As those with an interest in comics history (and specifically when it comes to the super-hero genre) know, Black Lightning is an African-American super-hero created by writer Tony Isabella with artist Trevor Von Eeden for his own short-lived title under the DC Comics banner back in 1977. While it was one of many casualties of the DC Implosion, which saw the cancellation of a slew of titles, the character has lived on through the decades, both under Isabella’s guidance (sporadically, due to conflicts with the publisher over the years) and in stories penned by other writers.
Recently, the character’s profile in the broader pop-culture consciousness has seen a huge bump with the success of the first season of the Black Lightning television series on the CW.
But when perusing a back issue of another DC title recently, I discovered Black Lightning debuted long before 1977. In fact, the name showed up in a DC comic three years before Isabella was even born.
I recently picked up a copy of DC Comics Presents #28, published in late 1980, and the Superman team-up title at the time ran a regular “Whatever Happened To…?” backup feature. In this particular issue, the focus was on the relatively obscure DC Western hero Johnny Thunder (not to be confused with the Justice Society member of the same name who had a wish-granting thunderbolt genie at his beck and call). Written by Mike Tiefenbacher and illustrated by Gil Kane, the second panel below caught my eye.
Johnny Thunder’s horse was named Black Lightning?! It occurred to me for a moment that it might be an editing error or some other odd development. So I did a little research. This incarnation of Johnny Thunder made his first appearance in All-American Comics #100, and there he is, right on the cover, riding a white horse that’s clearly named Black Lightning, as per the cover blurb.
All-American #100 was published in late 1948; Isabella’s Wikipedia page indicates he was born in 1951.
So to be clear, a character named Black Lightning debuted in the pages of a DC comic three decades before the hero better known by that name debuted, and three full years before its creator was born. And top of that, the first Black Lightning was white! (Not Caucasian, but literally white.) So weird.
It should go without saying (but I have to say it, because someone somewhere in the Social Media Thunderdome will freak out), but obviously, I’m not suggesting any link between Isabella’s ground-breaking creation and an ironically named fictional horse from the late 1940s.
But as I researched further, I found another weird connection. Wikipedia also tells me that in Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Elseworlds story Kingdom Come, Black Lightning and Jonni (not Johnny) Thunder – a female heroine with an electric Thunderbolt persona/partner, depending on how you read her original Roy Thomas/Dick Giordano series in the 1980s – parented a daughter named Lightning. That father/daughter dynamic (sand Jonni Thunder) would later be introduced into regular continuity and eventually the Black Lightning TV show, as was another daughter, Thunder.
Thunder and Lightning always go together, I suppose.