The CW and its stable of awesome TV series adaptations of superhero characters from DC Comics now have a new addition to its lineup. And the new guy (technically an old guy making a comeback in-universe) is totally in tune with an up and coming trend for comic-book characters crossing over to audiovisual media: the black superhero. While Disney-Marvel is taking its African king-hero to the big screen, Warner Bros. Television and DC Entertainment is taking their counterpart to television with “Black Lightning,” from the brilliant minds at Berlanti Productions that conceptualized “Arrow” and “Flash”. The new series premiered on Tuesday.
“Black Lightning” stars Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce, a charter high school principal, reasonable authority figure, and divorced parent with two daughters. But in secret he is also a meta-human with the power to control electricity. In his youth Pierce fought crime under the costumed identity of Black Lightning, only to retire from such heroics nine years before the TV series begins. He would have been content to spend the rest of his life being a mundane educator, only for a sudden resurgence of gang violence and rampant corruption in his community forcing him to resume his superhero identity.
At a glance it is easy to see the differences between “Black Lightning” and the “Black Panther” movie. While both feature African-American actors and actresses, the latter has them mostly portraying Africans in a secluded but highly advanced Afro-futurist nation. The CW show is far more down to earth and approachable, with an African-American high school principal doing his best to protect and guide the students under his watch. His daughters are also involved, with the elder Anissa (Nafessa Williams) being a part-time teacher and her younger sister Jennifer (China Anne McClain) as a popular athlete-scholar with an independent spirit.
In the pilot episode “The Resurrection” aired January 16, matters come to a head in Jefferson’s life when Jennifer stakes for a boyfriend a lackey of the 100 Gang which has been steadily building a corrupt influence in their neighborhood. While bound by a promise he made to his ex-wife Lynn (Christine Adams), circumstances force Jefferson to return as the Black Lightning to confront the 100 Gang, and here the show focuses on a culturally-sensitive subject in American society: the “Angry Black Man” issue, despite being channeled on a crusade against crime. “Black Lightning” treats this matter delicately yet effectively.
This first-season outing for “Black Lightning” on The CW will run for 13 episodes, and there’s a lot of catching up for Warner-DC seeing as Marvel already has “Luke Cage” on Netflix and “Black Panther” premiering on February. But judging on the quality of the pilot and upcoming episodes, it seems “Black Lightning” will do its premise and theme well.
Photo courtesy of cwseattle.cbslocal.com