Just in time to coincide with the upcoming CW series, Black Lightning is back with the debut issue of a mini-series penned by his creator Tony Isabella and featuring art by Clayton Henry. Does Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1 do a good job of reintroducing the character in the Rebirth era?
I’m going to start off with the aspects of this issue’s writing that I like. There are a lot of solid ideas here that could lead to great development and commentary in subsequent installments. We get to see a little bit of Jefferson Pierce (Black Lightning’s civilian identity) out of tights, interacting with friends and speaking to a framed portrait of his father. It’s a nice way to handle the subject matter of daily life after the death of a parent. The issue also touches on overly aggressive policing, with nods not only to vigilante/police conflict but also to the differences in how police officers often treat black citizens as opposed to white citizens.
Unfortunately, in the issue as is, those ideas don’t receive adequate page-time to get fleshed out. The reading experience more or less feels like this: Black Lightning is in a fight, some civilian events occur, Black Lightning gets in another fight and then flees law enforcement officers after being framed for a crime. My main problem with the issue, and one that is unfortunately present throughout its near-entirety, is the narration. Black Lightning’s first person point-of-view commentary frequently feels hokey, like it’s supposed to be funny but isn’t.
The failed comedy is only made more noticeable when it doubles as exposition, telling the reader things that would have been better off shown or at least told in a different scene and tone. Pierce is a teacher, and rather than show him interacting with students, the issue hints at his occupation with thought captions in the heat of battle. While fighting antagonists called the Weathermen, Black Lightning thinks phrases such as “I hate pop quizzes” and “This was not on today’s lesson plan!” The result is that fight scenes lose their sense of drama, and the plot information provided feels shoe-horned in. We don’t get much time to feel close to Jefferson, and the issue’s villains lack interesting motivations. Overall, it’s hard to find a character to truly care about here.
Artistically, the issue is a mixed bag. Clayton Henry delivers some solid work, with a well-composed opening two-page spread and clear, emotive facial expressions throughout. Unfortunately, the world the characters inhabit feels kind of flat. While skyscrapers tower impressively in panels’ backgrounds, the actual subjects in the foregrounds contain almost no texture to speak of. Colorist Pete Pantazis does a good job with lighting and other details, but the visuals still lack a unique spark that would set this series apart from others.
Overall, Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1 is a bit of a disappointment. I had hoped it would mark a grand reintroduction for the character, but if someone bought this issue without already liking Jefferson Pierce, I can’t imagine their opinion would change much after reading it. The artwork isn’t distinct, the villains aren’t memorable, and the writing’s best aspects are its ideas, not its actual execution. That’s not to say this issue is horrible by any means; it’s solidly okay. But with a $3.99 cover price, solidly okay doesn’t cut it.