Tony Isabella And DC Begin Reconciliation Over Black Lightning

Black Lightning 1Tony Isabella has had a fractious time with DC Comics over recent decades. The creator of DC's first prominent African-American character, Black Lightning, Tony has felt betrayed by DC's handling of his contract since. Whether writing in the trade press thirty years ago, or the more easily quotable blog of his of recent years. I understand he was also annoyed that the comics press spoke up regarding Gerry Conway's recent complaints about DC Comics that led to a reconciliation, where his own concerns weren't addressed by the publisher. Well that may have changed.

First, a little context.

August 2011

At DC, I created Black Lightning, their first headline black super-hero…. I'm enormously pleased with the writing I did on that creation… I'm not at all pleased with other aspects of my dealings with DC.

October 2011

These are the first two page of my last Black Lightning story.  Not only is it a story of whose publication many Black Lightning fans are unaware, it's a story whose presence caused someone at DC Comics to demand the pulping of the comic book in which it appeared.  Though a second "corrected" printing was done, that second printing was in doubt for a while.

April 2012

One can't go into court and easily prove a violation of the spirit of an agreement.  It would be an expensive proceeding for a comics creator while barely putting a dent in DC's petty cash.  While the furious uninvolved can bray that creators should have the courage of their convictions and sue DC anyway – all the time hoping that DC wins because, hey, they must have their weekly batch of new DC comics – creators have to consider such actions in a more careful manner.

Which I suppose is the answer to the question of why I've not sued DC over Black Lightning.

July 5th 2012, on a revived Black Lightning character in DC titles.

If you've ever read anything I've written about Black Lightning and DC's continued refusal to honor its agreements with me, and if you have half a brain, you already know how I feel about the news.

June 2013

In my case, my creation of Black Lightning was not work-for-hire. I created the character and formed a partnership with DC Comics. That DC violated that partnership agreement is the major bone of contention between me and the company. Back in 1976, I thought the agreement was fair for both DC and myself. I still feel that way and would honor it today…if DC would honor it.

September 2013

I am the sole creator of Black Lightning.  Everything that's vital to the character was created by me before I ever brought Jefferson Pierce to DC Comics.  My solo creator status was recognized by DC in the credits throughout the first Black Lightning series and in subsequent appearances, right up to the nanosecond when I inquired about buying out DC's interest in my creation.

October 2013

Black Lightning, as I have often stated, was never a work-for-hire creation.  If you want more details, do a search on the character's previous mentions in this blog.  DC Comics and others have spread quite a bit of misinformation about the character, his creation and such, but, from me, you get the real story.

July 2015.

The other exception? I won't wear DC Comics t-shirts or any other DC Comics articles of clothing. Though DC has different management today from that which cheated and mistreated me for four decades or so, I would feel unclean wearing anything that shows DC characters, logos or symbols. It would literally pain me to do so.

If you ever see me wearing a DC Comics shirt, you can take it as a sign that DC has finally made things right with me. Heck, if that happens, I might start selling DC shirts. I can think of a number of Black Lightning designs that would be the epitome of sartorial style, perfectly suitable for the home, the office and the exciting night life of a super-hero.

That was only a few days ago

But this morning? Something different, with the news that Black Lightning was being collected again by DC Comics for 2016. On Facebook he writes,

IMPORTANT! Some time later today, I will be posting a bloggy thing on my current situation re: Black Lightning. I've tried to stress that the coming trade paperback is a first (albeit positive) step. Anything else is speculation. So, beyond the bloggy thing, I probably won't be answering any further questions on this for a good long while.

Well now. And soon enough, that "bloggy thing" had been posted.

Geoff Johns reached out to me on June 2, asking if he could phone me. I like Geoff and his writing, so I said sure and told him when would be a good time.Geoff wanted to talk about Black Lightning and my dissatisfaction with my decades-unpleasant relationship with DC Comics. Just as I always have, Geoff sees a lot of potential in my finest creation. It's a potential the previous DC management clearly never saw. We talked about what it would take to make things right between me and DC so that Geoff could, in good conscience, consider developing the character in this bigger-than-1976-or-even-1995 new comics world.That conversation will remain private for now. Let's just call it a good start. It was the first time in two decades a DC executive didn't speak to me like I was a child or insane.
As of my last conversation with them, my understanding is that the book will contain Black Lightning #1-11 from the first series. It will also include the Denny O'Neil/Mike Nasser story scheduled for issue #12. That story was included inCancelled Comics Cavalcade and also published in an issue of World's Finest. I'm okay with the inclusion of the non-Isabella stories in Black Lightning Volume Onebecause I appreciate a fan's desire to have the entire run in one book and also because I don't want to deny Denny O'Neil, Trevor Von Eeden and Mike Nasser whatever royalties they'll receive from the reprinting of those stories.
I have told Geoff what I think DC can and should do. I think there is a sincere desire to make things right. Again, this is something the previous management was unwilling to even consider. I am very pleased Geoff and Dan have reached out to me. I would love to put aside my justified anger at DC Comics past and enjoy more cordial relations with the DC Comics present.Everything else is speculation at this point. .
 Which is where we come in.

It was noted that back in the beta version of the DC Universe Online game, Black Lightning appeared as a shopkeeper on the JLA Watchtower, but in the official release of the game, he was nowhere to be found. Could rights have been an issue? And does this change indicate that DC may be planning something else with Black Lightning, either TV, gaming or movie related?

After all, diversity is in the air, and honouring one of their first headline black superheroes may be a good way to go….

Is it time to wear that DC Comics T-shirt, Tony?

About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.

twitter   facebook square   instagram   globe