‘Black Lightning’ Is Pulp With a Purpose


What stands out about “Black Lightning” are not the scenes in which the title hero zaps a gajillion volts of justice through a crew of murder-minded gang members. You can already see that sort of thing on CW — home to “The Flash,” “Supergirl,” “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” and “Arrow” — and the rest of superhero-supersaturated TV.

What you don’t see so often on this youth-oriented network is what happens after. Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), the hero’s middle-aged alter ego, lies in bed, sore and moaning from the exertion. “Black Lightning is getting too old for these streets,” he says.

The other distinctive part of the show is, of course, the “Black” in the title. “Black Lightning” is immersively, not incidentally, black: The good guys and bad guys, teachers and students, victims and criminals and reporters are mainly African-American.

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“Luke Cage” and “Marvel’s Runaways” have diversified the comics-TV lineup. (“Black Panther” arrives in theaters in February.) But this show’s race-forward sensibility and its older protagonist, conflicted about getting back into the game, give “Black Lightning” its spark.

The series was developed by Salim Akil, who produces with his wife, Mara Brock Akil; the two have worked together on “Girlfriends,” “The Game” and “Being Mary Jane.” Producers also include Greg Berlanti, of CW’s other comics franchises, but this show has a different sensibility. It’s pulpy entertainment with a sense of purpose.

Most superhero series, for instance, begin with young protagonists discovering their powers. “Black Lightning,” airing Tuesdays, is the reluctant comeback story of a hero grappling with heroism’s limits.

By day, Jefferson is a high school principal, something of a local hero for his outreach to troubled students. Until nine years ago, though, he patrolled the fictional city of Freeland, wearing a space-age electro-suit that one observer likens to a Parliament-Funkadelic outfit.