The CW threw there hat in the inclusive ring with last year’s announcement of D.C.’s Black Lightning. After the success of their mostly white superhero shows – adding Supergirl two years ago- it was time D.C.’s first African American star shined. Akin to Marvel’s Luke Cage, Lightning struck in the 1970s off the popularity of blaxploitation culture. Afros and jive populated the original comic as Jefferson Pierce, a crime fighter wielding the ability to control electricity, fought injustice. Decades later as the comic genre booms along with the need for fairer representation, Black Lightning strikes back in 2018.
While many blerds rejoiced at the thought of seeing this character come to life, there was an equal level of apprehension. This is The CW we are talking about. Other than Jane the Virgin and supporting casts on the comic titles, accurate potrayals of blacks and POC was scarce. And when rumors buzzed of a Black Lives Matters episode of Arrow, even the ancestors rolled their eyes. Luckily Black Lightning’s success is sewed by Salim and Mara Brock Akil.
The coupled screenwriters behind Girlfriends and Being Mary Jane deliver a relevant and substantial black family drama with hero elements. From this vantage point, the series elevates its tone above the campiness that plagues nominal comic vehicles. The story becomes the focus. And with a good story, everything else can fall into place.
Jefferson Pierce is a divorced principal of Garfield High, curbing the vices of the neighborhood from his students and family. He retired his cape nine years ago, but when a villainous crime circuit threatens his two daughters, Black Lightning suits back up. Driven by Pierce’s need to protect his family, he sees his responsibility goes beyond his own front door. The community is plagued with gun violence and drugs. And where there is violence, there are the unjust hands of the police.
The opening scene finds Pierce (Cress Williams) driving home from a school event. Dressed in a suit and tie, along with his two young daughters, the cops pull him over claiming he matches the description of a theft suspect in the area. Pierce exhausts its the third time that month he’s been profiled as his eldest daughter Anissa (Nafessa Williams) records the interaction with her smartphone. The series unabashedly displays and discusses the current Black experience in America. From protests against police brutality, to questions of class within the Black community, its all on deck. And we’re all better for it.
In addition to the topical issues addressed, the Akils have surrounded the show in a tapestry of authentic blackness. A man compares Black Lightning’s costume to a Parliament/Funkadelic outfit. Anissa chides her younger, rebellious sister Jennifer (China McClain) as “fast ass.” The soundtrack – much like Shonda Rhimes’ with Scandal – is syrupy soul and funk, an homage to the 70s original comic. The series opens to the politically-charged anthem “Strange Fruit” made famous by Billie Holiday. The show is a level of blackness never before herald on The CW.
Beyond the great story and rich cultural observance, the hero stuff we actually came for is legit. Black Lightning kicks ass with believable fight scenes and seemingly strong graphics. The pilot skips the clumsy stretch of our protagonist figuring out how their powers work. Instead we see the veteran Pierce reassemble his skills seamlessly. And he’s going to need it facing one of the most gruesome villains in CW history. Arrow had Slade and Flash Zoom, but Lightning brings Tobais – a brutal thug kingpin who harpoons his foot soldiers for discipline. The violence delivers real consequences for our characters and the story, keeping viewers intensely bound to what happens next.
Two episodes in and I’m sold for the season – which promises us at least two more heroes joining the family’s fight. Black Lightning airs Tuesday’s at 9 p.m. ET on The CW or all the time on The CW app.