When the CW announced that their latest DC Comics-inspired television show would feature a relatively obscure character called Black Lighting fans were left scratching their heads. Had DC lost their minds? Are they, as the kids say, “bitting” Marvel by focusing on a street-level African American hero (see: Luke Cage)? How could a show like this ever work? Well, spoiler alert: not only does it work but Black Lightning may prove to be the best of all the CW DC comic book shows.
Black Lightning focuses on retired superhero Jefferson Pierce (played by character actor Cress Williams) and his struggle to put his broken family together while keeping the peace in his neighborhood. During multiple flashbacks, we see that Pierce promised his now ex-wife Lynn (Christine Adams) that he would never wear the mantle of Black Lightning after a particularly nasty battle that left him near death. Naturally, this was a promise that Pierce couldn’t keep which leads to his wife divorcing him. In the modern-day, we see that Pierce has chosen to continue the fight to clean up his hood but this time he is doing it as the principle of a high school. Superhero antics aside, Black Lighting spends a great deal of time establishing the world the story takes place in.
We have no clue if this is happening in CW’s already established Arrowverse but we do know it happens in a world that mirrors the one we live in. Within the first five minutes of the pilot episode, we see Pierce dealing with a few of the many injustices that African American’s deal with daily. After almost losing his cool during being pulled over for driving while black Pierce shows incredible restraint by not roasting the police officer that accosted him in front of his two daughters. Speaking of which, Pierce’s daughters Jennifer (Disney Channel alum China Anne McClain) and Anissa (Nafessa Williams) are both a delight. Anissa just wants to make a difference and do more than just save lives as at the hospital and as a part-time teacher, which is evident when the show opens with Pierce and Jennifer picking Anissa up from the police station after being arrested during a protest. Jennifer is on the other end of the spectrum As the younger sister, she just wants to have fun and not be known as the “Queen of Garfield High”.
The show waste no time establishing that Jennifer and Anissa are just as important as their father as the main reason Pierce returns to his superhero persona. Jennifer gets herself caught up in drama with the infamous gang the 100 by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When it becomes evident that Jennifer is in over her head, Pierce rescues her while managing to not be seen. When Pierce goes to the 100 club and fisticuff ensues, the action left a bit to be desired. Pierce used his powers to hit his enemies fast and hard but the effects weren’t exactly what I would call top tier. As Pierce pounded thug after thug his lightning punch came off a bit cheesy but considering this is episode one we can excuse that a bit… for now. As Pierce tries to leave the club he runs into another group of cops and at this point, Pierce is not in the mood for their sh*t. Pierce makes quick work of the police but in doing so raises the ire of Inspector Henderson (Damon Gupton) who spent much of his youth trying to put Black Lightning behind bars.
After Jennifer and Anissa are kidnapped, Pierce has no choice but to break out the old Black Lightning suit and go kick some ass. Pierce isn’t alone in his fight, as he reconnects with Peter Gambi (Dexter’s James Remar) who was essentially Pierce’s “guy in the chair” early in his career. Gambi has been trying to get Pierce to realize that the world needs Black Lightning more than it needs Jefferson Pierce: school principal for years. In a delicious bit of irony, Lynn signs off on Pierce donning the thunderbolt once again since it’s their children they are trying to protect. I couldn’t help but chuckle because she divorced him for saving others but when it’s her children she throws a huge rock through the glasshouse she is living in. Gambi gives Pierce a new suit and Pierce saves his children. After the action, Pierce tells Lynn that this isn’t over… how could it be? That would be pretty anti-climatic, now wouldn’t it?
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The thing that sets Black Lightning apart is its positive depiction of an African American father. Too often we are giving the same old archetypes: if the black man isn’t a drug dealer he is unscrupulous in some other way. Don’t get me wrong, I love the show Power just as much as the next guy but it and shows like it isn’t exactly the best depiction of the African American male. Pierce is a dedicated father who has quite literally put his life on the line to protect others. He didn’t lose his wife because he cheated or had a child with someone else. His marriage dissolved because he prioritized the safety of others over it. When faced with a strapped kid who was about to pull out on his daughters, Pierce doesn’t fry the kid or leave him to the police. Pierce takes the time to explain to the kid that he is his best shot. The cops will kill you without taking a second breath. Taking the time to look out for someone who later proves he wasn’t worth it shows the content of Pierce’s character.
We have a lot to look forward to as the show progresses. The revelation that Anissa has powers and the return of Black Lightning archnemesis Tobias Whale (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III) means Pierce’s life is about to go from crazy to flat out insane. Since powers seem to run in the family, will Jennifer eventually gain an ability? If the show is going to follow what little Black Lighting lore we have to go on, there is a 98% chance that she will.
The Final Word->
Black Lightning’s take on the modern African American family is a welcome improvement over the overwhelmingly stereotypical portrayals that we have had to suffer through for so many years. Though the action will not be confused with that of a big-budget TV/movie, Black Lighting has done a phenomenal job creating both immersive and reality-based universe that you can’t help but get sucked into. Hopefully, Black Lighting will continue the momentum from this week to those that follow.