Greg Berlanti continues to cut a swath through television history on his path to dominate the superhero genre. His latest venture is a pilot production commitment of the superhero, Black Lightning, at FOX, being written by wife-husband team Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, creators of the critically-acclaimed Being Mary Jane.
Should the pilot be picked up, it’ll mark Berlanti’s seventh show on the air (Arrow, The Flash, Blindspot, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl and the yet-to-air Riverdale) as well as marking the first Black superhero in the DC Universe to headline their own show (Blade and Luke Cage have already taken care of the Marvel side).
While a pilot production commitment is no guarantee of a pickup (basically, the network has to pay money if they decide not to make the pilot), with five shows on the air and one on the way, it’s safe to say that Berlanti has more than proven his ability to make a successful show.
That being said, Black Lightning is admittedly one of the more obscure characters of the DC Universe. The hero had his own publications in 1978, 1995, and 2010, but very few appearances in mainstream media (i.e. television). So, here’s a quick primer for those curious about the origins of this shockingly (see what I did there?) handsome hero.
Born and raised in Suicide Slum, a rundown, neglected part of Metropolis (Superman can’t be everywhere, apparently), Jefferson Michael Pierce lost his father to a gang hit leaving he and his mother to fend for themselves. Eventually, his mother met Peter Gambi, providing Jefferson with the father figure he needed. Jefferson continued studying and training, eventually making his way to the Olympics where he won various medals and accolades for his athletic prowess. Shortly after, Jefferson went to college and earned a degree in English and education. He used his education to return to Suicide Slum to teach, disappointed in the fact that it had not changed at all. When one of his students was killed, Jefferson adopted the mantle of Black Lightning, a hero who could generate electricity with the help of a nifty little electric belt.
Eventually, it was revealed that Black Lightning never needed the belt as he was always some degree of metahuman (sound familiar, Flash fans?). He goes on to partner up with Batman and the Justice League on a case, meeting Green Arrow in the process, in whom he finds a kindred spirit (Let the crossover talk begin). Black Lightning also joins Batman’s Outsiders, becomes Secretary of Education under President Luthor, and a member of the Outsiders again. As of the New 52, DC Comics’ latest reboot, Black Lightning is still active in Suicide Slum and on the Justice League’s radar.
Black Lightning’s abilities originally came from a belt which generated electricity, but after some bad shit happened to him, he internalized it and was retconned into having been a metahuman this whole time. He can throw electric blasts, create electric force fields, even turn into electricity himself. Outside of his powers, he’s also a skilled martial artist, thanks to the tutelage of Batman, and an Olympic-level athlete.
With the exception of a few trysts, Black Lightning seems to be a one-woman man, having only had a long-term relationship with his ex-wife, Lynn. The former couple have two daughters, Anissa and Jennifer, who are known as the superheroes Thunder and Lightning, respectively, who will hopefully be making appearances as the series goes on. We could use a few (read: a hundred) more female superheroes.
A couple of scenes of the whole family in action:
Black Lightning seemingly has no real rogues gallery to speak of, so the show will have its work cut out for them in creating new villains or simply borrowing from the rogues galleries of other heroes, much like Arrow has done with Batman. One of Black Lightning’s consistent adversaries appears to be Tobias Whale, an albino drug lord and leader of a crime organization known as The 100 (no, not that one). He’s remarkably similar to Daredevil’s Kingpin, but that’s none of my business.
Anyway, I know I’m certainly buzzing for this show (haha, I crack myself up) and if this week’s devastatingly strong show of ratings from FX’s Atlanta, OWN’s Queen Sugar, and Fox’s own juggernaut, Empire are any indication, this show will do incredibly well*.
*I’m still wary of Fox after canceling Serenity, but I’m willing to bury the hatchet if they give this a chance.