I just saw the first episode of Black Lightning, and I thought it was great. I sure hope this series can keep up this level of writing and acting. The series isn’t perfect, but what series is? It does a lot of difficult things well, and it is never less than entertaining.
The Black Lightning Wikipedia page is full of information on the creative team and development of the show, and it is fascinating. The Black Lightning project was developed by Mara Brock Akil and her husband, Salim Akil. Mara Brock Akil is the creator of Being Mary Jane, while Salim directed Sparkle, so this couple are not people you would necessarily assume would come up with a superhero show. But that is exactly what they have done, and the first episode has turned out well.
Black Lightning is also hitting screens at a timely moment. Black Lightning actively engages with the problem of racist police brutality. It’s the Black Lives Matter of superhero shows, and it is mature enough to admit that there are no easy answers. The main character quotes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, saying, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.” But that is not the end of the debate.
“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” his daughter, Anissa, replies, quoting Fannie Lou Hamer. Billie Holiday sings “Strange Fruit” as the episode opens, and there’s a scene where our hero is pulled over by two police officers and made to get out of his car into the pouring rain.
He is then pushed around while his terrified daughters look on in horror. It is no surprise that he doesn’t fight back, even though the police officer dishing out the humiliation grins unambiguously at his discomfort.
The police are presented as racist in a real-world matter-of-fact way. They don’t try to hide their attitude too much, because they don’t have to. This isn’t an exploration of a finely nuanced institutionally racist system forcing good people to act bad, this is a bunch of racist ass-hats delighting in pushing black people around.
Then, later, comes the pay back. Two police officers use tasers on our hero, and hurl racist epithets at him. In reply he uses his superpowers to blow up their police cruiser, sending it flying up into the sky in slow motion. It is a cathartic moment, and the show works hard to make us feel it. This part of the show works really well, with the low key special effects looking pretty slick to me, too.
The rest of the look of the show is just as good. Black Lightning’s outfit is a little Funkadelic, but the actor is so tall and imposing that he sells it. The action works well and the cinematography is great. There is some stuff I didn’t like, but none of it was enough to spoil my enjoyment of the show.
So, the problems… What brings Black Lightning out of retirement is a little problematic, for example. He doesn’t come out of retirement because he wants to help the local community, he gets back in the saddle because of family. Our hero, Pierce, has a typical TV wife, who is beautiful and likes a glass of wine. His youngest daughter is Jennifer, and she is an annoying teen rebel. Pierce’s eldest daughter is Anissa, who is the good daughter, a medical student who also teaches part-time at the school where her father is in charge.
Things really hit the fan when his teen rebel daughter secretly goes to a club, and gets sucked immediately into prostitution and violence, requiring her ass to be saved by pops. There is a little bit of business where she knees a guy in the nuts to show she’s feisty, but mostly she is just a damsel in distress, getting into trouble as soon as she tries to experience something of life. Then, after the teen rebel is rescued, the two daughters are kidnapped again. This time they are dragged right out of school at gunpoint.
The two daughters being dragged from place to place are a weak point, but hopefully they will soon start to get more to do than scream and wait to be saved by pops. In the comics, both Anissa and Jennifer eventually get their own superpowers and become the heroes Thunder and Lightning. Hopefully they will develop a little agency and become more than caricatures as the series progresses.
The bad guys, for me, are a little problematic too. They are a gang called “the 100”, and so far they are just street-level pimps and pushers. They are the sort of criminals you would see in a Blaxploitation movie, and that’s a genre with a role in exploring and shaping race relations in the US that has been controversial. Some feel the movies perpetuate common white stereotypes about black people. Films such as “Shaft” received intense criticism, not only for the stereotype of the protagonist (generalizing pimps as representative of all African-American men) but also for portraying all black communities as hot beds for drug trade and crime.
The big bad behind all this criminality is an old foe of Black Lightning’s from the comic books, Tobias Whale, played by Marvin Jones III. I do not know what to make of the fact that this guy is albino. This character is taken directly from the original comics, apparently including his albinism. They have been super faithful to the character, even down to his fondness for harpoons. I am going to have to work out what I feel about Tobias Whale as the show goes on, but in the mean time I feel like there is a lot to look forward to.
In the final scene we see the good daughter, Anissa, (who comic book fans know as Thunder) accidentally wrecking the bathroom as she gains superpowers. I can’t wait to see what she is going to do with them.
While waiting for episode two of this new superhero show, why not check out one of my sci-fi novels, like for example Galaxy Dog.
Galaxy Dog (Dark Galaxy) Start Reading the Dark Galaxy Trilogy
The first book in the Dark Galaxy Trilogy, always the best place to start, is Galaxy Dog. It’s a little more old-school and fun than a lot of the sci-fi that is around at the moment. It has spaceships, robots, battles, and brave warriors rebelling against an evil empire. Click the book cover and go to the storefront you prefer to buy it now, or follow this link.
This is a universal book link (UBL) and you will be greeted with a page displaying all the places the book is available online. Just select the storefront you prefer and, if you want, also make this your default bookseller. From then on, every time you click a UBL you will be taken directly to the book you are interested in, on the storefront you prefer. The UBL even allows you to go to the Amazon store that matches your region.