It’s a new year and The CW heroes are coming back, along with a new addition in the form of Black Lightning, so I figured why not shake things up and do these reviews a bit differently to avoid them being the really really long sort of disconnected at times breakdowns of 2017.
It’s here, it’s finally here! While I’ve been looking forward to the return of The CW heroes shows I’ve known and loved, the debut of this series has been the one most anticipated. We’ve finally gotten a superhero series with a hero of color as the main character. And yes, while the series currently has nothing to do with the other Arrowverse shows I’m still going to put it under the Arrowverse header as it’s in that multiverse. So totally still counts.
Established Hero & A Real World
Instantly Black Lighting sets itself far apart from the other CW DC hero shows. Not only because it’s focusing on a black superhero dealing with real issues that people of color deal with every day in the real world, but because it also comes with a seasoned hero at the forefront. All of the CW DC shows began with origins of the heroes who are all very young, mostly young adults trying to make their way in the world. Jefferson Pierce used to be a vigilante that was working to make the world better till things took a turn and he put the costume up and tried to make a difference in a new way through education. Instead of seeing some young person trying to find their way in heroics, we get the picture of a man trying to do right by his family and those in his care being pulled back into the world of heroics as the world around him becomes too chaotic to ignore. Cress Williams is fantastic in the part of a man that became disillusioned with the heroic lifestyle and just wants to protect his family and make the world better some other way. Even when the violence touches his family, it’s great to see that Jefferson turns first to talking before he eventually turns to using his abilities, begrudgingly, to solve issues.
All of this makes the world not only feel lived in and fully fleshed out, but it’s one that definitely feels like you can look out your window and see. None of it feels out of place or fictional because people are dealing with these issues of police brutality, gang violence, and other issues on a daily basis. Not only does the setting & focus reflect the real world & real issues, it also continues the trend to make sure that each of these DC CW shows stands apart and offers something different. There are five of them now so they all found their niche. Black Lighting is the real world issues with a hero involved grounded series, Arrow is the dark vigilante/Batman like tale, Supergirl is about hope and optimism and brighter heroics, The Flash is somewhat similar but also young people trying to find their way together as heroes, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow follows damaged characters building a family as they have silly crazy adventures through time.
It’s only episode one but there is already a huge discrepancy between villains in the series. Those members of the 100 gang are shown to be pretty fleshed out, they are not just nameless thugs there to be beat around by Black Lightning. They are all people trying to make their way in the world and sometimes that has led them to the path of more violence and intimidation. William Catlett’s Lala definitely stands out from the pack as he’s trying to do what he thinks is best for his community, even if that best stands far apart from the things that Jefferson believes in. Watching them confront one another about their differing opinions on how to handle youths was a powerful moment. It’ll be interesting to see how Lala continues to stand in opposition to Jefferson/Black Lighting in various ways.
As stated before it’s just one episode but Marvin Jones III’s Tobias Whale so far comes off sort of one note instead of the huge arch nemesis he’s being painted as. To be fair he only has the two scenes so there is still room to grow, but if one is supposed to see him as the super foe to Black Lightning it’s not quite there yet. Right now the guy just comes off as the standard slightly kooky, leaning heavily into a theme, gangster type. Plenty of time for this to change over time and to make him an actually threatening villain. Perhaps once we get into more of the backstory between Whale/Black Lightning.
Despite each of the shows standing apart, they do stand together in one way that isn’t about heroes. It’s about family. Each of the series has different types of family those that are created through finding like-minded people, those that are born out of adoption/foster family, those born of friendships that become deeper and those that are by blood. Black Lightning has Jefferson and his children Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain) are headstrong and both trying to be their own people doing their own things outside of their father. That headstrong nature leads them to cross paths with the wrong folks and begins Jefferson’s move out of retirement. Watching this family dynamic, which includes the girl’s mother & Jefferson’s ex-wife Lynn (Christine Adams), is one of the most compelling parts of the episode & should continue to be that way for the series. Especially with the revelation at the end of the episode with Anissa and something she’s inherited from her father.
Outside of Jefferson’s blood family, I’m quite intrigued to see more about his relationship with James Remar’s Peter Gambi who is a father figure and friend as well as not only being a tailor but being apparently the Alfred type to Jefferson’s vigilante life. In a way it’s kind of fitting that Remar recently had a stint on Gotham before moving over to Black Lightning where he gets to play the Alfred type of confidant and support staff to the hero, even creating the brand new top of the line Black Lightning suit.
Black Lightning is the most grounded and real of The CW DC shows which makes it really engaging. You could take out the superhero parts of this show and it would still be a very compelling family dealing with real-world issues/violence drama series. Because they went the established hero route, the series already feels welcoming and lived in rather than having to set up a million things in the first episodes.
Score: 9.5 out of 10