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Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Black Lightning 6 - Syonide debuts

Syonide debuts in the Isabella, Von Eeden and Colletta tale from Black Lightning 6 (Jan 78), which fills in some of the hero's backstory.

Black Lightning finally figures out that Gambi has been kidnapped, and gets on the trail of the men behind it. He fights two goons, but gets taken down by a drugged dart fired by their boss, Syonide, who kidnapped Gambi in order to lure the hero to him. Tobias Whale has placed a huge contract out on Black Lightning, which Syonide intends to collect.

Two-Bits comes to the hero's aid, and Black Lightning explains to him how Gambi essentially raised him, along with his mother, after his father's death. Jefferson Pierce grew up in the tenement directly above Gambi's tailor shop. Now it feels like his own father has been kidnapped.

Back at the high school, there is yet another scene with Jefferson Pierce avoiding Lynn Stewart, but we finally learn the reason why when Lynn reveals that she and Pierce used to be married. So not only is Black Lightning the first black hero in DC Comics, he is also the first divorced one.

Black Lighting is so intent on finding Gambi that he walks right into Syonide's trap. His electric force field is able to neutralize Syonide's charged whip, but by torturing Gambi Syonide has learned how to nullify Black Lightning's force field as well.

Ultimately, that doesn't even matter. Syonide had drugged Black Lightning the night before with a toxin that knocked the hero out immediately, but which also had a delayed effect, and now leaves him unable to move on his own. Syonide puts a rope on him to bring him to the 100 and collect his bounty, but also reveals that Gambi was the man who killed Black Lightning's father.

Black Lightning 5 - Superman vs Black Lightning

Superman and Black Lightning go head to head in the Isabella, Von Eeden and Colletta story from Black Lightning 5 (Nov 77).

Picking up from the end of the previous issue, Superman confronts Black Lighting, believing that he had attacked Jimmy Olsen. Cyclotronic Man is still lying there, but Superman pays no attention to him. Black Lightning figures there is little point in trying to argue with Superman, so goes on the attack. That doesn't work very well, even with his enhanced strength.

While the two men fight, Cyclotronic Man recovers, and takes advantage of Superman's distraction to attack him, as seen on the cover. The man's powers actually are capable of affecting Superman, who winds up needing to be rescued by Black Lightning. 

Cyclotronic Man gets away as Superman recovers. Despite being rescued, Superman still wants to bring Black Lightning in. The hero makes an impassioned plea for Superman to understand that he deals with crimes that Superman cannot. That the low level hoods who prey on the people in the slums just hide when Superman is around, and Black Lightning is needed to be able to face them on their own turf. Superman is impressed, and even helps Black Lightning catch up to Cyclotronic Man.

The villain is meeting with the masked man when Black Lightning comes bursting in. Lightning makes the big assumption, which is nevertheless correct, that the masked man was the one who impersonated Jimmy Olsen and set him up, but still winds up spending his time taking down Cyclotronic Man.

The issue ends with the revelation that the masked man is really Andy Henderson, the inspector's son.

Black Lightning 4 - Black Lighting vs Jimmy Olsen

Superman really should not be featured so prominently on the cover of Black Lighting 4 (Sept 77), as he only has a very small role in the Isabella, Von Eeden and Colletta story.

Believing that Jimmy Olsen was the one who set him up in the previous issue, Black Lightning goes after the young reporter in this story, and chooses a bad time to do so, when the police are around. Not wanting to actually fight cops, Black Lightning lets Jimmy go and takes off.

Tobias Whale has brought in some new out of town muscle to take on Black Lightning, though we also see that he is working with a masked man, whose identity is not clear. The out of town muscle is the Cyclotronic Man, a one shot Batman villain from the late 60s, who used to go under the names of Bag O Bones, or the Spark Spangled See Through Man. Cyclotronic Man is definitely an improvement on the name, though the costume completely conceals his glowing skeletal appearance, which is a shame.

There are some minor developments in the issue as well. Another brief scene in which Jeffersson Pierce avoids Lynn Stewart, and a sequence in which he goes looking for Gambi. Lightning assumes Gambi has gone out for some innocent reason, but the reader's attention is drawn to a broken pair of glasses, indicating something worse has happened.

Whale orders the Cyclotronic Man to go after Jimmy Olsen, figuring this will bait one of the heroes to come running. Black Lighting has come to believe that Jimmy was set up, and now works to rescue him. The fight with Cyclotronic Man knocks Jimmy out, but Lightning does defeat the villain, using his belt to reverse the polarity of Cyclotronic Man's force fields.

But Black Lightning's victory is short lived as Superman shows up, thinking that Lightning was attacking Jimmy again.

The story continues in the next issue.

Black Lightning 3 - Tobias Whale meets Black Lightning

Vince Colletta takes over the inks for the Isabella and Von Eeden story from Black Lightning 3 (July 1977), which introduces a number of supporting cast members.

Inspector Henderson, a character originally from the Adventures of Superman tv series, becomes the main police officer in this book. He has an interview on tv with Clark Kent, expressing his distaste with Black Lightning, despite all the good the hero has done facing the 100. Henderson is a straight out "no vigilantes" cop, though.

We also meet Two-Bits, an informant that Black Lightning has been using to get information on the 100, and who will appear in a number of stories in this book.

Tobias Whale also gets seen in full in this story. Shame he is shown on the cover, as the page in the story that first shows him is so powerful. Whale wants to get rod of both Superman and Black Lightning, who are causing the 100 too much grief.

But we aren't done yet with new characters. Jefferson Pierce is introduced by the principal of his school to a new teacher, Lynn Stewart. But it appears the two already know each other, and Pierce storms out. It will take a few issues for their backstory to be revealed.

Of the action part of the story, we see how Black Lightning is given information by Two-Bits that winds up leading him into a trap, where he has to deal with both Tobias Whale and Inspector Henderson, and the hero barely gets away. This is the first time that Black Lightning uses his belt to actually emit a blast of electricity. He talks with Gambi about how his belt has been giving him strength, and though Gambi pretends to be surprised by this, we learn that he and his brother had intended that to happen. The story closes with Black Lightning deciding that he was set up by the man who Two-Bits got his information from: Jimmy Olsen.

Black Lightning 2 - Merlyn vs Black Lightning

Isabella, Von Eeden and Springer contrinue with the introduction of Black Lightning in issue 2 (May 1977).

Continuing from the end of the previous issue, Black Lightning goes after Joey Toledo and his minions in the 100. Now he is wearing his new belt, which gives him en electronic force field, as well as the ability to electrify metal objects that he comes into contact with. As Black Lightning fights the goons, he discovers an unintended side effect of the belt, boosting his strength to super human levels.

But none of that turns out to be much good when an arrow hits him in the guts. The force field, being electric, seems to work best against metals. The arrow was fired by Merlyn, the archer who had been a member of the League of Assassins, but was last seen the previous year in Action Comics. Tobias Whale has lost faith in Toledo's ability to handle Black Lightning, and sent Merlyn out to stop the hero.

But Merlyn is a wanted man himself, and not just by the police. Talia Al Ghul show up, paying a visit to Gambi. It seems this Gambi has criminal connections, just like his brother. Talia is hunting Merlyn, dispatched by the League to kill him for his failure in the case where he faced the Justice League, back in 1972.

So Black Lightning ultimately gets caught in the middle of a bigger fight. While Merlyn tries to kill the hero, Talia takes out the 100's goons, and even shoots Joey Toledo. Black Lightning doesn't realize she is using drugged darts, not deadly bullets, and moves to intercept her, allowing Merlyn to get away.

I just loved this story when it came out, and hoped that Talia and Merlyn would continue to appear in the book, but they didn't. Talia returns the following year in the Batman Spectacular, but Merlyn appears to go on the run, as he is not seen again until 1989, in the pages of the Flash.

Black Lightning 1 - Black Lightning debuts

Black Lightning debuted with the April 1977 issue of his own book. DC's first black superhero, this series also marked a personal first for me. While I had already picked up both Freedom Fighters and Secret Society of Super-Villains from their debut issues, neither of those had a house ad promoting their launch. Black Lightning did, and the ad really caught my attention. So Black Lightning became the first series I picked up due to a house ad.

Tony Isabella, Trevor Von Eeden and Frank Springer begin the tale with an angry Black Lightning pursuing Joey Toledo, a drug dealer working with the 100, the main criminal organization from the Rose and Thorn series from Lois Lane.

After roughing Toledo up and arranging a meeting, at which the hero demands Toledo turn over a list of his associates, Black Lightning returns home. We discover that he is a school teacher, Jefferson Pierce, who grew up in the slums of Metropolis. He made it to the Olympics and made good, and how has returned to try to help the neighbourhood he escaped from. In a weird way, this is much like Welcome Back, Kotter. Pierce is aided in this by Gambi, who looks like the tailor from the Flash comics, and is, presumably, his brother. Mention is made of him having a brother. Gambi designed Black Lightning's costume, and I love the afro wig atttached to the mask. At this point, Black Lightning has no powers whatsoever, beyond his athletic training.

Pierce is trying to get his students to clean up, which has put him into conflict with the 100, who are selling drugs at his school. The issue also introduces Tobias Whale, a bigshot with the 100, and Joey Toledo's direct superior.

When Black Lightning heads to the school for the meeting with Toledo, he finds one of the students he had been helping dead, hanging from the basketball hoop. This more or less brings the first issue full circle, as Black Lightning's confrontation with Toledo, which opened the book, follows this death. Gambi makes reference to a belt his brother has sent him, a belt that will give Black Lightning powers, but we only learn about its properties in the next issue.

Now I can see how Black Lightning was DC's version of Luke Cage, Power Man, but at the time this was all very exciting and new for me, and I loved it.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Jonah Hex 92 - Jonah Hex ends

Jonah Hex's series comes to a strange ending in issue 92 (Aug 85), by Fleisher and Morrow.

Most of this story deals with a young runaway girl, a witness to a crime, who Jonah winds up taking under his wing, protecting her and taking out the men who are after her.

Emmylou Hartley gets rescued from the put she fell into in the last issue, by a kindly farmer.

But then her old kdinapper guy shows up again, and she is back on the run.

As the issue comes to a close the girl Jonah has been looking after asks to stay with him, and he agrees. But then her real parents show up, all happy to have her back. Jonah just wanders off, miserable, and heads to the bar.

Emmylou catches up with him at this point, as does the kidnapper. But then Jonah hex vanishes in a puff of light. This is actually an effect of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the book could easily have had a banner announcing that this was a tie-in.

What happened to Jonah Hex? That gets explained in his new series, Hex, set in a post-apocalyptic future. I haven't read that series yet, but I hope the first issue at least resolves the Emmylou storyline, left totally dangling at the end of this issue.

Jonah Hex 91 - the rodeo queen

The cover for Jonah Hex 91 (June 1985) is derived from the cover of Superman 243, "The Starry Eyed Siren of Space."

In this story, by Fleisher and Morrow, Jonah Hex winds up saving, and falling for, a rodeo queen. He feels that he is too old for her, and keeps telling her this, though they quickly become a couple.

Some men are out to destroy the rodeo, which gives Jonah some gunfighting action, but most of this story is passable.

Emmylou Hartley gets some scenes, fleeing from her kidnapper, fighting back, and getting trapped underwater.

Jonah himself winds up disguised as a rodeo clown as he lies in wait for the bad guys. He gets heat broken when he sees the rodeo queen with a younger man. She is puzzled, as he kept telling her to leave him for another man, and now is hurt that she did.

Not a bad story, but not an integral one.

Jonah Hex 90 - The Monitor aids Jonah Hex, supposedly

Gray Morrow takes over the art on Jonah Hex with issue 90 (April 1985), while Fleisher remains scripter.

This story sees Marshal Hart get killed, by a woman named Silver Ames, who challenges him to a draw. Hart refuses to play along, and winds up gunned down in cold blood, for no good reason.

Poor Mei Ling, who just can't catch a break, makes a cameo as she learns of her new love's death.

The backstory for Silver Ames is intriguingly familiar. Her father was murdered by a group of outlaws, and she became a gunslinger to get vengeance. This is almost identical to the backstory of Cinnamon, who had a brief series a few years earlier, in Weird Western Tales. While Cinnamon's strip was cancelled while she was still hunting the men, Silver Ames succeded at her goal, and then has gone on to challenge other gunslingers, to prove she is the quickest on the draw.

Emmylou Hartley shows some backbone in this story, finally standing up to her kidnapper and his minions, fighting back and setting fire to their cabin before fleeing.

There is one extremely odd passage in this story. Jonah winds up receiving a horse from an old man.

Afterwards, Jonah sees a huge beam of light come down from the sky, and the old man and his cabin disappear. Officially, this is considered an appearance of the Monitor, a pre-Crisis tie-in. But at no point did the Monitor ever interact directly with the heroes he watched, nor adopt disguises. I pity anyone who reads this without being told this is a Monitor appearance, as there is nothing in the story itself to indicate this. 

The story ends with Silver Ames challenging Jonah Hex to a draw. Hex mocks her, arguing that she hasn't filed her sight down, and has the gun too low in the holster. Then he very casually draws faster than her and kills her.