Tuesday, January 19, 2010

MLK Week Special: Black SUPER Power! Part 2 of 4

Welcome back for the second in my series of tributes to the best (and worst) black super heroes in comics. Today's installment could be subtitled "It's Electrifying!"
#8: Black Lightning (a.k.a. Jefferson Pierce)
For whatever reason, there's some law that requires a huge percentage of African American heroes to be former Olympic track and field medalists and Black Lightning is just one. Also fitting the bill...Amazing Man...and Mr. Terrific. Guess humility in name selection was NOT a requirement.

Also apparently fitting the bill for these heroes, falling from grace. Amazing Man went from winning a Gold Medal to being a janitor. Jefferson Pierce ended up as an inner-city high school teacher. (Beats janitor, I suppose.) Can you imagine Michael Phelps having to work as a janitor? The idea of an Olympian... a MEDAL winner!... falling that far down is more unrealistic to me than guys putting on spandex and flying through the air, to be honest.Steel never won a gold medal, but went from being a genius inventor to being a construction worker. What's up with that? Even worse, he was portrayed by Shaq in a movie. Arguably a worse fate than being played by Halle Berry.
But I digress. Black Lightning lives and battles crime in Metropolis... er, in a not-quite-as-nice neighborhood as Clark Kent's. Officially, BL's neighborhood is named "Southside" but is more popularly known as "Suicide Slum." Makes you want to move there right now, doesn't it? BL was DC Comics' first African American hero to headline his own comic book, but unlike a lot of white headliners, it seems some conspiracy was hatched to prevent him from blossoming into a real "icon."
He refused membership in the Justice League, the team made up of DC's biggest names. According to this cover, his reason was that the JL was a "jive bunch of turkeys." (This is what happens when you learn to write black characters from watching Good Times.) In the story, he explains that the Justice League's focus is too broad and he wants to stay focused on street level crime that threatens his community. Shenanigans, I say! That never stopped Batman, Green Arrow or Black Canary and they are also "street level" crime fighters! Shenanigans!

According to BL creator Tony Isabella, the character was also kept out of the animated Super Friends show, because Hanna Barbera would have had to pay him royalties. So instead, Black Lightning was replaced with an all-new character Black Vulcan, who coincidentally also possessed lightning abilities... and a killer pair of gams.
It appears that in DC has finally realized Black Lightning's potential and have started promoting him more. He's finally relented and joined the Justice League as well as a second team, The Outsiders. He's had several action figures and other licensed items and has finally popped up in animation, beginning with the recent Batman & Superman animated movie.
In addition, his two teenage daughters have also embarked on crime fighting careers as... Thunder:And Lightning:Looks like he's finally breaking out... 20+ years later. Better late than never, I suppose.

#7. Static (a.k.a. Virgil Hawkins)
NOT Black Lightning's son, surprisingly enough, is Static, teenager Virgil Hawkins, who possesses electrical powers and wore a black, blue and yellow costume. Positioned as a modern take on Spider-Man, Static was the breakout star of the multi-ethnic Milestone Media line of comics which launched in the mid-90s.
Despite possessing amazing abilities, (just like Spider-Man) he suffered from horrendous bad luck... such as having the tag line of your first comic book be "You don't start none, there won't be none." That, along with the Malcolm X ball cap probably sounded like a great idea at the time. Like if he were being made up today, he'd be wearing Ed Hardy.
The Milestone Media comics never really found an audience, despite some high-quality work and folded after just a few years. Nevertheless, Static went on to star in his own Saturday morning cartoon series (remember when those existed?) entitled Static Shock. Produced by Warner Brothers, the owners of DC Comics, this allowed Static to actually team up with the Justice League, even though they existed in two different comic book universes. Static later appeared on the Justice League's cartoon, as an adult in the future, in the time travel episode "The Once And Future Thing." In the current comics, Static and the rest of the Milestone characters have been revived and integrated into the DC Comics stable, something his cartoon series preceded. Static currently appears as a member of the Teen Titans.

Static Shock, as most cartoon series do, produced a wave of various licensed tie-ins, such as DVDs, clothing and even a video game. Strangely, there's never been a toy line, but I wouldn't rule an eventual Static action figure out, especially now that he is once again appearing regularly in the world of comics.

As for today's Worst...
#3: Tyroc
The token black member of the 30th Century's Legion of Super Heroes, Tyroc didn't even have a real code name. The Legion had the most self-explanatory names in comics: Lightning Lad, Invisible Kid, Matter-Eater Lad... NOT MADE UP! There really is a Matter-Eater Lad!!! But Tyroc... what does that mean? Nuthin'!
Like Static's X cap, it probably sounded like a good idea at the time, but in his debut, it was revealed that all the black people on Earth now lived on one island. Lovely to hear that segregation not only exists in the 30th Century but has surpassed any that previously existed in the real world. Nice. Also, ALL the black people on Earth fit on ONE island?! Ugh.
The thing I remember most about Tyroc is that he NEVER appeared in Legion stories. They introduced him and he joined the team, but then in every subsequent issue that I read, they went out of their way to explain that Tyroc was busy elsewhere and couldn't participate in whatever mission the rest of the team was about to embark upon. After several years, they just stopped explaining his absence and he was basically forgotten. He never even turned up in reunion stories where all the other former members dropped by for a visit. It's been a while since I read them, but I'm guessing Matter-Eater Lad probably explained, "Tyroc sends his regrets for not being here, but he was busy with... y'know... something else. I think a new Tyler Perry 3000 movie just opened."

The End for today! Check back tomorrow for two more greats and one more "jive turkey!"

2 comments:

  1. How about a mention for Phoenix Jones?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Color me ashamed, but I'm unfamiliar with that character!

    ReplyDelete