Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #3 Review and **SPOILERS**


Do It For the Kids

Writer: Tony Isabella 
Artist: Clayton Henry 
Colorist: Peter Pantazis 
Letterer: Josh Reed 
Cover: Clayton Henry with Tomeu Morey 
Cover Price: $3.99 
On Sale Date: January 3, 2018


This is the city. I work here. I carry a Delaney card. I’m betting students don’t use Delaney cards anymore, but they were integral to classroom life when I was a kid. A Delaney card was a little card you filled out in the beginning of the year, and could be arranged in a special folder by the teacher to designate your seating assignment in the room. It had these miniscule check boxes for attendance and lateness, so of course the Mission Impossible for the perpetually delinquent was to snatch your Delaney card and replace it with an augmented version that was visually identical. It sounds like a foolhardy proposition, but I committed this successfully a half a dozen times between ninth and twelfth grades. I bet Jefferson Pierce wouldn’t have stood for that shit! Find out when you read my review of Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #3, right here!

Explain It!

So let’s be up front here: white folks are always co-opting Black American culture. They come up with rhythm & blues, but when white kids start playing it a radio disc jock calls it “rock & roll” and demonizes “negro music” as inciting and dangerous. Black people invent the “zoot suit,” and fifty years later David Byrne is wearing an oversized suit for the Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense” tour. So of course, we might have expected that the devil would try to take something as smooth as Black Lightning—with a villain known as the White Thunder, who sort of looks like Mother Panic from the Young Animal series and seems to have some variant of Red Tornado’s power set. And with a name like White Thunder, he couldn’t be more on Jefferson Pierce’s tip if he challenged him to a rap battle. But Jefferson has bigger fish to fry. Namely that during some chaos caused by one of those phony tornadoes, two kids’ parents are shot by police, and they make off in the confusion—with one of those alien guns that gangster Tobias Whale’s been flooding the streets of Cleveland with.
White Thunder, actually employed by Whale to retrieve the gun, explains his failure—but spins it as a good thing, since the gun was scanned as inert and therefore cannot be retro-engineered for profit. The cops don’t know this, though, so they’re likely to get squirrely and shoot these two little black kids when they find them, which will somehow improve Tobias Whale’s business because people will want more alien guns, I suppose? I dunno, seems like this marketing plan needs more work. White Thunder is also a snake alien, or something? Seems like that will be important later. After a fairly touching funeral for the slain parents, and some dalliance at the Lightning Cave, where Colavito’s partner on the force finds out about Black Lightning and he gets a fresh new color-changing suit with some new abilities, the rest of this book is Jefferson racing against the cops to find these kids before they do.
Considering the stakes here, it gets kind of intense. And the comic is careful not to portray the police as racist killers, but as frightened keepers of the peace, but you’re still rooting for Jefferson the whole time. Eventually there is a showdown where Black Lightning uses his suit power to stop some bullets dead in their tracks, and that delay allows cooler to heads to prevail so that the children are merely arrested and held in a maximum security prison instead of being shot in the head—but wait, there’s more fracas afoot, because White Thunder is back and he’s wrecking shit again!
It’s a fairly solid story that builds tension, but the book ends exactly the same way that it begins, which highlights how little forward momentum this story has. Every scene with Tobias Whale serves only to remind us that he’s behind this alien gun trade—which is a good thing to reiterate, but there doesn’t seem to be much more to this operation beyond breaking down alien guns for mass production and sale on the black market. Which I suppose is a pretty solid plan, all told. I dunno, for a miniseries, this thing sure reads like an audition for the potential ongoing series. Maybe this kind of strong character work will help to make that a reality.

Bits and Pieces:

A neat, emotional story that does very little to advance the encompassing plot of this miniseries. It feels like this isn't a miniseries at all, but the opening salvo to a longer run that I suppose might happen. I'd welcome it if it achieved the consistent quality of this book so far.

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