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In the original DC Comics, did Black Lightning choose his name because he's, well, black?

Or is there some other reason that he takes the name, such as based off of the source of his powers? Was he struck by a bolt of black lightning or something? (After all, Green Lantern isn't green, but is named after the green artifact that he gets his power from).

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2 Answers 2

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Yes, he's called Black Lightning because of his ethnicity.

This was addressed directly in Infinite Crisis #6. When he started out as a superhero there were no other comparable role models and he wanted to distinguish himself as 'a black superhero' rather than just 'a superhero'.

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Infinite Crisis #6

The "lightning" part of his name comes from a poem mis-attributed by his mentor to Thomas Randolph

Justice, like lighting, ever should appear / To few men ruin, but to all men fear.'

Thomas Randolph

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Black Lightning #1

And reflects his (technology-inspired) super-belt (which repels bullets using electro-magnetism).

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Black Lightning #3

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  • FYI, ethnicity and race are not interchangeable terms. Ethnicity refers to culture, race refers to genetic physical characteristics. I was asking about if he chose the name "Black Lightning" based on his skin color (i.e. race), although I suppose that he might have chosen it referring to his "black culture" as an African-American (i.e. ethnicity). Looks like Jefferson Pierce doesn't really specify which he meant when he picked the name, but it's probably splitting hairs anyway. Mar 21, 2018 at 21:06
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Yes, the "Black" in his name was a reference to his race. Black Lightning was (arguably) DC's first black superhero. When recounting the story of his creation, Tony Isabella (the writer who created the character with the artist Trevor von Eeden) notes that DC was considering creating a super-hero who (if I recall correctly) was a white guy who turned into a black guy in his super-hero identity. Tony didn't think this was a good idea, and came up with an alternative.

Black Lightning (in the comics, at least) is Jefferson Pierce, a former Olympic athlete who came back to his old neighborhood (a part of Metropolis known as Suicide Slum) as a high school teacher. His father had been killed when he was younger, and he had a desire to clean up crime in the neighborhood, to try to protect today's kids from the difficulties he faced.

Note that the character's original costume included an Afro wig (Jefferson's actual hair was much as seen in the image in the OP, from slightly later in his career). A large number of his students were black or Hispanic, and he wanted to be an example to them, as noted above.

As far as how he got his powers: Initially, he had no super-powers (although, again, a former Olympic athlete). He did have a friend and mentor from his youth, Peter Gambi. Peter (unbeknownst to Jefferson) had both a criminal background (he was actually responsible for the elder Pierce's death, as I recall; he regretted what that did to the man's family, and tried to help them, becoming their friend in the process), and a brother who (at that time) was still involved with criminals; Paul Gambi supplied the costumes (at least) for most of Barry (the Flash) Allen's rogues gallery. With these connections, he not only created the Black Lightning costume, but supplied the belt which gave Jefferson the ability to generate electric shocks (hence the name), and provided a force field.

The belt somehow transferred the powers to Jefferson himself after a time; it's not clear whether this was an intended outcome, or the result of an accident. Later stories have specified that Black Lightning has the "meta-gene", which allows DCU humans to obtain internalized powers, but the early stories leave some suspicion that the belt was intended to give the powers to Jefferson over the course of time.


A further note on black characters with "Black" in their name.

From the 1970s well into the 1980s at least, it was very rare to introduce a "Black" character who wasn't black (it may have started as early as the introduction of the Black Panther (who wasn't African-American, hence my use of the less preferred term)). Prior to that time, there were a number of white characters with Black names: DC had Black Canary and Black Hand; Marvel had Black Marvel and Black Knight. After that time, new characters (Black Racer and Black Lightning) and revivals of old characters (Black Angel in Eclipse's AIRBOY) were almost never white folks (in the case of revivals, in spite of the race of the previous holder of the name).

Marvel's Black Cat is the only notable exception I can think of (and, in many ways, she was intended to be to Spider-Man what Catwoman was to Batman, and just needed a name that fit (and it's not like even Marvel was progressive enough at the time to put Peter Parker in an inter-racial relationship (Iron Fist and Misty Knight were a thing already, but Peter Parker people would pay attention to))).

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  • @Thunderforge - The question asked if he got his powers from a bolt of black lightning - I wanted to address that as well.
    – RDFozz
    Mar 10, 2018 at 0:34
  • FYI - I've rearranged the answer to move the ethnicity part to the top; I originally covered his "origin story" before I got to that, which is what @Thunderforge 's comment refers to. He had a point.
    – RDFozz
    Mar 10, 2018 at 0:42
  • Black Canary was created as white, and always has been, to the best of my knowledge. Same with Black Hand. Mar 10, 2018 at 1:28
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    I think you wrote a little Lisp at the end there, with all those parentheses. (Programming joke, please ignore)
    – anon
    Mar 10, 2018 at 3:41
  • @Xavon_Wrentaile: That's what the answer says. Mar 10, 2018 at 4:59

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