In the course of talking to comic creators this year, I started to think about their unique talents and what I think they would be best suited to. Inspired by all kinds of wonderful ideas I’ve seen online and heard from creators, I’ve put together my New 52. These are the 52 books I would publish if DC’s offerings were up to me and, as my friends and I have had a good time discussing them, I thought I would share them with you.

I tried to consider the actual feasibility of these titles, not only in the sense of immediate sales but in their ability to expand DC’s brand long-term. I also recognize that this is a dramatically simplified version of what DC actually has to do. As such, I made a couple of rules for myself.

First, as I don’t have the same knowledge of the creators’ availability and timeliness as an actual editor, I decided that I would allow myself access to any writer currently working in comics, but that I could only assign a creator to one book. Second, I tried not to put a writer on the same book that they’ve already worked on, though some were moved to similar concepts or allowed to expand short work they’ve already done. Finally, while an actual relaunch might do well to include some new books, I limited myself to preexisting titles and IPs for this project.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, on why I’m right, why I clearly screwed up, who should be illustrating the series, etc. But, regardless, I hope you enjoy.

It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, dear readers. It’s kind of a weird holiday, not one that people necessarily know what to do with, but an important one nonetheless. Between the first MLK Day observance in 1986 and now a lot has changed and a lot hasn’t. This year will actually be the first time there have been more Martin Luther King Days recognized by all 50 states than not. That means that it took until 2000 for all states to be comfortable memorializing Dr. King. Scary.

I don’t want to preach, but, if the mood strikes you, take a moment to consider what’s right in the world and what’s wrong and think about what you can do this year to shift that balance.

It won’t change the world, but I thought it only right that today I focus on one of my new favorite heroes and the first black character to headline a book for DC.

 

BLACK LIGHTNING BY BRYAN Q. MILLER

A success story no one would have thought possible, Jefferson Pierce escaped from the crushing cycle of poverty and kept running all the way to the Olympic podium. But having made it out of the inescapable Suicide Slum of south Metropolis, wasn’t enough, Pierce needed to build a bridge out and so he returned as a teacher. It would have been a story of heroism in itself, but The 100 intervened. When the powerful gang killed one of Jeff’s students, he realized that the chance at an education wasn’t going to be enough for his kids and, turning to his friend Peter Gambi, he donned the fake ‘fro and polyester of Black Lightning (Peter Gambi, brilliant fashion designer, everybody…).

I’ve told that story on this blog before, but you’ll forgive me I hope, for it’s kind of one of my favorites. Black Lightning has never been an A-List hero, but he honestly is kind of everything a superhero should be to me.

Jefferson Pierce is one of the DCU’s best teachers and a powerful advocate for students from all walks of life.

 

He also has a slew of advantages when it comes to creating a series for him. He has great powers, a unique niche in the superhero community, but most obvious is a well-developed supporting cast.

At the base level, Black Lightning has his family. Jeff is the father of two girls, Anissa and Jennifer, and maintains a loving, if complicated, relationship with his ex-wife, Lynn Stewart. All three bring something to the table and are fine examples of well-developed black women in mainstream comics. Lynn, a staunch advocate for the less fortunate, loves Jeff, but his early baggage with his upbringing drove them apart. Years later she would prove one of his closest confidants and, though they would reconcile, the strain of Jeff being Black Lightning and his fear for their children never let them rekindle their romance. Meanwhile, the children each eventually developed meta-human powers. The elder daughter Anissa couldn’t wait to follow in Jeff’s footsteps, but he barred her from pursuing crime-fighting until she completed college. Inevitably circumstances arose, and she joined the outsiders as Thunder, using her ability to alter her density. Anissa’s younger sister, on the other hand, resents her electric powers, as they short out most electronics, leaving her woefully isolated in the information age. Though she was less forceful about becoming a hero, Jennifer’s struggles convinced Jeff to enlist her in the JSA for training, where she became Lightning.

Tony Isabella, for any excesses, made a point of presenting Jefferson as a real person with all the passion and worry that came with it.

While his daughters have become a significant part of the character, they originally didn’t exist, their absence being explained by their living with Lynn. Still, right from the beginning Black Lightning was a mentor figure to the students he taught. Though few of them went on to make further appearances, the relationship between Jefferson and his students is an essential part of the Black Lightning mythos and demonstrates a lot of what is best about Jefferson.

As if that weren’t enough, Black Lightning’s frequent bouncing from team to team in an attempt to increase his profile has left him with contacts all over the Superhero world. Black Lightning is close to his fellow Outsiders, such as Katana and Metamorpho, and has a strong relationship with Batman, who has repeatedly affirmed a particular belief in Jeff, both as a crime-fighter and as a teacher. He’s also worked with Metropolis’ other hero, Superman, and shares an adorable rivalry with fellow street-level hero and Justice League hold out, Green Arrow.

Despite all the things he has going for him, the thing most people are going to know about Black Lightning is that he’s black and, as a result, I suggest reintroducing much, though certainly not all, of what makes him incredible. I imagine the series looking at Jeff returning to work in Suicide Slum after some significant accomplishments and some time away to work with the Justice League. In his absence, his effect on the school has rippled out and begun to cause some positive change, but new challenges have sprung up – academic, bureaucratic, and criminal – that endanger the future he’s trying to secure for his students.

DC will always be trying their best to keep the Original Seven in their 20s and early 30s, but I think there’s value in having a hero who’s somewhere between them and the JSA. There are a slew of experiences at Jefferson’s age that could be interesting to examine, as long as they don’t insist on his troubles too much. As such, I’d really like to make Jeff’s attempts to be part of his girls’ lives a part of the series. It’s a subject near to my heart and many others’ and I think it has the potential to be distinct and memorable, however I’m not sure how to go about it. As I mentioned, both girls eventually adopted superhero guises, but I’m not sure that’s the strongest way to utilize the characters. I would much rather see the girls as normal children, Anissa a teenager and Jennifer a tween perhaps, struggling with their powers and trying to get through the struggles of school. The problem with that, of course, is that it deprives us of two heroines of color and one queer superhero. Obviously I want to give the strongest representation of the characters and feel that they would do better in their pre-superhero incarnations, but I understand the desire to not only have representation but to see those characters empowered. It would be an important discussion to have with the writer and editors.

Regardless, the connections between Pierce and his daughters, not to mention his students, would be a big part of the series and be important towards reminding readers why he does what he does. In my ideal world I imagine we’d see Mr. Pierce teaching or in some way interacting with his job in nearly every issue, at the least in some fashion in every arc, and visits from his daughters two to four times a year.

Black Lightning would be a street level story. I think it would be important to provide a mix of real issues – gang violence, need for education reform, racial tensions within Suicide Slum – and classic superhero action. Black Lightning’s second series contained some great moments but lacked recognizable villains, falling short of Tobias Whale, Merlyn, and the questionable Syonide that the first series somehow managed with. I think seeing some Metropolis favorites (Parasite, Livewire, possibly even a certain other son of Suicide Slum to cross over with Lois Lane: Woman of Steel) alongside a handful of well liked mercs and new supervillains will help build Black Lightning’s name and make it easy to convince skeptical readers to take a chance on a character they might not be familiar with.

Miller's Batgirl was funny, familiar, and real. His ability to flesh out the supporting characters quickly was essential.

Miller’s Batgirl was funny, familiar, and real. His ability to flesh out the supporting characters quickly was essential.

As you can tell, I’m passionate about this character and what he represents. I’m not interested in making a push, failing, and adding to the list of bullshit evidence that black heroes can’t carry series; I would want to make a real effort to stand behind the character. I’m also not interested in throwing whatever big writer I can on the book the drive up sales in the short term. I want a talented writer with a vocal following who would go to bat for this book with us. His zeitgeist may not be what it once was, but I think Bryan Q. Miller is a strong candidate for this book.

A former writer for Smallville, Bryan Q. Miller came to the sharp, sudden attention of the comic reading audience when he was handed the reins of the “Reborn”-era Batgirl series. Despite skepticism from fans of Cassandra Cain, Miller quickly made Batgirl a beloved institution, in many ways the Ms. Marvel of its day. Stephanie Brown had fans when she took over as Batgirl, but she had existed since the early 90s without much widespread appreciation. Miller changed that quickly. The save Steph campaigns of the New 52 were hugely grounded in love for Miller’s tenure on the title.

After Batgirl was wiped away by “Flashpoint”, Miller returned to familiar ground and has written the Smallville digital comics ever since. He’s expanded the show into a full alternate superhero universe, free from the ‘no capes, no flying’ edict of the television show, and introduced different and interesting versions of some of DC’s biggest characters. Most notable for me was a brilliant reinvention of the Wonder Woman/Steve Trevor dynamic that still makes me wonder why no one else had done it first.

Why is this so perfect!?

Miller’s work has demonstrated a crucial ability to develop a powerful supporting cast that the audience can love, without sacrificing the depth of the main character. He also proved that he can write strong, varied women and optimistic superheroes, not to mention craft engaging stories with less than a-list villains (a talent that may or may not be necessary, but definitely gets attention from me). I also admit that the consistent presence of Nell Little, the young black girl who Miller teased as a possible future Batgirl in the final issue of his run, gives me additional reason to think that Miller would respect the legacy Black Lightning carries with him.

The last thing I’d really mention is that, particularly in the interactions between Stephanie Brown and Damien Wayne, Miller was adept at writing realistic children. His teenagers felt like teens and Damien felt like a ten-year old, if a strange one. That ability to discern and capture the variations of youth would certainly come in handy on this series.

I generally trust Stephanie Brown fans to be smart, funny, thoughtful people and, though I obviously would be hoping for a lot more than that to turn out, that’s who I want reading Black Lightning. Bryan Q. Miller knows how to tell a story and I feel like he could handle the challenge and responsibility of writing Black Lightning and his supporting cast. This is a book that I want to grab people with. I want to make fans of these characters. I want to inspire people. In the right hands, Black Lightning can be an A-List hero, and I think I’ve found a set.

Tomorrow… On Earth as it is in Heaven…

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