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Mild Mannered Reviews - Specials

Black Lightning: Year One #1

Black Lightning: Year One #1 [of 6]

Scheduled to arrive in stores: January 7, 2009

Cover date: March 2009

"Black Lightning, Year One"

Writer: Jen Van Meter
Penciller: Cully Hamner
Inker: Cully Hamner

Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Click to enlarge

A narrator, Black Lightning's wife Lynn, speaks to the pain of an absent husband and fear for his safety as Black Lightning, in a blue and yellow hoodie, saves another young man from hoods, his face blazing with a white light. They've been in Metropolis for two months.

Time cuts back to when they moved to "Southside" in Metropolis, formerly the neighborhood where the blacks lived, culled by corrupt businessmen into a cesspool of crime in a process that killed Jefferson Pierce's (Black Lightning's) father Alvin and enmeshed a corrupt city councilman over a sports arena. Thusly the neighborhood, formerly middle class and prosperous, became Suicide Slum. Pierce and his family have moved to Metropolis on a Wayne grant to help fix up the school system.

Jefferson's mother talks with Jefferson Pierce's sister, Connie, about her ex-husband Frank Tanner, who recently visited, and his membership in the 100, a local gang. They call him 25, because he runs 1/4 of their business interests.

They arrive and meet with the rest of their extended family. Jefferson passionately argues against Joanna (his niece) having a gun in the house, but Joanna points out that she's been chased and hounded. Voices come over the fence in threatening tones, showing that the neighborhood has declined.

Jefferson, finally feeling a sense of purpose, thanks his wife for advising the move and finally sleeps, and despite a nightmare, he doesn't wake screaming, as he has for months.

As they unpack, they leave the front gate open despite the danger. Sure enough, two kids stop by and steal boxes. Jefferson chases them down, and confronts one, Earl Clifford, who runs well, and encourages him to do something better with his life.

Peter Gambi, Alvin Pierce's best friend, calls to Jeff from a local apartment's second story. Giambi has been keeping tabs on Jefferson's family, taking care of them after Alvin died. He suggests to Jefferson that he use his power to save people and mete out justice.

The other hoodlum from the box theft confronts Pierce as he walks in toward his office, and indicates that Pierce shouldn't mess with him. The kid tosses a cigarette, and it lights a 100 on the ground, burning Jefferson's office.

Jefferson spars with the firefighters for not coming, then calls the students together to indicate that his briefcase is now his office, and that their goal is to learn.

Lynn talks about the difficulty of her day. Jefferson tells her to find a new job, but she refuses, trying to change the system from the inside. Jefferson gets a call and runs off into the night.

At the school, he finds Earl stabbed into his trophy case, dead. As he calls the police, his eyes spark with lightning as he demands an investigation after being blown off by corrupt cops.

5Story - 5: Damned fine character work, top to bottom, and longtime readers know that's my favorite thing to find in a comic book. Beyond that, it has dilemmas I personally relate to, another plus, and a strong core cast.

I lived in a crappy area in a crappy neighborhood for five years before recently moving, and day to day reality caused me to have a gun loaded next to my bed. Men were tazed on my front lawn, and violence and gang activity, coupled with drugs, made it so I couldn't sleep the night. When I read that line about Jefferson being unable to sleep, and his wife worrying for him, I was absolutely hooked.

Now, granted, my area was no Suicide Slum, but I did have a bullet go through my window, and I did have a guy try and run me off the road with his car, and I did see drug deals from my kitchen. It's hard to explain what that mentality does to someone, and it's even harder now that I've left, because I feel like I gave up. Like I could have made a difference, and I ran, and yet here's Jefferson, stepping in there and deciding to make a difference. That's a key empathy point for me.

Beyond that, he's got a family that's realistic. Sisters and grandmothers and a nuclear family struggling to make it in a rent jacked inner city. It's a sense of community I rarely feel in a book, and it's damned fine.

I know someone's going to want a commentary as to how I think it depicts a black hero, if it's accurate, if it's right. I'm not going to get into those stereotypes until they come up in the story, honestly. Right now, reading this, it's just a story about a family to me. The only angle that I think need be noted or exploited is how it quietly (and accurately) portrays the marginalization of blacks in the inner city without preaching. This needs to be seen more by a NIMBY America, and it provides a compelling setting to a guy who just came out of that noise.

Beyond that, it's just a great simple story of a guy who has faith in his community having it tested by losing a piece of his heart's potential in the form of a living being.

Buy this, and if you don't, you'll regret it, I can assert, having read this.

5Art - 5: There's a lot of subtlety here, and good character work. There's a bit of a Boondocks feel I can't put my finger on, but there's also an intensity of background work that really makes the city almost a character too. I identified with the locales and people pretty intimately, which is a good sign of synchronicity with the writing.

3Cover Art - 3: A little cheesy in some respects, and more a stock character pose than anything else, with more in silhouette and no background. It's a decent pose, though. What bugs me about it is that it doesn't hint to the work inside as well as it should. It's a strong character piece with a broader background, and here we're like, "DUDE! HERO POSE!" Doesn't work for me as well as the story itself, which stinks, because I would hate for folks to miss this awesomeness over the cover, and people judge books by covers, generally.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

January 2009

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