The latest DC Comics character to get his own show on The CW debuted this week, as BLACK LIGHTNING comes out of retirement when his daughters are threatened by a gang known as The 100.
Since ARROW debuted on The CW back in 2011, the network has done a great job with translating lesser-known characters from the DC Comics universe to the small screen. With this week’s debut of Black Lightning, they’ve successfully taken another hero with a storied history – but maybe not a very high Q rating – and introduced him to a wider audience. If the first episode is any indication, comic book fans should have another engaging hour of television to watch for the rest of the season.
In contrast to the four ARROWVERSE shows on the network, Black Lightning doesn’t feature a neophyte hero learning how to be a hero. When the episode opens, Jefferson Pierce hung up the costume at the behest of his ex-wife after being shot. He’s now the principal of Garfield High School, the father of two daughters and a respected leader in the community, working to improve the lives of African Americans in the city. But when one of his daughters goes out to a club and crosses a member of The 100, a gang that holds a tenuous peace with Pierce and his school, things quickly escalate. The gang-banger takes both of Pierce’s daughters – Jennifer, a student at Garfield; and Anissa, a teacher at the school – hostage and holes them up in a hotel. His boss, Lala, a former student of Pierce’s, is none-too-pleased and pistol-whips the peon and tells him to make the problem disappear. But it’s too late, Black Lightning is back.
The hero resurrected storms the hotel and wipes the floor with the gang-banger, saving his daughter and likely kicking off a new war with the head of The 100, Tobias Whale. The crime boss believes this to be a new Black Lightning, since he claims responsibility for “killing” the hero all those years ago, and tasks Lala with taking him out to set up the season’s villains.
BLACK LIGHTNING‘s premiere did a great job establishing the hero’s world, and that’s helped greatly by Cress Williams, who stars as the titular character. I remember seeing Williams for the first time as D’Shawn Hardell in Beverly Hills, 90210 nearly 25 years ago, and I’ve always enjoyed his work. He slipped right into the role of an older hero debating whether to return, and the show should do well on the strength of his capabilities.
The one curious part of the new CW series is the showrunners’ insistence that this isn’t part of the established Arrowverse. While it is mentioned in the premiere that there are other metahumans in other cities, it seems like Black Lightning doesn’t inhabit the same Earth as Green Arrow and The Flash. Obviously, with characters on the other shows that can jump around different Earths, it’s not necessarily a problem if Greg Berlanti and company decide to incorporate the new character in with the other shows for a crossover. Though, I suppose it makes sense to allow BLACK LIGHTNING establish its own identity. I expect Black Lightning to be sharing war stories with Green Arrow and The Flash sometime next season.
• Some characters and concepts on the show were originally associated with Superman in the comic books. Inspector Henderson, shown here as a friend of Jefferson Pierce, originated in the Adventures of Superman radio show in the 1940s. He eventually became a supporting character in Black Lightning’s comics world. The 100, the gang Pierce goes up against, made its first appearance in Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane in 1970.
• When Pierce confronts Lala about his cousin showing up at Garfield High School, Lala calls his former principal Mr. Jefferson, which is clearly a cutesy reference to the 1970s TV show, The Jeffersons, noting Pierce’s nice suit and dapper demeanor.
• Pierce’s oldest daughter, Anissa, shows some powers in the final minutes of the episode. The character was created by writer Judd Winnick in 2003’s The Outsiders, where she took the codename Thunder to continue her father’s legacy. Her sister, Jennifer, took the name Lightning in 2008, when she joined the Justice Society of America.
Next time, on Black Lightning…
What did you think of the episode? Let us know in the comments!