Finally, the CW is added a lead black superhero to its stable of DC shows. Black Lightning (executive producer: Sarah Schechter) premieres on Jan. 16, and fans are justifiably excited to see a character who casual fans may not know make it to the small screen. What happens in the Black Lightning comics may provide some clues as to how the series will play out, though it also sounds as if some changes are in store.
While not the first popular black superhero — that title goes to Black Panther who debuted in 1966 — Black Lightning was still comparatively early to arrive on the scene and very influential. Black Lightning made his comics debut in 1977 in his own series. Over the years, he would see a couple of different iterations but, each were relatively similar in their depiction. Each were based on Black Lightning and his alter ego, whose real name is Jefferson Pierce.
Pierce grew up in the slums of Metropolis in a neighborhood called the Suicide Slum because of just how bleak things were for those who lived there. He was born a metahuman and through the help of a close, family friend, Peter Gambi, learned to control his powers after the death of his father. He did not let his powers decide his life, at first, though. He excelled at school and athletics and went on to graduate college, as well as become an Olympic athlete.
After getting a higher education though, he wanted to help his community and returned to his former neighborhood to serve as principal of his former high school. However, he soon realized that to help the people living in his neighborhood he would need to be more than a teacher. He’d need an alter-ego to go against sleazy politician Tobias Whale and The 100 gang, who peddled drugs at school and and murdered one of his students. As his superhero career would progress, Pierce would ultimately go on to work with iconic superhero teams like the Justice League, as well as the Outsiders.
Black Lightning has been around for a while, but the character character got a revival in a new comic series just a few months before the premiere of the Black Lightning (executive producer: Mara Brock Akil). And he was revived by Tony Isabella, the creator of the original comics. But, in an interview with io9, Isabella warned that fans of Black Lightning should not expect to see the character exactly as he created it in the new TV series. He said:
“I look at the movies and TV shows as an opportunity that bring people who love these characters and give them a chance to experience them in a new way. It all comes back to core values, my mantra. If the same core values of the Flash are present on both the TV show and the Justice League movie and the comic book, a person’s going to enjoy all three.”
There will, of course be creative liberties taken and details changed about Black Lightning. The TV series’ creator, Salim Akil, has already touched on at least one of those creative liberties in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. Black Lightning has children in the comics, one of whom will eventually become a superhero in her own right. In the TV series, Anissa (aka Thunder) is a teacher at her father’s school, but in the comics, she’s still in school herself when she discovers her powers. “The great thing is what we get to see is her discover her powers so we get to take that journey with her," Akil told THR. "What I wanted to do with her — and Jefferson — is I didn't want powers to be all-positive. You know, you get powers and boom, you're great. I wanted to show the consequences of having powers.”
But, whether it remains close to the comics or not, Black Lightning the series is knocking down a very stubborn barrier when it comes to comic book TV.