Why Did Black Lightning Retire? The Comics Tell A Different Story Than The CW Series
Shockwaves were sent across television screens when The CW’s newest superhero series premiered on Jan. 16. Black Lightning (executive producer: Mara Brock Akil) follows a father named Jefferson Pierce, who retired from the superhero game nine years prior, but is reluctantly pulled back into a life of crime-fighting when a local gang threatens his family. And between the flashbacks of his old life and the heroic praise from the community calling for his return in the episode, some may be wondering why did Black Lightning retire in the first place? Spoilers for the premiere!
The action-packed premiere of Black Lightning (executive producer: Sarah Schechter) begins with Jefferson (Cress Williams) living a quiet life as a school principal and parenting his two daughters, Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain). On the surface Jefferson's a pretty ordinary guy: a single parent, a caring educator, and basically a pillar in his community. But underneath it all he holds a secret: Jefferson was once a masked vigilante with the ability to harness and control electricity. His ex-wife Lynn, a neurobiologist, and tailor, Peter Gambi, are the only two people who know about Jefferson’s former secret identity, with Lynn not being a fan at all. Viewers quickly learn that Lynn’s opposition to Jefferson being Black Lightning is what eventually led to their divorce.
Based on the DC comic book series of the same name, Black Lightning had one main enemy: Tobias Whale, a heavy-set crime lord and leader of the 100 Gang. A play on his name, this character's weapon of choice is a harpoon. Through flashbacks, viewers learn that Tobias and his gang almost fatally wounded Black Lightning on multiple occasions. Left to pick up the pieces every time was Jefferson's wife Lynn. But after too many nights of him lying in a bloody bathtub, as shown in flashbacks, she forced Jefferson to choose: her and his family, or being Black Lightning. Jefferson chooses the former, which is why he's in retirement in Episode 1, but the original comic takes a semi-different route.
While Lynn is still opposed to Jefferson's side-career in the comics, they just got divorced and he went on fighting crime. It isn't until Black Lightning decided to go work for President Lex Luthor as Secretary of Education of the United States that he hung up his spandex suit, according to the DC Wiki. But the thrill of fighting evil and saving the community pulled him back in and was later released from his political job. Next he joined the "Outsiders" — along with Batman, Geo-Force and Metamorpho and more.
Obviously there's similarities between the two mediums — like Jefferson's retiring to work in education and his return to it born out of a passion for fighting injustice — though the CW series delves way deeper into Jefferson's motivations for retiring, what brings him back out in present day, and his family life. This is unlike the comic, which focuses strictly on Black Lightning's origin story and crime-fighting.
The gaps in the comic's backstory is exactly why Black Lightning executive producer Salim Akil decided against an origin story. "I wanted him to be fully out of the game," Akil told Comic Book Resources. "What’s interesting to me is not what you’re doing; it’s why you quit and then why are you pulled back in."
In the series Jefferson gives up being Black Lightning 100 percent because of his family, which is ironically the same reason he gets pulled back in. While on his way to a benefit gala one night, a racial-profiling incident with the cops brought Jefferson’s powers back to the forefront as he kills the battery in the squad car out of anger. To Jefferson this seems like an isolated incident, but what he doesn't realize at the time is it's only the start of a new beginning for Black Lightning.
Jefferson's forced to use his powers again when his daughters are kidnapped by the 100 Gang. The community is reeling with questions wondering if Black Lightning is back — much to Lynn's dismay. He promises her that he's not "addicted" to his powers and is done being Black Lightning.
For now this is true, but obviously Jefferson's promise won't last long. And what's going to happening on Black Lightning when Lynn finds out that Jefferson isn't the only superhero in her life? Something tells me her reaction to Anissa (a.k.a. Thunder) breaking that sink, won't be good.