Saturday, December 2, 2017

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1

I'm genuinely surprised DC didn't fuck up the title and call it "Black Lightening."

Oh boy! A modern Black Lightning book by the creator of Black Lightning who is 65 years old!

That was just a statement of fact with no inherent judgments except for those that you, the reader, brought to it. The Oh boy could have been sarcastic or genuine. It's hard to tell right now because America is terrible and I don't have any emotions left. So the "Oh boy!" was a really just an "Oh boy." I can't actually feel anything anymore.

But if I had to guess how a 65 year old guy will handle writing a black superhero in 2017, I'd like to think I'd temper my cynicism by remembering that I'm a 46 year old male who's hardly racist at all. I'm mostly racist in the way the media has made me paranoid about just how racist I am. Like, I have a Black Lightning t-shirt because he (and the other members of Batman and the Outsiders) was one of my first favorite superheroes as a young person. But sometimes I'll put on the shirt in the morning and I'll think, "Is a white guy wearing this shirt racist or, as a member of the comic book community, is it okay for me to embrace a character I've loved for so long since comic book fans are way more ready to embrace diversity?" Then I think, "But are they? Isn't a large portion of the comic book fan community just white guys who believe the introduction of any female character or character of color is just pandering to a non-existent fan base?" Then I think, "Does context even matter? Aren't I just a white guy wearing a shirt adorned by a black guy's face? That's, at the very least, somewhat uncomfortable, right?" Then I think, "Why do I make so much eye contact with black people when I avoid eye contact with everybody else on a constant basis? Do I really need them to think I'm not being racist by changing my behavior around them which totally indicates I'm racist?" Then I think, "I live in Portland! How many black people am I going to run into anyway?!" Then I think, "I'll probably write about this later and it will sound terrible and make me look like a total racist with all the partitioned thoughts of black people as some kind of Other that I'm somehow dismissing by thinking my choice of t-shirt will somehow affect anybody else in any serious way." Then I think, "Maybe people will see it as supportive of our fellow citizens oppressed by the system? Or maybe it'll just reaffirm that oppression through my appropriation of a pop culture symbol that wasn't really meant for me? Although it was written by a white guy and, looking back with a modern sensibility, was in many ways problematic? Or maybe everybody will just be boggled by the image like that one petitioner who, in trying to get my attention, was all, 'Samurai Jack!'" Then I think, "I guess I'm just not leaving the house at all again. Maybe next week."

The issue begins with Black Lightning arriving on the scene of a casino robbery amid my dwindling hopes of a well-written book.

Is Black Lightning insulting news weathermen?

I'm not entirely sure what calling yourselves The Weathermen has to do with your mental development being stalled at obvious (and whether or not that actually means anything). Is it because Black Lightning thinks weathermen just stick their hand out of the window and report on what they felt as if nobody else in the local area can do that? So when they say, "It's raining," Black Lightning goes, "Duh! Why did I need you to tell me that!" But they also forecast the weather and that's not obvious to the general layperson, Mr. Lightning! I mean, sure, they're not always right. But when they say storms are expected in three days when it's completely sunny, I wouldn't characterize that as obvious!

Maybe I'm just rushing to judgment based on one bad one-liner from Black Lightning. I mean, it's entirely possible that I just don't get the reference. Was there a young adult book recently called The Weathermen about a group of people who were super obvious? Oh! That gives me an idea how this moment could have been improved. The gang could have called themselves The Young Adult Novels because then the mental development being stalled at obvious crack would have made sense! What Young Adult novel in the last ten years hasn't been about a young person who sees through the lie of society and winds up being super special and unique?

During the battle, the police watch the criminals blast a hunk of the casino's side off the building so that it will plummet to the ground, endangering everybody standing around filming the incident with their phones. Black Lightning diverts the sign using an "electromagnetic thing" so that the sign falls on a SWAT van instead of on people. The police react appropriately for a comic book (and maybe real life too?):

I didn't know politely and reasonably explaining reality to an enraged police officer with his gun in your face allows you to simply walk away safely. Has anybody actually tried this?!¹

The man behind the Weathermen is Tobias Whale. Not the weird Tobias Whale from DC Universe Presents Black Lightning and Blue Devil. That was his nephew and he's dead now. This is the real Tobias Whale who is really into the whale theme. He has a picture of whales on his office wall, he kills his sister with a model whaling ship, and he has assistants named Queequeg and Pequod. I bet I know what he calls his penis.

Apparently there's a race war happening in the DC Universe.²

Black Lightning's first appearance in town in years is heroic. He helps stop some criminals from hurting people. But as soon as he arrives, the bad guys change their tactics from robbing places to getting back at the superhero. So once again, lazy writing proves that the city would be better off without Black Lightning having come back. Because at least if Black Lightning didn't show, the danger would be over until the next robbery. Now the criminals have come right back out to challenge him or they're going to hurt innocent civilians. I'm beginning to think superheroes should all be more like The Punisher. If you're known for murdering the fuck out of a criminal, the criminals are going to be less likely to call you out. Although being comic books, even that line of reasoning can be flushed down the toilet. I'm sure there are plenty of Punisher stories where the criminal syndicates are all, "Big money for the person who bags The Punisher!" Then war erupts all over New York and thousands of people die but The Punisher isn't one of them. In the end, he kills all of the bad guys who were out to kill him and the reader is supposed to enjoy that ending while ignoring how many innocent people died during a conflict that wouldn't have happened if The Punisher didn't exist.

And there it is! Instead of being an inspiration to the people of the city, the hero is written as a pariah and a harbinger of doom.³

Black Lightning arrives on the scene to help out the cops and to come out of the closet.

I mark the boundary of my loss of innocence as the day I suddenly couldn't stop giggling at the phrase "back door."

Black Lightning takes down the criminals easily but then Tobias Whale's assistant, Miss Pequod, zaps them to death so it looks like he electrocuted them. Everybody believes it immediately and now Black Lightning is on the run. I hope next issue introduces a cigar chomping news editor who wants Black Lightning taken down while also demanding photographs of him in action for the paper.

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1 Rating: As for the quality of the writing on a technical level, it wasn't bad. But as a comic book that decided it didn't mind using all of the dumb comic book tropes where the good guy winds up being wanted by the non-powered good guys, it also wasn't bad. I mean that if I had to rate it on using those tropes, I'd have to say, "9 out of 10 Stars! It used all the terrible tropes!" But I don't actually mean it that way, do I? I was beginning to have a little hope for this series until that moment when Black Lightning was framed. Why the fuck do comic book creators think the best way to tell a superhero story is to have all the regular good people against the super powered good person? So dumb.

¹Do not actually try this! Unless you're a white male. And then you don't even have to be polite or reasonable!
²Unless it's a war between good looking people and dumpy, average people.
³I think I have Crisis on Infinite Earths on my brain.

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