Starring Cress Williams.
Minor Spoilers Follow.
With Black Panther making waves on the big screen, it felt like an appropriate time to try Black Lightning, the first DC TV show to have a Black Superhero as its main focus. It’s only the second Superhero show I can think of to have done this apart from Luke Cage. While the producers of Black Panther should be commended for what they’ve done, I can’t really credit the MCU much for boosting black representation in the superhero genre. Black Panther is the 18th MCU film – its taken them that long to have a film based around a Black Superhero, and they STILL haven’t released one with a female superhero taking the lead. Given the presence of War Machine, Falcon, Black Widow and Scarlet Witch in the MCU, this lack of representation is utterly pathetic. This is made especially evident by DC films, given that DC’s THIRD FILM featured Will Smith as lead character Deadshot and their FOURTH film gave us Wonder Woman. DC have done better (on representation, if not scripting) in 4 films than Marvel has in 17. Shame on you Marvel.
Marvel TV has admittedly done a better job of this, with Agent Carter and Jessica Jones catering for female Superheroes and Luke Cage giving us a show with a predominantly black cast. Unfortunately, Luke Cage was one of Marvel’s worse efforts (only outdone by Iron Fist) because of its poor writing, uneven tone and totally on the nose politics. Though Mike Colter has done a stand out job with the character on the Defenders and Jessica Jones, he still hasn’t got the material he deserves on his own show.
Fortunately, when it comes to both representation and TV shows in general, DC is far, far better than Marvel. John Diggle/Spartan has been a key fixture on Arrow since S1, and all four Arrowverse shows have had diverse casts (both in terms of ethnicity, gender and sexuality). Now we have a fifth DC show: Black Lightning. Not only is it DC’s answer to Luke Cage, but so far, its a damn sight better!
Cress Williams is a revelation as lead character Jefferson Pierce, a man who fought as a vigilante in his youth, but gave it up after his wife left him for the sake of his daughters and became the headmaster of a local school to try and combat the gangs a different way. Black Lightning sees him reluctantly forced back into action when his youngest daughter is targeted by a member of the local ‘100’ gang. While this kind of plotline veers close to cliché, its carried off with such panache and good scripting that you won’t really care. The rest of the (predominantly black) cast is equally good, with Jefferson’s daughters both likeable characters, and even his ex-wife is largely sympathetic (could this FINALLY be the show where DC doesn’t give us a crap love interest? Fingers crossed). The only two white characters of any note are the villainous Tobias, an old enemy of Black Lightning, and Jefferson’s old mentor Peter (who acts as a cross between Alfred and Lucius Fox). While it seems easy to predict the arcs some characters will head down during this first series, they’ve all got plenty of potential.
One area the show completely trumps Luke Cage is in its use of Superpowers. Black Lightning’s electrical attacks are awesome (anyone whose played the Infamous video games will appreciate them!) and give the action scenes plenty of spark and heft. Luke Cage was always held back by the fact that being bulletproof and strong don’t make for particularly exciting powers. Black Lightning doesn’t have this problem – he’s powerful but still vulnerable, which is always the best superhero combination.
I also liked how Lightning isn’t a ‘White Knight’ style hero (the DC shows have enough of those on the Flash and Supergirl) but is happy to get his hands dirty, and in one memorable sequence, blows up a police car to send a message to two racist cops. Police brutality/racism is one of several issues highlighted here, but its done so in a much more sensitive and less on-the-nose way than in Luke Cage and comes across as less heavy handed as a result.
There are one or two issues: the dialogue can be a bit clichéd and corny in some places, and its first few episodes follow familiar plotlines to most other superhero/vigilante dramas, but overall its a cut above the current load of superhero offerings. Hopefully the rest of the season lives up to this promising start.
Rating: 4 out of 5
My review of Black Panther will be out sometime next week. Can an MCU film finally get 5/5?