While we’re spotlighting creators issues and outlooks here at Anniversary Week at The Beat, here’s an oldie but a goodie: The (Sad) Saga of Black Lightning’s Creation by Daniel Best which presents documents and drawings from writer Tony Isabella and artist Trevor von Eeden, the team known to have created Black Lightning’s first appearance. There’s some dispute over how the two should be credited — Isabella claims sole creative credit due to having come up with the character all on his own and described the costume and so on — but von Eeden has drawings but…we’ll we won’t get into that here. Von Eeden doesn’t want the creator’s credit–or the royalties that come with it — but has his own opinions. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today. As is well known, Isabella had the foresight to keep a piece of the character he had created independently of DC editorial — a move he thinks backfired…

Another interesting aspect to the story surrounds the deal that Tony Isabella struck with DC for Black Lightning in the first place. According to the deal each time DC use the character they have to pay Tony a royalty. This is a standard practice for comic books and has been for years, if not decades now, but Tony managed to negotiate a higher rate than standard if Black Lightning is spun off into another medium, say a cartoon series, television or movies. Most established characters that Marvel and DC own don’t fall under this rule as they were created under different circumstances in different times (this also explains why Nightcrawler was absent from the third X-Men movie, as Marvel found themselves in a situation where they would have had to pay Dave Cockrum for the rights to use the character, a situation that did not exist for the first two movies and the early cartoon shows), but the deal explains why Black Vulcan appeared in the Superfriends cartoon series and not Black Lightning. This also explains why you’re very unlikely to see Black Lightning in the cinema any time soon. This kind of a royalty deal is why some characters such as Anarky and the Malibu creations are rarely sighted in print these days. It is then reasonable to theorise that DC did change the credit designation in an attempt to further muddy the waters of Tony’s claims of creation along with wanting to properly acknowledge the input of Trevor Von Eeden in the overall design of Black Lightning. It is also important to note that once DC changed the credit Trevor began to receive half of the money from royalties. “For that matter,” says Tony, “it’s probably a violation of that agreement for Trevor to receive half my royalty money on Black Lightning. But, truth be told, I care far less about that money than I do about DC’s lying about my status as Black Lightning’s sole creator.”

Obviously, there are two sides to every story — how much was the payment to Dave Cockrum that it would have bankrupted a movie franchise? (It was the ballooning cost of the all-star cast of the the first X-Men movie that ended that franchise.) Still, the Black Vulcan/Black Lightning substitution is a well-known case…and left us with one of the most awful cartoon characters of all time, next to Apache Chief. And in honor of Black History Month, let us once more reaffirm those vows to never, ever name a black character Black anything.

The whole post is definitely worth a read if only to show that editorial machinations are as old as comics themselves.


  1. Is there more information somewhere about the Cockrum/Nightcrawler thing? I’m having trouble finding any articles online that don’t say Marvel bought the full rights off of Cockrum in 2004 (between X-2 and X-Men III), so it seems it’d make more sense to me that they paid him royalties for the second movie but *wouldn’t* have had to for the third? And I always thought Nightcrawler wasn’t in the third because Alan Cummings didn’t want to return…

  2. I have no desire to get into another pissing match with Trevor over this. I’ve been writing of my Black Lightning and DC Comics experiences in TONY’S BLOGGY THING, which posts almost every day at my message board:

    As it turns out, this week’s bloggy things all concern the creation of Black Lightning. I’ll get to the costume in a day or two. Trevor’s claims will be mentioned, but I’ll also give my memory of the events, backed up by the memories of others who were there as well.

    I’ll also discuss the motorcycle stunt-rider costume Richard Roundtree wore in the movie EARTHQUAKE. Though I didn’t see that movie until it had its first TV showing – it was advertised as a major event at the time – the movie does predate the creation of the first Black Lightning costume.

    You and others are welcome to visit my message board to read TONY’S BLOGGY THING. There are house rules for posting and they are enforced by my deputies, but I think it’s one of the best and friendliest places online.

    Further defendant sayeth naught…save for in TONY’S BLOGGY THING.

  3. By the way, Godzilla bless Danny Best, who is a good guy, even when I disagree with his conclusion. And all the best to Trevor, a tremendous talent to whom I continue to wish great success.

    As for my holding back a piece of my creation, I did far more than that…as future bloggy things will report.

  4. Trevor is a friend (I don’t know Tony Isabella)


    I find it Kind of sad seeing quality creators battle over this stuff. Don’t we have enough problems with huge mult-nationals treating us like we’re here to wash the dishes?

    The finished work is there for everyone to see and everyone involved (in the case of the writer & artists of Black Lightening) seems to have some share of “creator” credit. I would just leave it at that.

    I don’t see why one guy has to go on insisting that he did this much more of this or that much more of that, or why the other guy even thinks he was to defend his position. Obviously both people were involved in “creating”, and the work speaks for itself.
    I feel I have a right to talk of such things because I’ve been involved in many such situations– and I can tell you- I have (sometimes) received the short end of the stick)

    Someone might look at my history and say I’ve created lots of stuff, but the truth is I’ve collaborated with lot of talented people and the final result is a product of (more or less) everyone involved– including some wonderful colorists and letterers- and some people who only gave me tiny (but crucial) bits of advice just before I turned the work in. (I think I’ve thanked you all before– or tried to– so thank you all again!)

    Maybe if I get in some meeting with a bunch of suits, and I’m trying to sell my new project, I’ll claim I created everything (including Batman, Superman and the world in 7 days) but that would just be talk– and I give my collaborators (as long as its just talk) my permission to do the same. Sell yourself as best you can– just don’t put it in print–and I reserve the right give my own “talk” I care to.

    As far as printed credits go: we all know what we did. I won’t let somebody push me off without a fight, but I’m not going to go out of my way to shove them off either (even if I feel their contribution was minimal)

    Frankly, aside form being a bullshit (short-term) sales tactic with suits– I try to avoid the “created by” thing all together. So far, you won’t see it on anything I’ve published (although I go out of my way to credit almost anybody who did anything with something)

    I guess if a whole new team were working from one of my old projects, I might have to resort to a “created by” thing for the original team. Or maybe: “Based on the stories by…). Whatever.

    Imagining my name next to “created by” makes me feel ego-maniacal, embarrassed and dispirited.

    The story & art is the thing – Horatio Weisfeld

  5. The most amusing thing in the situation is that DC gave Von Eeden a co-creator credit (after years of it being Isabella solo) without Von Eeden asking for it and even over his objection. Given the history of comics is full of creators wanting credit and not getting it, this is the only case I know of a company giving a character creation credit that the creator disagreed with. Hard to believe it’s a coincidence that it’s in a case where the co-creator credit weakens the case of the other credited co-creator who was complaining about DC not living up to its agreements regarding the character.

    The Nightcrawler thing seems like pure speculation. There are dozens of reasons a character could be taken out of a movie. If it was a situation where he was replaced by a similar character called Darkcreeper (cf Black Vulcan, Soul Power) then there’d be an compelling argument.

  6. I am amazed that anyone would care about the the creation of Black Lightning, certainly a d-list character, steeped in the subtle racism of 70’s comic books. The days of Stepin Fetchit should be over and done with.

  7. I always assumed Nightcrawler wasn’t in X3 because Alan Cumming wasn’t interested in reprising the role. I seem to remember him complaining in interviews about the uncomfortable time-consuming blue make-up.

  8. Have to agree with Gene Phillips … just because you don’t like Black Lightning doesn’t mean he’s a “racist character” … and I highly doubt that Tony Isabella or Trevor Von Eden are racists.

  9. >Is there more information somewhere about the Cockrum/Nightcrawler thing? I’m having trouble finding any articles online that don’t say Marvel bought the full rights off of Cockrum in 2004 (between X-2 and X-Men III)<

    The contract between Marvel and Dave Cockrum, which I signed off on, settled all business between the parties. The only articles that were written about it were speculative as all parties agreed that the terms were confidential.

  10. “Uh, who is saying that Black Lightning is racist besides Gene Philips and Rich?”

    That would be Dealidus … cuz Gene Phillips and I never said that.