dead Hands editor Jim Chadwick has generously allowed me to go this route. Halfway through the six issues, he did ask me to write an overview of the remaining issues for him and associate editor Harvey Richards. He wanted to make sure the overall story did what it needed to do to tell a complete story in our six issues. Every step of the way, he and Harvey have worked to help me write my best stories. I've had editors who wanted me to write their stories. You could probably figure out I prefer the Chadwick/Richards approach to the editor/writer dynamic.

Some further thoughts on my modus operandi...

In ancient times, the primary audience for comic books were young boys and girls around ten or twelve years old. Those days are gone and they ain’t coming back. Even if they did, the ten and twelve-year-olds of today are smarter than we were at that age.

So I don’t feel I have to spell out every single fact about Black Lightning or other characters or situations in my scripts. I trust readers to fill in the gaps themselves. Indeed, speculating seems to have become a natural components of comics reading in this time of online fandom.

You know what? Speculating is fun for those who participate in it. It gets them more involved with the comic books they are reading. I encourage it. These readers might look at a panel or some line of copy in my scripts and think they know what’s coming. Even if they are wrong, it does no harm to my work. That said...

Everything in my scripts is carefully thought out. Even the scenes that surprise me as I’m writing them. I have a reason for whatever I write. A method to my seeming madness.

That’s the point of doing these annotations. I’m opening a window to my process in the hope of entertaining you, of astounding you, of helping you better appreciate what writers, artists and editors do to bring you your favorite comic books.

When you’re reading a comic book, you don’t need to see the “math” that leads to that comic book. You just need to see the end result, which is - fingers crossed - a comic book that entertains you and perhaps makes you thinks and then gets you back for the next issue.

I am as focused on what I leave out of scripts as what I include. During a recent editorial give-and-take, there was a suggestion of adding some background information for a character. I had two good reasons to not do that and my editors agreed with or were at least okay with my reasons.

Adding background information into that particular action sequence would have slowed the action at a crucial point. Just as important to me, it would have locked me into that background information on the character in question.

Why lock myself into that when it wasn’t necessary for the scene?  By not including the suggested background information, I have left myself open to perhaps go a different direction with the character when and if I see fit.

Some final notes for today...

To those readers/reviewers who seem amazed that a comic-book about a black super-hero called Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands includes contemporary real-world content...

What did you think would be in a comic called Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands?

To those alt-right morons calling for a boycott of Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands on the basis of it being “anti-cop,” which is their shorthand for “a black guy is the hero”...

I have nothing to say to you. You’re racist morons.

To others...

There are good cops in Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands. There are bad cops in Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands. There are cops still trying to figure themselves out in a city that has a reputation for police violence without just consequences for the perpetrators of that violence. We do not live in simple times and this is not a simple comic book.


Do not call this a “mini-series” when I’m around. I consider it to be the first six-issue series of a series of Black Lightning series or maybe the first six issues of a series that will resume with a Black Lightning #7.

In these six issues, I introduce characters who, while they may not have large roles in this first series, will have greater impact on Jefferson Pierce in future stories. Indeed, I have plans for maybe two years of future Black Lightning comic books...

...and counting.

If enough of you buy Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands, if you let the good people at DC Comics know you are eager to buy more Black Lightning comic books, DC will publish more Black Lightning comic books. Maybe even written by me. 
DC Comics would love to publish more Black Lightning comic books. The current management are big fans of the character. They see potential in this character that escaped previous administrations. I wouldn’t be working with them if they didn’t.

In my 45 years in the comics industry, I have never worked with a more dedicated, exceptional creative team than the Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands team. Every member of the team - Dan, Jim, Harvey, Clayton, Jim Lee, colorist Pete Pantazis, letterer Josh Reed, Tomeu Morey, Ken Lashley, Juan Fernandez, the cover approvals folks, the DC Entertainment publicity folks, even standards and practices - is knocking themselves out to make this the best possible comic book they can. We may butt heads every now and then, but it’s in common cause.


The astute among you will have noticed that I haven’t actually done any annotations in today’s bloggy thing. Surprise.

However, now that I’ve written this long-winded prelude, you will get the first batch of annotations in tomorrow’s bloggy. I have no idea how many columns it will take to get through the entire first issue. We’ll find that out together. See you tomorrow.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

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