History of the DC Universe: Black Lightning
Justice League of America: Black LightningBlack Lightning

In celebration of Black History Month, here is a review of not one but two Black Lightning action figures, both from DC Direct.  Black Lightning has to be in the top 3 of my favorite Black Superheroes and definitely in the top ten of my all time favorites.

Just a brief history — Jefferson Pierce, aka Black Lightning, was an Olympic athlete turned teacher.  He was born with the ability to generate electromagnetic phenomena by tapping into and manipulating the electric fields generated by his body.  Black Lightning can stun or kill a man with his powers.  Possessing above-normal strength, endurance and speed, he also trained with Batman to become an expert in hand-to-hand combat.

My experience with Black Lightning:  I grew up loving to get up on Saturday mornings and watch the Superfriends on television.  You usually had the same heroes featured every week:  Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin, Aquaman, the Wonder Twins, etc.  But every now and then, a Black Superhero would come and help them out –Black Vulcan!  I had no idea who the heck he was, but he had cool lightning powers and he can fly like Superman by converting the bottom half of his body into a giant lightning bolt.  Later when I got into comics, I was introduced to Black Lightning.  I thought that Black Vulcan and Black Lightning were the same man…I mean, they were both Black and they had the same powers (more on this intriguing tale later).

At any rate, I learned more and more about Black Lightning.  Hand picked and trusted by Batman himself, Black Lightning kicked ass and kept moving.  Although originally passing on the Justice League, he eventually found himself in later years with this premiere super-group along with other prominent Black Superheroes:  John Stewart (Green Lantern), and Vixen.  To me, that was one of the best incarnations of the Justice League in recent memory.  He has since been in and out of another Batman formed group, the Outsiders, and is still out there kicking ass today.  But enough of that – on to the action figures!

The first Black Lightning is how he appeared in the 1970’s.  You can tell that the disco era definitely influenced this costume, with the “butterfly” collars, puffy sleeves, and his shirt opened all the way down the front.  While pretty tacky by today’s standards, DC Direct gave us an action figure that fits in surprisingly well with the whole collection.

This version of Black Lightning came in a DC Direct series called the “History of the DC Universe” based on the classic graphic novel of the same name.   The packaging itself features classic DC superheroes along the sides of the packaging including lesser known heroes such as Blue Devil, the Creeper, and Manhunter (as well as Black Lightning).  I was a little sad to open this well preserved packaging, but I couldn’t keep this exquisite portrayal of Black Lightning inside his plastic cage.  If I were a “mint in box” type collector, I would definitely keeping this and the whole series locked up.
Score:  9.5/10

Not much to speak on accessories.  He comes with a stand.  That’s it.  You would think he would have come with some lightning bolts or something.  Definitely a let down…this could have been an easy and cheap accessory to pack him with.  I am appreciative of the stand which is always an added bonus for “show it on display” collectors like myself.
Score:  6.0/10

Black LightningBlack LightningArticulation
I have to say, this figure surprised me when it comes to articulation.  This Black Lightning figure has articulation at his neck, shoulder, rotation at the bicep, elbow, rotation at the mid-forearm, rotation at the wrist, abdomen, waist, leg, knee, and rotation at the foot.  That is almost 20 points of articulation!  The amazing part is that some of the joints that rotate are well hidden and allow for some dynamic posing.  It seems the only things missing is full extension at the shoulder (his arms only go up so far) and an ankle joint.
Score: 9.0/10

A couple of things I don’t like about this figure (very few and picky details).  First, the lack of accessories.  They could have done it up with the lightning blasts.  Next, he comes with two closed fists.  I wish they gave him some finger articulation or at the very least, included some extra open hands to pose him with.  Other than that, a real stand-out figure!

Final Score:  9.0/10

Black Lightnings!

The more modern version of Black Lightning is a far cry from his pimped-out disco costume of the 70’s.  More in line with today’s …well…superhero “fashion”, Black Lightning retains similar colors but a more modern design.  Gone is the disco puffs of his old costume, in is the one piece, mostly black, costume with lightning bolt patterns added in.  He’s traded the mask for goggles.  And for some reason, many comic book artists think that all modern age Black men superheroes should be bald (Luke Cage, John Stewart Green Lantern, Marvel’s Patriot, Cyborg, etc.).  So where the 1970’s – 1990’s Black Lightning had an afro, the Black Lightning of the 2000’s has a cleanly shaven bald head.   This is the more bad-ass Black Lightning, ready to shock your ass first and ask questions later.  But does this figure portray that?

Black Lightning Packaging FrontBlack Lightning Packaging BackPackaging
The packaging for this figure is pretty lackluster.  They took a very straightforward approach in presenting this figure.  It’s all “Here’s Black Lightning, he’s in the Justice League of America, and behind him is a picture of a whole bunch of other folks are in it with him.”  On the back, we get a group shot and bios of the others that came in this line including Black Canary, Red Arrow, Vixen (review coming soon!) and Superman.
Score: 6.0/10

Again, not many accessories to speak of.  This version of Black Lightning also comes with a stand, but at least the stand is in the form of the Justice League of America logo.  Looking at the others in this series, I guess I can’t imagine any of the others coming with accessories, except Red Arrow.  If he doesn’t come with at least a bow and arrow, then I’m done.  Game Over.
Score:  6.5/10

Black Lightning FrontBlack Lightning BackArticulation
I should call this section “The Lack of Articulation”.  I’m pretty disappointed with the lack of this figure’s articulation.  He has a total of 9 points of articulation (head, 2 in each arm, 2 in each leg).  Seems like DC Direct went backwards with this action figure.  They are known for throwing in some good articulation.  The first Black Lightning figure above has at least 5 more points of articulation.
Score:  6.0/10

Okay, so final words about this action figure.  Something was really bothering me about Black Lightning when it hit me.  He doesn’t so much as look like a “Black Lightning” as he does a “Black Lightning Bug”… So tell me DC Direct, what the hell happened to the head sculpt?  Why do his goggles look like his eyes are bulging out?  If you take a look at the original prototype on the back of the packaging, you can see that the head sculpt was completely different and actually looked like the mask he should be wearing.  Mattel seemed to get it right on their version of Black Lightning (click link).  Why did DC Direct cheap out on the head?  It cheapens the figure and the resale value when compared to the Mattel version.  Mattel’s version is currently going for $30+.  You can find this version of Black Lightning for $10-$12.

Final Score:  6.0/10

Collectors If you are a DC Universe fan, this is definitely for you.  If you can’t find or afford the Mattel DC Universe version, then this version is definitely passable.  If you can somehow afford both versions, this one may have the better body and the other one may have the better head, so pop off the good head and put it on the good body.  Voila!
Kids Since this figure was so cheaply made, I definitely think kids would enjoy this figure.  It doesn’t have the collector-grade articulation, which is great for kids.  It features a dope member of the JLA!  Hell yeah they should get it!
Parents Parents, if you can get this figure on the cheap and your kid is a DC fanatic, then this will definitely be a good buy for the child (or collector) in your life.  Like I told the collector, if you can get the version from the DC Universe collection from Mattel at an inexpensive price, go for it! Otherwise this will be the best alternative.