Black Lightning was DC Comics' first black superhero with his own series. He was created by Tony Isabella and debuted in Black Lightning #1 (April, 1977), although his series only lasted a year before falling victim to a mass cutback that resulted in twenty DC titles being cancelled. He continued to make guest appearances, was a founding member of Batman and the Outsiders, and served with the Justice League of America. He got another series of his own in the 1990s, again written by Tony Isabella, which lasted slightly longer than the first one had. In 2009, Jen Van Meter wrote a modern retelling of the 70s series called Black Lightning: Year One. Isabella returned again in 2018 to write the miniseries Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands.
Black Lightning is Jefferson Pierce, who grew up in a slum in Metropolis, made good as an athlete, and returned to his old neighborhood to teach at the high school and help the next generation make something of themselves. (Some stories replace Metropolis with Cleveland, Ohio). Finding the neighborhood in the grip of organised crime, he became a costumed superhero equipped with a belt that gave him electrical powers. Later in his career, as so often happens, he developed the ability to manifest the powers without the belt.
Black Lightning did not appear in any other media for many years, with DC on several occasions choosing to create a new character where they might have used him (e.g. Black Vulcan in Superfriends and Soul Power in an episode of Static Shock). This changed when the Outsiders appeared in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Since then he has also appeared in the animated movies Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, the DC Universe Online video game, in a series of shorts for the DC Nation block (alongside his two daughters, Thunder and Lightning), and in the second season of Young Justice as a member of the Justice League who eventually offers to become the mentor of Static (who was ironically replacing Black Vulcan), and in the third season, titled Outsiders, would become an Ascended Extra as a member of the titular Outsiders, going from a minor character to part of the main cast.
Black Lightning provides examples of:
- Alternate Company Equivalent: Tobias Whale, a four-hundred pound crime boss who maintains a death grip on Suicide Slum, is DC's answer to Marvel's Kingpin, a four-hundred pound crime boss who maintains a death grip on Hell's Kitchen.
- Archenemy: Tobias Whale.
- Badass Teacher : A school teacher, Olympic athlete and overall badass with or without his powers.
- Beware the Nice Ones: You won't find many people nicer than him in the DCU. Piss him off, however, and you'll find out exactly why getting on the bad side of one of the most powerful metahumans on earth is a bad idea.
- Clothes Make the Superman: Black Lightning's powers were initially a property of his costume. More recent stories just make him a metahuman.
- Color Character: Black Lightning. Officially the name comes from the fact that the lightning he generates is literally black. Hinted to be somehow related to the Black Lanterns, since he got powered up after Blackest Night.
- Electric Black Guy: He started the trend of black men with electrical powers.
- Evil Albino: Tobias Whale, the Big Bad of the original series, was an albino African-American. However, he is not depicted as an albino in Cold Dead Hands.
- Not So Different: Black Lightning and the Tattooed Man have a bit of a row in Final Crisis, having similar origins, being family men born in the ghetto yet ending up being Justice League and Anti-Villain respectively. It ends with a Heroic Sacrifice.
- The One Who Made It Out: Jefferson Pierce got out of the ghetto and then came back to help the next generation.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Used for horror at the end of his book in Final Crisis, where he is taken by the Anti-Life equation and shouts the praise of ignorance and Darkseid.
- Remember the New Guy?: He has recently acquired two never-before-mentioned teenage daughters. It's worse: one daughter was introduced in a semi-believable way, and at the time you could see him being a real father to her because he was retired at the time. But years later another daughter surfaces out of nowhere.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Real-world problems have a tendency to show in Jefferson's solo books, from the 1970s series dealing with a gang in an impoverished part of the city to Cold Dead Hands involving The New '10s concerns about gun violence and the sometimes-troubled relationship between the police and the public.
- Shock and Awe: The basis of his powers.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: He started out on the cynicism side as an Anti-Hero, but evolved into The Cape decades later.
- Stealth Hi/Bye: In his 1990s series, Black Lightning demonstrates that he acquired this trick from Batman.
- Technical Pacifist: BL retired from superheroing for awhile when an innocent bystander was killed as he was stopping a villain. He also swiftly objected to Outsiders teammate Katana's willingness to kill.
- Take That!: Cold Dead Hands contains a number of these directed at the NRA.
- Upbringing Makes the Hero: Jefferson Pierce's strong moral foundation and community spirit are a big part of his character.