Two episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
To say that we as fans of superheroes are enjoying an embarrassment of riches these days is an understatement. Not only are a wide array of these characters flooding cinemas, but they’re also populating airwaves as of late. But while a two-hour movie can be taken in at leisure, much more time must be devoted to ongoing television series. So, that begs the question: Do we really need another superhero show amongst the already crowded CW prime time lineup?
Well, in the case of Black Lightning, the answer is yes.
I say that not only because has it thus far proven to be a viewing experience of high quality, but it speaks to me as a person. To be real, there are characters who resonate with us for various reasons, some of which we can’t truly define. But when it comes to guys like, say, Batman, Green Arrow, Daredevil and the Punisher, I gravitate toward them because, while their villains can be colorful and flamboyant, they often deal with a criminal element that those who originate from urban areas find familiar.
As someone who grew up in inner city Detroit, I know what crime looks like, thus Black Lightning hits close to home for me. Really, you don’t need to be of a certain ethnicity to find common ground with Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) or those around him, even though the producers tackle gang violence and other hot button social issues head-on.
Speaking of which, I know this series is going to inspire a myriad of comments on social media with crap like “I don’t want social issues in my superhero stories!” Not to get sidetracked, but that notion is so absurd because there is much more to superheroism than just punching space aliens. After all, who are these folks but men and women who defend those who can’t defend themselves? Sure, this is a storytelling element that may not have been as in-your-face until Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams had their run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow, but it’s important we not forget that the earliest issues of Action Comics saw Superman fighting corrupt landlords and whatnot.
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But getting back to the topic at hand, I must compliment those in front of and behind the camera for making Black Lightning feel very “real” and authentic. Truth be told, the heavy subject matter could’ve just as easily come off as being hamfisted in the wrong hands, but it’s handled with much care here. In fact, this series could end up rivaling even the most well-regarded crime dramas if it stays on course, and looks almost like a documentary in comparison to its comic book TV brethren.
Of course, absolutely none of this would work if the lead actor weren’t up to par, but fortunately, Cress Williams flat-out owns the role of Jefferson Pierce; you believe every word he says and feel every emotion that he feels. His character is a man of conviction, tirelessly working to improve his community and raise two daughters. But even though you feel for the guy, you’re just rooting for him to go over the edge and take up the mantle of Black Lightning once again. To draw a parallel, it’s similar to how you know you want Bruce Banner to “Hulk out.”
Furthermore, seeing him as a retired superhero brings a different dimension to the series, thus setting it apart from The Flash and Arrow. In those shows, we joined the heroes as they were just setting out in this lifestyle, but here, you have someone who’s far from inexperienced. And to be honest, it’s nice to deviate from formula now and then.
That said, Black Lightning isn’t devoid of standards we’ve grown used to, as his daughters – Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain) – are fated to become heroes in their own right, something comic book readers knew to expect going in. Basically, we’re left in a situation similar to what we dealt with over on The Flash with Cisco Ramon and Caitlin Snow, to use an example. And even though Static is absent for now, I could see him popping up down the line as this series’ equivalent of Roy Harper or Wally West.
Believe it or not, season 1’s big bad isn’t afraid to put in an appearance early on, as we’re introduced to Tobias Whale (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III). And though he doesn’t share the gargantuan likeness of his comic book counterpart, the spirit is retained and, believe me, this is someone whom you don’t want to mess with – unless you’re Jefferson Pierce, of course. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that another villain, La La (William Catlett), possessed a bit more screen presence and came off as being a bit more intimidating, but that could change as we see more of Tobias in the near future.
By now, you’re probably ready to ask me if this show is part of the Arrowverse, so here’s my answer: Probably. Don’t forget that before Black Lightning landed at The CW, it was being shopped around to various networks, so the producers likely left that open-ended. Still, it’s acknowledged that other superheroes exist – they just aren’t outright named. So, if you want to see some crossover action down the line, keep showing your support by tuning in.
To its credit, this young series has done a phenomenal job of finding its footing with the first two episodes, and trust me, it’s the second that’ll really hook you. Capable of warming hearts just as The Flash does while being more similar in tone to Arrow, Black Lightning stands as one of the more sophisticated additions to the DC TV landscape.