Jefferson Pierce is a successful college graduate and Olympic athlete who moves back to "Suicide Slum" in Metropolis where he grew up. Upon his return, Pierce sees the area and its youngsters under the the control of The 100, and adopts the heroic identity Black Lightning (Black Lightning No. 1, Apr 1977: "Black Lightning!"). Black Lightning derives massive electrical powers from a "power belt", and later, incorporates these abilities into his own metabolism. "He fights the mob, both as a teacher and as the living dynamo" (DCCP No. 16, Dec 1979: "The De-Volver!") and begins his career in somewhat of a vigilante fashion, earning unwanted coverage from WGBS, the distrust of Inspector Bill Henderson, and a battle with Superman, (Black Lightning No. 5, Nov 1977: "Nobody Beats a Superman!") before he is finally accepted by Superman as an ally. He later joins Batman's group, The Outsiders.
In August-September 1979, Black Lightning joins spurned 100 leader Tobias Whale, infiltrating the 100's secret hideout beneath the Superman Museum. While this places the 100 on the run, Black Lightning is subsequently knocked unconscious and betrayed by Whale. He awakens to find himself alone in the Metropolis Superman Museum, which is now surrounded by police. Thinking quickly, he narrowly escapes by removing the clothes from a mannequin of WGBS anchor Clark Kent, and slips out of the building as Professor Jefferson Pierce (WF No. 258/2: "The Blood of the Lamb!").
In December 1979, Black Lightning halts an attempted robbery on a commuter train, saving the life of a mother and her young daughter. Unfortunately, two stray bullets have already been fired: One renders the train controls non-functional, and one kills "Trina," a student with whom Jefferson Pierce is familiar. Superman prevents a disastrous train accident, but Hugh Bryant, one of Pierce's "best students," blames Black Lightning for the accident and promises revenge.
Jefferson Pierce decides to visit the home of his grieved student to offer comfort...but when he knocks on Hugh Bryant's door, he is attacked by a caveman! Soon thereafter, when he hears reports of a giant Pteranodon flying in Suicide Slum, Black Lightning determines that the prehistoric creature is "too much...to handle alone!" and pays a visit to the Daily Planet to enlist the aid of Superman. When Superman and Black Lightning return to investigate Hugh Bryant's apartment, Superman comes to a remarkable conclusion: Hugh Bryant is not human at all...he is an extraterrestrial! Furthermore, he has been (and continues to be) devolving, from an advanced alien creature to a human being, to a Neanderthal, a Pteranodon, and finally a pure magnetic energy being. Black Lightning stops Bryant's devolution by creating his own magnetic field to counteract Bryant's. Afterwards, Bryant explains that he has been lonely for eons, until he met "Trina," because he has been unable to escape Earth's gravitational field. Hugh Bryant is thereafter redelivered into outer space, with help from Superman! (DCCP No. 16, Dec 1979: "The De-Volver!").