Words by Nick Slay
CW premiered DC’s first black superhero headliner to their already impressive lineup of action heroes from the comic universe this week.
Though not directly tied to the “Arrowverse,” Black Lightning joins a string of successful superhero shows (who fans arguably enjoy more than their movie counterparts) based around Green Arrow’s success which spawned The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl. Although Black Lightning isn’t the network’s first black hero on the air for the shared universe, he is the first that is originally black and will play no one’s sidekick or teammate. We don’t know if he will join the crossovers that have made the other shows wildly popular, however with the amount of butt he kicked in his premiere episode he’ll definitely be able to hold his own.
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This isn’t a corny origin story requiring you watch the character become the hero. Black Lightning starts off 9 years after Jefferson Pierce retires his alter ego and hangs up his super suit. He becomes a hero of a different sort, Principal of a prep school called Garfield High School. In a very telling moment in dealing with crime in his community he feels he saved more lives in education than he ever did running the streets as costumed vigilante.
He’s a super dad…literally. Following the comics Jefferson Pierce gives up a life of late night crime fighting to choose his family first. After a battle with his arch nemesis Tobias Whale goes sideways, his wife asks him to make a difficult choice, his family or the mission. We see his estranged wife Lynn giving him the blessings to dawn the blue suit once more to go save his daughters when gang violence erupts at his school. He chooses family first over super friends.
It’s a family affair, (glancing over that obvious song pun) Pierce’s two daughters Anissa and Jennifer grow up to become the superheroes, “Thunder” and “Lightning” respectively. Sharing their dad’s meta-human DNA, Anissa can control her body’s density to become super strong while Jennifer is chip off of the ol’ block and has the same powers as her pops.
Cress Williams’ version of Black Lightning isn’t just fighting crime in some made up DC city. He walks the tenuous tightrope of being a meta-human that can harness and control electricity, yet still being a Black man in America. Unlike his counterparts, i.e. The Flash or Batman he still has to navigate a world that doesn’t fully accept him on either front. While driving home he is pulled over then pulled out of his car, in front of his daughters for “fitting the description” of a suspect after a liquor store robbery by police. Then being forced to hold back the full magnitude of his powers after a racist cop taunts him.
He’s not just fighting “the good fight” he’s fighting the real fight. Black Lightning major conflict isn’t a billionaire genius who’s out for world domination or guy in a green suit that likes to rob banks and leave riddles, he’s fighting a dangerous city gang called, “The 100” that has seized control of the city. By day and night he’s fighting black gang violence wearing 2 different faces. He struggles, but we ultimately respect him for it.
With Black Panther breaking box office numbers for Marvel, DC’s Black Lightning takes a refreshing look at the “Black Superhero.”