Black Lighting’s original creator, Tony Isabella, returns to the character with this week’s Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands. But the creator is giving Jefferson Pierce a “reboot of sorts,” discarding 40-plus years of continuity to give Black Lightning a “Rebirth.”
A six-issue mini-series, Black Lighting: Cold Dead Hands also doesn’t shy away from controversial topics: Isabella said he couldn’t write an “honest story about a young black superhero without addressing” such things as police brutality, gun violence and bigotry.
Isabella is working with artist Clayton Henry on the series. We talked the writer to find out more about this new version of the pioneering black character he created and what’s different this time around.
Newsarama: Tony, so what brought you back to Black Lightning now?
Tony Isabella: Dan DiDio asked if I would be interesting in writing a new Black Lightning series. Since I have long said I would love to be writing Black Lightning stories until the day I die, I accepted in a heartbeat.
Nrama: What’s the focus of Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands?
Isabella: Real world issues in a superhero universe. In this series, the focus is on gun violence and the flood of deadly weapons into the city of Cleveland. Of course, this being a superhero universe, those weapons aren’t anything you would see in the real Cleveland. At least, not yet.
Secondary issues include police violence and the unfortunate “them versus us” mentality of too many officers. I try to bring a balanced tone to this issue. There are good cops in the story. There are bad cops in the story. There are cops who haven’t quite figured themselves out yet.
Nrama: So does this address the racial tensions in the U.S. right now? How does this story approach that difficult subject?
Isabella: I hope my approach is a thoughtful one. There’s no denying the systemic racism and bigotry present in our current White House, in the legal system, in law enforcement. I couldn’t write a honest story about a young black superhero without addressing such things to some degree.
Nrama: Does Jefferson Pierce’s past play into the story and the character he’s become at this point?
Isabella: It doesn’t. I was told I could do whatever I wanted with this, so I chose to discard 40 years of continuity which had, in all those years, become conflicting and confusing. This is a reboot of sorts, though one in which it’s made clear that Jefferson Pierce has had a superhero past and is returning to that work.
But, though he’s only 28 years old in this version, all his core values are still in place. He’s a former Olympic athlete. He’s a school teacher. He’s a metahuman. He’s a man of faith and a reluctant superhero. Jeff is a superhero because he knows his abilities and powers come with the obligation to serve and protect his community and his city.
You won’t see an “origin” story in this series, though they might come along later.
Nrama: Who are Jefferson’s allies in the story? Why did you want to explore those relationships in particular?
Isabella: As he has done in my previous Black Lightning series, Jeff tends to build families around himself and his cause. He has real family in this series, but he also has allies.
First and foremost among them is Cleveland police detective Tommi Colavito. Jeff calls her his sister from another mister. They grew up together and have a brother/sister bond. I’ve never written that relationship before, and I’m having great fun with it here.
There are other allies, but I’m going to let you and other readers discover them as the series progresses. I think you’ll like them as much as I do.
Nrama: Can you talk about who the villain will be in this story? Anything you can tell us about why you chose him as Jefferson’s adversary?
Isabella: Tobias Whale is the big bad of this six-issue series, but I’ve rebooted him as well. He and Black Lightning have never met, but he was a natural for this series. It gave me a chance to make the character more mysterious than before. Whale has a surprising objective and surprising allies.
Nrama: What’s it been like working with Clayton Henry on art?
Isabella: Clayton is amazing. He can do the super-hero action and he can do the human drama that has always been so important to Black Lightning stories. He’s magnificent. Combined with the coloring of Pete Pantazis, Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands might just be the best-looking comic book series I’ve ever been part of.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell potential readers about Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands?
Isabella: Readers who remember my Black Lightning work from the 1970s and the 1990s will find a character who embraces the same values as in those earlier series.
Newer readers will find a Black Lightning they can embrace as a true hero.
I’ve never been a writer who stays the same. I learn. I grow. I get better. And, oh yeah, the readers should look for the cookies and Easter eggs scattered through these six issues. Because there are a lot of them.