Black Lightning’s first season sets itself apart in the DCTV universe by focusing on one unique element–family
The Show: Black Lightning
The Network: The CW
The Genre: Superhero
The Challenge: Give a show four episodes with which to draw you in, impress you, challenge you, make you feel something deeply. Four episodes for the chance to find out if you care what happens to the characters you’re watching enough to become invested in the story. If after all that, it does none of those things for you? Then no biggie. You gave it a good shot and you can move on. But if you love it, you’ll be glad you stuck around.
The Premise: Black Lightning follows the story of a retired superhero/high school principal, Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), who returns after a nine-year hiatus to fight for his community, Freeland. His electrifying return to the world of vigilantism is due to a local gang known as the 100 that is wreaking havoc in Freeland. Although his family was the reason he left this dangerous life behind, he decides that they and his community need the protection he can provide as Black Lightning–a superhero that possesses the ability to use electricity as a weapon. Jefferson’s daughters, Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China McClain) and ex-wife, Lynn (Christine Adams) are his driving force to protect the world around him. Little does he know, his daughters possess superpowers of their own.
The inaugural season of Black Lightning has been a thrilling and exciting addition to the CW’s DCTV universe. While it tells the tale of a superhero, it also embraces the idea of family life in a way the other shows do not. The core of Black Lightning is based on Jefferson’s love and desire to keep his family safe. This innate inclination is what leads him to promise his ex-wife that he will leave this world behind. However, this desire to protect his own trumps his well-being and brings Jefferson back to the streets fighting crime once again. This is an extremely beautiful aspect of Black Lightning that shines through in the first four episodes. Every moment and action Jefferson executes is for the good of his family and the people around him. This series not only embraces family but unapologetically incorporates diversity into its plot and characters. Black Lightning consists of a primarily African American cast and puts issues such as police brutality in the spotlight. With family in its heart and the call for justice running through its veins, Black Lightning has become a strong voice of inspiration for its audience.
Black Lightning’s incredible characters bring forth an exhilarating yet uplifting feel to the first season
In the world of superheroes, we are often hard-pressed to find individuals we can relate to and connect with. This is an aspect that Black Lightning excels in flawlessly and what sets it completely apart from the other CW shows. Jefferson Pierce plays a high school principal who fully devotes his time and energy to his students. This devotion carries into his family life–an element this show celebrates through and through. Cress Williams’ portrayal of this family man is endearing, moving, and heart-warming. These emotions fail in comparison to the dynamic he shares with his ex-wife Lynn. Despite being exes, the two emanate relationship goals based on the love and support they provide for their daughters. Whether it is Jennifer’s need to rebel or Anissa’s love for activism, Lynn and Jefferson stand by their side every step of the way.
“I’m just really grateful to tell the story for young lesbians — and black lesbians in particular — who don’t really see themselves on TV. My hope is that when you watch Anissa, a young lesbian is inspired to walk boldly as who she is and to love herself and to love herself exactly how she looks. –Nafessa Williams (actor, plays Anissa)
The most relatable characters in this show are Jefferson’s two daughters, Anissa and Jennifer. Anissa’s character is a strong, fierce, and outspoken female that brings an extra “oomph” to this stellar cast. It’s a welcome change to see a show embrace diversity not only in race but in sexuality, as well. Anissa’s character is a young, black lesbian who fights for the rights of her community–and will soon fight as a superhero, aka Thunder. This level of diversity is precisely why Black Lightning has made a place for itself in such a short amount of time. It is not afraid to embrace race and sexuality within its story and characters. Jennifer is the youngest of the two siblings and represents the epitome of every teenage kid wanting to live life on their own terms. The series thus far has shown a slow, but interesting arc for Jennifer as she grapples teenage life–boyfriend, school, and sports. She is a character the younger audience can relate to and identify with, which is a testament to Black Lightning’s ability to create such a connection. In the first four episodes, we have seen Jennifer begin a self-identifying journey that will surely lead her to discovering her powers, just as Anissa has–and we can’t wait.
The thrilling soundtrack, the electrifying suit, and stellar visual effects make up the heart of Black Lightning
As a show, Black Lightning represents a heartwarming story, but it is brought to life by the music, costume, and set design. Thanks to Black Lightning composer, Kurt Farquhar, the series employees a bold and upbeat feel with each and every scene. The premiere episode, “Resurrection” introduces the energizing, thundering theme song by Godholly. This theme song depicts the character’s return to life as a superhero and sets the stage going into each episode. The music that encompasses the feel of Black Lightning is truly the heartbeat of the show–whether it is original music or throwback tracks by Aretha Franklin, the music encapsulates the narrative of Black Lightning. In moments of intense fighting or family bonding, the music of Black Lightning keeps us engaged and tuned into every scene.
Unlike the other CW superhero shows, there is something unique and enticing about the costumes and backdrop of Black Lightning. Jefferson’s costume, designed by his dear friend Gambi (James Remar), represents his character quite literally, with blue and yellow lightning bolts across his chest. His electric vision goggles, alongside his ability to shoot out electrical currents, make for one hell of a costume–unlike anything we’ve seen in The Flash or Arrow. Laura Jean Shannon is the creative genius behind Black Lightning’s suit and has put thought into the tiny intricacies of it. While the other CW superheroes are younger in age and more agile, Shannon’s creation of this suit takes Jefferson’s age into consideration–making us appreciate the thought process that has gone into the costume design of Black Lightning. In the episodes to come, we look forward to seeing Anissa’s transformation into Thunder and what her suit will represent.
“What’s amazing is the stories are growing and growing, and going into different places, so it’s allowing us to go into different places while we’re kind of feeling out what this overall sound is going to be. There’s new characters that are getting introduced, new themes, and I’m more excited about letting the audience tell me what was the best one.”- Kurt Farquhar (music composer)
Black Lightning may take a place in a fictional town (filmed in Atlanta) but emits the feeling of a close-knit community that wants the best for one another. This aspect of the series is embedded in the surroundings we constantly see the characters in–school, community gatherings, church. It is a welcome change for a show to take the audience deep into the plot of a show like this. Not only are we watching Jefferson fight off criminals, but we see the people he is fighting so hard for. The show is doing a phenomenal job of incorporating this element of his personality by using set design and location to represent it.
The narrative of Black Lightning depicts the reality of today’s world–and a superhero willing to fight it
The villains and threats that are a part of Black Lightning aren’t aliens from another planet or metahumans with abilities. Instead, they consist of gang members and its leaders that want to wreak havoc on the local community of Freeland. This is the standout element of Black Lightning–and what makes it so unique in its storytelling. Instead of the hero fighting an impossible tech-savvy villain, Jefferson is fighting those who distribute drugs to the kids of his high school or those that look to hurt the wellbeing of the public. At the forefront of the 100 gang is leader Tobias (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III), who plays a frightening role in the story of Black Lightning. Tobias and his gang are the people Jefferson wants to take down–and who depict just a glimpse of the unfortunate reality of many communities today.
“We haven’t seen any superheroes in the ghettos of America. So, with this character at least you have a superhero who’s sort of going into this era that needs it most of all, but you also have a man who’s educating that community as well. That’s how it’s different.” -Salim Akil (showrunner)
In the first moments of the series premiere, “Resurrection”, Jefferson has a run-in with the cops when he is unlawfully pulled over due to the color of his skin. Almost immediately, Black Lightning explores another topic that riddles the African American community and has been the saddening crux of many recent police brutality cases. It is this brave storytelling and unapologetic representation that makes Black Lightning one hell of a show to watch. It doesn’t hold back and explores and unravels complicated layers of an issue few shows have dared to discuss. The all too real threats and violence that plague many communities today resonate through the voice of Black Lightning and its underlying plot–leaving us in awe of this CW superhero show.
The writers of Black Lightning produce relatable storylines that resonate with the audience
The creative writers behind Black Lightning have made a series that truly extends beyond the story of a superhero. Embedded deep within the heart of the show is a man’s desire to care for the world around him, and those that live in it. It is quite simple in its purpose but captures the heart of those who find themselves relating to it, The writers that pen the stories we’ve seen thus far try to explore the paranoia and fear that exists in the African American community and give a character like Jefferson multiple facets to his personality. While he may possess powers as Black Lightning, he is also a principal who wants to educate kids and give them the means to live a life devoid of the external struggles their community faces. This beautiful storytelling is what makes Black Lightning so worth of watching. It has somehow managed to create a culmination of lighthearted superhero antics, diversity within race and sexuality, and real-life violence. This is quite the difficult feat to achieve but the episodes thus far show it can be possible–with the Akils and co. at your side.
I wanted you to feel like you were just watching a movie, from episode to episode. I knew that I could do things, as a writer and director, that another director probably couldn’t do. To me, the details of our lives and the culture really matter. Yes, it’s black culture, but it’s American culture. That’s what I’m trying to present this as. Of course, they’re black, but it’s also American culture, with the music and the lingo. I think it’s time for people to say, “That’s us, and I’m proud of this shit! This is my culture!”- Salim Akil (showrunner)
The writing behind Black Lightning has been absolutely genius and addicting to follow. Some of the standout episodes of the first four episodes thus far have been 1×01, “Resurrection” and 1×03, “Lawanda: The Book of Burial”. “Resurrection” takes the audience front and center into the issues that plague the community of Freeland and highlight prejudice through the scene where Jefferson is pulled over. It is quite the introduction into what sets the stage for the story of Black Lightning. The writers took us through Jefferson’s journey as he is in the present while simultaneously giving us a glimpse into what turning into Black Lightning means for him. In “Lawanda: The Book of Burial” the writers weave in a peaceful protest gone bad that results in Tobias shooting at the innocent Reverend. The writing of this episode stood out in the desperate moments of fear and terror and really brings life to these emotions through the dialogue.
Final Verdict: Black Lightning defies expectations with its daring plot, brave characters, and family values
Black Lightning is a courageous, intoxicating show that epitomizes the phrase, “family show”. Because that’s what it is through and through, a family show that explores the complicated dynamics, the limitless love, and the responsibility to protect your loved ones. The foundation of this show is seen in Jefferson’s relentless need to fight for his family, his students, and his community–at any cost. Black Lightning doesn’t falter or struggle in telling a story of a diverse community that faces the obstacles of daily violence via gangs, drugs, and shootings.
The writing thus far has been top-notch and poetically relevant to the nature of the world. Salim and Mara Brock Akil have put together a creative team, cast, and crew that works together to tell the dramatic story behind Black Lightning. We have to applaud the Akils along with Oz Scott, Mark Tonderai, and Michael Schultz for writing the first four epic episodes of Black Lightning so far. The writers have taken the Akils’ vision and helped it transform into the heartwarming, brave story we bear witness to today–and we thank you for that.
The season continues to explore important social issues while balancing Jefferson’s journey as Black Lightning. We look forward to seeing Annisa and Jennifer’s powers get stronger and their transformation into the superheroes they will become. It will be quite the exciting superhero family dynamic that we have not seen fully come to fruition in the other shows. Black Lightning is said to not be in the Arrowverse, and while this may feel disappointing, this show is absolutely strong enough to stand on its own. It will be no surprise if this decision changes in the future, but for now, we are happy with Jefferson and his world of family, electricity, and his quest to fight for it all.