Move Over, Black Panther
Black Lightning may not be as well-known as Batman or Superman with the general public, but the character has been around for decades as a second-string member of the Justice League. Primarily known for being one of the first black superheroes, he receives his own adventures in a slick television update aimed at the usual CW crowd.
Executive Producer Greg Berlanti extends his television superhero empire on the CW with this bold first season. Headed by producer Salim Akil, Black Lightning breaks new ground for minority representation in superhero fare on television. Cress Williams as the titular superhero stars alongside China Anne McClain, Nafessa Williams, Christine Adams, and James Remar. It’s a perfect cast that has excellent chemistry.
This show has a slightly different pedigree than other CW superhero shows like Arrow or The Flash. Initially written as a project for Fox, Black Lightning was scooped up by the CW after Fox passed on the project. Those Fox roots show early in this first season in one of the year’s best and most striking pilots.
Written and directed more like Fox’s Empire than anything seen on the CW, Black Lightning has a distinct tone and style that sets it apart from the glossy fun of Supergirl or The Flash. The overarching themes feel familiar, stripping out many of the hokey trappings found in more lighthearted superhero fare. Laced with real issues like racism and police brutality, Black Lightning isn’t afraid to take on hot-button issues.
There isn’t much filler in the many twists and turns
There isn’t much filler in the many twists and turns
Black Lightning is an action-packed series that fully embraces a superhero tackling problems relevant to the Black experience in America. The show follows the trials and tribulations of one Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), a man hiding an amazing secret. As the father of two daughters and the principal of a charter high school, he is a hero to his community of Freeland. Freeland is a thinly-veiled fictional version of Atlanta, where the show is mostly filmed.
Nine years ago, Pierce was an actual superhero fighting crime. Gifted with the meta-human power to control electricity, he used those powers to keep his hometown safe as the masked vigilante Black Lightning. Pressured by his wife Lynn to give up his costumed identity for the sake of their two daughters, Anissa and Jennifer, he stopped playing superhero a decade ago. But when a menacing local gang known as The One Hundred make their presence felt in Freeland, Jefferson feels it’s time that Black Lightning returns. Aided by Giambi, an older father figure that supports Black Lightning’s crime-fighting, much like Alfred helping Batman, Jefferson’s return as a superhero will coincide with his daughters discovering their own powers. Each member of the family has slightly different powers.
The great thing about Black Lightning’s first season is the tight plotting and taut characterizations, probably helped by the shorter 13-episode season. There isn’t much filler in the many twists and turns that affect Jefferson and his close-knit family. One of the pivotal moments includes a fairly shocking, surprise death for a central character. The balance between superhero action and drama is well done, largely focusing on the relationships between the main characters. Jefferson and Lynn have their ongoing relationship problems, but the most interesting character development comes from the two daughters. Jennifer is the popular girl, afraid to embrace her powers. Anissa, a lesbian in college, wants to emulate Black Lightning’s crime-fighting after getting super-strength.
Every superhero show on the CW has needed a strong villain and Black Lightning actually provides several memorable enemies, including the ruthless Tobias Whale. The actor playing Whale practically steals the show whenever he appears, the rapper known as Krondon. It’s a fantastic performance with a lot of delicious scene-chewing. Like the fictional Tobias Whale, Krondon suffers from albinism.
The lamest villain and probably weakest recurring story-line is a fictional government agency known as the ASA that unfortunately is linked to the show’s superhero mythology. The season finale does include some completely unnecessary and lame virtue signaling if you are looking for current political references.
Black Lightning has a raw, more realistic approach to crime than the other superhero shows on the CW. It also embraces Black culture in a way those other shows would never touch. This first season is well-written with a strong cast, introducing several memorable characters like Tobias Whale that hopefully return next season.
The characters and the setting aren’t connected yet to the other superhero shows found on the CW, which is probably a good thing for the time being. There are rumors we might get more of a real crossover in future seasons. This is a solid first season with several great moments and a few questionable sub-plots.
The 1.78:1 presentation replicates the show’s HD broadcasts in better resolution with fewer artifacts. This 1080P Blu-ray video subtly improves upon the broadcast version with tighter colors and better shadow delineation. Black Lightning’s clean digital cinematography has sharp definition with impressive clarity. It’s a good-looking production that eschews dingy interiors for studio-shot locations and well-lit exteriors.
The thirteen episodes of season one are spread over two BD-50s. The AVC encode averages a modest figure in the teens. Some minor banding is introduced if you are intently looking for it. All in all, Black Lightning looks more impressive in HD and better lit than its fellow superhero shows Flash or Arrow. Its black levels are inky with superb shadow delineation. Close-ups have a healthy dose of high-frequency detail, revealing the razor-sharp definition and clarity.
WB has produced a fine Blu-ray set for Black Lightning with no technical issues. The A/V quality is beyond reproach for television content and immediately becomes the CW’s best-looking production on home video.
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio has a lively, crisp quality that works for the show’s rich musical palette, from classic Soul to modern Rap. This is clean, rich sound with tight dialogue and fairly expressive audio cues during the action sequences. Whenever Black Lightning or one of his daughters use their powers, the surround mix crackles with real intensity and thump. The occasional action scene utilizes a discrete, immersive approach with significant LFE. If you have heard the decent television mixes from producer Greg Berlanti’s prior DC superhero shows, this audio is on par with them.
The only included subs are English SDH, which display in a white font. Surprisingly, there are no secondary dubs included. You get the feeling WB doesn’t think Black Lightning has an audience beyond North America.
The days of a stacked television set with copious special features are over for Blu-ray. We should be grateful that WB continues pushing their CW superhero shows out on the format, as most studios have all but abandoned television on Blu-ray. Black Lightning receives the bare minimum sprinkling of featurettes and some deleted material. Once again the Comic-Con panel is probably the most interesting extra. It comes in a normal-sized Blu-ray with a slipcase.
This two-disc Blu-ray set does include an UltraViolet digital copy for the entire season, redeemable in HDX on sites like VUDU. Noticeably absent is a digital Movies Anywhere copy, which hasn’t expanded yet as a service beyond theatrical features.
It’s still up in the air how the Movies Anywhere studios, which includes WB, will handle digital television copies, if they service them at all. It’s basically WB left at this point still issuing digital UV copies with their television Blu-rays.
Art Imitating Life: The Pilot Episode (05:02 in HD) – This featurette has the show’s creator and primary showrunner, Salim Akil, explaining the pivotal scene in the pilot when Jefferson is pulled over by racist cops. Akil based the scene on an incident in his personal life.
A Family of Strength (07:09 in HD) – Producers Salim Akil and Pat Charles discuss Jefferson and his daughters.
Gag Reel (02:15 in HD)
Deleted Scenes (32:38 in HD) – Typically in a WB Blu-ray set this deleted material is attached in the menu to each episode. This time the deleted scenes are shown in continuous order. Like most cut material in a CW series, these are lesser filler scenes cut for time.
2017 Comic-Con Panel (17:25 in HD) – NPR’s Eric Deggans moderates this panel with the four primary cast members and producer Salim Akil. Having aired before the season was broadcast, the cast speaks in vague terms about their characters.
Come Visit Georgia PSA 1 (05:13 in HD)
Come Visit Georgia PSA 2 (06:02 in HD) – Crew members discuss why filming in Atlanta was important for Black Lightning.
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