Superheroes are all the rage when it comes to popular entertainment and because of their popularity and ubiquity, some are starting to grow weary of them and some of their overly familiar tropes. One of these clichés is the often hashed and rehashed origin story. While these are necessary in many cases, it falls on the creators to deliver these tales in new ways… or to simply avoid them.
That will be the case with ‘Black Lightning’ which debuts on The CW next year, created by married couple Salim and Mara Brock Akil. When viewers meet Jefferson Pierce, played by Cress Williams, he will be past his prime and long retired from the vigilante game. Why? Salim Akil explained:
“Why are we starting it in the middle? Not an origin story? We did that because I wanted him to be fully out of the game. What’s interesting to me is not what you’re doing; it’s why you quit and then why are you pulled back in, right? So he quit because of the love of his family: ‘I love my wife. I love my kids. And I’m coming home beat up.’ And if you guys have seen the trailer, you’ve seen that image of him in the tub. You can imagine having to deal with something like that, what, once a month. And so, when [Jefferson’s ex-wife Lynn] says, ‘Look, I need you to stop for the love of your family,’ he did! Nine good years, right, you’re on the wagon.”
“Because your superpowers can be like a drug, right? So she’s telling him to get off this drug. So I wanted to see and hear what it was like, so that as we walk down the road of him coming back, we knew what he was headed for. And now we know what his daughters are headed for as well. So that’s kind of why we started right there.”
But Lynn (Christine Adams) is his ex-wife. Jefferson retired “For the hope of getting her back!” says Mara Brock Akil. With that failed, she says of the series, “… we have two origin stories!… Storytelling keeps you leaning in. That’s our job to keep pumping them out!”
As Salim Akil mentioned, the show will explore the Pierce daughters, Anissa and Jennifer (Nafessa Williams, China Anne McClain) as they begin to develop powers and explore crime fighting careers of their own. In the comics and cartoons, Anissa is Thunder and has gravitational powers, while Jennifer has electrical powers as Lightning.
Series star Williams states his character’s advanced age will make things more difficult to get back in the swing of things when it comes to leaping from rooftop to rooftop:
“Like the real human aspect of it, you know? That some days it’s going to be hard to get out of bed. As a person of a certain age, you’re like, ‘Oh. That hurts!’ Almost similar to Indiana Jones, that he’s not the perfect hero. Indiana Jones kind of bumbles through things. He gets hurt, and it doesn’t feel so good. Black Lightning can be that kind of hero. I’m excited about that.”
No rapid healing like The Flash and certainly no imperviousness like Supergirl. How do you feel about an older, more grounded hero? Will that give a fresh spin to televised superheroes?
There is no set release date for ‘Black Lightning’ beyond 2018. The show is executive produced by the Akils, Greg Berlanti, and Sarah Schechter. The pilot was co-written by the Akils with Salim Akil directing. The series stars Cress Williams, Christine Adams, China Anne McClain, Nafessa Williams, Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III, Damon Gupton and James Remar.