Justice League of America #173 (1979)

Justice League of America #173 (December, 1979)
“Testing of a Hero!”
Writer – Gerry Conway
Penciller – Dick Dillin
Inker – Frank McLaughlin
Letterer – Ben Oda
Colorist – Jerry Serpe
Editor – Ross Andru
Cover Price: $0.40

Jive Turkeys… Man, maybe I should’a saved this for Thanksgiving…

We open with the Justice League huddled atop a building looking down at a prospective new member… Black Lightning!  They watch as he easily takes down a trio of sleazy pawn shop robbers.  Green Arrow thinks he’d be a great new member because he’s cool… smart… brave… and… and… black!  He sounds like a contemporary Marvel Comics editor (hey-yo!).  Anyhoo, the Flash takes exception to Ollie’s suggestion that the League takes on a “token black”.

The discussion becomes heated, with Flash suggesting that Oliver is too blinded by his liberalness to be objective.  It doesn’t quite come to blows… but it gets close.  Zatanna is surprised by Barry’s short-tempered behavior, and Hal reminds her (and the reader) that we’re not too far removed from the murder of his wife, Iris.  Superman steps in to break up the debate, and posits that they could give Black Lightning a test to see if he’s worthy… and the League agrees to let him be the judge.

Elsewhere, a costumed geek called the Regulator is summoning hundreds of rats so he can take care of everyone who has deserted him in his civilian life.  I don’t suppose this is the fella that Nate Dogg and Warren G were singing about in 1994.

At the Metropolis Police Headquarters, Black Lightning is chatting up Inspector Henderson about the three losers he just turned in.  Henderson cautions him that the City Council is considering a new law regarding costumed vigilantes.  Pierce isn’t worried seeing as though there’s no way Metropolis would ever do anything that might also hinder Superman.  He leaves and thinks to himself how difficult it is for him to talk “street jive”… he must, however, to keep people off the track of his real identity.

As he walks, two villains jump out from a darkened alley and a fight is on.  Black Lightning takes them both down with ease, throwing the big hairy one (Primak) into an electrical pole and dousing the electricity-themed one (Human Starburst) with a fire hydrant.  Inspector Henderson and a few street cops hit the scene to make the arrest.  Henderson notices something a bit… weird about the baddies, but doesn’t share his thoughts with Lightning.

Meanwhile, the Regulayyy-tor and the rats break into S.T.A.R. Labs.  It’s not entirely clear, but the rats may have eaten a guard.

We return to Black Lightning… who is being watched by an impressed Superman.  Pierce descends into an alley, where he is struck by an invisible foe… the Trans-Visible Man!  This begins a fight that Pierce is unlikely to win… in fact, he gets pummeled pretty soundly by the invisible man.  Just to rub salt in his wounds, a Musketeer-looking fool saunters up and starts waving a sword in his face.  Now this being a baddie that Lightning can see means we’re in for a more competitive fight.  Pierce pounces and wraps his hands around the Musketeer’s neck… but stops himself before he can inflict any lasting damage.  The relieved Musketeer unmasks revealing himself to be… Green Arrow!

In fact, all of the baddies Pierce has fought tonight were, in reality, members of the Justice League.  Black Lightning is confused, and I gotta say… I don’t blame him one bit!

Superman gleefully informs Pierce that he’d passed their test.  Pierce tells the League to pound sand.  Well, he actually tells them to get “another boy”.  The story ends with Superman suggesting that they might see him again soon… and a shot of the (partially eaten?) S.T.A.R. Labs security guard.

What a weird issue…

While highly enjoyable, it’s still kinda strange to see the League running an unknowing Black Lightning through a rigorous examination to see if he’s worthy of joining.  I mean, what would it have hurt to ask him beforehand if he had any interest in coming on board?  Would’ve saved everyone a bunch of time and pain at the very least.  It’s a good thing he didn’t break poor Ollie’s neck when he had him pinned down… I’m not sure the League could have stopped him before he “cricked” one way or the other.

With that said, I really do appreciate the concept of testing potential new members… especially in this day and age where nearly every member of the DC Universe is or has been a part of a Justice League and every member of the Marvel Universe is or has been a part of an Avengers team.  I miss teams being a bit more choosy about their number… and each member feeling somewhat elite for having made the roster.

One thing I’ve come to find during my dip into the pre-Crisis League is just how irritating Ollie can be.  Such a pain in the ass, he seems hardly worth the hassle.  Him having found his inner-liberal makes him wildly sanctimonious and quite grating.  His thought that Black Lightning would make a good member, and giving his skin color as one of the reasons seems a bit “out there” reading with 2017 eyes… I actually had to read the panel more than once… I didn’t think he’d actually “went there”.

It’s funny that Hal frames Barry’s outburst as being a result of having just lost his wife, ya know… rather than pinning it on the fact that Ollie might have chosen his words poorly, and Barry’s reaction… while overblown, wasn’t terribly out of line.

Overall, this was a decent introduction to the character of Black Lightning.  Of course, we know him better as a member of the Outsiders… but it’s neat to see him going solo.  I really appreciated the idea that his “jive talkin'” was nothing more than an act.  I like the attention to detail used here.  He knew it would be the best way to keep his Jefferson Pierce identity secret… and perhaps, by playing into stereotypes, he would make it harder to identify overall.

If I’m not mistaken, Pierce wouldn’t officially join the Justice League until post-Infinite Crisis in the mid-2000’s… so, it was a long time coming.  This issue is available digitally, and is well worth checking out.

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