The following contains minor spoilers for the first episode of The CW’s Black Lightning:
The CW’s newest offering in DC Comics media manages to feel very familiar and yet very different. And that’s a great thing.
Let’s get the obvious question out of the way: Throughout the first episode of Black Lightning, there is no mention of the heroes that populate Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow, nor any indication that the events of any of those shows occurred. Therefore, if Black Lightning does exist in the same universe, it likely takes place on a different Earth within the larger multiverse, and will have to be brought into the fold at a later date should the show prove to be successful. This decision is presumably based on the fact that Black Lightning, like Supergirl before it, is not a direct spinoff of existing properties in the franchise, in the way The Flash spun directly out of Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow spun directly out of the two of them.
Produced by Greg Berlanti, Black Lightning looks a lot like its companion series on the network, and so it’s in the character written by Salim Akil that the show differentiates itself. Jefferson Pierce (played by Cress Williams) is a high school principal and father of two, which is an angle that the network’s other shows have yet to really look at. Oliver Queen on Arrow recently took in his preteen son, but neither character knew of the other’s existence until about two years ago. And with the exception of Oliver, who currently serves as Star City’s mayor, none of the other shows’ heroes are particularly public figures like Jefferson, a man notable enough to receive an introduction at a fundraiser from state Senator Nina Turner (appearing as herself).
From the pilot and trailers, the series feels a lot like Arrow seasons one and two, in that it’s less about a man trying to save the world and, instead, hoping to fix his broken piece of it. This desire to do good doesn’t always come with the best of intentions, however. In the pilot, Jefferson confesses to his friend and mentor Peter Gambi (James Remar), that when he first donned the Black Lightning costume nine years prior to the events of the series, his objective was to hunt down and kill drug lord and gang leader Tobias Whale (Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III).
What really makes Black Lightning shine, however, is the family dynamic of its central characters. As previously mentioned, Jefferson is a father. His daughters, Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain), play key roles in pulling their father out of his superheroic retirement, but aren’t simply damsels in distress. Both are strong, fun women that I look forward to seeing on my TV every week for the foreseeable future. Jefferson also strives to reunite with his ex-wife Lynn (Christine Adams), who divorced him not out of hatred or even dislike but love. She couldn’t stand to continue seeing him punish himself and risk his life as Black Lightning.
If its companions are any indication, Black Lightning should be a successful addition to The CW’s lineup, and I look forward to seeing future episodes based on the pilot. Black Lightning also makes history for The CW, and so its success will be interesting to keep an eye on. Not only is it the first DC show to be led by an African-American superhero, but it’s also the first show – period – in the network’s history to be led by an African-American actor.
Black Lightning premieres on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018 at 9pm following the midseason premiere of The Flash.