Tuesday, January 13, 2009

REVIEW :: Black Lightning Year One #1

by Jen Van Meter and Cully Hamner
reviewed by Carlton Hargro.

I hate Black Lightning.

And, honestly, I hate him mostly because I’m black.

You see, African-American comic readers — especially guys my age — have been subjected to a legion of lame black characters over the decades, and Black Lightning is one of the lamest.

I mean, here’s a guy who wore a 1970s-inspired costume with big, flyaway collars until the 1990s — and a mask that was attached to a huge afro wig.

On top of that, the guy had lame powers and lame villains (like the fat gangster Tobias Whale). Moreover, he was another brother (one of many and plenty) fighting crime in “the hood” while guys like Green Lantern were flying to other planets.

Taking my hate for the character into consideration, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that I wasn’t excited about picking up Black Lightning: Year One #1. I figured that any re-telling of the character’s first year in action would be some lame storyline involving BL fighting gangs in the ghetto. After reading the comic, however, I’m happy to say that I was only partially right about the series.

In BL:Y1, the hero does fight gang members, but the story — by writer Jen Van Meter — is far from lame. The issue does wonders for showing BL as a complex person, instead of one-note B-lister. Read an old issue of The Outsiders, and BL comes off very Tabula Rasa-ish. But Meter presents him as someone who gets angry, has hopes and sometimes gets things wrong.

On the art side of things, I have to admit that Cully Hamner really put his foot in these pages (that’s a compliment). His line work, as usual, is clean and confident. You’ve got to love an artist like Hamner, who gets the storytelling right, fills the background with great details and still serves up everything with his own stylized personal style. I wish all these wannabes artists who swipe from manga art could learn lessons from Hamner.

Oh and, still focusing on the art, the colors — by Laura Hamilton — are very much on point: rich, moody and cinematic.

After reading this, do I still hate BL the superhero? Yep. But, I’ll be sticking with this series.

Carlton Hargro is the editor-in-chief of Creative Loafing. For more reviews from Carlton Hargro, visit the Arts section at http://www.charlotte.creativeloafing.com/.


Rich Barrett said...

I tend to always look at the "posted by" before I read any posts so when I started reading this one I thought "Oh Dustin, what are you doing? You know you're not black right?"

Awesome to see Carlton contributing to the blog! Nice review!

Jason Wheatley said...

Great review! It's always nice to see that someone is able to put aside their own biases to look at something objectively. That, and I also think it's cool to see Carlton contributing to the blog.

Rusty Baily said...

So you don't like black superheroes fighting gangs in the ghetto...what do you want? A black president or something man?!?! Come on! ...Oh...wait...

I thought the same thing, but flipped through it, and found it WAS a little deeper than expected...and Cully's art is ALWAYS worthy!!!

Good review Carlton! Thanks!

Rich: Dusty's got enough soul for us all...