The CW’s new super-hero TV series Black Lightning is off to a good start. The first episode, “The Resurrection” was standout fare for the network. The show features the same affection for the source material as the other DC shows, but this one manages a unique tone and message that elevates it. The neon lighting bolts emblazoned across this hero’s chest may look like a gas station sign, but all that super-heroic cheese is balanced with mature themes.
A different flavor of super-hero wish fulfillment.
Black Lightning is an evolution of the super-hero on TV. The tropes of the genre are now familiar to the general public. It’s nice to see that utilized to push the storytelling into new territory. We meet Jefferson Pierce many years after he’s hung up his costume. He’s a school principal and father. He worries about his kids. He’s got grey hair. This isn’t an origin story, it’s more of a coming out of retirement story. That alone was refreshing. It made it easier to cheer when the heroics started.
Talking heads and social commentary.
The CW/DC shows are hybrid adaptations. They’re part loving tribute to the comics, part network house-style. Their scripts feature too many scenes of ladies-talking-in-rooms for my taste. That is not a part of DC comic books, unless the ladies in question are wearing masks and discussing battle plans. Black Lightning avoids this in favor of a better hang-up.
The show is laden with the dread and anger of the contemporary African-American experience. The first episode features altercations with police, local drug dealers and youngsters being seduced to crime. The melodrama is actually relevant to the hero’s experience instead of being a distraction. Comparisons to Marvel’s Luke Cage on Netflix are unavoidable, but judging by first episodes, this show has more potential to deliver both on the heroics and the drama. While some of the dialogue was mundane, the performances were believable and the action and FX solid. I am eager to see where the story goes.
Gray Matter Factoids
Black Lightning was created in 1977 by Tony Isabella for DC Comics. He was DC’s first African-American super-hero and the first to star in his own title. He has been a reserve member of the Justice League and one of Batman’s Outsiders.
Sinbad was the first to play the character in live action on SNL. Jimmy Olsen turned him away from Superman’s funeral because he’d never heard of him.