Black Lightning is a historic yet often overlooked DC character. Unfortunately, many people don’t know much about DC’s first mainstream black superhero, his history and how it changed DC comics. Before you sit down to watch the live-action adaptation of “Black Lightning,” debuting on the CW Tuesday, Jan. 16 at 9 p.m., here are the Top 10 facts you should know.
1. Sorry to disappoint you, but Black Lightning is not Static Shock
This is a common mistake, but aside from both being black DC superheroes with more thunder than a Pikachu, Black Lightning and Static Shock have no relation. The fact that they have similar powers is addressed several times, and it’s later seen that Static Shock idolizes Black Lightning in both the “New 52 Teen Titans” comic series and the “Young Justice” TV show. (For those who don’t know who Static is, he’s a black teenage superhero with similar electric powers who gained popularity due to his 2000-2004 cartoon show “Static Shock.”) While fans have been demanding that Static make an appearance in one of the CW’s shows it is not certain that he’ll show up in “Black Lightning,” but we can always hope.
2. Black Lightning was the first black DC superhero to have his own series of comics
In April 1977, “Black Lightning” issue No. 1 was released and became DC’s first mainstream black superhero. Although the Green Lantern John Stewart predated Black Lighting by six years to be DC’s first black superhero, Stewart never really became a mainstream hero and did not get his own comic series until years later. “Black Lightning” was introduced by writer Tony Isabella and artist Trevor Von Eden. Black Lightning is also the first DC superhero with his own live-action prime time network series and he’s the first black DC hero with his own ongoing series since the animated “Static Shock” in the early 2000s. This is important as it paves the way for many more black superheroes in lead roles if this show is received well. Some could argue that Marvel’s “Luke Cage” did this almost a year earlier, but “Luke Cage” was on the streaming service Netflix and not mainstream TV. Either way, shows like “Black Lightning” and “Luke Cage” are leading the way to a more diverse world of heroes, and that is something I think we can all look forward to.
3. Black Lightning’s origins
The origin story for this character is not as complex as others, but it’s necessary to understand. Jefferson Pierce was a young teenager growing up on the South Side of Metropolis and was born with his electric abilities, but like most characters, he was scared of his powers and was taught to suppress them by a family friend named Peter Gamby. Eventually, he grew up, left the South Side and moved with his wife to Metropolis, where he would become a well-respected principal, known for cleaning up neighborhoods and the education system. He is later given a grant by Bruce Wayne to go back to his old home and clean things up. Unfortunately, he returns to see his former home terrorized by gang violence mostly by the ruthless gang known as the “100” and by a man named Tobius Whale, who was responsible for the death of Pierce’s father, reporter Alvin Pierce. After witnessing the death a student at his school, Pierce takes his fight for justice to the streets and becomes Black Lightning.
4. TV vs. Movie Universe
While Black Lightning is a DC property, it’s important to mention for people who don’t know that “Black Lightning” as well as other CW shows are not in the DC movie universe. So, don’t go into this show expecting to see the big screen Green Lantern and Batman come flying in on Wonder Woman’s invisible jet.
5. Black Lightning’s powers are CRAZY
Black Lightning’s powers involve electricity, which on the surface sounds pretty basic, but it can get pretty extreme. His powers can span anywhere from a simple lightning blast to teleportation. He can control electrons on an atomic level, meaning he can control the bioelectricity in all living things. With this power, he can control electrical impulses in the brain, like shutting down people’s nervous systems or shutting down organs at will. Using these powers, he can also heal people by triggering electric impulses in the body to repair damaged cells.
6. Black Lightning is a family man
Above all, Jefferson Pierce is a family man, and he fights to keep them safe. While many superheroes have a group of people or a loved one who helps them overcome their enemies, Black Lightning has his daughters and his wife to help him, along with his mentor. His family supports him and can be very helpful, considering both of his kids have powers, but we can get into that later. Jefferson Pierce is compassionate and cares about everyone in his community, from his daughters to random bystanders. He cared about people so much that when a bystander was killed during a fight, he lost his power because of the guilt he felt as his emotions blocked him from using his powers.
7. Thunder and lightning
Jefferson Pierce has two daughters, Anissa (Thunder) and Jennifer (Lightning) Pierce. Like their father, they each were born with different powers. Anissa can change her body’s mass but keep the same size. With this ability, she can become bulletproof, making her skin almost invincible and her body nearly immovable. She is also strong enough to stomp and create shockwaves. Jennifer shares abilities similar to that of her father with electrical manipulation. However, she uses her powers in more creative ways, like creating electric spikes around her and using electromagnetic fields to fly. One big thing of note: In the TV show Thunder and Lightning have both been aged up.
8. This show is set years after Pierce became Black Lightning
While the origin for Black Lightning has him returning to the south side from Metropolis to clean up crime, this show is set after Pierce’s initial run as Black Lightning. Here, he is a retired superhero, and his friends and family convince him to take up the mantle again. The story seems even more compelling now since we see that he gave it up years ago which makes you wonder what happened his first time around.
9. Black Lightning is not part of the CW Arrowverse
In somewhat surprising news, “Black Lighting” will initially not be in the Arrowverse, including the CW’s other popular DC shows “The Flash” and “Green Arrow.” While this may change later, as was the case with the former CBS and now CW series “Supergirl,” as of now, it will not be included in the CW Arrowverse. This could be a good thing, because this gives the writers more creative freedom. Hopefully, down the line we’ll see the hero of the South Side fighting alongside our favorite scarlet speedster, but for now we’ll have to wait and see.
10. Black Lightning Can’t Save the World But He Can Save His Hood
The biggest difference between “Black Lightning” and shows like “Arrow” or “Flash” are the scale of their work. Supergirl fights to protect the planet from alien threats, and the Flash and Arrow both fight to protect their cities — and sometimes the world. Black Lightning recognizes the scale of his power and abilities and knows he can’t save the world with thunder hands. However, he does protect his town. Black Lightning is a street-level hero, so while he might not protect the whole universe, he’ll never stop fighting for his neighborhood.
“Black Lightning” premieres on the CW, Tuesday, Jan. 16 at 9 p.m.
Chris, 15, attends DeKalb School of the Arts and is a comic book guru.