The CW has added a new face to its stable of crime-fighters — meet Black Lightning, a retired superhero who is now principal at a charter high school trying to help kids who may not be growing up in the most ideal circumstances. But just how does he fit into the DC Comics universe?
Jefferson Pierce, aka Black Lightning, got his start in the comics in 1977. He is one of the metahumans, which is kind of like DC's version of the mutants from the Marvel Universe. Other DC metahumans include Barry Allen (The Flash), Kara Zor-El (Supergirl), Clark Kent/Kal-El (Superman), Diana Prince (Wonder Woman), and even Tobias Whale, the villain of the Black Lightning comics and TV series.
In the comics, Pierce hails from a southside slum of Metropolis and eventually becomes part of Batman's superhero team called the Outsiders, which also originally included lesser-known superheroes Metamorpho, Geo-Force, Katan, Halo, and Looker.
The creators of the show, however, wanted to use the comic books as a jumping-off point to tell their own stories with these characters, so they changed the location to the fictional city of Freeland and so far have kept the crime-fighting strictly limited to Black Lightning. The writers have also included Pierce's daughters, Anissa and Jennifer, who comic fans know eventually become superheroes in their own right, called Thunder (Anissa) and Lightning (Jennifer).
Executive producer Salim Akil, who also directed the premiere episode, told me at the 2018 TCA Winter press tour that he wanted to make the show his own.
"Tony Isabella, who was an original writer of Black Lightning, steeped the character in a social setting that is sort of consistent with where we are today. But other than that, I took the characters and ran with them," Akil said. "There are a lot of similarities, but I think what we did with the characters, as Tony has said, is singularly my vision. So I took all of the bones that Tony set and expanded on it in bringing it to television."
So while Black Lightning and his family do exist in the Arrow-verse, they weren't exactly fighting crime alongside Oliver Queen or Barry Allen.
Of course, CW superhero show viewers know that crossover episodes have become an annual tradition for Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow, so what does Akil think about Black Lightning joining in on the crossover fun?
"Right now, I just want to stay away from [the crossovers]," he said. "I really want people to get to know this family. I get the importance of the crossovers and they do great ratings and all of that, and I'm not dismissing that, but right now, this season, there's not going to be any crossovers." But if they were to try to pull it off, Akil laughed and said, "We gonna bring Supergirl down to the ghetto!"
He added, "His dude was Batman. So put it out there, Batman needs to be on Black Lightning."