Justice Like Lightning

It's electric.
Possible minor SPOILERS for The CW's Black Lightning.

Young Sean Fields was not a fan of Black Lightning. Older Sean Fields is.

I was introduced to comics in the 1980s and was truly in charge of my comic purchases in the 1990s. By the 1990s, I was a pre-teen becoming a teenager and with that came a very conscious choice of what I consumed in my media. I was a kid and I wanted my comic book characters to be cool, young or super exciting. Black Lightning was not that in my young mind.

Jefferson Pierce was a school teacher in Metropolis' Suicide Slum (later Brick City) who was also a former Olympic gold medalist. So, basically, to a mid-90s teenager, Black Lightning was a straight laced nerd. He was the guy who was part of Lex Luthor's cabinet and was the corny guy that was turned away from Superman's funeral on a Saturday Night Live skit. He had his own book but he always felt like a secondary character, even when he was with The Outsiders. I was bothered by his name, thinking any black hero besides Black Panther with "Black" in their name was somehow at worse racist and at best lazy. Black Lightning was also another black hero with electrokinesis as a power and I had enough of that in my life. (I have no idea why this is a thing but it is) On top of all of this, my Milestone Comics love was here and I already had Static, an electric black hero that was my age and my type of nerd. Black Lightning didn't have a chance for me back then.

I would say something about his outfit but everyone dressed like this.
Here we are in 2018 and I can finally appreciate Mr. Pierce. I'm older, I am an educator, I realize the complications of living in this world and the responsibilities that come with being a protector of the young and also a bit of a role model.

In the new CW series, Jefferson Pierce is the lauded principal of a charter school in the city of Freehold. Freehold is a city in the midst of a battle between law enforcement and the 100 Gang, which is a reference to the comic book gang but is easily a stand in for the criminal elements in Baltimore or Chicago. Jefferson has been retired from his role as the superhero Black Lightning for 9 years after he was seriously injured resulting in a divorce from his wife for the activities in his other life. He has two daughters that live with him- Anissa, a medical student, part-time teacher and civic minded protester and Jennifer, a teen who attends his school and is outspoken and pushes the boundaries of her freedom like most teenagers. Jefferson has a lot going on in his life.

The look of a man dealing with teens. I'm familiar.
Jefferson has finally given up his role as Black Lightning completely and is trying to make a go of it again with his estranged wife. This all ends when his youngest daughter sneaks out to a party at a club operated by the 100 Gang. The young man she talks to gets her involved in a situation that quickly escalates into a school kidnapping and Jefferson contacting his old friend Peter Gambi to put back on the costume and get back into action. It also ends on the introduction of the big villain behind it all with a history with Black Lightning and the appearance of another super powered character.

The pilot episode is good and had me very interested in Black Lightning. This show seems to fill in a niche in the Arrowverse. Supergirl represents youthful hope and trying to attain peace. Arrow is the pinnacle of vigilantism and the mistrust that can come with that. Flash is being heroic and working with the legal system moreso than the other series. Legends of Tomorrow is goofy science fiction time travel fun. Black Lightning seems to represent reality and the people actually dealing with life in a city, particularly black people.

Unfortunately familiar traffic stops.
Black Lightning is a superhero show and should be enjoyable for all. It is also very much a "black show" in the fact that it deals with the complicated nature of being a black person living in America. The story begins with Jefferson in a precinct picking up his eldest daughter for an arrest for protesting. Jefferson admonishes her about what she does and it almost veers into respectability and a youth vs. adulthood argument that's very common in minority communities before they are stopped by the police. The cops stop Jefferson, who is with his daughters in a suit while driving a typical family car, for suspicion of an armed robbery. It's ridiculous and also very familiar. I've been stopped multiple times by police for "fitting a description."

This show appears to be addressing very real issues of existing in this country as a black person in particular and person of color in general. The relationship with police officers, specifically with wanting to be safe, appreciating their roles but also trying to navigate an at times adversarial relationship with them for simply having your skin color. Their is also the issue of respect and disrespect which is very high in marginalized communities where you don't own anything except yourself. Pride is an issue and respecting your independence is vital. This is amplified especially with young people/young men who feel they have nothing to claim but that and are trained to view anything that challenges that as a fight. This is illustrated with a little boy and the local gang leader. He gives him a lesson on being responsible and reality but it is a twisted one based on the issues of surviving in their world. There also questions of freedom vs. safety (metal detectors in school) and what is necessary to survive with as little problems in the world.

Most importantly about this series to me seems to be the relation between Jefferson and his daughters. There is always talk about the importance of sons having their fathers in their lives. I agree and think it's always good to have parents around but I think it is vital that people have the opposite gendered parent around if possible. Fathers show a different kind of strength and caring for daughters. They give an insight to the actions of males which is necessary for dealing with this world and male pride that can be damaging to everybody, which is evident in this first episode. The bond and connections will also be important in this series for other superheroic reasons but I think the relationship dynamic in the Pierce household will lead to interesting and compelling storytelling going forward. Black Lightning will be a multi-generational series and I'm excited for it.

Thunder and lightning, that's what little girls are made of.
Growing older changes how you see the world. There is more shades of gray and thinking about when and how you should fight for yourself and against injustice. You have to think about others. You become a person that is more than responsible for your own existence. I didn't appreciate that as a teenager but I definitely get that as an adult with nieces and nephews and students that I'm responsible for. Black Lightning is definitely tapping into that sense of figuring out what to do to make the world a better place for yourself, the children you are responsible for directly and the community as a whole.

It has only been one episode so far but I'm in for the ride that will be The CW's Black Lightning.

Sean Fields is an aspiring writer and has been in the education field for more than a decade. He works mostly with teenagers nowadays which both keeps him well informed on pop culture and makes his hair turn grayer daily. He has a few blogs but is currently focused on this one and this other one. You can also find him on TumblrTwitter and Instagram, if you want to be entertained or infuriated.
Justice Like Lightning Justice Like Lightning Reviewed by SeanFields on Thursday, January 18, 2018 Rating: 5
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