Captain Code Switch!

On a not-so-recent episode of the Black Tribbles podcast (ep. 302, airdate: Sept. 29, 2017), the hosts were discussing the DC comics superhero Black Lightning. Host Len Webb (aka the BatTribble) mentioned that in the original Black Lightning comics, the character not only donned a mask (and fake afro) to avoid detection of his true identity, he also spoke differently. He used “slang” and “jive”, as Len put it. Another one of the hosts, Kennedy Allen (aka That Mikey Chick, aka Storm Tribble) said “He’s Black Lightning aka Captain Code Switch!” (occurs at 33:50 in the episode)

And she’s right! Take a look at the very first page of the first Black Lighting comic:

Black Lightning Vol 1_1_title
Source: BLACK LIGHTING Vol 1 #1 (April 1977) by Tony Isabella (w), Trevor von Eeden (p), and Frank Springer (i), Liz Berube (c) and P.G. Lisa (l).

On the next page, Black Lightning describes his intentional code switching as “street-style patter” in the narration and we can see some more of it in the word balloons. This is really cool.

Black Lightning Vol 1_1_cs3
Source: BLACK LIGHTING Vol 1 #1 (April 1977) by Tony Isabella (w), Trevor von Eeden (p), and Frank Springer (i), Liz Berube (c) and P.G. Lisa (l).

Black Lightning’s alter ego, Jefferson Pierce, is a teacher by day and he speaks standard (comic book) English. Tony Isabella, the creator of Black Lightning and writer of these books, puts just enough code switching into Black Lightning’s dialogue to show a difference between his personas, not overdoing it anywhere. It’s mostly slang and dropped g’s. As the issues go on Black Lightning’s code switching seems to get less detectable, but the character does talk to more non-baddies who wouldn’t know his alter ego, such as Jimmy Olsen and Superman, so the lack of code switching with these characters is probably intentional on Isabella’s part. Here’s Black Lightning speaking to Tobias Whale (the big baddie) in issue 3:

Black Lightning Vol 1_3_cs
Source: BLACK LIGHTNING Vol 1 #3 by Tony Isabella (w), Trevor von Eeden (p) and Vince Colletta (i).

The Black Tribbles have mentioned code switching in other episodes, but this time it really made me notice. I don’t know of any other superheroes who code switch to disguise their identity, so this makes Black Lightning super awesome. If anyone knows of other characters that do this, please post it in the comments below.

Black Lightning, aka Captain Code Switch, is starring in a new show on the CW (or Netflix for international people). He’s played by Cress Williams. I’ve watched the first two episodes, but there hasn’t really been any detectable code switching between his superhero persona and his alter ego. That might have to do with the fact that in the show Black Lightning is in his 40s and was retired from crime fighting. He’s getting to old for this code switching nonsense!

Finally, check out these awesome panels from BLACK LIGHTNING Vol. 1 #3. When you just spent a night fighting crime, but you still have English papers to grade. Black Lightning feels you.

Black Lightning Vol 1_3
Source: BLACK LIGHTNING Vol 1 #3 by Tony Isabella (w), Trevor von Eeden (p) and Vince Colletta (i).
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