by Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
It’s remarkable how many comics fans claim their perceived politicization of superheroes is ruining the medium. It represents a profoundly ahistorical worldview that falls apart under even the lightest scrutiny. I’m not convinced any work of art could be apolitical, but superhero comics certainly aren’t — virtually every character, from Captain America to Superman, advanced very specific political opinions. More broadly, the relative cheapness of comics as a medium has long lent it to political advocacy. Comics have always been political. Superheroes have always been political. Readers may disagree with — or even resent — the political attitudes reflected in a given comic, but that a comic is political is not a valid reason to dismiss it. To me, the quality of a comic has everything to do with how clearly and effectively it makes its point — whether that point is political, emotional, or something else. Only looking at the first issue, it’s impossible to say exactly what point Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands will ultimately make, but this issue does suggest a rich array of political points it can choose from.
From the very first page, writer Tony Isabella and artist Clayton Henry are hinting at what those points might be. Just look at how they kick off the opening conflict.
Starting off a superhero story with a fight scene is standard practice, but introducing it through phones in the hands of the nameless masses immediately makes us aware of how this fight is perceived. Black Lightning isn’t just saving the day, he’s doing it with millions of eyes on him.
That comes back in a big way at the issue’s end, when he’s publicly framed for killing a bunch of goons in cold blood — he’s under the scrutiny of anyone with a camera phone. Of course, the more potent political message is the way this scenario flips the script on the other camera phone videos we’re inundated with on a regular basis: of black men and women being killed and beaten by the police. It positions Black Lightning in an impossible place; vilified by the public and the police, leaving him no option but to run. “Superhero on the run” is a hell of a hook, and Isabella has carefully packed the powderkeg with issues of race and vigilantism that promises a story that few superheroes are equipped to tell. This is a miniseries to watch.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?