I’m about six months late to this party but during a bout of insomnia I finally watched the CW’s Black Lightening on Netflix and it doesn’t disappoint. I’m always weary of the network has anything to do with characters of color.
But fortunately, and likely due to the expertise of the amazing Salim Akhil and Mara Brock Akhil, the show doesn’t disappoint. It’s got major family feels, a great cast, a personalized soundtrack, and heroes you root for. But, one of the things that stood out about the show for me was the way it handled powers.
For those of us who dream of stranger worlds, as most superhero fans do, there’s probably nothing more alluring for a fanperson than the idea that one day you’re positively ordinary and the next you can wake up stronger, faster, magical, and able to save the world.
As a kid I waited eagerly for the day I’d realize I could fly or get my letter from Hogwarts, so understandably I was often perplexed by why so many heroes I saw on the screen were so unhappy with their abilities and delivered agnsty monologues about wanting to be normal. Who complains about having superpowers? I always wondered.
In the wrong the hands a hero, minus Rogue from X-men or Buffy Summers, can seem positively whiny for rejecting their amazing abilities. But, Black Lightening through experiencing the different ways the Pierce family view their abilities, nailed why great power can come with a lot of uncertainty.
Take the family’s patriarch and titular character Jefferson Pierce.
When we meet him he’s retired from the hero gig and is committed to his life as a dedicated principal and father, but not out of indifference to the suffering of others.
Freeland the fictional city Black Lightening is set in is a place often overrun by gang violence, particularly that of the 100. For years, Jefferson did his part to try to and keep the gang’s violence to a minimum, but unlike Luke Cage and Clark Kent Jefferson’s far from bullet proof. The many beatings he took for the city takes its toll until he hangs up his cape for the good of his family.
When his tendency to come home bloodied and bruised fighting the good fight leads to the end of his marriage he decides to focus on his children and his students. In watching Jefferson make himself smaller hoping to repair his family, it’s clear that it pains him to not be the hero he’s meant to be. But the life of a vigilante is a dangerous one.
For Jefferson even though his reasons were righteous, his powers cost him a lot. He only decides to take up the old mantel when it’s clear that his city needs a hero. But he does it reluctantly. His daughter’s a different story.
Anissa Pierce represents a whole other attitude about powers. One most of the audience believe they’d have. The future doctor is pretty psyched when her powers develop and is more than willing to take on the mantel of Thunder. When we meet her the activist is just been arrested for protesting. When she realizes the extent of her abilities she views them as a gift. Another way to fight injustice and help her city, while knocking down a few racist statues in the process.
Through her character receive joy that comes from having powers, through her equally gifted younger sister Jennifer we are reminded of the cost.
Anissa’s parents practically begged her not to use her powers, after she finds out Jennifer would gladly give them away. And despite her Static Shock like abilities she has good reason for not immediately wanting to suit up. The life of a vigilante can be incredibly dangerous. Due to the nature of her powers sometimes she’s dangerous as they flare up when she’s angry or upset. There are people in the world who want to capture and use Meta humans as weapons. Laying this all out it makes sense that the girl would rather just wants to go to prom instead.
Show me a hero I’ll write you a tragedy, as the saying goes. Black lightning the hero and the show is about a man and later his family trying to give people who needed help and he had to use this for the most part. But as any trailblazer would probably tell you being the person so many put their faith in can cost you. In grounding the show in that truth viewers are given a compelling and honest story. We see the good the bad and the coyote ugly parts of being a superhero.
And I for one look forward to seeing more of it next season.