Most superhero stories start at the beginning, where a hero discovers his or her powers for the first time. Black Lightning, however, starts at the end, many years after Jefferson Pierce hung up his suit. Jefferson swore that he would never become Black Lightning again, but all of that changes when his daughters are kidnapped by The 100 Gang. That is where Black Lightning begins. When a hero is also a father, when must he become both? Jefferson Pierce asks himself this question throughout the first episode, “The Resurrection” and into the second, “LaWanda: Book of Hope,” which will be reviewed here.
The first episode picks up on the night of a protest, where Jefferson’s oldest daughter, Anissa has been arrested. He and his younger daughter Jennifer then attend an award ceremony at the charter school where Jefferson is the principal. Later that night, Jennifer sneaks out to a club where her life is put in danger. It is this event that triggers Jefferson’s powers to reignite for the first time in nine years.
This episode also establishes that the town has been without violence for nine years because Jefferson has created a truce with The 100 gang member “LaLa.” They have a mutual agreement to keep gang violence out of Garfield High School. This truce is broken, however, and Jefferson’s daughters are caught in the middle. This episode also features a powerful tribute to the Boko Haram kidnappings that took place in 2014. Jefferson literally says he’s going to, “Bring back our girls.”
“LaWanda: The Book of Hope”
After getting a taste of justice by putting his old suit on, Jefferson continues to wonder if he’s doing more good as a Principal or as Black Lightning. This episode looks at the tole being a superhero takes on Jefferson’s body, as he’s not the young hero he once was. His ex-wife Lynn doesn’t want him in the suit and he struggles with whether or not Black Lightning is truly back. His oldest daughter also begins to experience powers of her own, powers that she’s keeping to herself for the time being. The major villain is also explained a bit in this episode. While Jefferson doesn’t understand whose really behind The 100 gang, it is someone with whom he has an intense history.
Cast & Creators
Jefferson Pierce is played by Hart of Dixie‘s Cress Williams. On Hart of Dixie, Williams played Mayor Lavon Hayes, a role not too dissimilar from Principal Pierce. Jefferson’s oldest daughter, Anissa, is played by Twin Peaks‘ Nafessa Williams. On Twin Peaks, Williams played Jade, a character who helped a very lost Kyle MacLachlan find his way home. Jefferson’s youngest daughter, Jennifer, is played by House of Payne‘s China Anne McClain. McClain played one of the title characters on Tyler Perry’s House of Payne for 63 episodes. Jefferson’s ex-wife Lynn is played by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Doctor Who alum Christine Adams.
In these two episodes, the cast shines in their roles. Williams is both professional and regal as Principal Pierce — as Black Lightning he is snarky, fun and intense. Both Williams and McClain are perfect as Jefferson’s daughters. Anissa struggles with her father’s principles of justice, often quoting back to him the same words he has quoted to her. Jennifer is young and brazen, trying to enjoy her teenage years while being the Principal’s daughter. As a concerned mother and woman who once loved a hero, Adams struggles with both wanting to fall back in love with Jefferson and maintain her personal boundaries. The supporting cast is also superb, from gang leader LaLa, actor William Catlett to concerned mother LaWanda, actress Tracey Bonner.
Black Lightning‘s creators are married writing and producing duo Salim Akil & Mara Brock Akil. Mara Brock Akil created the show Girlfriends, which ran for eight seasons, the Girlfriends spinoff The Game, which ran for nine seasons, and Being Mary Jane which has run for four seasons. Salim Akil worked with his wife on many of these shows and the series Soul Food. Together they are co-executive producing Black Lighting alongside Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter, who also produce Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Blindspot, and Riverdale. Many elements from Black Lightning come from the couples personal life experiences, including a police profiling scene from the first episode that happened to showrunner Salim Akil.
The show does a really good job placing the audience in the middle of a hometown war zone. Protests, gangs, families trying to get by, innocent men and women caught in the middle — Black Lightning is showing us a very real part of America’s communities. Though set in a fictional town, Black Lightning could take place in any town where a gang has taken control and black men and women try and fight back, through academia and in Jefferson’s case, through everyday heroics.
While the show is entirely its own, there are vibes of Luke Cage, The Wire, even Family Matters in the series. The show does a brilliant job of blending a superhero story into a grounded black family drama that deals with systemic and community issues.
The music of the show also reflects both modern and classical sounds, featuring a well-known song like “Simply Beautiful” by Al Green and something new and upcoming like “Rome Fortune” by Blicka Blicka. The superhero score for Black Lighting is also fresh while harkening back to other DC superhero properties like Batman Begins.
In terms of being a comic book adaption, the show more than ticks all the boxes. The Black Lightning suit is absolutely stunning in color and design. Jefferson has a right-hand tech man — Peter Gambi, as played by James Remar — the villain is scary, lurking in the shadows, ruling with an iron hand behind the scenes — and now Jefferson’s daughters are poised to take up his mantle, one way or another. The show also honors its LGBT roots, as Anissa is shown in a romantic relationship with her girlfriend in the second episode. Overall Black Lightning is grounded, realistic, inspiring and a new take on a superhero drama. It is a welcome change and worthy addition to The CW’s current lineup of superhero shows.
Black Lightning premieres on The CW, Tuesday, January 16 at 9PM.