Black Lightning: 1982: Dog Days of Summer, Chapter 2: Trial by Fire

by Martin Maenza

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Just as most weekends would often seem far too short, Monday inevitably rolled around again. Summer school was back in session, but by eleven in the morning there was a problem.

Lynn Stewart was standing in the doorway to the principal’s office. “Mac, this is crazy,” she said. “Even with the fans, it’s unbearable.”

The gray-haired white man nodded. “I think you’re right.” Macnair Chapin checked his glass of iced tea that was on his desk; the cubes were already melted down to mere slivers. He turned to the window and checked the thermometer that hung on the wall outside. The mercury was near the top line. “I’ll get on the P.A. right now and announce that we’re closing for the day.”

“How hot is it?”

“One hundred and ten,” Mac Chapin answered.

***

Not too long after, the word had spread about the school, and the students were dismissed. The teachers waited around for the last ones to be picked up before departing themselves.

“So,” Lynn said to her ex-husband, “want to catch a late lunch?”

Jefferson Pierce stood on the school steps, staring off.

Lynn noticed and waved her hand. “Hello, you with me here?”

“What?” Jefferson asked. “Sorry.”

“This heat getting to you, too?”

“No,” the man said. “It’s not that.” He gestured with his eyes to the edge of the school property.

Lynn Stewart followed his gaze. There was a young black student talking with a bunch of older guys — one black, one Hispanic, and one white. “Is that one of yours?” she whispered.

“Yeah,” Jefferson said as he gazed at the group. “Reggie Porter. He’s thinking of dropping out.”

“Jeff, you know it’s our job to open their minds to new possibilities, to inspire them to learn,” she said. “But if they don’t want to stay, we can’t really force them to. Not once they’re sixteen.”

“Maybe,” he had to admit. “But maybe there is something more I can do, or more likely something someone else can do.”

Lynn heard the inflection in his voice. She knew he was referring to Black Lightning, his costumed alter ego. She had discovered his extracurricular activities earlier that year; as his ex-wife, she could tell it was Jefferson under the costume and mask after seeing the hero in action a few times. (*) “What are you considering?” she asked.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Fear and Loathing at Garfield High,” Black Lightning #9 (May, 1978).]

“Just a little observation is all,” Jeff said as he watched Reggie go off with the disreputable-looking young men.

***

Afternoon turned to evening, but the setting of the sun brought little relief. “Man, it’s got to still be a hundred out,” Jefferson said to himself as he slipped on the mask, which included a false Afro to alter his hair’s height. “Not the kind of night I want to be running around the city in spandex.” Dressed as Black Lightning, he slipped out into the street under the shadows of the old buildings. “But if I’m even half-right about those guys Reggie is hanging around with, there could be trouble. And that’s when Black Lightning needs to step in!”

The hero did a few circuits of the neighborhood, watching out for trouble as well as for his wayward student. Eventually, he observed Reggie as the boy was meeting up with two of the men from earlier in the day; they were talking near the basketball court behind the school. Black Lightning crouched down near some trash cans a good distance away so he could see what they were up to. For the most part, it appeared to be just conversation with occasional laughing and some gesturing. “Man, what I wouldn’t give for a little super-hearing right about now,” he mused to himself.

After a while, the group broke up. The two men went back toward the street, got into a car, and drove off. Reggie hung out at the court for a bit and then headed off to the north. Black Lightning watched him go. I know the Porter’s live up that way, he thought as he moved out from his hiding spot. He could be heading back home. So far, I’ve got nothing to go on here. The hero started to move out.

Maybe Lynn’s right, he thought to himself. As a teacher and as a hero, I want to try and steer these kids down the right road in life. I don’t want them to make mistakes that will cost them later on. Black Lightning wiped the sweat away from his cheek. But how do I get through to the ones that don’t want to be gotten to?

The hero moved around to the front of the school and was about to head home. I guess all I can do now is go home and finish preparing the test for next week, he thought. As he turned, he noticed something odd. “What’s this?”

Across the way, in a building he knew was left abandoned, Black Lightning saw the faint glow of a light as if shining under a doorway. Looks to me like I’ve found someone trespassing in Peter’s old shop, he thought as he made his way across the street toward the old tailor store. Let’s see if I can get the drop on them!

He grabbed the front knob but found it locked. Not a problem, the hero thought. Just need to give it a good shove! Using his shoulder, he slammed into the doorframe and popped the lock.

***

Just moments before, in the back of the shop, Mick Rory had finished putting on the white costume he had been working on all week. With the hood up and his goggles and belt in place, he checked himself out in an old, dusty mirror. Not as good as Gambi would have done, but it will do, he thought. Heat Wave is back in fighting form!

That’s when he heard a loud thud from out front.

“Wha–?!” The villain grabbed at his holster and pulled out a gun-like weapon. Looks like I’m about to have some company! I better scoot! He bolted for the back door.

Black Lightning burst into the back room. “Nobody move!” he yelled. The room was lit, but appeared to be unoccupied. Glancing around, he noticed some materials on the counter: a needle, thread, and scraps of cut fabric. He also noticed on the floor some discarded waste: soda cans, food wrappers, and the like. He kicked his boot through the trash. “Still fresh.”

He moved to the back and opened the door to the alleyway. “Unlocked.” Someone had been here fairly recently. “Perhaps they’re still lurking about.” Black Lightning started up the alleyway.

A form darted out of the shadows and into the street ahead of him. The hero only saw the movement but couldn’t get a good look at the person. “Ah-ha!” Black Lightning broke into a sprint. As he spun around the corner, he yelled, “You there! Hold it!”

Heat Wave spun around to see who was addressing him. “Who do we have here? Someone trying to play hero?” He aimed his gun and fired a blast of flames at the black man.

Black Lightning threw himself against the brick wall of the building as the jet of fire shot past him. He could feel the intense heat that cut through the air. “I know you! You’re Heat Wave! Now it all makes sense!” He started to lunge for the villain. “You’re behind this freak hot spell we’re havin’, ain’t ya?”

With his weapon, the villain widened the blast, creating a wall of fire between himself and the hero. “Sorry, buddy, I can’t take credit for that!” he sneered. “But, to be honest, I hadn’t noticed it, anyway.”

Black Lightning realized the quickest way to his quarry was through the fire, so he ran forward quickly, ducked his head, and plowed through it. On the other side, he hit the pavement with a roll, just in case any of the flames tried to burn his costume.

“Stop, drop, and roll! How clever!” Heat Wave said. “We’ll see if you can handle a more direct assault, then!” He took aim once more.

“Uh-uh, pal!” Black Lightning scolded. “Now it’s time you tasted a little fire, Lightning-style!” The hero’s hands crackled with golden energy, and he sent a bolt directly at the villain’s weapon.

The snapping, sparking blast sent a jolt of current through the metal weapon and into Heat Wave’s hands. “Unnnghhh…” he stammered with the stinging, shocking sensation. His heat-gun fell from his hands to the pavement.

Black Lightning rose to his feet with a smile. “See, that’s what happens when you start nosin’ around my ‘hood, Heatsie! You’re in for a big shock!”

Heat Wave shook it off and cursed his luck. His older suits, the ones that Paul Gambi often made for him, included specialized linings that would help protect him against attacks like that. Left to his own devices and skills, he was barely lucky to be able to cobble together this makeshift uniform with flame-resistant materials. Still, he wasn’t done in here just yet. His weapons were still functioning, all of them.

“Oh, you think you’re funny,” Heat Wave snapped. “I’ve faced heroes like the Flash before, and you’re not even in his league! I figured I’d run into someone like Superman here, but the likes of you doesn’t even register on my radar!” He started to bend down to retrieve his fallen gun.

A bolt of electricity hit the pavement between him and the weapon. Heat Wave jumped back.

“I may not be Superman, but I can handle the likes of you!” the hero said. “And just so you know: around here, lightning can strike the same place twice! Now, I think it’s time you surrender, so’s we can get you back to jail in time for bed check!”

Heat Wave glared at the hero. Such arrogance, such cockiness. Sure, Heat Wave liked the game of banter back and forth, but he preferred doing so with his old sparring partner. Still, having spent so much time fighting the Flash, the villain had to learn to think quick on his feet.

“Surrender?” Heat Wave said. “OK, fine.” He started to raise his arms in the air.

Black Lightning started to move forward, but hesitated. What was this guy up to?

Heat Wave waited for the hero to get a bit closer, and then zzzaaappp! The infrared lenses in the villain’s mask projected twin beams of heat right where he was looking, directly at Black Lightning. “Gotcha, sucker!”

The twin shots hit Black Lightning squarely in the shoulders, knocking him backward. “Uggh!” he grunted. “Heat-vision? Who would’a figured?” He used his wrist guards to beat about his shoulders to put on any flames. Still, he knew he’d have a little bit of a burn due to those shots.

Heat Wave blasted at him again as he moved forward. The hero dodged and rolled backward to avoid additional contact. “Well, now, rookie, looks like you’re in for a little trial by fire!” the villain laughed. “Hope you don’t get burned! Ha-ha-ha!

Lightning grabbed a trashcan lid to try to deflect the blasts. It managed to hold them off briefly until the intense heat started to melt the metal. I gotta get back in this, get off the defensive! He decided the lid could still serve some use. Back when I did the decathlon in the Olympics, discus wasn’t one of my stronger events, but still… He swung back his arm and then cocked it forward. He sent the lid flying.

“Whaaa…?” Heat Wave was surprised as the lid zinged in the air toward him. Before he could duck out of the way, it hit him squarely in the face. “Ooowww ooowww!” He fell to the pavement, holding his face in his hands. When the spots cleared from his eyes, he could see the net result of the hero’s attack. “My goggles! You cracked the lenses!”

“You got that right, Jack!” Black Lightning said as he rushed over and grabbed the fallen man. “You’re just lucky that’s all that got cracked!” He hoisted Heat Wave into the air. With his weapons out of commission and out of reach, the villain could hardly put up a fight. “Next time you think about nosin’ ’round Metropolis and my ‘hood, you think twice! Got that?”

Defeated, all Heat Wave could do was nod.

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