REVIEW: BLACK LIGHTNING – SEASON 1

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Starring

Cress Williams (The Death of superman)
China Anne McClain (Descendants 2 & 3)
Nafessa Williams (Black and Blue)
Christine Adams (Batman Begins)
Marvin Jones III (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)
Damon Gupton (Bates Motel)
James Remar (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)

Cress Williams in Black Lightning (2018)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Dabier (Reawakened)
Skye P. Marshall (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina)
William Catlett (First)
Charlbi Dean Kriek (Blood In The Water)
Kyanna Simone Simpson (Chambers)
Jordan Calloway (Riverdale)
Tracey Bonner (Den of Thieves)
Clifton Powell (Saints and Sinners)
Shein Mompremier (Swiped)
Jill Scott (The First Wives Club)
Eric Mendenhall (Lawless)
Chantal Thuy (Battle for Skyark)
Edwina Findley Dickerson (Get Hard)
Antonio Fargas (Foxy Brown)
Terrence Carson (Last Call)
Al-Jaleel Knox (Venom)
Gregg Henry (Slither)
Jason Louder (Prodigal)

Cress Williams in Black Lightning (2018)Black Lightning Season 1 ratings were good enough by CW standards, if not superb, to justify a second season, holding steady at around 1.5 million viewers after a fourth episode drop-off from the first three. But consider this: it’s based on a much less well-known superhero than the likes of Green Arrow and the Flash, and comments made by the showrunners suggesting that it wasn’t going to be connected to the other CW superhero shows may have put off some of the faithful.It’s true that Black Lightning exists in a world that so far takes and leaves what it wants from the real world and the fictional: it’s set in a fictional city called Freeland (the comics’ “Suicide Slum” was likely too on-the-nose), and Supergirl is referred to as if she exists, but the characters read DC Comics (then again, it could be a case like the X-Men comics in Logan), and Barack Obama was definitely president. Short answer: they can connect it to the “Berlanti-verse” at any time if they really want to.Still, it makes more sense to keep it as separate, storywise, as possible, and here’s why: Black Lightning is specifically based on the African-American experience, and having, say, blonde Caucasian Supergirl swoop in to help save the day would be contrary to the show’s theme of empowerment versus responsibility.Cress Williams in Black Lightning (2018)Like Luke Cage, the Black Lightning comics were born of the blaxploitation era; unlike season 1 of Luke Cage, the show never forgets that it is a superhero show, and people want to see superhero-ing every episode. With 13 episodes that all tell one larger story, it’s akin to the Netflix shows, but as it’s designed to be week-to-week rather than binged, there can’t be any weeks that risk being boring by going on a different tangent or spend all their time in flashback. The ’70s Incredible Hulk TV show established a formula wherein the Hulk was guaranteed to show up twice per episode; the best superhero shows stick to some version of that. And Black Lightning is surely among the best.One of many refreshing aspects to Black Lightning is that it doesn’t begin any way you might expect.There is no origin story until late in the first season, and most of the details are left offscreen; we begin with a world where Black Lightning has been retired for eight years. Given that specific timeframe, we can assume that perhaps he expected a black president would make his deeds unnecessary, because yes, Obama exists in this show, and Black Lightning even wears a Barack mask at one point when it’s unsafe to don his regular duds. The hero’s alter-ego, high-school principal Jefferson Pierce (heroically muscular Cress Williams), is a man we first meet getting unjustifiably pulled over and harassed by police, becoming silently enraged to the point of electrifying his eyes and blowing out the bulbs on the cop car. Pierce, it is made clear very quickly, is as upstanding a citizen as you could expect, teaching the value of hard work and sacrifice, and standing up to bullies in his own community, even (and especially) when they turn out to be his former students.Nafessa Williams in Black Lightning (2018)He’s the ideal African-American man that media personalities always say they want, yet he is still treated as second-class by law enforcement and, at times, school authorities.Well, maybe he’s not perfect–he is divorced, but it’s a typical wife-blaming storyline where she couldn’t bear to be with a great superhero who risks his life nightly. Christine Adams does a wonderful job humanizing Lynn, his ex, up to and including a perfect American accent when the actress is actually English, but there’s something mildly regressive in the fact that she’s mostly there to realize how wrong she was to leave him for being a hero and role model, and ultimately fall in love all over again for the exact reasons she supposedly left him.Cress Williams and Marvin 'Krondon' Jones III in Black Lightning (2018)Even then, though, it’s not that simple: they have two daughters, and the fact that the parents can come together for the sake of the kids, no matter how hard it is for them personally, is laudable. In addition to deciding whether or not to come back as a superhero (OBVIOUS SPOILER: he does), Jefferson’s dilemma is how to raise his girls, especially when they begin manifesting powers too. How do you balance telling them to stand up and be strong in a world where institutional racism may smack them down with lethal force for doing so? They have a little inside help thanks to tech-genius pal Gambi (an excellently cast James Remar), who’s part Alfred Pennyworth and part-Kingsman, but ever-so-slightly corrupt and compromised as well.James Remar, Cress Williams, China Anne McClain, and Nafessa Williams in Black Lightning (2018)In true blaxploitation fashion, there is both a community villain (BL’s traditional arch-enemy Tobias Whale, played by rapper Krondon) and The Man, represented here by Gregg Henry’s Martin Proctor, a racist white government type with bad orange hair, a plan to steal and imprison children, and a penchant for saying “Make America Great Again!”Also ripped from the headlines here is a version of the Charlottesville Tiki torch march. Naturally, the villains sow the seeds of their own doom: in a plot that combines the Tuskegee experiments with the CIA-crack cocaine connection, the government bad guys are testing drugs on the black community with the help of local gangsters. Sometimes the drugs make people psychotic; other times, they create someone like Black Lightning.Nafessa Williams in Black Lightning (2018)Whale as a character was always a tad problematic: as an evil albino man, he’s both a negative stereotype of people with albinism and an overt metaphor for black men “acting white” as an ultimate sin. Krondon humanizes him as much as possible, and in the casting removes the additional fat-shaming aspect to the character as conceived.Christine Adams and Cress Williams in Black Lightning (2018)He’s a sadistic jerk, but one you love to hate; a guy who can fight, but is even better at running and hiding like a cowardly heel. And while he constantly spits out the word “Negro” like an epithet so you know what he actually wants to say but can’t on network TV, his looks are never made an issue. It’s as good an update as you can probably do while still keeping him recognizably Whale, and the first season is more his origin story than Black Lightning’s; he only finally slips into the role of arch-nemesis by the end, and as he’s the best villain on the show, you’ll be glad he does.Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III in Black Lightning (2018)As for the hero himself, he smartly ditches the Afro-wig that was integral to the comics’ disguise, and the disco-era chest-baring is gone, replaced by electrical symbols that merely suggest it. You wonder at first how someone with as perfectly groomed and sculpted a beard as Jefferson Pierce has could possibly not be identified, but the show explains this away quickly with a throwaway: an electric field around his face makes it painful to look at him while in hero mode.When his eldest daughter (Nafessa Williams) becomes Thunder–the first live-action black lesbian superhero I can recall–she changes her hair to a Lara Croft-ish ponytail in addition to her eye-mask, which seems sufficient, though in reality doing those braids might take unfeasibly long. (Let’s just say she has super-hairdressing speed too.)Cress Williams and Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III in Black Lightning (2018)This season tells a complete story in itself; one you may well find yourself wanting to relive. And like Black Panther, it’s got something for you whether this stems from your reality and you can relate, or you’re just tired of the same old and want to see comic-book stories come from a new place.

25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: BLACK LIGHTNING – The Book of Resistance: Chapter Four: Earth Crisis

Christine Adams, Cress Williams, China Anne McClain, Marvin 'Krondon' Jones III, and Nafessa Williams in Black Lightning (2018)

Main Cast

Cress Williams (Reign of The Supermen)
China Anne McClain (Descendants 2)
Nafessa Williams (Brotherly Love)
Christine Adams (Tron: Legacy)
Damon Gupton (Bates Motel)
James Remar (Dexter)

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Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Bill Duke (Predator)

black-lightning-s03e09-the-book-of-resistance-chapter-four-earth-crisis-720p-web-dl-dd5-1-h-264-lazy-largeBlack Lightning the character is part of the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, but the Black Lightning show itself isn’t. Despite that, the show found its own way to partake in the festivities. As the barrier between multiverse worlds blurs and wanes, Jennifer Pierce finds herself looking at doppelgangers from other worlds, where they were forced to make the choice she will soon be faced with. Black-Lightning-Season-3-Episode-09-01Black Lightning — “The Book of Resistance: Chapter Four: Earth Crisis”. While Flash, the Green Arrow, and all their Super Friends are preparing to fight for the multiverse, the people of Freeland are fighting for their freedom from oppression by the ASA and invasion by Markovian forces. Black Lightning has chosen his side, and Lynn Pierce has chosen hers. In the middle is their daughter Jennifer Pierce. Jennifer is a wildly powerful metahuman who has only recently gained control over her powers, and who has subsequently gotten the attention of the ASA. Agent Odell, who is in charge of the operation in Freeland, sees an opportunity in the powerful but naive Jennifer. All season, he’s been feeding her half-truths that tell a story where the ASA–an organization bent on controlling and weaponizing metahumans–is the good guy. The nature of Jennifer’s powers means that the anti-matter wave devouring the multiverse is destabilizing her own existence. She blurs in and out and ends up in a void, faced with two other versions of herself. One wears a containment collar, while the other is dressed in such classically ‘evil’ garb that I expected her to have a goatee.Black-Lightning-Season-3-Episode-09-03

Gen Pierce

Jennifer witnesses life through the eyes of both of these doppelgangers. The first, Gen, made the decision to de-power the city of Freeland by manipulating the water supply to make metas lose their powers. In return for her move, Odell threw her in the black site prison called “The Pit.” The ASA allows Gen to go home for Christmas, only to invade her home and execute her father for helping to run an underground railroad with Reverend Holt.black-lightning-season-3-episode-9-review-the-book-of-resistance-chapter-four-earth-crisis

Jinn Pierce

The second, Jinn, worked directly with Odell, blowing up the Markovians and ending the war. Jinn is proud of her kills and struts around Freeland like she owns it. Her family holds an intervention. Her mother, sister, and father are all there. Enraged, Jinn kills her mother and sister easily and then faces off against her father in a one-on-one battle. He loses, and her whole family is dead.Black-Lightning-Season-3-Episode-09-11The whole episode gives us a sort of Ghosts of Christmas Future look at who Jen could be. It gives actress China Ann McClain the chance to act herself ragged as she swings from the desperation of Gen to the corrupted swagger of Jinn. Jen sees the benefits of her father’s code of honor versus Adrian Veidt’s “save a billion by killing a million” philosophy. She also sees the danger of being passive and in trying to act like someone with what amounts to nuclear powers can have a totally normal life.Black-Lightning-Season-3-Episode-09-22This episode ended up being a fun way to use the Crisis to look at what Jennifer, who is sure to be a crucial player in the episodes to come, has on her mind. However, just as she finished with her internal struggle, that pesky anti-matter wave wiped out her and everyone else on her Earth. This is the show’s mid-season finale, so we have to wait until 2020 to find out how things will resolve – both in terms of how the Arrowverse will restore Jen and her world and how that will play into everything happening in Freeland.