Among all the things that sets it apart, one reason for Black Lightning’s success is its refusal to play by the rules. Most superhero pilots include the hero’s origin. Not Black Lightning. We’re six episodes in and still haven’t gotten it. Comic book shows, particularly on The CW, usually feature younger heroes. Jefferson Pierce, on the other hand, is pushing middle age with one daughter in high school and another who’s a med student. Superhero shows feature plenty of super-powered fights. Again, not Black Lighting. We didn’t get our first fight between two super-powered characters until last week, and it seems unlikely we’ll be seeing another one any time real soon.
And usually, a show focused on one superhero would wait until after its very first episode to set up a second one. But as plenty of devoted viewers know, Jefferson’s daughter, Anissa, began her journey as a superhero on day one. After a dramatic sequence last week that saw Black Lightning unwittingly engage in a fierce battle with Anissa, Jefferson now knows as well.
“The cat’s out of the bag,” explains Black Lightning himself, actor Cress Williams. “Jefferson knows the tough road of being a hero and all that it entails. He’s learned through the years that cooler heads prevail, and Anissa’s anything but a cool head.”
For fans of Black Lightning’s comic book history, none of this is a complete surprise. Readers expected Anissa Pierce to eventually develop powers and become the hero known as Thunder. They just may not have expected it to happen so soon. But with Black Lightning set so far into Jefferson’s career as a superhero, it allows the show to have its cake and eat it too. We get the excitement and uncertainty that comes with seeing a hero put on her costume for the very first time and take to the streets, while also getting deeper interactions between a superhero and a supporting cast that usually take years to develop. In a sense, it’s like getting two superhero shows in one, and it’s something that takes a big step forward in the episodes ahead.
“You see how Anissa’s just ready to go and hit the streets, but she’s got so much to learn before that happens,” shares Williams. “It’s an interesting journey. You’ll be surprised who champions her training. Also, some of the aspects that make her such a good hero will be surprising for Jefferson, as well.”
As for who handles the training, well, that would be Black Lightning, of course. It’s not without some reluctance—you can’t imagine any parent really wants their child to become a superhero. But with a character as driven as Anissa, Jefferson probably doesn’t have much choice. She’s going to put on the costume anyway, so he might as well make sure she goes about it right. What he finds out, however, is that they make a pretty solid team.
Or as Williams puts it, “She’s Robin to my Batman.”
“Her powers are different. That’s what really makes it awesome. We both have strengths and we both have weaknesses. The audience knows that it’s her breath that controls it. There is a strength in that, but there’s also a weakness in that as well. At the very beginning, I think that she’s so gung-ho that she doesn’t see the weakness. That has to be uncovered before she can really be allowed to be out there. But once she is out there, it’s pretty awesome.”
Thunder’s arrival may be earlier than most of us expected (even Williams admits he thought it would happen later in the season), but it’s right in the nick of time for Black Lightning. For reasons we won’t spoil, Freeland’s favorite hero finds himself in trouble and out of favor with much of the city after tonight’s episode.
“He’s going to be a fugitive for a while,” shares Williams. “We’ve seen already, at least in this season, that Jefferson’s bold in being Black Lightning. He walks down the middle of the street and is not really hiding. We’re going to see him have to do things a different way because of this fugitive status.”
In doing so, he may be glad that he now has a super-powered daughter watching his back, and he’s unlikely to be the only one. With Black Panther on the big screen and Black Lightning on the small, it’s a good year for African-American superheroes, and one could argue for female African-American heroes in particular.
“I was amazed at the women of ,” he says. “That was my takeaway. The women were phenomenal. To me, those characters were so well acted and well carved out, and they were such an important part. If you take the women away, I’m going to be honest, the movie is like all right. You put the women and what they did in it, that takes it to great. For to see these women, it was phenomenal.”
For girls like Williams’ daughter, to see one on TV each week may be even better.
“The movies are great,” Williams explains. “It’s on a big screen and it’s amazing. That does something to your confidence, but to be able to watch something every single week, and know that you can tune in and see yourself in positive heroic fashion every single week, I think that has a much more lasting effect. When we look back a year from now, a couple years from now, God willing ten years from now, I’m excited to see what effect it’s had.”
Black Lightning airs tonight at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. CST) on The CW. Be sure to stop by DCComics.com after tonight's wild episode to read Regular Et Cetera's thoughts on it in the #DCTV Couch Club!