Thunder and Lightning: A Family Affair

The CW TV show Black Lightning, executive produced by Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, has shed new light on an underrated DC Comics character. When the Black Lightning comic book was first published (in the late 70s), the storylines were mainly about his adventures, and there were only brief mentions of his daughter Anissa. However, as comic book storylines developed, new characters emerged and plots evolved. Naturally, the mythology surrounding Black Lightning’s life and adventures changed, and that included his family dynamics when writers decided to make his daughters part of the action. They gave him another daughter, Jennifer (the youngest of the Pierce Clan), and created separate storylines revolving around the Pierce Sisters. Anissa and Jennifer became the superheroes Thunder and Lightning, respectively, but the two never really worked together.

More on that in a minute. First, a family history.

Thunder was created by writer Judd Winick and artist Tom Raney in the early 00’s, a time referred to as “the modern age of comic books.” She was first mentioned in Green Arrow vol. 2 #26 (July 2003). Thunder can render herself bulletproof and create gargantuan shockwaves by stomping on the ground. She joins the Outsiders and is also known for her romantic relationship with Grace Choi. (It’s later revealed that Black Lightning is uncomfortable with his daughter’s sexual orientation.)

Lightning was written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Alex Ross. Her first appearance was in the 1996 miniseries, Kingdom Come, but it wasn’t until Justice Society of America vol. 3 #12 (2008)—written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Dale Eaglesham—that Lightning became a more established character. Aside from her Justice Society of America affiliation, Lightning has also fought alongside Stargirl, Supergirl, and Batgirl as part of a team of heroines created by Wonder Woman. She possesses abilities similar to her father’s: electrical generation, manipulation, and flight. She can also throw concentrated lightning bolts from her hands. Lightning has a harder time controlling her abilities than her father and sister, and sometimes she shorts out electronics that she comes in contact with. 

In the DC Comics Universe, Black Lightning initially derived his powers from a belt made by family friend, Peter Gambi. Later on, it was rewritten that Black Lightning was born with the metagene. Anissa and Jennifer Pierce inherited that gene from their father and intended to use their powers for the good of the world. Black Lightning was not thrilled when his daughters showed interest in becoming superheroes. He urged them to complete their education first, but Anissa rebelled. So, by the time Jennifer decided to get in the game, Black Lightning relented and allowed his younger daughter to begin her journey under the guidance of the Justice Society of America. Black Lightning thought he was compromising, but this move actually intensified the friction that existed between his daughters.

Artwork by Tyrine Carver and Wil Woods of Musetap Studios

In the Justice Society of America story arc (vol. 3), it’s revealed that there is some friction between the siblings. Anissa feels like Jenn was always the favorite and resents her because she was allowed to become a hero at a younger age. There is also a moment in the same storyline where Black Lightning has become a fugitive (he and some of the other Outsiders were framed for a slaughter they didn’t commit). While Thunder and Grace harbor Black Lightning at their home, Lightning sides with her JSA teammates and ends up battling her sister over the fate of their father. Eventually the fight is broken up and Black Lightning turns himself in. He and the other Outsiders are ultimately cleared.

Black Lightning, Thunder, and Lightning’s lives as superheroes have gone in many directions with varying team affiliations. Other versions of Thunder and Lightning (as teens and pre-teens) have appeared in cartoon form as part of DC Nation, animated shorts featuring DCU characters that aired on the Cartoon Network, as well as Young Justice: Outsiders. Also, a cartoon mini-series, Thunder and Lightning, featured Blair Underwood as Black Lightning, Cree Summer as Anissa, and Masasa Moyo as Jennifer. In the comic book world, the story of Thunder and Lightning seems to have gone cold. But the network series has done a good job of continuing their adventures. The second half of season three picks back up later this month with the Markovian crisis.

What version of the Pierce Family storyline do you like best, comics, cartoon, or TV show?