Black Lightning has been a DC Comics favorite since the 70s, and his legacy is probably a bit more complicated than you think or remember. Here’s a quick guide to what we should look out for as the show continues to develop.
In September, Fox officially announced its deal with Greg Berlanti to create a pilot for Black Lightning, written by Mara Brock Akil and her husband Salim Akil, who will also serve as executive producers alongside Berlanti and Sarah Schecter.
And just yesterday, we received more word from Berlanti on the project, citing that he doesn’t think Black Lightning will cross over with popular Arrowverse shows like Arrow and Flash. We’ve heard this before, of course, when CBS handled Supergirl and was similarly guarded against crossing the properties over until it happened.
Regardless, details are still scant on what Black Lightning will be about and who will be cast, though Fox has released a synopsis that confirms a few things. As expected, Black Lightning’s persona will be Jefferson Pierce, same as the original comics, and he’s apparently had his metahuman powers for a long time. He’s a parent now and done with having a secret identity, but now he’s been forced “back into the fight” as the vigilante, Black Lightning, in order to keep his kids out of trouble.
This will be a one-hour drama for Fox, and it will likely work independent of Gotham, the network’s other DC Comics show. But what else should we expect from Black Lightning at this point? Here are just a few suggestions.
#1 Black Lightning’s powers should be innate.
At first, Black Lightning’s “powers” were an implied extension of a belt he wore, but later comics fixed this to address that Jefferson Pierce was essentially born a metahuman. He’s also been described as having the Metagene, an older comic plot device used from Invasion! to explain why some people in the DC Comics world have superpowers.
All of this is mostly irrelevant, though. The show would be smart to avoid any lengthy descriptions of his powers and where they come from. The important thing about Black Lightning, based on what we know of the show so far, is that he’s had his power since he was a kid and has had restrained them all his life and through fatherhood. His struggle and conflict with his powers are foundational to what makes him a pretty interesting character on his own.
As for the abilities themselves, Black Lightning has an impressive array of talents, aside from being able to generate and manipulate electricity and electromagnetic fields. On top of being trained by Batman and Wild Cat, he’s a former Olympic athlete with peak conditioning as a result. He’s 200 pounds of solid muscle, at least in his prime (and the show will almost definitely reference this). Like electricity itself, he has lightning-fast reflexes and can move (and fly) at the speed of light. And of course, he can travel through power lines and lightning bolts, when necessary.
This is just scratching the surface of his many capabilities, but one important thing to remember is that despite Black Lightning’s experience…well, Static is a “potentially” superior metahuman depending on who you ask.
#2 He’s a teacher, first.
This might seem unimportant, but Jefferson Pierce’s ongoing story arcs actually rely a lot on him coming from this kind of profession. True, he was also an Olympic decathlon star, but that’s more interchangeable than his current role as a mentor and guide to his daughters (though the synopsis only mentions there will be one) and eventually Static Shock.
The show will hopefully maintain this dynamic between him and his high school daughters and star students, whom he should be able to keep tabs on and engage with outside their home. And the girls are both future vigilantes themselves, likely to come into their own in later seasons if Black Lightning is successful and again, if they actually feature two daughters.
That said, it’s key for this show to recognize the dramatic parallels between Jefferson Pierce as a teacher (and principal) and Black Lightning as a “doer,” in the sense that he sometimes has to take action rather than stand aside. To be fair, though, he’s been characterized in the comics to be a fantastic educator and well known throughout the country for cleaning up the public school system, though that probably won’t exactly be where this series begins.
#3 Black Lightning has a strong connection to Batman (and friends).
Part of the reason why Black Lightning is still such a recognizable character among even casual DC fans is because of his consistent dynamic with Batman, who actually trained him in martial arts (Wild Cat trained him as well) and recruited him into the Outsiders, a sort of “black ops” take on the Justice League.
Even though Gotham will probably have nothing to do with the continuity of this new show, Black Lightning could have a clear way in to the Batman mythos on Fox, perhaps explaining why Berlanti doesn’t want to cross anything over with the Arrowverse, which is already teeming with Batman lore that’s been handed over to Green Arrow.
If the show really wants to explore some bigger Black Lightning stories, they could also bring in some Superman characters, as well. For one thing, Black Lightning has lived in Metropolis before, and Lex Luthor, for example, appointed Jefferson Pierce as Secretary of Education when he became president. There are even some strong ties to the Wonder Woman world, with Black Lightning’s daughter, Anissa being in a relationship with the Amazon and fellow Outsider member, Grace Choi.
#4 His motivation is to clean things up.
The synopsis somewhat covers this by claiming that his goal is to help the kids in his school, including his daughter, referencing that a star student has just been recruited by a local gang. As you can imagine, a lot of the comics have covered Pierce’s motivation to look out for his community as a principal and teacher, eventually being enticed by none other than Bruce Wayne himself to return to South Side (Suicide Slums), which is where he grew up in the modern comics.
He’ll clean up local gangs, of course, but Black Lightning is also known for going after corrupt businessmen, similar to the first season of Arrow. But the comics have typically made his goals against crime to be pretty overwhelming and taxing on him. And based on what we know about network dramas in general, Pierce will probably be divorced by the time this series starts, though it’s just as likely that the rift between him and his wife, Lynn, could be a major plot point early on.
#5 He’s basically a blank slate for the New 52 and Rebirth.
This is important to bring up because a lot of the recent shows and movies have relied quite a bit on New 52 for their material, though not exclusively of course. For Black Lightning, this is interesting because the character hasn’t shown up much, aside from a confrontation with Blue Devil and briefly as a potential Justice League recruit.
Black Lightning has shown up plenty of times, of course, in TV shows and animated specials. And he’ll probably appear again in season 3 of Young Justice, assuming they bring him and Static back. But as for the comics, the writers will probably glean heavily from his Modern Age stories, and since he doesn’t have a large rogues gallery, we can probably expect some liberal borrowing from other DC properties, as well.
Are you excited about Black Lightning? To be honest, I get more excited the more I think about the opportunities that exist for a show like this, digging deep into parenthood and being a supposed “has-been” superhero. It’s territory none of the other DC comics shows have explored yet, and Jefferson Pierce is a great choice for a new show that can offer something different and refreshing.