The CW is inundated with superhero shows now – that broody hooded archer that began it all, Arrow; run Barry run! on The Flash; up up and away with the Girl of Steel on Supergirl; and of course our favorite time-traveling misfits in Legends of Tomorrow, give us all a hero of one form or another to look forward to on nearly every day of the work week. Last night we welcomed the latest addition to the superhero family, Black Lightning, in all his electric glory!
So what do we know right off the bat? The show is based on a DC comic book series of the same name that began in 1977. The city of Freeland, where Black Lightning takes place, has a seriously bad gang problem. One gang in particular, calling themselves The 100 Gang, marches around dealing drugs and pulling guns without regard for innocents or the threat of cops. The cops seem at best ineffective and at worst corrupt, and the mostly-black community already has a well-deserved distrust of the police, clearly demonstrated when Jefferson gets pulled over and manhandled rather rudely by some, what else, white cops.
Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) is the principal of Garfield High, where his younger daughter Jennifer (China Ann McClain) attends, while his elder daughter Anissa (Nafessa Williams) is a nursing student by day and a political activist by whenever else she can get away with. It seems as though the pristine reputation Dad has at Garfield High and in Freeland in general is far too taxing for his youngest daughter, who angsts at being labeled the Queen of Garfield High and tries to prove how baller she really is by sneaking off to go clubbing at a place called The 100 Club, because that doesn’t sound blatant at all. But the wrong end of a dealer who owes a mid-level gangbanger called Lala (William Catlett), he insists on it, leaves Jennifer reeling and terrified.
Jefferson, meanwhile, is just trying to smooth his way back into his ex-wife’s good graces, and does seem to be getting somewhere with it too, when of course bold as a brass The 100 Gang pops into Garfield High and drags off both his daughters. Jeff’s ex Lynn (Christine Adams) simply tells him to bring their girls home, and we see his well-defined jaw tighten as to the consequences of that kind of command.
See because, Jefferson has a deep black secret. Some nine years ago this former Olympic athlete took up the mantle of the superhero Black Lightning, for all sorts of noble reasons, but more or less primarily to clean up Freeland and make the place safe for his daughters again. But he kept coming home all banged up to hell and gone, his wife roundly informing him that his heroic antics are just another addiction, and finally insisting on a divorce. Thus, the hero Black Lightning hung up his mask and hasn’t been heard of in Freeland for nine whole years. Until now.
Most of us have seen Taken, right? Pierce certainly isn’t a man with spiffy CIA-like skills or anything, but what he does have is incredible meta-like powers over all kinds of electricity and things related to it, and has a serious mission to protect his ex-wife and daughters. So when his family gets caught up in the gang violence he thought had been curtailed with the defeat of Tobias Whale (Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III), notorious kingpin and Black Lightning’s main nemesis, Jeff has to grit his teeth and return to Gambi, the tailor front man who designed Lightning’s costume and was like Alfred to his Batman.
Of course Gambi’s been working on a new suit, and even as Jeff laments not wanting to go back into the superhero life again, Gambi (James Remar) reminds him it was only a matter of time anyways, and how not only does Jeff’s family need him, but the whole city of Freeland and perhaps the world, needs Black Lightning to return, perhaps now more than ever. And still Jeff struggles, knowing it was his difficulty with duality that led to his divorce and separation in the first place. But he’s going to need to come clean far sooner than anyone realizes, because it turns out, this whole meta-powers thing actually appears to be hereditary!
Nothing says, “I’m back bitches!” like a spiffy new suit and a good old fashioned motel brawl, during which Lightning dutifully avoids outright killing anyone. But oh does he revel in taking out his frustration physically on some scumbags that truly deserve it, as we all would. And that’s where Black Lightning truly shines.
Right now, the main target audience of the CW superhero shows have all gotten kind of tired of seeing the heroes journey from the very beginning, where he (or she) struggles with morals and ethics and powers and all that funnery. We are aging and tired and scared, for us and for our kids and our lives, and want nothing more than to be able to take back our streets and make them safe for any color, any kind of person. Black Lightning gives us all of that in the best way possible; any one of us could be Jefferson Pierce tomorrow, and how utterly badass would that be?
Chase the Black Lightning on the CW, Tuesdays @ 9/8c! And get struck by back episodes, on Netflix now!