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Black Superhero Month: Black Lightning

February 12, 2011

We were looking at an action figure of Black Lightning at Toys ’R’ Us when my kid said “Why is he called Black Lightning if his lightning is blue?”

“Well, son, he’s called Black Lightning because he used to have a giant afro and a V-necked costume. He didn’t even have lightning powers in those days; he just beat people up in the ghetto. And his real name was Jefferson Pierce, because the negroes, they like to name their children after presidents like Garfield, Lincoln, Rutherford B. Hayes and, of course, Kennedy.”

It took the 1980s to rehabilitate Black Lightning, as he became less of a stereotype, joined, and evenutally led, the Outsiders and, out of costume, rose to become secretary of education under President Lex Luthor.

Now he’s in the JLA, finally wears a decent costume, and is one of the DC Universe’s senior members. And when I said “out of uniform,” I didn’t mean he was naked, you know.

Black Lightning has been established as an older gentleman; he has adult daughters who are also superheroes (the Williams sisters) and serves as an advisor of sorts to younger heroes.

He has evolved past the “You talkin’ white jive” cliches we saw so much of in the 1970s — and will see more of here at WS1-BSM). He’s a rare example of a stereotype who became an icon. In the blogging business, we call that Cosbying Up.

  • Meanwhile, back at Toys ’R’ Us, my son was this close to buying an amazing Dr. Mid-Nite action figure before he changed his mind and went for Lego Atlantis instead. I might go back for that Dr. Mid-Nite. For me.

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