Black Lightning (Jefferson Pierce) is a fairly important DC Comics super-hero, who first appeared in 1977.
In 2009, DC published a retelling of Black Lightning’s early career. It was done by a solid crew (Jen van Meter , Cully Hamner et al.). This entry is going to be loaded with S P O I L E R S about this excellent story.
If you’re not a superhero comics type :
- It’s essentially the same story as the late 1970s vintage comics, retold.
- But implicitly, it takes place during the late 1990s. So the visuals, the sociologicals, the genre conventions, etc. are much more modern than the 30-years-prior, original telling. Also, there’s less disco.
- That also reflects the fact that the DC Universe changed during that span. See our Ages of DC Comics article to understand what it means for this fictional universe to change.
Our coverage of Black Lightning is presented as a series of articles. To better present how the character grows, changes, gets rewritten, etc.. The series goes :
- Black Lightning (Profile 1 – Year One, original take). All you cool cats and super freaks start with that one, no jive.
- Batman and the Outsiders (Part 1 – 1983/1986).
- The Outsiders (Part 2 – 1986/1992).
- Black Lightning (Profile 2 – 1980s).
- Interlude – The other history of Black Lightning.
- Black Lightning (Profile 3 – 1990s).
- Black Lightning (Profile 4 – 2000s).
- Black Lightning (Profile 1.1 – Year One, modernised take). This here profile.
If you need more guidance than a mere list, check our guide to Black Lightning character profiles.
- Real Name: Jefferson Pierce.
- Other Aliases: “Superstar” (as Jeff Pierce), “The Fireman”, “the lightning vigilante”.
- Known Relatives: Lynn Stewart Pierce (ex-wife), Alvin Pierce (father, deceased), Anissa (daughter, aged about eight then nine at that point), Constance (sister, formerly Mrs. Tanner), Frank Tanner (former brother-in-law), Joanna Pierce (formerly Joanna Tanner, niece), Alvin Pierce (formerly Alvin Tanner, nephew), Leona Pierce (mother).
- Group Affiliation: None.
- Base Of Operations: Suicide Slum, Metropolis.
- Height: 6’1” (1.85m). Weight: 200 lbs. (91 Kg.).
- Eyes: Brown. Hair: Black.
Powers and Abilities
Mr. Pierce used to be an Olympic decathlon champion. A decathlon is 100-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-meter dash, 110-meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1,500-meter run.
Jefferson has a tremendous level of presence, charisma and dedication. He’s a great leader, life-changer, community organiser and activist. He has turned around several ailing communities through hard work, willpower and his capacity to gain buy-in from hundreds of people.
Black Lightning can shoot electrical arcs from his hands. Those have a range of several metres, and fork to shock opponents clustered together.
He can also erect a force bubble around himself. This hemisphere :
Part of his impressive charisma, physical strength and constitution *might* be explained by the electrical energy “overclocking” him. And he seems to need very little sleep. But neither is clearly stated in the material.
The story seems to take place circa 1999. Let’s see (well, hear) what’s a germane tune to evoke that year…
So yeah, not a big Jay-Z fan in general, but “Can I get a fuck you” (feat. Amil and Ja Rule) was impressive, and is a good chronological marker.
Suicide, it’s a suicide
Suicide Slum (officially called Hob’s Bay or Southside) was devastated by the 1929+ Great Depression. What was presumably a working class and recent European immigrants neighbourhood devolved into tenements.
We first get an extensive look at it during the 1940s adventures of Jack Kirby’s Newsboy Legion.
However, younger Black workers and professionals started getting better incomes. For a time, it seemed that the area could thus work its way into being a lower middle-class neighbourhood. The Southside area stopped being nicknamed “Suicide Slum” for a time.
Guys, never let them build a damn stadium
This optimism was broken in the 1970s.
A huge construction project, the Metropolis Coliseum stadium, was to take place in the Southside. Developer Mr. Swann and local conman Tobias Whale bamboozled most everyone – particularly officials.
A new bridge to Southside was even built to handle the “huge increase in traffic” that was “sure to result”.
Most locals invested their savings in the Coliseum. But construction never went anywhere — it was a scam all along. Swann and Whale fled with 16 million dollars.
The journalist Alvin Pierce was murdered after exposing the con.
With so many homeowners ruined, Southside fell back into poverty. Presumably, the late 1970s recession, a last wave of White flight and the 1980s rise of crack cocaine finished the area off.
Under the influence of criminal conspiracy The 100, it would stay a ghetto for decades. This situation was worsened by this mob’s magical influence. Their spells had the additional effect of making Superman oddly underpowered in this neighbourhood.
The 100 made Suicide Slum into a no-go zone for outsiders. About 60% of police officers killed throughout Metropolis fell in Southside. A majority of officers discharging firearms incidents likewise occurred there. Most social services, the cops, firemen, etc. gradually stopped responding.
Predictably, Tobias Whale eventually came back (perhaps during the early 1990s) and was elected city councilman.
Time after time
This chronology for Southside is based on two assumptions :
- Jefferson was about 36 during his Year OneShorthand for stories chronicling the beginnings of a super-hero. Usually not a literal year. sequence.
- Said Year One occurred during the late 1990s (or maybe early 2000s).
The van Meter/Hamner/etc. version is markedly more modern than the late 1970s Isabella/von Eeden/etc. one :
- Lynn is an important character rather than a secondary role.
- Jeff is older and a father. He is the principal, not a young teacher.
- The Pierces do not exist in a vacuum. They especially have familial ties, which feature credible characters.
- The Suicide Slum ghetto and the schools are less abstract/generic than in the original tales.
- There is some level of explanation about why Superman is absent from Suicide Slum.
But except for the lingo, some aspects of how and why street gangs operate, etc. the revised take can reasonably used for a story set during the 1970s. Reality was not simpler then – comic books were. 😺
Alvin Pierce, Jefferson’s father, was a great man. A journalist and activist, Pierce endlessly crusaded for truth and societal advancement.
Perry White, his manager at the Daily Planet, came to call him “the gold standard” of investigative journalism. This may have been an allusion to the golden plaque Pierce kept on his desk. It read “Justice, like lightning should ever appear, to some men, hope, and to other men, fear.”.
Alvin Pierce exposed the huge Southside stadium construction scam. But he was soon murdered in retaliation during a faked hold-up.
His son Jefferson was nine. The kid continued to grow up in Suicide Slum.
Leona Pierce struggled to raise two kids by herself and on a teacher’s salary. But a close friend of Alvin, a White tailor named Peter Gambi, was there for her. He helped raise Jeff and Connie, taught them to drive, and gave them their first job in his small tailoring shop.
He also encouraged Jefferson in becoming a sports champ and Connie in becoming a nurse.
Mr. Pierce had a spectacular career in athletics during high school and college. He won no less than three Olympic gold medals during the 1980s. The locals called him “Superstar”, a nickname that would endure for decades.
Leadership in urban education reform
Jeff left Suicide Slum to go to college and become a teacher. This is apparently where he met and married Lynn Stewart.
During the decade that followed, Jeff’s job determined where the couple lived.
Mr. Pierce overhauled five schools during that period. His extraordinary skill and dedication won awards, including a Wayne Foundation grant that called him the “last best hope for successful leadership in urban education reform.”
Midway through, Lynn and Jeff had their first kid – Anissa.
The body electric
The source of Jeff’s powers is unrevealed (and seem to predate the Invasion ). But they have been an important part of his life since he was nine.
His electricity is closely tied to :
- The trauma of the death of his father.
- His irrational guilt over not continuing his father’s fight to save Southside. Even helping other communities could be framed as refusing to engage with Suicide Slum’s needs.
- The guilt over knowing that Alvin’s murderers were still free.
These feelings meant nightmares, during which his body emitted electrical arcs. Part of Pierce’s athletic training regimen was to work out so hard he would be too tired to dream.
Gambi eventually found ways to relieve the nightmares. If only so Jefferson’s electricity would not start a fire. This worked, and his life with Lynn ended the nightmares and electrical shocks for nearly ten years.
(Gambi’s brother likely worked for the League of Assassins at that point. His “special contacts” may have meant ways to train Jefferson in meditation techniques).
The ampere strikes back
But his guilt wasn’t gone. It was accumulating underneath. As Jefferson increasingly felt that he was running away from his roots, the nightmares and electrical discharges returned.
As before, Jefferson threw himself in his work as a school principal, to exhaust himself and sleep a dreamless sleep.
It didn’t quite work. The nightmares and lack of sleep made him moody, irritable and closed. He also stopped having sex with Lynn out of fear that he would electrocute her. And excessive work hours kept him away from home.
Pierce came to consider that fighting for Suicide Slum was his fate, like in an ancient Greek tragedy. And that the power within him was a manifestation of that destiny.
Return to Suicide Slum
Lynn encouraged Jeff to take a position in Suicide Slum. She hoped that this would give her back her husband, rather than the brooding and distant person he was becoming.
Indeed, Jefferson largely reverted to his normal personality and enthusiasm. But that also meant that the Pierces now had to live amidst devastating poverty.
The family switched houses with Jefferson’s sister Constance’s. This allowed her to leave Suicide Slum with her kids, and to avoid her ex-husband – who was a criminal and a The 100 associate. But Leona Jefferson chose to stay, living with her son and daughter-in-law.
Lynn was recruited by a Metropolis law firm. And Jefferson was the new principal of Garfield High. The previous principal had hanged himself in the gym.
Things didn’t start well. Kids attempted to steal the Pierces’ moving boxes. And on his first day at Garfield High Jefferson’s office was torched. But the Pierces expected this.
Fear the Fireman
Jefferson was also reunited with Peter Gambi. The old tailor had come to consider that Alvin’s way — a frontal stand against evil and corruption — was right, and suppressing Jefferson’s powers had been a mistake.
Jeff reluctantly agreed. He started acting as a nocturnal vigilante, and soon excelled at it.
After two months, he started spray-painting a black lightning bold with a blue outline as his calling card. The local press called him “the Fireman”, since with his electricity he often seemed to be on fire.
Lynn soon realised that her husband was the mystery night-time vigilante. She spent nights worrying sick, but didn’t tell Jeff that she knew.
Ride the lightning
Principal Pierce’s charisma and hard work made a strong impression on the students. So much that The 100 came to see him as a threat. They murdered a popular student, and left the body impaled amidst the school’s trophies – chiefly won by Mr. Pierce in his youth.
Furthermore, Lynn’s work as a lawyer led her to realise how badly corrupt the local legal system was. Nearly all judges were bought.
The battle was thus waged on three fronts.
- Lynn fought corruption among the judiciary.
- Jefferson turned his students around despite their difficulties. The new climate of work, study and volunteer activities dramatically changed Garfield High.
- The “Fireman” vigilante was mauling local thugs, turning unconscious suspects over to the MPD by the dozen.
The Pierces were then contacted by Constance’s ex-husband, Frank Tanner – a top lieutenant with The 100. He wanted out, and to work with the “Fireman” to undermine The 100. His hope was that Constance and the kids would have him back once he’d left the life. She eventually agreed, and Frank rejoined the extended Pierce family.
Street gangs continued to harass Garfield High students, but these mostly stuck with their principal. However, Lynn started receiving death threats – and the “Fireman” fell into an ambush.
The ambush left Jefferson too wounded to hide from his family that he was the “Fireman”. But even little Anissa already knew. They even had been working with Peter Gambi to design an heroic costume for Jefferson, with a wig and a power-regulating belt.
Mr. Pierce then adopted a super-hero name – Black Lightning.
Lightning in the sky
Pierce continued to improve Garfield High. He secured funding, political allies, donors – and students and parents willing to go an extra mile.
As Black Lightning, thanks to Tanner’s inside intelligence, he kept demolishing The 100.
However, The 100 :
- Made it look like Black Lightning had killed one of their own, Joey Toledo. People in posher Metropolis neighbourhoods all too easily accepted that Black Lightning was a killer vigilante.
- Made it look like Lynn was on the take after she took down one of their pet judges for corruption.
- Escalated their efforts against Black Lightning, particularly during the first dance organised at Garfield High in more than ten years.
- Leaked to Jefferson that Peter Gambi had been instrumental in the murder of Alvin Pierce. Back then, the tailor had been given a choice of collaborating, or seeing little Jefferson and Constance murdered.
Furthermore, Black Lightning came to realise that the leadership of The 100 was supernatural in origin.
On the other hand, Principal Pierce found support within the press. Clark Kent gave him very positive media exposure. Over time, Kent became a friend of the family – but the magical wards meant that Superman couldn’t do much in Southside.
His colleague Lois Lane investigated the case against Lynn Pierce, suspecting that it was bogus.
Black Lightning also found an ally within the MPD – Lt. Bill Henderson, supposedly in charge of the anti-Black Lightning task force. Henderson knew that Toledo had actually been killed by a crooked cop. Therefore, he cautiously allied with the vigilante for Suicide Slum’s sake.
Talia, you got me on my knees
Another ally was more surprising. The Princess of Gorgeousness, the Queen of Class, the Highness of Hotness, the Elect of Elegance, the Firmament of Foxiness, the Czarina of Lookahs, the Ace of Grace, the Poobah of Poise, the Star of Style, the Naiad of Radiance… errr, sorry.
Talia al Ghul came to Suicide Slum as her father was interested in backing an enemy of The 100. But Black Lightning turned her down. As if that would deter the Fireball of Femininity, Sultaness of Sultriness and Culmination of the Curvaceous. I mean, Talia.
Black Lightning went after The 100’s apparent leader, Tobias Whale. But at the same time Whale came after the Pierces. Presumably because being backed by the Pullitzer-winning Lois Lane made Lynn a serious threat to the mobbed up officials.
Jefferson was away at that time. Peter Gambi was mortally wounded while defending the Pierces, and Talia al Ghul eliminated the surviving The 100 hitmen. Lynn was moved to another town under police protection, until the huge case with the Southside judiciary corruption was over.
Before Gambi died, he and Pierce forgave each other for their failures. Lynn, however, did not.
Toward the showdown
Talia contacted Jefferson again. She explained how the fabric Peter Gambi used for the Black Lightning costume came from Ra’s al Ghul.
She also explained the origin of The 100, and how their masters fed on despair. Not unlike entities once fought in Washington, D.C. by Traci Thirteen.
Jeff made it look as if he was nearing a breakdown. He even staged a public conjugal fight with Lynn during Peter’s funerals. Tanner falsely told The 100 that Pierce had started to drink, and wore the Black Lightning costume a few times to make it look like Lightning and Jefferson Pierce couldn’t be the same man.
This lulled The 100 in a sense of false security, making it easier for Black Lightning to resist their despair-based spells. But as the mob was preparing a killing strike against Lightning, they realised that Tanner had been a mole for months.
Swann, The 100’s real leader, captured Tanner. He then launched a mystical onslaught during a big track-and-field event at Garfield High. But Swann had been deceived as to how brittle his enemies were.
Superman found and freed Tanner. Meanwhile Black Lightning overcame the illusions at the track event. He then rallied the cops and students, avoiding an illusions-induced panic and carnage.
When Swann came in, he was driven off by Black Lightning, Superman, and a united crowd chanting Black Lightning’s name to bolster him.
Meanwhile, Lynn realised that she was pregnant with her second child. She also noticed that little Anissa had some sort of power to increase her body density.
The track meet event marked a sea change. The population of Suicide Slum now supported Black Lightning and wanted The 100 out. Lt. Henderson rode that wave by having a new precinct established in Southside, with an entirely new staff and policies.
Whale and Swann struck back during the following Juneteenth , mostly organised by Garfield High students. Several youths were mesmerised and came holding guns at their own head, threatening to shoot if Black Lightning did not come with them.
Pierce requested that the crowd chant Black Lightning’s name to call him in. He then discreetly gave the hostages a small electrical shock to break the spell, then confronted Whale and Swann at the Metropolis Coliseum site.
During the fight Whale attempted to turn against his master to steal his power. This failed, and the Swann entity ended up possessing Whale instead of Pierce. Weakened by the transfer, he was subdued and arrested.
Initially, Pierce was wearing a blue track suit with yellow piping, with the hood up. One of his trick was to make his face glow with electrical power, as if backlit and lit from below. This obscured his features and gave birth to the “Fireman” moniker.
The much better Black Lightning costume came in part because the Pierce women were annoyed that “the Fireman” could not be identified as a Black man. The costume seems to have been designed with input from Lynn – especially the short locs wig.
With the wig, mask and threads, Jefferson looks like a markedly younger man.
In his civvies, Jefferson apparently always wear something blue (shirt, T-shirt, vest, etc.).
His delivery may be akin to the one Louis Gossett Jr. had for his character in The Principal. The style of dialogue is a bit similar.
Originally, Jeff spray-painted his Black Lightning symbol. But after Peter gave him the belt he started burning it on walls using his lightning. Those tags became an important symbol of the Black Lightning presence in Suicide.
But I would assume that he stopped tagging after the locals came to actively support him.
Jeff is saving the world, one school at a time. He’s a man on a mission – and he does not flinch, and he does not falter.
As a principal, he’s impressive. He’s strict, enormously charismatic, firm, patient, respectful, caring, attentive and always able to find some sort of solution. He also knows each of his students and something about their life.
According to his sister, during his youth Jefferson was preaching, holier-than-thou and inflexible. If so he has changed and matured about his values.
He now comes across as highly principled yet non-judgemental. He wants people to make their own choices, and never wields his authority as a blunt instrument. He leads through example and pedagogy.
In this version the main character is Jefferson, not Black Lightning. Black Lightning is just a mask he uses to carry on a portion of his fight for the cause.
The vigilante just comes across as a tough guy, confident urban vigilante, since Jefferson has no special emotional investment in the persona. It’s but one tool.
Being a man on a mission, Jefferson is pretty much the image of the then-modern leader, teacher, husband and father. He’s so driven to be all of that that it has become his actual personality. He’ll always do and say the right thing according to late 2000s progressive values.
(As a brand new principal) “Well, I can see I got the typical gang problems to deal with, but that’s nothing new.”
Jefferson: “Some of your classmates haven’t had much to be thankful about for a long while, kiddo. Life’s pretty hard here.”
Anissa (age 8): “You’re fixing it, right ?”
Two barely-clothed girls: “Mister Pierce ? Ms. Koop says we gotta go home and change ! You on that ? Don’t we look nice ?”
Pierce: “Sure. But work clothes are for work. Right now you’re at school. Find some sweats in the gym so you don’t have to miss class.”
Clark Kent: “That was… frank. Some might say offensive.”
Pierce: “Alicia and Carmen both work as strippers. Would it be less offensive to ignore that fact ? Maybe preach at them ?”
Student (in class): “If voting is so fuckin’ important, how come they didn’t make it… — what you said. Mandatory ?”
Pierce: “Great question, Ms. Castro, but watch your language. Anyone wants to take a guess ?”
“My daughter is 9 years old. She does not lose her father today.” (ZZZAAAAKKKK !!)
(Reflecting) “Champion. I’ve been called that for winning some medals. But champion doesn’t mean ‘winner’. Not at first. It means ‘defender’. This is who and what I am.”
DC Heroes RPG
Black Lightning (early, revised)
|Dex: 08||Str: 04||Bod: 05|
|Int: 08||Wil: 08||Min: 07|
|Inf: 08||Aur: 07||Spi: 07|
|Init: 028||HP: 050|
Force wall: 08, Lightning: 08
Bonuses and Limitations:
- During this era, his Powers are difficult to control without his BELT, though he’s learning. It could be treated as a R#of 7, but with the R# meaning side effects and poor control rather than Burning Out.
- Force Wall manifests as a bubble (-0).
- Lightning has a Range of but 02.
- Lightning has Multi-Attack 1.
Acrobatics*: 08, Artist (Writer): 05, Charisma*: 08, Detective (Legwork)*: 08, Martial Artist (Including Techniques)*: 08, Thief (Stealth)*: 08, Vehicles (Land): 04, Weaponry (Thrown)*: 08
Area Knowledge (Suicide Slum), Confidant (his family and Peter Gambi), Expertise (Education, Municipal politics, Community organising), Familiarity (Social counselling, Civics, Language arts), Iron Nerves, Life Support (Black Lightning seems to have a reduced need for sleep), Lightning Reflexes, Local Hero (Suicide Slum).
MPD Lt. William Henderson (High), students of Garfield High (Low), Clark Kent (High).
Dependants (His family, Peter, Gambi, his students), Secret ID, Guilt and a MPR (see the “Body Electric” section in the History section). Pierce wears glasses, and appears to be very slightly nearsighted.
High School Principal.
- COSTUME [BODY 06, Blunting: 04, Cold immunity: 01, Skin armour: 01, Limitation: Skin armour only vs. Ballistic Descriptor]. The costume is made from a special fabric procured by Peter’s brother, described as a blend of Kevlar and Neoprene.
- BELT [BODY 04]. This was described as “a sort of grounding gizmo”, helping Black Lightning to emit electricity in a more controlled manner and allowing him to train himself. Originally, erecting the force bubble would kill the BELT, but Gambi fixed this.
Black Lightning still needs the BELT to control his power during this era, but his reliance on it likely diminished after the major victories that marked the end of his Year One.
Working class hero
After Black Lightning has clearly established himself in Suicide Slum and gained the Local Hero advantage, he became hugely popular with the locals. There have been instances when the crowd chanted his name (“LIGHT-NING, LIGHT-NING”, etc.) in support.
The people in the chanting crowd gain a collective form of Leadership they can use to support their hero. Depending on circumstances Pierce can “collect” up to 20-25 Hero Points that way, to be spent in that fight.
The powerful “Lightning” chant has also been used to call him to the rescue.
DC Adventures RPG
Black Lightning (Year One) (Modern version) — Averaged PL9.6
Electrical arcs ● 18 points ● Descriptor: Physiology, electricity
Ranged electrical Damage 8, Accurate 1, Takedown
Force domes ● 12 points ● Descriptor: Physiology, electricity
Protection 6 (Affect others, Sustained, Increased Range (Close), Distracting.
Costume ● 2 points ● Descriptor: Kevlar, Neoprene
Protection 2 (Limited 1 to Sharp Impact), Subtle.
All-Out Attack, Close Attack 2, Defensive Roll 3, Evasion, Improved Initiative, Improved Trip, Move-by Action, Power Attack, Ranged Attack 2.
Benefit 1 (Reduced need for sleep), Benefit 1 (Hugely popular in Suicide Slum), Extraordinary Effort, Fearless, Instant Up, Leadership, Well-Informed.
Acrobatics 6 (+11), Athletics 8 (+11), Close combat (Unarmed) 2 (+12), Deception 4 (+8), Expertise (Education) 7 (+11), Expertise (Community organizing) 8 (+12), Expertise (Writer) 5 (+9), Insight 6 (+10), Perception 7 (+11), Persuasion 4 (+8), Ranged combat (Thrown objects) 5 (+11), Ranged combat (Electrical arcs) 4 (+12), Stealth 6 (+10), Vehicles 2 (+6) (Limited 2 to common land vehicles).
|Unarmed +12, Close, Damage 3|
|Electrical arcs +12, Ranged, Damage 8|
* Without Defensive Roll
- Secret Identity Hunted by criminals, Black Lightning hides his identity. He wears a mask and wig, and has been known to set up simple deceptions to throw off his scent.
- Family Man Jefferson cares deeply about his wife and daughter (and his second daughter as the story closes).
- Responsible Man Black Lightning feels personally responsible for Suicide Slum, and particularly the students of Garfield High. He is a highly devoted community organiser.
- Electrical guilt If he feels he’s not facing his responsibilities, Jefferson will emit electricity during his sleep and gradually lose his cool and center.
- You’re grounded! At this stage, his electrical powers are much more difficult to control with Peter Gambi’s special belt. And very early on, erecting the force dome would kill the belt but that was soon fixed.
- Trade-off areas. Attack/Effect PL 10, Dodge/Toughness PL 9, Parry/Toughness PL 8, Fort/Will PL 9.
- Points total 179. Abilities 68, Defences 22, Skills 37, Powers 30, Devices 2, Advantages 20. Equiv. PL 12.
Source of Character: Black Lightning Year One limited series (2009).
Helper(s): Roy Cowan, Frank Murdock.