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Be honest. How many times have you watched the trailer for the CW’s upcoming Black Lightning series? I’m somewhere in the double digits at this point, but I’m a little obsessive when it comes to this sort of thing.
The CW is making a bold move by revamping the old-school DC character who isn’t super familiar to general audiences. But given the character’s long history, Black Lightning’s buzz, and plenty of untapped content to work with more than justify the decision.
It’s safe to say one’s excitement for the new series depends on how much you know about the character going in. Luckily for you, you’re about to learn all you need to know about Black Lightning before the show premieres next year.
8 interesting facts about Black Lightning
1) Black Lightning blazed the trail for diversity in the DC Universe
Jefferson Pierce and his superhero alter ego Black Lightning were created by Tony Isabella with Trevor Von Eeden in 1977 and became DC Comics’ first major black superhero. At the time, most black characters in comic books were either minor characters or, even more disappointing, criminals. So Pierce’s story was a crucial and necessary break from DC comics’ confusing relationship with race.
But, it should be noted that Isabella was originally brought on board to work on a character that probably would’ve gone down as one of the most racially problematic characters in history. The Black Bomber, as he was called, was a white racist who would turn into a black man with super powers whenever he got too stressed out. DC should probably still be writing Isabella checks for making sure that never happened
2) Black Lightning’s powers didn’t always come naturally—but they do now
The biggest hint as to what Black Lightning’s powers are comes from his name. He can control electricity, obviously. But the way he’s able to do so hasn’t always been the same. In the beginning, Jefferson Pierce was just a really athletic guy who was determined to beat up thugs with the help of a belt that let him manipulate electricity. As time went on, he found that he had actually developed the ability to control electricity without the belt at all. Talk about a power up!
In the Black Lightning TV series, it looks like Pierce’s powers will come from within, not from his light-up outfit. If anything, the outfit helps him control and store his abilities. So, long story short, Black Lightning’s a metahuman.
3) Black Lightning is a role model as a hero and an Olympic athlete
Jefferson Pierce was crafted to be someone who kids in inner cities could look up and relate to. He grew up in the same kind of neighborhood many of them did, used his talents to reach his goals, and then came back home to help others do the same. In his case, he was a gold medal-winning Olympic athlete who didn’t mind settling down into life as a principal at his old high school. (Lots of athletes at the time couldn’t rely on sponsorships or crowdfunding to pay the bills, so this kind of work was normal.)
That Olympic-level training would go on to help him take up the vigilante/superhero lifestyle pretty quickly—especially since his event was decathlon. That’s 10 different skills in one, including the long jump, high jump, sprinting, hurdles, javelin, and more. It’s a lot easier to punch your way through a warehouse full of goons if you’re not out of breath two minutes in.
4) Black Lightning is also a family man
We don’t often see superheroes try to juggle their dangerous exploits while maintaining a family. Too often, heroes lean on the “Get away from me! You’re in danger!” trope and stay alone. But what happens when they’ve already got a family they can’t get away from because they’re not, you know, flighty assholes? That’s where we’ll pick up with Jefferson Pierce, as he’s raising his two daughters, Anissa and Jennifer. We already know they’ll play a prominent role in the TV series.
To make things even more exciting, the Pierce sisters actually develop powers of their own through their inherited metahuman genes. Anissa becomes a hero named Thunder and has the ability to increase her body density at will (think bulletproof and really, really heavy). Jennifer basically becomes a walking lightning bolt that can fly. They may have even better powers than their dad.
5) Some imposters have tried to fill Black Lightning’s shoes
Despite being around for almost exactly 40 years, Black Lightning hasn’t really had a major breakthrough in other forms of entertainment yet. You may have seen people you thought were Black Lightning, but they weren’t. Due to a longtime battle over the character’s rights between DC Comics and Tony Isabella, fans were stuck with a couple imposters with clear nods to the original over the years.
The most recognizable is likely Black Vulcan, an African American superhero who could throw lightning bolts in the Super Friends television series. While the character was based on Black Lightning, they aren’t one in the same. (And let us never forget Black Vulcan’s classic appearance on Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.)
There was also a clever nod to the character in the series about another electricity-wielding hero. But we’ll get back to that later.
6) Black Lightning has Superman’s respect, and they share something in common
Black Lightning may not be getting an appearance in the DC Extended Universe, but his role in the Justice League shouldn’t be ignored. Black Lightning is stamped and certified for approval by all the best, most notable heroes, including Superman, with whom he actually shares a hometown.
That’s right. Superman and Black Lightning both live in Metropolis. Although, very different parts of Metropolis, with Jefferson Pierce living and working on the South Side, aka Suicide Slum. Too bad no one remembered him at Superman’s funeral.
Throughout his career, Black Lightning has run solo, teamed up, and he’s been a member of top groups like the Outsiders and the Justice League. He even makes a handful of appearances in Young Justice. So don’t ever let yourself forget about his pedigree.
7) Black Lightning’s legend is still growing—and it needs a villain
The great thing about Black Lightning getting his own series is that his world will be expanded upon like never before. One of his biggest criticisms has always been how he doesn’t really have any major villains. His biggest headache is a local gang called The 100 that pushes drugs and guns into his neighborhood. The gang’s leader, Tobias Whale, is his closest thing to a rival. And that’s not saying a lot because Whale is basically Marvel’s Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk if you accidentally printed a smudgy, low-quality version of him that you could still recognize it you hold the paper up to the light.
The good news is that with weekly episodes, we could watch Jefferson Pierce face off against plenty of big baddies all his own. Besides, he can only beat up on gang members for so long before he starts to look like a bully.
8) Why fans keep rumbling for crossover with Static
Black Lightning’s creator, Tony Isabella, had stood firm on his stance of Black Lightning vs. Static for quite a while. (Static is a teen energy-wielder introduced to comics 1993 and later popularized in the CW animated series Static Shock.) Isabella respects both characters but has strong feelings that they should stay apart, and he views them as very different people.
While I respect that for a lot of reasons, I’ve got to admit, a Black Lightning-Static team-up is exactly what we all want! Especially if you were old enough to watch Static Shock as a kid. There was even an episode where Static teamed up with an older electricity user to take down a bad guy. That was supposed to be Black Lightning, but the use of the character couldn’t get cleared. (Let’s take a moment for what could’ve been…)
Oh, what’s that? We already got it in Young Justice? Who cares?! We could get it every week!
Keith Reid-Cleveland is a Chicago-based writer who has been covering geek culture, streaming entertainment, and politics for more than five years. His work has appeared in Uproxx, the Undefeated, Black Nerd Problems, and the Black Youth Project.