This week CW network introduced a new superhero show titled Black Lightning. It features an African-American superhero who is the title character. It’s part of the DC universe which is somewhat natural because they were pioneers in this field when they started Milestone Comics in 1993. Although Marvel had Luke Cage and Black Panther prior to this, they were written and drawn primarily by white artists and writers. The African-American community was pleased to finally have black superheroes but they were thought to initially be a bit inauthentic having been written by a bunch of old white guys. Although Black Lightning was not part of Milestone Comics you have to figure that it’s roots (pardon the expression) trace back to that endeavor. Marvel later did hire African-American writers and artists and some of them later worked on Black Lightning. But speaking of old white guys… that perfectly describes me. So I not going to be able to bring any sort of black perspective in this review.
Black Lightning is the alter ego of Jefferson Pierce. He is a former Olympic athlete who is now a high school principal in a predominantly black school called Garfield high school in the town of Freeland. He is divorced and has two daughters. The older daughter Anissa is a medical student who also teaches health at the high school part-time. The younger daughter Jennifer is a teenager and student at his high school. Pierce is played by Cress Williams who has been most recently seen in the medical drama Code Black but is more known for his role on Heart of Dixie. Anissa is played by Nafessa Williams (apparently no relation to Cress). She also appeared in Code Black as well as the recent Twin Peaks reboot. Jennifer is played by China Anne McClain who previously played in A.N.T. Farm and House of Payne. The ex-wife Lynn is played by Christine Adams who previously did nine episodes of Agents of SHIELD and was in the 2011 sci-fi series Terra Nova.
The setting is a modern day African-American community that is routinely harassed by a mostly white police force. In an opening scene the police pull over Jefferson, forced him out of his car and put him in handcuffs for suspicion of armed robbery. He complains this was the third time this month he had been harassed by police. When the store owner tried to identify him and said it wasn’t the guy they let him go. He complained “Was the suspect wearing a suit and tie and driving an old Volvo with his teenage daughters on board?” So as you can see, racial issues are going to be primary storylines but given the current atmosphere in this country they seem to be spot on.
We come to learn that Black Lightning is a vigilante who has been retired for nine years. But when Jeffersons daughters get kidnapped by ruthless gang members from a gang known as “The 100” he brings the old persona back again much to the delight of the African-American community pundits on TV. And much to the dismay of the mostly white Freeland Police Department.
As his name suggests, his superpower involves the ability to manipulate electricity. He can apparently either absorb electricity and/or disrupt electrical sources and then shoot lightning bolts out of his hands. He also can emit brief flashes of lightning when he punches someone. He has some sort of body armor superhero suit that was created by a tailor friend Peter Gambi played by veteran character actor James Remar. He was recently seen playing Frank Gordon father of Detective Jim Gordon on Gotham. Although he is a formidable fighter physically in addition to his superpowers, he is not invulnerable. After fight scenes it is typical to see him standing in the shower or soaking in a bathtub nursing his wounds. The dangerous lifestyle of a vigilante was responsible for the failure of his marriage. The fact that Black Lightning has not been seen in nine years has not been sufficient to heal the wounds to his marriage.
The drama from his activist older daughter, his rebellious younger daughter, his ex-wife with whom he tries to reunite, his role as a high school principal, and the needs of the community for a protector and inspirational hero all clash together to provide ample storytelling possibilities. The ruthless gang members which terrorize and control the community provide him with an incredibly dangerous arch nemesis. The racial tensions in the community provide extra peril to explore. In his role as being more vigilante than superhero all serve to complicate the situation.
The action and special effects are up to par with other CW superheroes. The acting and writing are adequate. And as mentioned in my earlier disclaimer I can’t really speak to authenticity of the African-American perspective because I’m an old white guy. But I’m also a bleeding heart liberal so I found the racial aspects of the story interesting and engaging without being too preachy.
I enjoyed the first episode and I think it has a lot of potential. I’m giving it a rating of “I’m watching it”