Lightning Strikes Thrice? Tony Isabella and DC Bury the Hatchet

It appears DC Comics and Tony Isabella have settled their long-standing differences over the Black Lightning character, DC’s first head-lining black super hero, who may soon make the jump to live-action adventures.

In a brief release on his “Bloggy Thing” Monday morning, Isabella wrote the following:

DC Comics/Entertainment and Black Lightning creator Tony Isabella have reached a mutually-beneficial agreement on Tony’s past and future contributions to the company. DC is pleased it will again have access to Tony’s talents and insights. Tony is thrilled to be once again associated with one of the top entertainment powerhouses of our era. This is good news all around.

As many DC fans know, Isabella created Black Lightning in 1976, as an alternative to another hero, The Black Bomber — a white racist who, in times of stress, turns into a black super hero — which the company had under consideration at the time. Some sources list artist Trevor Von Eeden as a co-creator, but Isabella disputes this, saying he stood over the then-18 year old’s shoulder told him what to draw when designing the character.

Launched on Jan. 4, 1977, Black Lightning was DC’s first black hero to get his own book. In fact, he was one of the company’s first black leading characters, period. A retired athlete who returned to his inner city neighborhood to start a second career as a public school teacher after his Olympic dreams ended, Black Lightning ran just 11 issues before getting the ax in the infamous DC Implosion. He initially got his electric powers from a belt, and used inner-city “jive” talk when in costume to help disguise his true identity.

The entire series was collected in 2016 in trade paperback form, including one tale originally meant for the series which later saw print in World’s Finest Comics.  It may be publication of that TPB which helped thaw the ice. After all, Isabella has for decades claimed DC treated him poorly, allegedly breaking contracts and robbing him of royalties.

The use of Black Vulcan on the Super Friends TV show, for instance, has been reported as a means for DC and Hanna-Barbera to avoid paying fees to Isabella for use of Black Lightning.

Isabella returned to his favorite creation 1995, but reportedly felt at odds with DC management at the time and left after eight issues, with the series only lasting five more beyond that.

Naturally, this morning’s statement leaves a lot of open questions. It intimates Isabella may work for DC again, but Isabella has said in the past his continued association with the company would hinge on resolving rights to Black Lightning. Does this mean a new contract has been reached, or that Isabella has succeeded in getting DC to enforce the terms of the original agreement? It would seem so. Is he getting any back royalties for merchandise and action figures? Is he getting a cut of the new CW TV show if it advances beyond the pilot stage and goes to series? One presumes, although the statement does not say so specifically, that a “mutually-beneficial agreement” on Isabella’s past contributions to DC means all outstanding issues have been resolved, and that must include longstanding disputes over Black Lightning.

And, while the statement seems to clear the way for Isabella’s “future contributions” to DC, it does not spring on any further details.

Is DC about to launch a new Black Lightning series with Isabella at the helm? At the very least, might we see a TPB collection on the Isabella’s 1995 run on the character?

Surely, more details to come . . .

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Duke Harrington

A newspaper reporter since 2004, Duke Harrington currently writes for the Kennebunk Post and the South Portland Sentry. He lives in Western Maine with one wife, one dog, two cats, and 19,237 comic books.