Review: BLACK LIGHTNING Pilot 'Best in the DCTV Universe'

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Credit: Warner Bros.
The ever-expanding DCTV Universe is about to drop Black Lightning. With a lead-up buzz like the anticipation that surrounded Supergirl when it launched in 2015, it is evident that a lot of fans have a lot riding on this show and the pilot does an excellent job addressing these hopes and concerns - although not always in the way that you might suspect.
 
Black Lightning open with the typical CW DCTV voice over monologue - but it’s not from the series star Cress Williams who plays the eponymous lead. Instead, we hear Nafessa Williams’ speaking as her character: Anissa Pierce, the titular hero’s daughter. Having Black Lightning framed from the future hero’s perspective is such an immediately unique aspect of the show. Whereas Arrow and Flash have branched out an embraced the legacy characters that were so beloved in their original comic book series, Black Lightning is putting them on display from the very beginning.
 
As someone who lives for legacy characters this was an excellent sign as far as I was concerned. Later in her comic book career as Thunder, Anissa goes on to be a member of the Outsiders. Considering her prominence in the pilot - and that her Outsiders teammate Grace Choi also plays a role in this pilot (more on that later) – that Anissa’s presence in Black Lightning could eventually mean the introduction of what was originally Batman’s strike team is pretty incredible.
 
The first narrative scene in Black Lightning is deeply rooted in social issues of the modern day. Jefferson Pierce is waiting at a Freeland police station to retrieve his eldest daughter - the aforementioned Anissa - who has been arrested for protesting a local gang known as the 100. From these opening moments we already know a lot about Anissa besides the fact that she has a father, a sister and is a medical student. We know that she is an activist. I doff my cap to the Black Lightning writers for folding this into Anissa’s character. It’s comic book-y fun because she’s doing her best to combat the encroaching rule of the 100 (a gang that is a long time staple of the Black Lightning comic books), but it also shows that genre shows can and should reflect important issues out in the world. Anissa’s activism reflects movements in contemporary society like Black Lives Matter and Me Too.
 
Nafessa Williams handles all of these aspects in her performance as Anissa with apparent ease. Even when she is arguing with her father she is rational and likeable - which is quite an accomplishment considering the fact that Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce is a bag of charm with charisma for days. From their very first scene both characters come off as fully realized family members who do love each other even when they’re angry.
 
It is actually this level of dedication that Jefferson Pierce has to Anissa and her sister Jennifer (China Anne McClain, who is a ball of fire in this episode), and to his role in protecting the city of Freeland that facilitates his return to the mantle of Black Lightning. This pilot episode is aptly named "Resurrection." It doesn’t take Jefferson very long to put his metahuman powers on display following a string of incidents: Anissa’s arrest, being dragged from his car by the police based solely on the color of his skin, Jennifer almost being kidnapped by the 100, a gunman appearing at his school. More than perhaps any other CW DCTV character we can understand both why the Black Lightning persona went away for a time and why at this moment it absolutely must come back.
 
I’d also like to take a quick second to shout out the Black Lightning effects department because his powers look awesome!
 
The final moments of the episode make “Resurrection” stand apart from other DCTV pilots. Without spoiling the scene exactly, we do see that Anissa has inherited more than just her father’s appetite for justice. During the previously mentioned gunman scene, Anissa steps up and tries to confront the would-be shooter before her father steps in. With the emergence of metahuman abilities of her own so early (Jesse Wells and Killer Frost, for example, don’t appear until the second season of The Flash), teases a complicated experience for father and daughter to bond over.
 
Family is an ongoing theme across superhero narratives and in the CW DCTV universe. In many cases it is presented through the lens of a found family. However in Black Lightning it is very much a nuclear family. Jefferson and his ex-wife Lynn (Christine Adams), are cordial in the wake of having their marriage ruined and family ripped apart by superheroics and it would appear that the reemergence of superheroics in the Pierce family is going to bring the father closer to both daughters.
 
Anissa’s costume as Thunder has already been revealed, and with that graphic out in the world, the final scene in "Resurrection" leaves the question of when she is going to be hitting the streets of Freeland herself? We also know that she is going to have a female love interest in this first season (Grace Choi played by Chantal Thuy), giving her a trifecta of underrepresented communities to bring to life on screen. 
 
By my estimation, "Resurrection" is the strongest pilot we have ever seen in the DCTV universe. The show knows exactly who it represents, what it wants to say and has a visual language that makes it immediately distinct from its predecessors. From the opening of Black Lightning we know that Anissa has an outspoken voice that demands to be heard. We know that Jefferson is willing to fight the good fight on any front necessary. Together they are certain to be an unstoppable team. 
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