Retired black superhero has to put the suit on again when rising tensions in his city threaten his family.
Jefferson Pierce is a pillar of the community for the city of Greenland. As the principal of Garfield High School, he’s touched upon the lives of so many people that he’s nicknamed Black Jesus. But secretly he also used to operate as Black Lightning, Freeland’s only superhero, until the toll on his personal life made him retire. Fast forward to 2018, when a local gang called the 100 unknowingly kidnaps his daughters, prompting him to return to his vigilante life in order to clean up the streets.
That setup might sound straight out of a blaxploitation film from the 70s, and admittedly that’s exactly how the early episodes of the show feel. Granted, the soundtrack is less funk and more hiphop, but that’s about it. While the other Arrowverse shows are in skyscrapers and mansions and large open cities, “Black Lightning” is set in a small dirty city plagued by poverty and drugs. It certainly doesn’t help that most of the shots are simply…very dark. Yes it conveys the grit and pessimism well, and sure it makes the protagonist’s shiny lightning bolts pop, but it definitely makes the viewer feel like there’s a weight on their chest. The protagonist himself is the very model of respectability politics, constantly advising everyone around him to “rise above” and “be better”, to the point that it frankly begins to feel condescending.
And then the show starts to grow.
Both of Jefferson’s daughters develop meta powers at least as powerful as his, and unlike him they are very enthusiastic about using them. The sci-fi factor is turned up and up again as we deal with more metas, cybernetic enhancements, high-tech weapons and suits, even resurrection. The government forces go from underfunded and incompetent to outright corrupt and evil, especially as the local police is slowly replaced by the shadowy American Security Agency (ASA). Reverend Jeremiah Holt arises as a radical figure; first protesting against the gangs, then the cops, then the ASA, giving voice and hope to the people living in Freeland. The show still deals with social issues, specifically issues black communities often have to deal with, but it starts throwing punches instead of just using them as a backdrop.
Sadly as the show grows, the protagonist does not grow with it. Supporting characters bend the rules when necessary, while Black Lightning himself sticks by his principles. It works to bring down his nemesis, the mustache-twirling villain Tobias Whale, but his shortcomings slowly become glaring as Freeland is set to become a battlefield between the ASA and the country of Markovia over the existence of numerous metahumans – metahumans created by the US government’s secret experiments.
As with many superhero shows, “Black Lightning” starts off a little weak and uninspired, but it quickly picks itself up and sets itself apart. It is helped both by a strong metaplot building up over the years and a cast that feels both intense yet very real. Sadly, the low budget generally shows, though they make good use of what they have with the main characters’ costumes being some of the best in any superhero show.
Black Lightning - Seasons 1 & 2 : A Hero to His Community
Writing - 7.5/107.5/10
Storyline - 8/108/10
Acting - 9.5/109.5/10
Music - 9/109/10
Production - 7/107/10
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