The creator of one of the most iconic black superheroes in history is flying in to shake hands with Dallas fans. Black Lightning creator Tony Isabella will greet fans, sign autographs, and pose for photos at the North Texas Comic Book Show at the Irving Convention Center on February 2-3.
Not to be confused with Marvel Comics’ Black Panther — whose current superpower is smashing box office records as an Oscar-nominated film — Black Lightning was one of the first prominent black superheroes published by DC Comics. Black Lightning #1, written by Isabella and drawn by Trevor von Eeden, debuted in 1977, featuring Jeff “Black Lightning” Pierce as a schoolteacher and vigilante.
For African-American children who grew up reading comics during this era, Black Lightning was one of the few superheroes who looked like them. But he remained in relative obscurity outside of comic book fandom, until the 2018 debut of the popular CW television series Black Lightning, which is now in its second season.
Isabella and fans of the character have always viewed Black Lightning as an A-lister alongside the likes of Batman, Flash, Superman, and Wonder Woman, and Isabella says he is thrilled the hero is finally get the mainstream respect and attention he deserves.
“It is a privilege and a responsibility to be the guy who created an iconic hero who means so much to so many people,” he says. “I’ll always be loud when it comes to defending the integrity of my creation. He’s a headliner. He’s his own man. He’s not subservient to any other superhero.”
Isabella cites Black Lightning’s ethics, saying he’s “devoted to his family, his students, and his community.”
This will be Isabella’s first appearance at a comic book convention in the Dallas-Fort Worth area since the mid-1980s, where he hung out with fellow scribe Mark Waid and was asked to autograph the body of a young woman who was wearing a bikini.
“The 1980s were insane,” he says, “even if, like me, you didn’t do drugs or even drink much.”
While Isabella acknowledges he meets the occasional “jerk of a fan or creator,” and that travel can be a pain, he enjoys the comic-con circuit.
“Conventions are what you make of them,” he says. “Find the things that give you joy at an event and embrace them, whether it be cosplaying, shopping for comics and other items, attending panels, getting signatures, or just meeting and chatting with other comics fans. My favorite part is meeting the fans and fellow comics creators. I also enjoying giving talks and appearing on panels.”
With the success of the Black Lightning TV show, Isabella, who decades ago worked under the direct tutelage of the late, great Stan Lee, has experienced new-found fame and become something of a celebrity.
“I get nothing but tremendous love and respect from everyone who works on the show, from the TV stations which have had me as a guest on their news programs, from the countless media and print journalists who have interviewed me, from the fans, from most of my fellow comics creators, and from many conventions,” he says.
Unfortunately, these accolades haven’t really translated to a plethora of new freelance writing work.
“With just a few exceptions, comics publishers don’t seem to be interested in having me write for them,” he says. “Even DC doesn’t want me to do an ongoing Black Lightning series following my critically-acclaimed Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands [a six-issue mini-series that wrapped up the middle of last year]. I’ve been working in comics for 46 years, and the industry has never made much sense to me. I’ve got a permanent bruise from slapping my forehead every time a publisher makes an absurd decision.”
Regardless, Isabella is happy with his lot in life and is looking forward to coming to DFW.
“My day-to-day life is pretty good whether my career is going well or not,” he says. “I have a great wife and kids. I have friends all over the world. I get recognized more than I used to and asked a great many questions about Black Lightning. People love the character, the TV series, and my Black Lightning comics.”
The North Texas Comic Book Show takes place 10 am-6 pm February 2 and 10 am-5 pm February 3 at the Irving Convention Center. Tickets are $20 per day; kids 12 and under get in free.