The Kids are Alright: Comic TV With Dan

If You’ll Permit Me, a Word About Black Lightning

Image: CW

A mild digression.

Black Lightning is still putting in solid superhero family action, but I don’t think it’s getting a full entry. So if I may, some quick bullet points about a superhero show that’s probably worth your time.

The Pierce Family: While the show might be called Black Lightning, the titular hero hardly hogs the spotlight. The show is about the entire Pierce family, and each of them have their own arc, whether it’s younger child Jennifer learning to control her powers, or older daughter Anissa developing a second costumed identity to Robin Hood some gangsters without besmirching her superhero self in the process.

Tobias Whale: Super-strong, seemingly ageless albino gang lord Tobias Whale starts making serious plays this season, after ceding “Big bad” status to rogue government agency the ASA last season. Without going into detail, because this is supposed to be fast, he does Kingpin’s arc from Daredevil season 3, only faster and better. Tobias clearing his name to re-enter society was more interesting, as we actually got to watch his machinations, instead of watching someone else find out what they were much, much later. And then he can move on to new machinations, attempting to build his own for-hire meta-army. Man. Black Lightning is all about shady people trying to be the first to market with meta-soldiers.

If I had one note on Tobias… well, two notes… While Marvin “Krondon” Jones has charisma and menace to spare as Tobias… I absolutely bought him as being a physical threat to Black Lightning even before he literally ripped a dude’s spine out for betraying him at one point… “Tobias rightfully confident” and “Tobias spiralling so bad that his allies all abandon him” were… kinda the same. Krondon plays his role very well (and luckily so, for as I’ve said in the past, there can’t be that many albino black actors who fit the role), but he doesn’t have Vincent d’Onofrio’s range. Also… the climactic showdown between Tobias and Black Lightning lacked the operatic power of the three-way showdown between Daredevil, Fake Daredevil, and Kingpin. Sure it was nice seeing Tobias get some needed comeuppance, but it ultimately felt a wee bit one-sided. We’d been waiting a season and a half for this fight, and it was a bit close to what the WWE would call a squash.

The 100: By the end of the first season, Tobias had assembled himself quite the criminal crew. Syonide, his right-hand woman, a lethal combatant; Painkiller, whose body produces a powerful sedative that he can fire in wrist-mounted darts; and the Tattooed Man (real name redacted), haunted by the people he’s killed, who tattoo themselves on his skin. In season two, Syonide dies, Painkiller has second thoughts about working for Tobias, and by the time Tattooed Man comes back from the dead the second time the season’s almost over, and he too hates Tobias. Sure Tobias picks up a new meta-powered assassin, but… I don’t know, she just wasn’t Syonide, you know? And inconsistently dangerous. Jennifer Pierce brings her down basically single-handed, but dozens of cops can’t lay a finger on her. That’s weird.

Villains as Heroes: One of the year’s mini-arcs involves trying to save a mother and her baby from two rival… cults? Gangs? Rural organizations?… one of which is led by a white pride woman able to control people by injecting them with a sort of living metal, named Looker.

[Deep sigh] Okay. So. Looker is not a villain. She was one of Black Lightning’s teammates, joining the original Outsiders once they broke ties with Batman and moved to LA. And sure she was a more problematic Outsider, since her origin was “mousy woman becomes supermodel with telekinesis,” but she was still a hero. Even when she was a vampire. I don’t have time to explain any of that, Google it if you want, I just don’t know why they keep making villains-of-the-week out of minor heroes. It’s weird.

The big flaw: Much of Jennifer’s arc, and through it a large chunk of the season, revolves around her relationship with her ex, Khalil. The issue is that after he got shot in the spine during a failed assassination attempt (a lot happens on this show, keep up), he became a huge dick to her*, even before he got powers and went to work for Tobias Whale. So when he starts trying to get back with her, I was not on board. When she decided to throw her life away to go on the run with him, I wasn’t even 100% sure how back together they were. And when she refused to leave him, saying she was “ride or die,” it wasn’t said out of love or passion, but stubbornness. Like she was describing a personality trait she’d decided to have, rather than her feelings for Khalil. She may as well have said “No, Khalil, Pottermore sorted me into Hufflepuff, and that means I’m loyal.”

(She also declined to have sex with him, but that was an “I’m not ready” thing, not an “I don’t love you” thing, and I’m not here to judge women’s choices about their sexuality, in either direction. I was amused that her older sister prescribed vigorous masturbation as a solution.)

*I may be white as Miracle Whip but even I know that calling your black girlfriend with straight hair “Becky” is a dick move. Unless her name actually is Becky. Which in this case it was not.

Anissa’s the more interesting daughter, that’s all I have to say on the matter.

(Also, for anyone wondering, no, it is still not conclusively part or not part of the Arrowverse as of yet. Will Black Lightning get to be part of Crisis on Infinite Earths this fall? I have no idea. But I’m not betting on it. They seem happy doing their own thing.)

(Also also, it’s not often a network show gets away with dropping the N-word, but Jefferson’s one ally on the school board… who turned out to be Robert Townsend, the Meteor Man himself… felt that Jefferson sarcastically calling him the school board’s “blaxpert” was a little too close to being called a “house n****r.” Well, if any network superhero show was going to get away with dropping that bomb, it was this one.)

Overall Grade: B+

If Jennifer were on everyone else’s level, it’d be higher on the list. Maybe next year. Anyhoo, back to Titans and Runaways.

Next Page: Villains who need some adjustment

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