The CW currently has no shortage of superhero dramas, but there may still be room for “justice like lightning.” A pilot episode for Black Lightning is currently in production and the potential series is in contention for a slot on The CW’s new schedule. If it goes forward, Black Lightning would be the fifth DC Universe show on the network. Whether that means Black Lightning would join the Arrowverse remains to be seen, but the first picture of Cress Williams in costume as Black Lightning certainly wouldn’t look out of place next to Supergirl, The Flash, or even the Green Arrow himself.
But who is Black Lightning? While the character doesn’t have a large profile among the general public, Black Lightning has the distinction of being DC’s first African-American superhero to headline his own comic book series. As envisioned by writer Tony Isabella, Black Lightning was nobody’s sidekick and he built his own heroic legacy. Unlike many superheroes, Black Lightning’s alter ego, Jefferson Pierce, was born with his abilities and he spent most of his early life hiding his metahuman gifts. But he didn’t hide his athleticism, and he won Olympic gold as a decathlete.
This may surprise you, but Black Lightning’s early adventures took place in the Southside of Metropolis, which was nicknamed Suicide Slum. This was a part of the city where criminals had full control and they had no fear of Superman or the other heroes. Pierce grew up in this neighborhood, and returned as an adult to serve as the principal of one of the local high schools. Like many heroes, Pierce initially resisted the call to become a superhero. But in the face of overwhelming crime and corruption, Pierce adopted the Black Lightning identity and took on the gang known as the 100. Somehow, we suspect that the name of the gang might be changed so that it doesn’t conflict with The 100 TV series, which is also on the CW.
In addition to the 100, Black Lightning does have his own rogues gallery of villains, including crime lord Tobias Whale, the shapeshifter known as Ishmael, and Cyclotronic Man, a thief whose powers were very similar to Black Lightning’s abilities. One of Black Lightning’s first foes was Merlyn, the frequent nemesis of Green Arrow. If the Black Lightning TV series joins the Arrowverse, it seems like a battle with Malcolm Merlyn would be an easy way to tie it into the other CW series.
Shortly after Isabella left the Black Lightning comic in 1978, the series was canceled and the character was largely left to guest appearances. In the mid-80s, Black Lightning resurfaced as a member of the Outsiders, Batman’s handpicked team of heroes. In 1995, Isabella returned for the second Black Lightning ongoing series, which caught up with the older and more experienced hero as he set up in Brick City. However, Black Lightning’s profile fell after that series, and he was used in supporting roles rather than as a leading character. He even served in the administration of President Lex Luthor while trying to change the system from within. In 2007, author Brad Meltzer added Black Lightning to the Justice League of America, many years after the hero had initially turned down the chance to join Earth’s most powerful heroes.
The Black Lightning TV series will also be featuring Jefferson Pierce’s daughters, Anissa and Jennifer. In the comics, both young women inherited similar powers of electricity from their father, with Anissa following in his footsteps on the Outsiders as Thunder. Jennifer Pierce later joined the Justice Society as Lightning. Both Thunder and Lightning even starred in their own series of animated shorts, as seen above. It seems likely that Anissa and Jennifer will follow a similar path on the live-action Black Lightning television show.
There’s a lot of potential in a Black Lightning TV series, and we’re hopeful that the CW will pick it up and create something unique and timely for one of the company’s groundbreaking superheroes. But we should find out for certain next month when The CW announces its schedule for next season.
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Images: The CW/DC Comics