Warning: spoilers ahead for The Other History of the DC Universe #1!
The first issue of John Ridley’s The Other History of the DC Universe has arrived, featuring the life and experiences of Jefferson Pierce, the DC superhero known as Black Lightning. Ridley positions Pierce as the issue’s narrator, who details the unique perspective he had as a black man and super-powered individual from 1972-1995. One of the more interesting elements of Pierces’s narration is how he initially felt about Green Lantern John Stewart, DC Comics’ first black superhero. Apparently, Jefferson did not think very highly of Stewart when he first came on the scene.
At the beginning of the issue from John Ridley, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Andrea Cucchi, Jefferson begins by detailing his personal life beginning with his time as a track star in the 1972 Olympics. He then transitioned into a career as a school teacher, trying to improve the community around him. Then, the New Age came with the arrival of Superman, followed closely by the likes of Batman, Wonder Woman, and more superheroes. It was during this time that Jefferson would marry and have his first child with his wife Lynn. The small family would move to Suicide Slum, a broken town not far from Metropolis, yet full of disparity. While Jefferson was working to improve Suicide Slum as an average man (before he became Black Lightning), John Stewart eventually came onto the scene as the first black superhero in the DC Universe.
According to Jefferson, the media came up with several ways to make sure the public knew that John Stewart wasn’t a “real” superhero. This was because when Stewart was first recruited by the Green Lantern Corps, it was as a reserve member to step in when and if the first Green Lantern of Earth (Hal Jordan) could not serve. While Stewart would become a full-fledged Lantern down the line, the press used terms that suggested he wasn’t as good or worthy as other superheroes, and Stewart did little to fight those beliefs in Jefferson’s eyes.
However, that all changed years later after Stewart was unable to stop the tragedy of Xanshi, an inhabited world. Stewart held himself responsible, and repeatedly tried to commit suicide as a result (but his ring kept protecting him). Having already been Black Lighting for a few years at this point, Jefferson took it upon himself to reach out and connect with Stewart. Pierce realized how much he had gotten wrong about Stewart in those early days. John wasn’t ambivalent to the assumptions that were being made by the media and public. He was just a fellow black man trying to weather all of them and do the right thing regardless.
After meeting with Stewart, Pierce had a newfound respect and kinship with the fellow hero, having realized that he had been judging Stewart all this time by his own standards of what he believed a black hero should be, now understanding that his way wasn’t the only one there could be. Furthermore, Pierce never had to live with the weight of being the first black hero like John Stewart has always had to. As John Ridley writes from Jefferson’s perspective:
John’s never-ending battle wasn’t just against the biases of the prevailing culture. Every day he wrestled with the sometimes unreasonable expectations of our own people as well. People like me.
It’s a very interesting dynamic that Ridley has created between Black Lightning and Green Lantern John Stewart. While the contrast between the two men, their powers, and the spaces they operate in are quite stark, Pierce eventually learns that their core beings are more similar than not. Not only that, but having Jefferson be the lens by which readers discover the baggage and struggle that came with Stewart having to be the first black hero is incredible. While Ridley explores plenty of thought-provoking elements in this first issue of The Other History of the DC Universe, this one is definitely one of the best and most intriguing, offering a new way of seeing DC’s historic stories.