by Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
For as many superhero comics there are out there, it’s remarkable how little diversity there is — both in terms of representation and narrative variety. Those are both points that have been made to death, but are rarely mentioned in the same breath. But with Black Lighting: Cold Dead Hands 2, Tony Isabella and Clayton Henry make a strong case that they might be related — or more precisely, that the solution to both can be the same thing: Jefferson Pierce’s blackness lends the character to stories totally unlike the reheated adventures of other superhero faire. It demonstrates the storytelling potential of diverse characters, emphasizing perspectives, obstacles, and motivations that otherwise might never come up at the Big 2.
Picking up two weeks after the events of the first issue, this installment balances Jefferson’s superheroics with his day job as a high school teacher, but that balance has been upset by the suspicion that he killed those dudes back in the first issue. He’s no longer allowed to operate freely as a superhero, and is persecuted by cops and citizens alike. It’s a dynamic that other superheroes have flirted with in the past — Batman and Spider-Man spring immediately to mind — but tinged with issues of race, Jefferson’s struggles take on a whole new dimension. These struggles aren’t reserved only for mysterious masked vigilante, but are familiar to black men (and women, and children) all over the country.
Crucially, this issue frames that persecution not as hate, but of fear — and specifically, of people being manipulated by false narratives. This is made explicit in the play Jefferson’s class is putting up — a sci-fi radio play about aliens using fear to manipulate people — but we see it throughout the issue. Just look at the cop who fires on Jefferson towards the end of the issue:
Jefferson may not know if he saw hate or fear in that cop’s face, but after he makes a hasty retreat, it’s hard to see that cop as anything but shaken. He’s just confronted something that obviously terrifies him — so much so that he’s not even concerned about the ricochets his partner has to remind him of.
It’s a story that’s familiar to us through the news, but doesn’t crop up in superhero comics all that often. What’s more, the the manipulations of the fear here don’t rely on superpowered villains — just regular old pedestrian fear and misinformation. It’s the perfect kind of superhero story, one that blows up our real-world problems to epic proportions without distorting or misrepresenting them. This miniseries is something special.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
Wait, what race is the policeman who shot Black Lightning. His colouring is really similar to Black Lightning, and distinctly different from the white cop.
Is this seriously a scene where a white cop tells and PoC cop to be more cautious and responsible. If you want to discuss irresponsible police in America, especially with regards to black men’s relationship with police, you can’t ignore the role that whiteness plays. You certainly don’t have the heroic white guy try and counterbalance a PoC’s overreach. That is horrifically inaccurate.
I said last motnh that I didn’t trust DC to trust this topic with the respect it deserves, and I am sad that I am right.
Urgh. DC’s current miniseries are truly, truly terrible. Even by modern DC standards