BHOC: BLACK LIGHTNING #6

This issue of BLACK LIGHTNING was bought for me by my grandparents. It was a tough title to find in my area–during this time period, most of the new DC launches were difficult to locate in my area (I never, ever saw a copy of SHADE, THE CHANGING MAN, for example.) But as i related in a previous entry, I had taken to bugging my grandmother to check the local outlets in her area for the books I was looking for, having found stuff there during my visits. Heedlessly, I would give her lists every week over the phone of what I was most looking for–it is honestly no wonder that, before too long, she chose to lie to me and say that the stores in her area had stopped carrying comics.

This would also prove to be the last issue of BLACK LIGHTNING that I would read in real time–the later issues never showed up in my neighborhood, and I wouldn’t run into the character again until he started to appear in back-up stories in DETECTIVE COMICS and WORLD’S FINEST. That’s a shame, as I really enjoyed the issues of the series tat I was able to get my hands on. Today I can see the flaws more clearly, but then I liked the energy and the grounded nature of the character. So what was happening in the world of Black Lighting this issue?

Searching for his missing friend and confidant Peter Gambi, Black Lightning runs into and has a quick brawl with thinly-disguised versions of Marvel’s Iron Fist (“Steel Fist Feeny”) and Shang-Chi. Writer Tony Isabella was tending to pepper his scripts with references to other characters and titles, and as a kid I didn’t get this reference.Anyway, while Lightning takes them to the cleaners, he’s ultimately struck down by their employer, the assassin called Syonide. But despite the fact that Lightning is helpless, the bad guys don’t finish him off.

Instead, he’s awoken some time later by his informant friend Two-Bits Tanner. Tanner informs Lightning that crime lord Tobias Whale and the 100 have put a price on Lightning’s head. Tanner tells Lightning that he should lay low, but Lightning can’t do that while Peter is missing, and we get an extended flashback to his early days and upbringing in Suicide Slum. After his father was killed, Peter Gambi became a surrogate to young Jefferson Pierce, so he won’t abandon him now.

But first Jefferson needs to put in a work day at the school where he teaches, which gives an opportunity to move some other subplots forward. He’s still snappish with his fellow teacher Lynn Stewart, and when the Principal attempts a reconciliation, Pierce storms out–and we learn that Lynn used to be married to him. Elsewhere, Peter is the captive of Syonide, who tells him that he’s going after the bounty on Black Lightning’s head. Why he didn’t just finish off Lightning when he had him down is brushed past. What’s of greater interest is that it’s intimated that Peter Gambi has a criminal past of his own, and likely something pretty serious.

But then it’s action time. Lightning seeks out Feeny and his unnamed Kung Fu partner and jumps them, looking for info about Gambi’s whereabouts. But this time, Syonide joins in the fracas. Lightning is able to hold his own–until Syonide pulls out a gizmo that deactivates Lightning’s personal force-field. He’s pumped Gambi for information about Lightning’s weapons and abilities, and is prepared to neutralize them all. So Lightning is now outnumbered and outgunned.

But of course, being the hero that doesn’t stop him, and he proceeds to pummel all three of the goons–until Syonide orders him to stop, and he freezes. Seems that the knockout dart Syonide shot Lightning with the previous night contained a mind-numbing serum, and so Lightning is now once again at the mercy of his enemy. But again here, Syonide doesn’t intend to kill Lightning. Rather, he’s going to deliver the helpless hero to the 100 and collect his bounty. As the two walk off, Syonide delivers a bombshell to Lightning: the fact that Peter Gambi is the very man who had killed his father years before! To Be Continued–though not for me, not until this BLACK LIGHTNING run was collected in Trade paperback form just a few years ago.

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