In the Age of Heroes, “Black Lightning” Strikes at the Heart of Fans
by G. Brown
The CW maybe home of the superheroes, but this latest comic book character to join the line-up doesn’t exact fit the mold the network has been building for almost eight years as the home of DC icons like “Arrow”, “The Flash”, “Legends of Tomorrow” and “Supergirl”.
The CW’s newest show seems to be all about bold moves. Most notably, “Black Lightning” is a Black superhero. Cress Williams plays the title role Jefferson Pierce (aka “Black Lightning”) and at 47 is actually old enough to be “The Flash’s” dad (if he were a teen father). For the network that’built it’s viewership on a younger demographic, that was indeed a bold base a show around a mature man of color instead of aiming for the teen heart throb.
Another bold step, this show is unapologetically Black. From slang to sounds to swagger, this show gives us Black culture. The music used in the premiere is as much a part of the narrative as the dialogue between the actors. The opening narration is spoken against an underscore of Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit”–a song that protests American racism. Over the next hour, we’re treated to snippets of Rome Fortune’s “Blicka Blicka”, Monogem’s “100%” and even some old school with Isaac Hayes’ “Walk on By” and a little Gil Scott-Heron “A Sign of the Ages”. All impeccably wended to create a symphony in which the musical refrains echo the passionate dialogue of the characters.
The characters portray a realism of inner city that’s often tossed aside for the fantasy. The conflict, the crime, the family drama–can be gritty, dark and at times heavy-handed, but always true to real life.
“Black Lightning” also spared us the backstory or origin story of how the hero got his powers, why he fights for justice, etc. Since most viewers know nothing of the “Black Lightning” comics, some backstory could have been an easy go to in order to push the narrative, but origin stories are nothing more than tropes that feel too much like a history class. Props to “Black Lightning” for not dwelling too much in the past and getting into the now.
The CW’s new show managed to find the onerous balance between fantasy and realism which seemed to work and clicked with viewers…
Watching Black superheros on TV was more than I could have ever imagined as a child! Now here I am! #BlackLightning
— Makia Jones 💖🌹🍍🍕 (@kia_makia) January 17, 2018
— Chelle (@Chartinae1) January 17, 2018
Not even 30 minutes into #BlackLightning and it’s easily the best show on the CW.
— 🍕 (@hannibible) January 17, 2018
That news reporter in the background had a point: why are other people who have superpowers are regarded as Superheroes while he’s regarded as a vigilante.
Makes the world feel more real #BlackLightning
— Batfamily_trivia (@BatfamilyTrivia) January 17, 2018
I was not ready for all this blackness #BlackLightning
— Kay (@SayDatAgain) January 17, 2018
So… we got a protest, police profiling, education, drug dealing, gang politics, sex trafficking, misogyny, divorce, fatherhood, motherhood, sisterhood brought up all in one episode!?! And he (and she) has superpowers?! And they’re BLACK! SOLD. #GetLit #BlackLightning
— Alex T Mitchell (@athemachine) January 17, 2018
The CW has carved a pretty nice niche for itself as TV’s DC-verse much like Marvel has done on the big screen. But after a decade of “Iron Man”, “Captain America”, “Thor”, “Wonder Woman”, “Guardians of the Galaxy” and all the others to ad nauseum—is it overkill? At some point, yes. Superheroes will go the way of westerns, musicals, buddy films and the like. For now, it’s simply the superhero’s turn at bat and way past time to see Black actors grab the mantle, save the day and be revered by kids. Shows like “Black Lightning”, “Luke Cage” and the upcoming “Black Panther” movie finally give Black actors a chance to hit a home-run in the superhero game before the genre reaches its final inning.