Monday, November 27, 2017


For the first time in my career, I am doing annotations for one of my comics scripts. In yesterday’s bloggy thing, I wrote a prelude to my annotations for Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1. Today, I’m starting the actual annotations.

The idea is to give you a window into the behind-the-brain making of this first issue. For copyright reasons, I will not be posting every panel and page of this issue. You’ll need to have a copy of the issue to follow along with the annotations.

If you don’t have this issue, go to your neighborhood comics store and buy one. If you’re following the annotations with friends as a fun and educational exercise, make sure you buy enough copies for the entire class. I’m just saying.

Six panels of people using phones to record an in-progress robbery at King’s Cleveland Casino. I wanted to establish that this wasn’t a flashback story. It was happening in the here and now.

Cleveland TV65 is my fictional conduit for snarky comments on the news media. Most real-life Cleveland stations are pretty decent, though they do have a tendency to kowtow to the rich and powerful. That’s been an ongoing thing with the Cleveland media for as long as I can remember.

TV65 has the lowest budget of any non-public-access news program in the area. That’s why it pushes its uWitness news. That said, I’m a fan of citizens who use their devices to become part of the news-gathering process. They play an important role and it’s one likely to become more vital in the future.

King’s Cleveland Casino is not the name of the real-world casino in downtown Cleveland. This series takes place in Cleveland as it is in the DC Universe. It’s not intended to be an exact replica of the real Cleveland. Some local landmarks will retain their real names and some won’t.

For a hot minute, I considered changing the name of the Cleveland  Indians to the Cleveland Spiders. I abandoned that idea because I felt the change would take away from the realism I was going for in the series. For the record, I would absolutely support changing the name of the team in the real world. Also for the record, as long as I’m writing Black Lightning, you’ll never see the offensive Chief Wahoo image in my stories.


The opening copy leads to the logo. I love doing a basic background mini-synopsis to give even the newest reader an opening into these stories. If I work on other titles, you’ll see them there as well.

The first caption reveals Jefferson has not been operating as Black Lightning for a while. My internal timeline would put his hiatus at about two or three years, but I didn’t specify that because I may decide otherwise at some later date. As I said in yesterday’s blog, I don’t like to lock in information when it’s not necessary to the story that I do so.

“Pops” is his late father. These first-person caption are usually Jeff talking to his dad. They were very close, especially during the last years of his father's life.

The “math skills” caption was to further emphasize that Jeff is a teacher. I knew I wouldn’t be able to show him in a classroom this issue, so I included lines like this one.

The dialogue of the two police officers further emphasize that our hero is not a known quantity to them. The “our side” line is sort of an ongoing theme. Individual officers aren’t always going to be sure Black Lightning is on their side.


Who the heck is Amberjack? That was a cookie I threw in because I wanted the fans to wonder about Jeff’s unseen trainer. Mentioning Amberjack got his ass kicked by the Red Bee is a further nod to the character’s background. But it’ll be another issue before you meet him and another issue after that before you get a fuller picture of who he is. I’m sort of disappointed this caption didn’t generate any online discussion that I’ve seen.

The “Von Miller” reference is courtesy of my sports-loving son Ed. I asked Ed for the name of a football player who hits really hard. He suggested Miller, the Pro Bowl outside linebacker of the Denver Broncos. Given that Jeff himself was an athlete, I figured sports metaphors and references would come naturally to him.

In an amusing sidebar, this and another sports reference caught the attention of an ESPN commentator. Who may be doing a story on Black Lightning and me. When I told Ed about this, his response was “Shut the fuck up!” But, yes, my life has gotten exciting and more than a little weird with Black Lightning’s greater visibility in comics and on television. You’ll get more examples of my new fame in future installments of the bloggy thing.


There were two things I wanted to accomplish here. I wanted to show Jeff is always learning how to do new things with his powers and be a better hero. When I say he’s smarter than other versions of Black Lightning I’ve written, that’s what I’m talking about.

The Cyborg reference was also very deliberate. Black Lightning has worked with other heroes. I just don’t want to name them all until I have a story reason to do so. In the case of Cyborg, since both he and Jefferson are 20-something black men, I figured they would relate to one another more than they would some other super-heroes.

Also, what with Cyborg being really smart, I knew he would come in useful in science situations. Even when he’s not physically on the scene. I pays to have smart friends.


One of Black Lightning’s captions reads “Even with my strength...” That’s to establish that he’s stronger than the average person of his age and size. How much stronger? You don’t need to know that. This is a story and not a DC Who's Who or a Marvel Handbook.


Tension between Black Lightning and the cops. This isn’t any kind of anti-cop thing as I see it. Lightning is a vigilante. The cops don’t know him. Even so, these cops don’t automatically open fire on the scary black man.


Lots of important information in Jeff’s monologue. We learn he is about to start a new school term as a teacher. We learn why he was in downtown Cleveland. We see a photo of his father and learn the two of them came back to the city - their home - so his dad could pass among family and friends. The mention of Reverend Andrews is a way of establishing Jefferson as a man of faith. The mention of Grammy Henderson establishes his mother’s side of the family while indicating his dad and his dad’s mother-in-law maybe didn’t always get along. The mention of the Press Club lets you know Jeff’s dad was a member of the fourth estate.

Most importantly, this “dialogue” between Jefferson and his father shows the strong bond between them. It’s a bond that still exists after his father’s passing.


The first panel is an establishing shot of Tobias Whale’s primary headquarters. It’s at the corner of Newell and Trevor. I wanted to show respect for Eddy Newell and Trevor von Eeden, my previous Black Lightning artists and friends.

Miss Pequod is Whale’s executive assistant. Knowing I would need a character to convey information to Tobias and the readers, I wanted her to stand out. This exchange, particularly Whale’s comments on family, was meant to highlight how, in so many ways, he and Black Lightning are polar opposites.

The reference to “test subjects” - the Weathermen - shows Cleveland is a testing ground for whatever larger operations are being played out here. As the series progresses, we will learn more.

Here’s our first look at the “new” Tobias Whale. I described him as having the body of LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. When I wrote the script, well before Clayton Henry became the artist for the series, I offered to provide reference on James. This amused Clayton greatly. As a resident of Florida, home of the Miami Heat basketball team for which James played for several years, Clayton knew what the star player looked liked.

Why such a drastic change in appearance for Black Lightning’s “big bad?” When I first created Tobias Whale in the 1970s, he was meant to be my version of Marvel’s Kingpin. I felt the Marvel writers of the era had softened Wilson Fisk. They gave him a wife and a son. He teamed up with Captain America and the Falcon to battle Hydra. My version would be irredeemably evil.

The original Tobias Whale was an albino because I was calling him “the White Whale” at first. It was a clumsy designation that I soon abandoned. Although Tobias was always a black man, albeit one who suffered from albinism, that didn’t register for all of our 1970s readers. Given the opportunity to remake Tobias, I moved away from anything physically resembling his original “that’s not fat, it’s muscle” look. As drawn by Clayton Henry, there’s no doubt Tobias is black and all muscle.


The conversation between Whale and his sister allowed me to fill in  readers on how Tobias operates. His matter-of-fact relating that he killed his own nephew shows how ruthless he is. In the back of my mind, though the Black Lightning/Blue Devil team-up of the new 52 isn’t part of my new continuity, a reader so inclined could assume Whale’s nephew was the inane “Tobias Whale” who appeared therein. However, make no mistake, this new Isabella/Henry Tobias Whale is the real deal.


This was a key page. If readers had any doubt how mercilessly evil Tobias Whale is, this page brings it home.

The third panel on the page mentions Queequeg, a Whale employee we don’t see in this issue. Besides establishing Tobias has read Moby Dick, Pequod’s dialogue offers a clue to a future plot revelation. Feel free to speculate.

That brings us a wee bit beyond the halfway mark of Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1. We’ll continue the annotations tomorrow. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

1 comment:

  1. Very cool! I hope these annotations will also be in the trade and hardcover compilations!