In 1977, DC debuted their first black superhero, Black Lightning, a metahuman with the ability to control and create electricity. Developed by Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, this modern day adaptation of the comic manages to be socially conscious and emotionally relatable without losing the sense of adventure and fun that DC shows are known for.
A combination of Salim Akil’s balanced script and Cress Williams’ impeccable starring role ensure that while Black Lightning’s name may be on the title, it’s Jefferson Pierce that’s the real hero of the show. Nine years ago, after a crusade gone bad, Pierce retired his superhero alter-ego to focus on his family and his job as principal of Garfield High School. Now, due to the rise of the 100 Gang, Jefferson is forced back into the superhero life to protect his daughters and his community.
The first episode of this new series displays Pierce’s phenomenal abilities to care about his community, to act within the law, and to do the right thing – both as a father and an educator. While the Black Lightning scenes are fun and exciting, the tension and edge are saved for scenes in which Pierce is stopped and manhandled by police in front of his daughters, and when a local gang member pulls a gun at his school. The message is clear within moments: the real hero here is the man behind the mask, trying to raise a family in a world that is rigged against them.
Capped off with a tricky family dynamic (two teenaged daughters making teenaged mistakes, and an ex-wife who couldn’t stand her husband’s dangerous vigilantism), The CW’s drama was developed with the hope of creating three-dimensional characters rather than showing off sensationalised powers or fancy technologies. Flanked with solid performances from Christine Adams, China Anne McClain, and Nafessa Williams as Pierce’s loving and fascinatingly complicated family, the end result is a brilliant adventure about an unwilling vigilante battling corruption and violence. The moment you look below the surface, however, you’re presented with an intelligent and illuminating story of the difficulties of being black and optimistic in modern day America.
Black Lightning is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive weekly on Tuesdays.