Welcome to the longest-titled bloggy thing I have ever written. The title is so long it should’ve been divided into two bloggy things, but I’m eager to get started on my multiple-part report on my trip to Singapore and the convention I attended at the beautiful Gardens by the Bay. We begin with an e-mail I recently received from some Tik Tot creator...
Hello Tony! I have read Black Lightning had a very controversial origin. It’s said when DC contacted you, they wanted you to write a racist white man who transformed into a Black superhero, and that you thankfully changed their mind before they published it. I have read he transformed by saying the “N word” and wondered if that was really something DC thought appropriate. I have also read elsewhere the change was triggered through stress. I have a tiktok channel with 120k+ followers. We would like to know more about it, and if he really did transform by saying the N word, or if the N word was ever used in the original stories you saw. Thank you for creating Black Lightning, I would love to hear more about it! Below is a link to a short video I made about the subject. Please feel free to confirm or deny anything I said there or direct me to more accurate sources on the topic. Have a great day! I hope to hear from you soon.
This e-mail didn’t quite sit right with me. I think the “confirm or deny” was a trigger for me. However, what I really found appalling was that this gentleman, who apparently has a huge following, felt it was acceptable to post potentially erroneous information to his audience. They deserve better than that. Especially since he could have easily found most of the answers he sought by doing a simple online search.
This kind of shoddy comics journalism is common. A recent article on Comic Book Resources on my What If story “What If Gwen Stacy Had Lived?” got it 100% wrong, missing the actual meaning of the story completely. I am one of the easiest creators to reach online and, last I checked, I was still living. A responsible writer would have contacted me. Which might have destroyed the click-bait value the writer was going for, but I’m one of those old-fashioned sorts who thinks reporters should reported the truth.
Rich Johnson’s Bleeding Cool is notorious for its “Let you and him fight” style of gossipy click-bait. The site once had value and did do some useful reporting, but it has increasingly embraced the sleazy side of the force.
Those are only two examples of shoddy comics journalism. There are too many others to even list. As long as comics fans accept these low standards, there will be more.
You want me to write about the Black Bomber, don’t you? Everybody does. I get asked about the character frequently. Even from people who have heard the story. I suppose they just like the way I tell it. If I were a singer, this tale of wonderment would be the song I sing for the encore.
Before I tune up the old guitar, let me address something from the above e-mail I’ve never addressed before. Because I never heard it before receiving the e-mail.
The white racist did not transform into the Black hero by shouting the N-word. To the best of my recollection, the N-word wasn’t used in either of the two completed Black Bomber scripts. I don’t know who made this up, but it wasn’t true.
When I moved from Marvel to DC, I was given two completed scripts of a planned new hero called the Black Bomber. This character was a white racist who’d taken part in chemical camouflage experiments intended to allow him to better blend in to the jungles of Vietnam. No, really.
The effects of the experiments didn’t kick in until the soldier was discharged from the military and again living in the United States. Then, in times of stress, the white racist would turn into a Black super-hero. Neither identity was aware of the other. Both of them had girlfriends who witnessed the transformations and said nothing. No, really.
In each of the two scripts, the white racist in his white racist identity rescued people who he couldn’t see clearly. In both cases, he had risked his life to rescue a Black person. In both cases, he wasn’t happy about this. To quote what he said after rescuing a child in a baby carriage, “You mean I risked my life for a jungle bunny?” No, really.
The cherry on top of this shit sundae was the hero’s costume. Which looked like a basketball uniform. No, really.
DC Comics wanted me to “punch up” the two existing scripts and take over the writing with the third issue. I declined. I told them that these were the most offensive scripts I had ever read in my four years in the comics industry. I told them they could not possibly publish these scripts.
My DC bosses were aghast. What did I mean they couldn’t publish a couple of scripts they had paid for?
I responded that, if they published those terrible scripts, their offices would be set upon by a mob wielding pitchforks and torches. They asked how I could know this. I told them I’d be leading that mob. This was one of the proudest moments of my career.
How often does one get to truly put their principles ahead of their well-being? At the time I was declining this gig, I was just about as broke as I’ve ever been in my life. I had no income to speak of. I would have been homeless save for the kindness of friends who let me stay with them. I mostly ate at McDonald’s because it was cheap and just filling enough to keep me going. Yet here I was risking my perhaps only chance of gainful employment in the comics industry because it was the right thing to do. Every time some asshole tries to troll me because of my devotion to Black Lightning and my quest to keep my creation consistent with his core values, I laugh because I know those jerks would never have done what I did. Morally vacant cowards.
It took me somewhere between seven and ten days to convince DC that I was right about this. But I had to boil it down to something the all-white hierarchy could understand:
“Do you actually want your first headline Black super-hero to be a white racist?”
They had never thought about it that way. I was given two or three weeks to create a new Black super-hero.
And so the legend began...
I’m asked about Black Vulcan even more often than I’m asked about the Black Bomber. I suppose I should retell that story in the near future. However, coming up next, with an occasional interruption, I’ll be taking several blogs to report on the fabulous trip Saintly Wife Barb and I took to Singapore to attend the wondrous Cosfest: Legend of the Floral Guardian at the amazing Gardens By The Bay. I can’t wait to share it with you.
© 2023 Tony Isabella