Review: Black Lightning 1×1 (US: The CW; UK: Netflix)

At last, a middle-aged superhero

Black Lightning
Cress Williams as Black Lightning -- Photo: J Squared Photography/The CW -- © 2017 The CW Network

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Tuesdays on Netflix. Starts January 23

Oh look. Another superhero show on The CW. Who saw that coming? I mean it’s only got Arrow. And The Flash. And Supergirl. And DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. How can any TV network manage to get by with only four superhero shows. It seems inconceivable.

Yet here we are with Black Lightning, which on the face of it doesn’t look a radical departure. It has a black superhero at its core, but Arrow already has Mr Terrific, so admirable though it is, it’s not new for The CW. The budget’s no bigger than Arrow and the rest’s – indeed, it looks cheaper most of the time, despite all the night shooting intended to conceal the fact.

Yet, on the network for young adults, Black Lightning is indeed radical, because it’s about a middle-aged man. Throwing aside conventional origin stories, the show picks up nearly a decade after electrically-charged superhero Black Lightning (Cress Williams) hung up his costume and lightning bolts so that he could settle down, look after his family and become the principal of a local high school.

However, despite the best efforts of the police, particularly Damon Gupton (The Player), a new gang called The 100 has moved into town and is taking over. When they start threatening his school and his teenage daughters (China Anne McClain and Nafessa Williams), Williams decides enough is enough and with the help of an old pal (appropriately enough, former Thunder God James Remar), steps up to protect the neighbourhood by resurrecting Black Lightning.

Easy middle-age

Now, it has to be said, despite being even older than I am, Cress Williams seems to be having a super-powered middle age. Not for him clicky knees when he stands up and without having trained in martial arts for years, he can still do a speedy roundhouse kick without pulling a tendon. Getting shot? A mere flesh wound.

Okay, he’s got super strength, as well as the ability to control electricity, but let’s have some sense of reality. Clearly this a show written by young people, who don’t really know what’s still to come for them. Even if you couldn’t have guessed from the school setting that the network is hedging their bets about the strength of the show’s appeal to the ‘starting to grey and where’d that tummy come from?’ demographic, the end of the first episode suggests that younger superheroes are going to be around. Maybe they can let him have a breather now and then.

All the same, kudos on not only having most of the action revolve around family man Williams and his family problems, but also having the even older Remar as Williams’ quasi-Alfred.

DC’s Luke Cage

Trouble is, while Black Lightning may stand apart from the rest of The CW shows in terms of age, it then gets lumbered with having to deal with all the same issues as Marvel’s Luke Cage. He’s going to stand up and look after his community (check). He’s got to demonstrate how to be a Good Black Man (check). He’s got to deal with gang violence (check). He’s got to survive encounters with the police without being shot on suspicion of being black (check).

There’s a certain “been there, done that” to the plot, if not the character himself.

Nevertheless, the show is different enough from the Arrowverse, which it fortunately doesn’t occupy so crossovers are off the cards for now, that Black Lightning doesn’t feel like YA superhero show. It could do with having better fights. It could do with having a different kind of enemy to face. But it’s a good start at least.

I just hope he doesn’t get a bad back.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.