REVIEW: BLACK LIGHTNING – SEASON 1

Black-Lightning-Base-Image

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.

REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED – SEASON 2

Main Cast

Kevin Conroy (Justice League Doom)
George Newbern (Law & Order: SVU)
Susan Eisenberg (Lego aquaman)
Phil LaMarr (Futurama)
Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville)
Carl Lumbly (Alias)
Maria Canals (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns)

MV5BMTk1MDgzMTYzN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTUwOTM2MjE@._V1_

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Powers Booth (Sin City)
Corey Burton (Critters)
Seymour Cassel (Dick Tracy)
Takayo Fischer (Moneyball)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
James Remar (Black Lightning)
Gina Torres (Firefly)
John DiMaggio (Futurama)
Giselle Loren (Happy Feet)
Malcolm McDowell (Halloween)
Kim Mai Guest (G.I. Joe: Reneages)
Nicholle Tom (Gotham)
Kin Shriner (Manhunter)
Michael Beach (Aquaman)
Ron Perlman (Hellboy)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Alexis Denisof (Avengers Assemble)
Raphael Sbarge (Once Upon a Time)
Juliet Landau (Aquaman)
David Ogden Stiers (Two Guys and a Girl)
Sab Shimono (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III)
Nathan Fillion (Firefly)
J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man)
CCH Pounder (Avatar)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Oded Fehr (V)
Ted Levine (The Silence of The Lambs)
Lauren Tom (Bad Santa)
Morena Baccarin (Gotham)
Amy Acker (The Gifted)
Virgina Madsen (Highlander II)
Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator)
Joanne Whalley (Willow)
Hector Elizondo (The Princess Diaries)
Robin Atkin Downes (Babylon 5)
Michael Ironside (Scanners)
Bud Cort (MASH)
Daniel Dae Kim (Lost)

MV5BMjQwMjQ0MTUzM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTAwOTM2MjE@._V1_Since I was just a young lad, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm have been showing me exactly what a superhero should be. They were some of the people behind the sublime Batman: The Animated Series, which is the definitive version of Batman in my eyes. They helped bring a certain Kryptonian to television screens in the late ’90s, taking an extra step into forming a coherent version of the DC universe to life. Hell, they even went so far as to help create a true successor to the Dark Knight. After doing all this, they managed to bring a clean, faithful and truly amazing assortment of champions of the DC Universe to life, showing us all exactly what a superhero should be.MV5BMTQxMjk3MTgxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDAwOTM2MjE@._V1_JLU – Season Two  remains faithful to its source material, which isn’t something you’ll find too often when translating a comic to a TV show or movie; whether it’s Green Arrow humming his own theme music while he’s fighting villains to Batman always being the baddest man in the room, the show conveys everything perfectly. A huge strength of the show lies within its voice talent, which is an assortment of voice-over veterans that have had some time to perfect their takes on characters: Kevin Conroy expertly delivers every line as Batman; Michael Rosenbaum has a wonderful, playful performance as Flash; and Clancy Brown is nothing short of brilliant as the ever-scheming, truly egotistic Lex Luthor. Though some of these actors have had over a decade to perfect their take on their respective characters, the guest stars who have little to no VO experience, much less know their characters, manage to be spot-on with their takes, making their characters memorable and charismatic.MV5BMTk4NTY4ODY4NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDYwOTM2MjE@._V1_Not only that, some of the guest stars who appear are more than enough to cause a nerdgasm to any self-respecting comic geek. Names like Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Amy Acker, Morena Baccarin, Juliet Landau, Michael Ironside, James Remar, and Daniel Dae Kim all bring their characters to life in the best way possible, creating a lasting impact on the series. As the series progressed from the seven core heroes, requiring the talent of so many guest stars, some viewers may be inclined to think, “Wow, DC has a lot of lame heroes in its roster.” Almost at the exact point in the series that the thought occurred to me, the show comes out swinging with the episode “Patriot Act,” hitting the nail on the head. This episode has an Incredible Hulk type character wanting to face off against the JLU varsity squad (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc&#Array;), but what he gets is a slew of D and E-list heroes, like Stargirl, S.T.R.I.P.E., Shining Knight, Vigilante, Green Arrow and Speedy.MV5BMzcyNjI0Nzc5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODI5ODM2MjE@._V1_Though you may be thinking “who?” at this roster of leaguers, and though they get thoroughly trounced, the episode manages to make the point of despite who they’re fighting, these champions won’t ever quit, and it’s a theme that’s brought up more than once during the series without beating you over the head with it nor becoming cheesy, and that’s fine by me. The writing of the series is easily its greatest strength as it has fun with its storylines and it’s very obvious that everyone involved knows their craft. They don’t bother setting up any more characters – they already had four seasons to do so. Rather than exploring the universe further, they jump into tales that can be enjoyed by newcomers and longtime fans alike. The main story-arc of the season is a huge nod to an older crowd as it deals with the Legion of Doom – well, maybe not in name, but without a doubt in spirit: A gaggle of villains led by Lex Luthor who use a giant Darth Vader helmet as a base of operations.MV5BOTE5NTA5MTc1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTIwOTM2MjE@._V1_If that isn’t the Legion of Doom, I don’t know what is. The storyline revolves around Luthor’s quest to reunite with Braniac and become a god. Unfortunately, he unleashes one of the most dangerous and powerful foes in the DC universe and the events that follow make for one satisfying bookend to one of the most prolific takes on a comic universe.

REVIEW: BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD – SEASON 1-3

Image result for batman the brave and the bold logo

MAIN CAST

Diedrich Bader (Vampires Suck)

MV5BNTQ4MDU3NDQ5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjc0OTM3MjE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1445,1000_AL_

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Dee Bradley Baker (American Dad)
Will Friedle (Batman Beyond)
Jason Marsden (Full House)
James Arnold Taylor (Star Wars: The Clone Wars)
Marc Worden (Ultimate Avengers)
Grey DeLisle (The Replacements)
John Dimaggio (Futurama)
Tom Kenny (Super hero Squad)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Corey Burton (Critters)
R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket)
Scott Menville (Teen Titans)
Vyvan Pham (Generator Rex)
Bumper Robinson (Sabrina: TTW)
Mikey Kelley (TMNT)
Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville)
Will Wheaton (Powers)
Xander Berkeley (Kick-Ass)
Loren Lester (Batman: TAS)
Phil Morris (Smallville)
Jeff Bennett (James Bond Jr.)
Oded Fehr (The Mummy)
Ellen Greene (Pushing Daisies)
Armin Shimmerman (Star Trek: DS9)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Tom Everett Scott (Scream: The Series)
Billy West (Futurama)
Jeffrey Tambor (The Hangover)
Paul Reubens (Gotham)
Diane Delano (Jeepers Creepers II)
Peter Woodward (Crusade)
Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)
James Remar (Flashforward)
Jeffrey Combs (Gothman)
Ioan Grufford (Ringer)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
William Katt (Carrie)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Tress MacNeille (Futurama)
Hynden Walch (The Batman)
Kevin Conroy (Batman: TAS)
Mark Hamill (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Adam West (BAtman 60s)
Julie Newmar (Batman 60s)
Dana Delany (Body of Proof)
Tony Todd (Chuck)
Peter Scolari (Gotham)
Cree Summer (Batman Beyond)
Steve Blum (Wolverine and Thje X-Men)
John Wesley Shipp (The Flash)
Alan Tudyk (Firefly)
Olivia D’Abo (Conan The Destroyer)
Mae Whitman (Independence Day)
Fred Tatasciore (Hulk Vs)
Vanessa Marshall (Star Wars: Revels)
John Michael Higgins (Still Waiting)
Michael Jai White (Arrow)
Morena Baccarin (Gotham)
Tippi Hedren (The Birds)
Gary Owens (That 70s Show)
Ted McGinley (No Good Nick)
Henry Winkler (Happy Days)

There’s a gloriously meta moment in the back half of this season of Batman: The Brave and the Bold where the show’s producers are raked over the coals at Comic-Con. One of the twentysomethings in the crowd grouses and groans about how the Caped Crusader in the cartoon isn’t his Batman, and…well, he’s not wrong. DC’s comics anymore are joylessly grim and gritty…22 monthly pages of misery and scowling and torture and dismemberment and death and high collars and way too much crosshatching. Batman: The Brave and the Bold, meanwhile, is defined by its vivid colors and clean, thick linework. It’s a series whose boundless imagination and thirst for high adventure make you feel like a six year old again, all wide-eyed and grinning ear to ear.


You know all about The Dark Knight’s war on crime, and in The Brave and the Bold , he’ll duke it out against any badnik, anywhere. He doesn’t go it alone, either, with every episode pairing Batman up with at least one other DC superhero. Heck, to keep it interesting, The Brave and the Bold shies away from the obvious choices like Superman and Wonder Woman. Instead, you get more interesting team-ups like Blue Beetle (more than one, even!), Elongated Man, Wildcat, Mister Miracle, Kamandi, and B’wana Beast.
Other animated incarnations of Batman have been rooted in something close enough to reality. Sure, you might have androids and the occasional Man-Bat, but they tried to veer away from anything too fantastic. The Brave and tbe Bold has free reign to do just about whatever it wants. One week, maybe you’ll get an adventure in the far-flung reaches of space with a bunch of blobby alien amoebas who mistake Batman for Blue Beetle’s sidekick. The next might offer up Tolkien-esque high fantasy with dragons and dark sorcery. Later on, Aquaman and The Atom could play Fantastic Voyage inside Batman’s bloodstream, all while the Caped Crusader is swimming around in a thirty-story walking pile of toxic waste. He could be in a Western or a post-apocalyptic wasteland or a capes-and-cowls musical or even investigate a series of grisly something-or-anothers alongside Sherlock Holmes in Victorian England.

Batman has markedly different relationships with every one of those masked heroes. There’s the gadget geekery with an earlier incarnation of the Blue Beetle. With the younger, greener-but-still-blue Beetle, Batman takes on more of a mentor role.

More of a stern paternal figure for Plastic Man, and a rival for Green Arrow. Sometime it might not even be the most pleasant dynamic, such as a decidedly adult Robin who doesn’t feel like he can fully step outside the long shadow that Batman casts.

There are some really unique takes on iconic (and not so iconic!) DC superheroes here, and far and away the standout is Aquaman. This barrel-chested, adventure-loving braggart is my favorite incarnation of the king of the seven seas, and if Aquaman ever scores a cartoon of his own, I hope he looks and acts a lot like this. Oh, and The Brave and the Bold does a spectacular job mining DC’s longboxes for villains too, and along with some of the familiar favorites, you get a chance to boo and hiss at the likes of Kanjar Ro, The Sportsmaster, Kite Man, Gentleman Ghost, Chemo, Calendar ManKing, Crazy Quilt, and Shrapnel. The Brave and the Bold delivers its own versions of Toyman, Vandal Savage, and Libra while it’s at it, the latter of whom has the closest thing to a season arc that the series inches towards.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold is every bit as fun and thrilling as you’d expect from a series where every episode’s title ends with an exclamation point. Each installment is fat-packed with action, and the series has a knack for piling it on in ways I never saw coming. Even with as imaginative and off-the-walls as The Brave and the Bold can get, it still sticks to its own internal logic, so the numerous twists, turns, and surprises are all very much earned.

The majority of the episodes have a cold open not related to the remainder of the episode. Despite its episodic nature, if you’re expecting a big storyline in these 26 episodes, you’re going to be pretty disappointed as the extent of an overarching story in the season is the occasional villain that appears more than once, like Starro, but that’s really the only connecting bridge between episodes.

Season 2 contains one of my favorite episodes of not only this particular season, but probably in the entire series, “Chill of the Night!”, which goes back to Batman’s origins as Bruce Wayne learns more about the man who murdered his parents, turning him into the crime-fighter he would become, it’s one of the most well known origin stories in media, ever, but it’s done so well here. Another reason I love this episode is my blinding nostalgia for the voice cast.

The original 1960’s Batman, Adam West, guest stars as Batman’s father, Thomas Wayne, while Julie Newmar, who starred opposite of West as Catwoman from the original Batman TV show, plays Batman’s mother, Martha Wayne. My favorite Batman of all time, theatrical or not, Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman from Batman: The Animated Series and various other series/movies/games, voices the Phantom Stranger. Lastly, the baddie of the episode, The Spectre, is voiced by none other than Mark Hamill, the definitive voice of the Joker.

The Episodes in season 3 are wildly imaginative; so much so that purists will probably be put off, at least initially. They range from “Night of the Batmen”, where batman is incapacitated and it is up to Aquaman, Green Arrow, Captain Marvel, and Plastic Man to don the cowl, and keep gotham safe. As weird as that may sound, this episode is pure fun, and a joy to watch. Other stand outs are the never before seen in the states “The Mask of Matches Malone”, “Shadow of the Bat”, “Scorn of the Star Sapphire”, and “Powerless”.

Special mention has to be made of the final episode of the series however, “Mitefall”. In this meta episode, Batmite does a fantastic job breaking down why the series is ending, and the disconnect of the so-called “purists”, whose baseless, closed minded, ignorance eventually doomed this excellent series.

When all is said and done, we received three outstanding, and criminally underrated, seasons and it is a joy to see.