by Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Is there a limit to how subtle a superhero story can be? I’m certainly not of the mindset that tights and flights have to be bombastic or simple, but it seems obvious to me that, say, “being able to punch really hard” isn’t a solution that can be applied to every problem. Creators have found countless was to get subtler beats into their superhero work, but at some point, “being able to punch really hard” must come up, or the story might as well not feature a superhero. I’ll often regret that necessity when stories jerk away from compelling subtleties for generic action, which is unfortunately what Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands 4 is all about.
To their credit, Tony Isabella, Clayton Henry, and Yvel Guichet do everything they can to keep us invested in the non-action elements going on, splitting their focus across Cleveland to show the effects of that action on everyone from citizens to the criminal kingpin behind the attack. Unfortunately, that only works to emphasize the importance of this action at the expense of the more nuanced racial and political commentaries that were so compelling in the previous issue. Some of those beats are reiterated here, but nothing actively advances the plot. Tobias Whale gets what he wanted — exactly what he said would happen in the previous issue.
In spite of getting everything he wanted, Whale declares that he’s going to kill Black Lightning himself. It’s baffling for several reasons — Black Lightning seems irrelevant to Whale’s plans, Whale hasn’t gotten his hands dirty in this way thus far — but the most troubling is the inexplicable escalation this implies. The stakes are higher and more personal for seemingly no other reason than that it feels like the kind of thing that should happen at the end of a superhero story. It doesn’t fall out of the plot, or really relate to the themes Isabella and company have been crafting in the rest of the series. It’s an awkward emphasis on the action beats that already didn’t work in this issue, promising an even bigger — though likely even less satisfying — fight next month.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?