by Michael Hutchison
Jefferson Pierce grew up in Suicide Slum, a neglected part of Metropolis which got its name from the idea that people only escaped the degradation of the slum by killing themselves. His father was accidentally shot during a mob hit, and times were quite tough for Jeff and his widowed mother. A month or so later, an Italian tailor named Peter Gambi opened a shop beneath their apartment and helped them through their financial difficulties. Peter was there to care for Jeff while his mother worked long hours to support them. Over time, Peter Gambi began to fulfill Jeff's need for a positive father figure in his life.
Growing up, Jeff pushed himself in athletics and in his studies, with an aptitude for English and poetry. He even penned a few lines which stuck in Pete Gambi's memory: "Justice, like lightning, should ever appear to some men hope, to other men fear." At the age of 18, Jeff managed to make it to the Olympics, gaining fame from the media profiles which highlighted his rise from Suicide Slum. Jeff wanted to send a message to everyone back home that you could get out of Suicide Slum.
Having won medals and attention, Jeff received scholarships and endorsement offers which allowed him to go to college and receive both an English major and a teaching degree. Four years after he left for college, he again went to the Olympics and this time won the Decathlon. The gold medal winner then began a teaching job upstate in New Carthage.
Also during his time away from Suicide Slum, Jeff married and consequently divorced Lynn Stewart. Lynn was disappointed with Jeff for not being the community activist that she was. He only seemed to care about getting himself out of the ghetto.
Returning to Suicide Slum for his mother's funeral, Jeff was sad to see that nothing had changed over the years. Thinking of what Lynn said about him, Jeff decided to get a teaching job at his old high school in the hopes that he could make a difference in the lives of the kids there.
While on a tour of the building with the principal, Jeff stumbled across a drug deal in a school hallway. Furious, he slammed the dealer into the lockers and ordered the junkie to report to the school nurse. Impressed, the principal welcomed Jeff Pierce to the school. Later, Jeff was getting to know the school's top basketball player when several thugs from the local mob, The 100, came to call on the nosy teacher who had tackled their drug dealer. Jeff and the student succeeded in fighting off the thugs. But the 100 was not an organization that took kindly to meddlers.
Tobias Whale, leader of the 100, ordered the thugs to beat up the student, Earl Clifford. They intended to just scare him, but accidentally ran into him with their vehicle. They left the body hanging from the basketball hoop at the school, where Jefferson Pierce could see the price of interfering with the 100.
Shaken and disheartened, Jefferson Pierce vented aloud to Pete Gambi that there wasn't a way to fight off the influence of the 100. If he became a community activist and an outspoken teacher, the 100 would simply remove him or strike at him through his kids. Gambi thought on this and announced that he would come up with something.
Unbeknownst to Jefferson, Pete's brother Paul Gambi was also in the tailoring business...namely, the business of creating the costumes and accessories for the supervillains of Central City. Using his connections, Pete was able to procure a belt-like device which gave its wearer electrical powers. Inspired by Jeff's old poem, Pete Gambi created a blue costume with lightning symbols on the hemlines. A wig/mask combination helped to protect Jeff's identity. Black Lightning was born. Not a politically correct name, to be sure, but Jeff wanted to convey to the black underclass that it was possible to fight the oppression of the 100. More to the point, African-American Electrostatic Atmospheric Discharge didn't have the same ring to it.
Black Lightning began terrorizing the hoodlums of Suicide Slum. Drug dealers, weapons merchants and affiliated scum learned that it was harder to operate in the area than they thought. Reporting this new threat back to Tobias Whale, he hired hitmen to get rid of this "Black Lightning." Merlyn the archer, the Cyclotronic Man and Syonide all fought him, but it was Syonide who finally captured him with a paralysis dart.
Syonide taunted Jeff that he had done a great deal of investigation into who Black Lightning was. He'd uncovered Jeff's real name. He'd learned Jeff's history. And he'd uncovered the identity of the hitman who had accidentally killed Jeff's father: Peter Gambi.
Syonide destroyed the lightnign belt and hauled Jeff before the 100 where they hung him in chains on a wall beside the kidnapped Peter Gambi. Tobias Whale had called all of the leaders of the 100's different branches (spread across 100 American cities), and he planned to have Syonide execute Black Lightning in front of all of them. This came as a surprise to Syonide, who took pride in himself as a manhunter but didn't engage in murder. Tobias stated that Syonide handed over his victims to people who surely kill them, and yet Syonide thought that his hands weren't stained with blood. "Your hypocrisy sickens even me!" Whale spat, leaving the room.
Alone, Gambi tried to plot an escape with Jefferson, but Jeff asked him if he was the man who killed his father. He was. Jeff insisted that they would get out of there...and then he was turning Gambi over to the law. Black Lightning did manage to free the two of them, and then he pursued two of Whale's hired agents, who led him into an arena. Looking around, Black Lightning found himself in Syonide's crosshairs. As Syonide fired, Pete Gambi leapt in front of him and took the bullet.
Black Lightning's body began to crackle with electricity despite the lack of a power belt. His power had become internalized, perhaps due to the metagene's activation during this moment of high stress. Furious, Black Lightning leapt into the stands where the gangsters were gathered and began fighting them by the dozens. He waded through the 100 and took down Tobias Whale. The 100 were broken.
Later, the Justice League of America wanted to add him to their ranks and were observing him from a nearby rooftop. They were impressed with his power, his skills and his determination. When Green Arrow stressed that it was important that they induct him so that they had somebody with black skin on the team, the others bristled at the idea of choosing their teammates through a kind of affirmative action program. Flash insisted that Black Lightning should only get the spot if he was qualified, and thus they decided to put him through an initiation test. (Considering no other JLA member had to undergo a life-or-death initiation test, some might say that this was just as unjust as going easy on him because of his skin color. But that would be editorializing on the part of this biographer, so I won't say it.) The JLA members attacked him posing as costumed villains. Black Lightning passed all of their tests, including a test to see if he would take the life of an enemy. But when the JLA revealed their true intentions and asked him to join the JLA, Black Lightning surprised them by refusing. He had no interest in joining a team that would take him away from his local crime-fighting activities.
In the years that followed, Black Lightning continued to fight street gangs, pimps, pushers, thieves and anyone else making trouble around Garfield High School. When a girl died indirectly from his actions, Black Lightning lost his powers (no doubt this was psychosomatic, as they returned when his confidence in himself returned) and went into retirement.
His retirement was short-lived, as Batman sought out Black Lightning for a mission to Markovia that would eventually lead to the formation of a new superhero team, the Outsiders. Black Lightning spent years with the Outsiders and, despite his earlier protestations to the JLA, moved away from Suicide Slum to live near the Outsiders' California HQ.
When the Outsiders disbanded, Black Lightning moved to Gotham City for a short time. When the Dominator Gene Bomb was detonated during the Invasion, Black Lightning's powers grew out of control. After he was cured of the Dominator Metagene Virus, Jefferson found that his powers had increased. He now had above human strength, increased powers and an electrical aura that manifested itself in his eyes. This prompted him to finally adopt a new costume and a new look. Now maskless, Black Lightning's identity was obscured by his glowing eyes.
Jefferson decided to move to Brick City, his father's hometown. There he started a new teaching job, became active in his local Baptist Church, began a new romance with a woman named Gail Harris and bought a building to live in. As Black Lightning, he started putting pressure on the local gangs, along the way acquiring an informant named Beagle and a police contact, Tommy Colavito (the closest he could come to his own Commissioner Jim Gordon; Tommy explained that the local law wasn't the accomodating type that would set up a spotlight on their roof).
Jeff has had a lifelong friendship with his ex-wife Lynn. Both agree they were better friends than spouses. Lynn returned to look in on him when he was injured by a gun-toting student. When he recovered, Jeff showed Lynn his new building. Below his apartment was an abandoned gymnasium, which he was using as his headquarters. "The BlackCave?" Lynn asked, but Jeff insisted that he wasn't about to change the name of his crime-fighting identity just to be P.C. Amongst the materials in his H.Q. are the design specs for a vehicle which Batman had given him some time earlier.
Jeff Pierce's church became a political hotspot when local community leaders wanted to hold a gang summit and find a way to end the violence in the area. Many objected to treating gangbangers like they were leading citizens, others felt it was a small price to pay for bringing peace to the inner city. To add fuel to the fire, Jose Delgado (the superhero known as Gangbuster) arrived in town hoping to settle an old score. Black Lightning discovered that the Gangbuster he was dealing with wasn't the real Gangbuster at all, but a shapechanging creature named Ishmael...a servant of Tobias Whale! Tobias Whale had come to Brick City.
Jeff's further adventures in Brick City are not recorded, as he has not been visible of late. Black Lightning has been seen during recent crises as a member of the JLA reserves.
Recently, President Lex Luthor picked Jefferson Pierce to be his Secretary of Education. While not an educational administrator, this was balanced out by Jeff's noteworthy commitment to community activism and education as a way to improve one's chances in life. There are also the political realities that modern politicians need to have minorities in high-level appointments for political gain...or "a Cabinet that looks like America" as the last officeholder put it. Jeff passed through the Cabinet review process without incident.
Unbeknownst to Jefferson Pierce, Lex Luthor knows that he is Black Lightning.
Originally derived from a belt, but quickly internalized due to the metagene, Black Lightning's main powers are a defensive force field and offensive ability to throw lightning bolts. Both of these are manifestations of the same electrical aura that courses through his body.
Once, in confrontation with the 100, they turned a firehose on him. They warned him not to use his powers or he would electrocute himself. Considering his body must have some immunity to his own power, it is not known if this would have indeed hurt him.
In addition to his powers, Jefferson is an Olympic level athlete and gymnast. He is a street fighter, but he no doubt honed his fighting skills under Batman's tutelage.
Black Lightning does not use weapons or crime-fighting tools, but he does have blueprints for a vehicle which may or may not be built someday.
A sickly albino kid, unwanted and unloved, Tobias left home at a young age to run away and join the merchant marine. At sea, he pushed his body to the limits and built up his muscles. He also gained a heavy respect for the sea and developed a lifelong attachment to it.
Returning to land, Tobias Whale was now a strong man and an imposing figure, but he was still misshapen and odd. Although much of his history is unknown, it could be assumed that he fell in with some unsavory smuggling operations or corrupt dockworkers unions. What is known is that his power and influence grew, and he became involved with a criminal organization known as the 100. (It is assumed he wasn't the founder or leader, as he has been seen jockeying for status with the other crimelords of the 100.)
Tobias' love for the sea remained even as his operations moved to the inner city of Metropolis, known as Suicide Slum. Tobias' office is decorated like a Long John Silvers restaurant, with maritime memorabilia like fishing nets and rigging and a large ship's wheel...and harpoons, which Tobias will sometimes use as a personal hand weapon. Whale compares himself to the ocean, which can be calm yet forbidding, and which can also become angry and deadly.
Defeated and captured by Black Lightning, Whale managed to escape from prison several times. He has since moved his operations to Brick City, as Black Lightning had also done; it is not known if this is more than coincidence. No further information is available on Whale's activities.
Although he possesses no superhuman powers, Tobias Whale has demonstrated the strength to smash through solid oak statues. Whale gained this muscle working on ships in his youth.
Tobias Whale is an albino. Albinism usually causes poor eyesight. It is not known if Tobias suffers from this or not.
This article is © 2001 Michael Hutchison.
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