Trevor Von Eeden was one of DC Comics' earliest black artists, hired full-time by the publisher in 1975 when he was only 16. With Tony Isabella, he also created Black Lightning, DC' Comics first black superhero lead character, with. Four years ago he gave a career-spanning interview to Comics Creator News. There's plenty to talk about in it. From his early career, his first proper girlfriend Lynn Varley (and how she left him for Frank Miller), to his relationship over the years with publishers and creators and the way they treated him, as well as his latest comics work that really excited him. He also gave an unforgiving account of the pressure he felt at DC Comics, his failure to deal with it well, and his troubles since.
He also talked about a Black Lightning/Superman comic book called Sources that he was commissioned by DC Comics to draw, five years ago, written by then-Batman writer Tom King. It was written especially for Von Eeden to draw when he was both undergoing and recovering from cancer surgery. He was fully paid for the work, but believes that then- Superman Group Editor Eddie Berganza killed it. Four years ago, I looked into it and discovered that though Von Eeden may not have been aware at the time, that it was intended as an inventory issue for the publisher, to be used to fill in schedules and not be published right away. However, Von Eeden stated that as time goes by, the topical references in the script that referenced both the killing of Michael Brown, and subsequent Ferguson protests. Five years after completion, it is a tragedy that it may be more culturally relevant than ever.
Bleeding Cool was been able to acquire pages of both script and artwork, to confirm this. The comic, Sources, takes the events of a shooting and the hospitalisation of Black Lightning. And the many different narratives that emerge from it, as Clark Kent interviews the witnesses of the shooting and the subsequent protest, and riot. The comic starts with a suspect being interviewed by the police, with a number of different perspectives, including that of the arresting officer. The intervention of Black Lightning in the increasingly stressed situation saves the man with the gun aimed at him, but dooms the superhero.
PANEL 3: Big panel. Black lightning lying in the street. He's been shot three times in the chest and stomach as he's bleeding all over the place.
CAPTION: "When I turned, I saw it."
CAPTION: "And I knew, right? I saw it and I knew, right?"
CAPTION: "They finally did it! They shot Black Lightning!"
We then see the public reaction, "managed" by the police. The distinction in expression is telling, just in the art. The protest signs, details in the script below would also have been rather newsworthy I expect.
PANEL 2: We're in the POV of the police. Night. Large protest outside a hospital in Suicide Slums. Crowd is largely black. Holding signs and shouting at the camera.
CAPTION: "A 4-7 permit was not filed with MTA as is required under M.C.O. 1.54."
PROTEST SIGN: How much is a black life worth?
PROTEST SIGN: Who shot Black Lighting!?
PROTEST SIGN: When are you going to kill Aquaman?
PROTEST SIGN: Who shot Black Lighting!?!
PROTEST SIGN: Where's justice now? Where's the Justice League now?
The scene that follows is rather impressive in terms of detail and action, as Clark Kent talks to an analogue for Representative John Lewis.
Who also ha a best-selling comic book out. And now, the heavens part, the arrival of Superman. It is a beautiful scene. And no one notices…
Not the crowd. And now it seems, not DC Comics readers either.
Superman/Black Lightning: Sources has a clever, thought-provoking, balanced script with excellent structure and some killer lines. The artwork is accomplished, Trevor Von Eeden on form, with touches of Alex Toth, of Will Eisner, of Todd McFarlane and a crowd scene as detailed and varied as that of George Perez.
When I asked two years ago, I was led to understand that DC Comics still intended to publish the comic. And while the specific references may be dated, sadly all one has to do is change a few names and it's suddenly ripped from today's headlines.
I have also seen correspondence between Von Eeden and executives at DC Comics, which do seem to attempt to draw some reconciliation and compliment his work. There was even talk, initiated by DC, of reviving the Thriller comic, the series which he made his name with at DC, working with the late Dick Giordano. But Trevor seemed jaded by his experiences and with DC Comics specifically and feels he has been hard done by.
He talks about that further in this whole interview, there is a lot to take in. That nothing has changed in the last four years is disheartening.