Thursday, February 15, 2024

Black Superheroes: Lightning

I don't know why she's naked in her powered form
Seems kind of weird for a teen hero

Name: Jennifer Pierce

First Appearance: Kingdom Come #1 (1996); Justice Society of America (vol. 3) #12 (2008)

History: Jennifer Piece is the youngest daughter of the legendary protector of the Suicide Slum, Black Lightning. As with her older sister Anissa, she was born with a dormant metagene that emerged in her adolescence. Despite this, Black Lightning made it clear that he would not allow either of his children to follow in his footsteps as a hero. Where Anissa gained to ability to control her density, Jennifer instead gained powers similar to their father; the ability to generate and control electricity. In addition she gained the power to fly and to generate an electric aura that came in the form of a golden and spiky appearance. The day she graduated college Anissa, defied their father and became the hero known as Thunder. Over the next few years Black Lightning watched his oldest daughter struggle to find her footing without his help and it made him second guess his decision. With Jennifer, who was having a hard time controlling her abilities, he decided to take the opposite route and make sure she was trained properly in the use of her powers and in fighting crime. To that end he had Jennifer join the Justice Society of America so that they they could give her the mentorship she needed. Soon after she became known as “Lightning.”

Beta Says: If she, along with her sister, hadn’t appeared in the CW Black Lightning show a few years back I’d be certain that Jennifer would be forgotten. In the comics it has been quite a long while since we’ve seen the second daughter of Jefferson Pierce. Hell, the last time we saw was I think at least two reboots ago, so I’m not even sure if she still exists in the current DC continuity. I would say that she is a whole category below Thunder in relevance in the DC Comics, which is a bit annoying considering she debuted with a bit of hype. It’s interesting that she fell in the background, as Jennifer is actually a much older character than you’d think, because the character actually debuted twelve years earlier in the fantastic and historically relevant miniseries Kingdom Come. Sort of.   I shall explain.

 More on the golden child of the Black Lightning clan after the jump.

Pictured: Super Sonic about to fight Dr. Eggman. Probably.

Jennifer’s story begins way back in 1996 in the pages of the miniseries Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. I have to mention that Kingdom Come is one of my all-time favorite comic book stories and while I’d love to go on forever talking about it, we need to focus on the topic at hand. The main thing to know is that the story takes place in an alternate future where Superman retires after the population favors a violet anti-hero over him and the subsequent years saw the emergence of a new generation of dangerous anti-heroes fighting amongst themselves with no regard for civilian life. Superman returns with the old generation of heroes to put the younglings back in their place but his second coming actually marks the beginning of events that may well destroy the world. It’s a goddamn good comic and you should read it. One of those unruly young heroes who appear in the story is the golden, spikey lighting lady from the picture above. She was not named and didn’t play anyreal role in the story, but she has since been identified in supplemental material as the daughter of Black Lightning. And that was that; this was an Elseworld story, so it didn’t need to impact anything in the mainline DC Universe.

Years later in 2003, a new character was introduced: Thunder, the daughter of Black Lightning. As far as any of us knew or cared, Annisa Peirce was an equivalent character of the one we saw in Kingdom Come, but with different powers and clearly more well-adjusted. I'm not sure if when she was created the Kingdom Come daughter was discussed behind the scenes at all but clearly wasn’t that big of an influence. Five years later things changed.

The year prior, a new iteration of the Justice Society of America by Geoff John and Dale Eaglesham hit the stands. There were two hooks of this version of the team: 1) the premise was that the JSA was focusing on mentoring the next generation of heroes so it was a combination of long time members and new characters who either were created for this series or ones who had not previously associated with the team (and the roster was huge they leaned on the “Society” part). 2) The book took a shit ton of inspiration from Kingdom Come, to the point that Alex Ross, the creator of the original concept and artist of the book, was a sorry consultant for the creative team. A lot of characters from Kingdom Come were suddenly introduced into the DC Universe proper, some being younger versions of the background figures in the original book, now given more development (including Cyclone, who actually appeared in the Black Adam movie as a black woman) or wholly brought over from the Kingdom Come universe (including that story’s Superman). By issue #12, this includes the debut of the never before mentioned second, younger daughter of Black Lightning Jennifer who, in addition to having her father’s powers, could also change forms into that same background person in the KC comic.

I feel like all these pictures of Jennifer are all the same

Jennifer's inclusion was a cool nod to Kingdom Come but one of the problems of the JSA title at the time was that with a huge number of characters running around it can be hard to give tons of focus to a single person, and indeed while Lightning was on the team for years, I don’t think there is much in the way of iconic stories featuring her during the run. She becomes friends with Star Girl and Cyclone, apparently has a thing with Jakeem Thunder, and there’s a story where the team interacts with Black Lightning and Thunder near the title's end. 

Once JSA vol. 3 was over and done with, Lightning immediately fell into the background, not making all that many appearances before the New 52 reset the whole DC Universe. There’s been at least one other universe reset since that big event, so I’m not certain what the current status of the character is. I’m not even certain she exists, since I don’t know if the current continuity includes the idea of Jefferson Piece having kids that old. Like many black heroes before her, Lightning has just sort vanished into limbo, waiting for a writer to remember she exists and add her to a group shot or get killed in a crossover event.

Suicide Slum Babies, they make their dreams come true!

Jennifer has fared better in other media. Along with her sister, Jennifer starred in couple of episodes of the DC Nation shorts back in 2013, though here was a little less about their superhero antics and they were portrayed maybe seven years younger than they were in the comic (these shorts felt more like pilots for a show that never happened). More substantially, Jennifer is a main character on the live-action Black Lightning TV show, played by China Anne McClain, part of the Arrowverse series of shows, where a major arc for her is the discovery of her powers and decision to follow in her father and sister’s footsteps as a crime fighter. While the show ended up being canceled, Jennifer got her most mainstream exposure here, the likes any other D-lister could only dream about.

Sadly, this did not translate to the comics, as DC opted not to take advantage of the exposure from the show by bringing her back into the comics’ continuity and thus she continues to not be featured anywhere. Even so, I think there’s a lot for potential for Lightning in DC, whether in a team book, a supporting character in one of her relative’s ongoing books, or maybe staring in her own limited series (and the fact that she has never been a member of the Teen Titans seems like an oversight). I personally would love to see a new Kingdom Come legacy book which stars several similar characters to Lighting who essentially are canon immigrants from the original story all on a team. Maybe bring Cyclone, Tom Bronson’s Wildcat, heck, maybe even Starman/Starboy. Regardless, she’s just another character DC who is sitting on the side  doing nothing, all the while creators and fans complain about a lack of diversity in comics.

The gold, spikey look is unique
But if they bring her back let's maybe draw form this look 

You can find out more about Lightning at World of Black Heroes. Next time we wrap up Black Superheroes Month with, in my humble opinion, the worst and most offensive example of "Minority Replacement" that any comic book company has done. Well, except for that time the Punisher became black. But nearly as frustrating!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...