As superhero media grows and evolves, certain changes have marked its progress through the ages. Today we see the rise of many diverse heroes and heroines, and with their identities and backgrounds they bring forth the potential to explore new ideas – especially as comics creators delve into more pressing modern issues. Black Lightning may have first appeared in comic book stores in the 70s, but its current television incarnation isn’t afraid to grapple with problems of the modern era.
Jefferson Pierce, the protagonist, is already a bit of an oddity when compared to other franchises – rather than a young person grappling with newfound powers and realizing the impact they now hold within their society, Pierce is a middle-aged family man, a pillar of his community, and already disillusioned with the prospect of the idea of masked heroes and superhuman powers. The problems he faces are far from simple, especially as he comes to realize their wide spanning effect on the people he cares about.
Perhaps one of the most interesting dynamics in Black Lightning comes from its central conflict. For all the depth that Jefferson displays, his persona of Black Lightning’s modus operandi is still to barrel down bad guys en masse. But when faced with a city spanning gang with ties to the drug and sex trafficking industries, simply beating the bad guys into submission become less of a viable option. The contrast between Black Lightning’s simple methods and the complex antagonists he faces has the potential for a fascinating examination of the role of the traditional superhero figure in the modern world. Already, we can see some of the negative consequences of Black Lightning’s appearance: the loss of faith in the police department as the community’s admiration for the superhero grows. Disappointed with authority figures and inspired by Black Lightning, the individual citizens of Freeland have decided to take justice in their own hands.
The relationships that both Black Lightning and Jefferson Pierce maintain with the rest of Freeland aren’t so simple as to be boiled down to a good or bad binary, which is something that the show has demonstrated a solid understanding of. As the show develops further, it will be interesting to see how it continues to handles this story element.
In addition to the compelling writing thus far, Black Lightning has many things going for it including a black lesbian character, a killer soundtrack, and a whole cast of well-acted characters with both intrigue and potential. Judging by the first few episodes, Black Lightning is shaping up to be a tightly-constructed superhero show with plenty of big ideas to explore without losing the original charm that the genre holds.