I have a very tumultuous relationship with comics media. I've watched a large fraction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, all of the shows connected with the Arrowverse and had several subscriptions at a local comic book store for a couple years. I've gone back and read hundreds of issues in series that prioritize the characters I love. But in the end, I quit most of these series because I've was left feeling disappointed or betrayed (Laurel Lance deserved better).
Black Lightning is the first piece of live action comics media that actually seems to welcome me—a Black lesbian—into the story.
The premiere episode begins with Jefferson Pierce waiting for his daughter Anissa to be released from jail for protesting the 100. The conversational quoting of Martin Luther King Jr. and Fannie Lou Hamer between Jefferson and Anissa in the car is the first sign that the show is not going to skirt around the issues, nor is it going to portray one belief as factually correct. The reactions of all three Pierce members when Jefferson was pulled over were very real, all three showing emotions that I've felt during the various times I've been in a pulled over car or been profiled and pulled over myself. Jennifer, being annoyed at the intimidation tactics by the cops before being angry at the mistreatment of her dad. Anissa, wanting to exercise her right to videotape while keeping her anger mostly at bay. And Jefferson, who shows that he knows what to do when pulled over in the hopes that he and his daughters can make it out of the ordeal alive.
This scene sets up his powers being connected directly with his emotions, his anger causing him to pull electricity out of the cop cars and out of the streetlights above him. But he restrains himself this time. We don't see what he'’s actually capable of until he helps his daughter escape from a club run by the 100. Profiled once again, he lets the anger consume him, blacking everything out except for the lightning from his hands. In fact, the only clear political stance this show has so far is: don't trust the police. It was jarring to see Henderson openly state that the police will use brutal force against protestors as if it was no big deal and trying to make it seem like the police are so much better than the 100 are because their goal wasn't to murder protestors.
Jennifer is the catalyst of everything in this story. She's a very realistic portrayal of a teenager who feels suffocated by the life she lives in. Her lying to her sister about going out results in her meeting Will, the episode's antagonist who's clearly upset that she embarrassed him in front of other gang members (by calling him someone's bitch and kneeing him in the junk) and will stop at nothing to get revenge. She's still clearly young and it looks like she'’ll repress and brush off the traumatic incidents as lesser than her sister will. We get to see Anissa start to discover her powers at the end of the episode, but before that we learn that Anissa is a passionate young activist. I see Anissa in myself but also in so many of my friends who've led protests, who've gotten pepper sprayed and arrested for being in the front lines standing against injustice. Her explosive response once Jennifer got home reminded me of fights I've had with younger siblings because I was so afraid for their safety as Black teenagers in a world where, as Jefferson said, "the police will shoot your Black ass just for fun." Jennifer feels like every little sister in a relationship with a significant age gap between Black sisters and Anissa falls perfectly into the role of overprotective older sister.
This episode didn't give us very much information about Lynn Pierce, but the relationship she has with her ex is still full of love with a twinge of sexual tension. It's good to show a divorced family where the parents still have positive interactions with each other and communicate in their co-parenting. Her concern for his well-being is clear in why she left him and why she's worried about Black Lightning coming back so it was good to see her affirm Jefferson’s decision to be Black Lightning once more to save their daughters. The other main support for Black Lightning's return is Gambi (whom I've called Alfred every time I've seen him or thought about him). He's a good parental figure to Jefferson and while he's not what one would expect the behind-the-scenes tech person to look like, he does know how to make a good suit.
Additionally. we get to meet the first villain of the show in this episode: Tobias Whale, a Black man with albinism who murdered Jefferson's father. Seeing the politics of the visibility of Blackness between Tobias, Jefferson, and Henderson will be exciting and I trust the showrunners will do it justice. It's not quite clear how the connection between the rest of the 100 and Tobias will play out ,but hopefully he's got some tricks up his sleeve other than his… harpoon gun? (Also, Tobias casually has a fish tank full of piranhas used to murder people? Extra as hell and I love it.)
Overall, Black Lightning's pilot brings promise. The world has a solid foundation and it'll be exciting to see how the characters will continue to be fleshed out and how their dynamics with each other might change. I'm hoping to see some villains with powers as the show progresses because honestly bringing powers to a weapons fight doesn't quite seem fair. Giving Jennifer the voice over was a smart move and shows that the story is not just about Jefferson Pierce: it's about his daughters as well. Props to the Akils for creating a show that my blackness could connect to. Double props for casually slipping in the future existences of Thunder and Lightning in a way where one who didn't know anything about the Black Lightning universe wouldn't catch the reference.
Black Lightning airs Tuesdays at 9 PM EST on The CW
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