Black Lightning is the CW’s (and Netflix in the UK) latest foray into the DC comics universe, but surprisingly it doesn’t feel like the rest of the superhero shows, there’s something fresh and very real about this show. There’s a strong sense of social commentary – whether this is the focus on police brutality or race in the US. The show’s also not shying away from putting the superhero action second to the character’s own stories, which is a bold move for the channel, plus it’s not an origin story – phew!
Black Lightning follows the story of Jefferson Pierce, (the absolutely fantastic Cress Williams) the titular retired vigilante who’s now the local high school principle and community leader. Jefferson is on a mission to keep his students safe and away from the local gangs, as the 100 seem to be taking over the city of Freetown with little police crackdown. He’s convinced himself that he will save more lives by educating his students and preventing them from entering the life of gang crime, rather than beating them later on as his alter ego.
Jefferson hasn’t been the Black Lightning for nearly a decade now, as his home life was torn apart when he came home each night bruised and bloodied. His wife Lynn (Christine Adams) couldn’t cope with watching her husband continuously sustain such damage, worried he wouldn’t see his two girls Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain) grow up, so she left. Jefferson hasn’t put on the suit since, but the heightened acts of police brutality and prejudice, combined with the actions of the 100, may lead him the Black Lightning out of retirement.
The first episode, ‘The Resurrection’, opens with Jefferson’s oldest daughter Anissa, a medical student and activist, being arrested at a peaceful protest that turned violent because of the actions of the 100. While driving Lynn and his other daughter home, Jefferson is aggressively pulled over for “the third time this month” after wrongly being profiled as an armed robber by two white police officers, while he’s in his Volvo and a suit. He’s pushed to the ground in the rain while both of his daughters have guns pointed at them as they dared to film the acts on their phone. His eyes start to light up, sizzling with electricity at their actions, but he quickly controls his powers and merely says “don’t shoot.” Things get more complicated when Jennifer rebels and goes to a club that’s owned by the 100 and quickly gets put into danger when a minor member gets her involved with one of the shows villains Lala, leading her father into a direct and violent clash with the gang. Jefferson is a man torn between trying to do the right thing for his family and community, but faced with such brutal and uncontrollable violence that he can’t see any other way to deal with it.
The second episode, ‘Lawanda: The Book of Hope’ dives further into the politics of the 100 and gives us more of a glimpse at their leader, the show’s big bad Tobias Whale (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III), who has a particular history with Black Lightning. The episode primarily focuses on the heartbreaking story of LaWanda White (Tracey Bonner), a mother who is determined to save her daughter from the 100 as the local law enforcement have given up the case. LaWander turns to Jefferson and the local community for their help, pleading with them to help find her daughter. Jefferson asks Lynn for advice as he believes this is the reason why he was given his powers and that this is his duty to help, but Lynn can’t deal with the idea of him putting himself in danger again. Meanwhile Anissa is dcoming to terms with her newly discovered powers – I can’t wait to see her suited up as the Thunder! But will she tell her parents?
So far Black Lightning has proven itself a complex and mature superhero show, grounding itself in current and important social and political issues. The show also works as a fantastic family drama, the characters are instantly believable and fleshed out and their relationships are both complex yet heartfelt. The performances have been great across the board so far, combined with a pretty damn good soundtrack and solid action sequences, Black Lightning has set the bar high for the other CW DC shows! I can’t wait to watch more!