Last year marked the fifth anniversary of the Arrowverse, so it’s only fitting that The CW/DC TV universe has adding a fifth series to its slate. The network issued a TV pilot order for Black Lightning, a series pitch from Greg Berlanti, Mara Brock Akil, and Salim Akil and later ordered a 13-episode run which debuts on January 16. However, Berlanti has stated that Black Lightning will not be part of the Arrowverse.
On a logistical level, the decision to keep Black Lightning out of the Arrowverse makes sense. Being part of the Arrowverse demands participation in the annual crossover. It’s a huge commitment for the series’ production crews, as well as fans who must keep up with everything to understand the crossover. Yet, even if Black Lightning isn’t part of the Arrowverse, it will still diversify The CW’s superhero slate in several ways.
Black Lightning isn’t as well known as the other Arrowverse heroes, and maybe that’s a good thing
Debuting in 1977, Jefferson Pierce, a.k.a. Black Lightning, was the first black superhero to receive his own ongoing series from DC Comics. Nevertheless, he’s not as well known as the Arrowverse’s current headliners. To date, Black Lightning has only received two solo comic series. His last one ended in 1996, over two decades ago. Since then, the character has bounced around the DC Universe.
Throughout his publication history, Black Lightning usually found a home with Batman’s Outsiders. Yet, that still didn’t afford him the same enduring popularity as that of Green Arrow, Flash, and Supergirl — even before all three of them received their own TV series within the Arrowverse. Black Lightning is more obscure compared to Green Arrow, Flash, and Supergirl. And perhaps that’s a good thing.
There’s a lot of room to develop Black Lightning as a TV protagonist and establish his platform as a crime-fighter. As of late, he’s received limited roles in DC’s animated properties. Most recently, he was a recurring character in Young Justice Season 2, which positioned him — for the first time in DC’s history — as a potential mentor for Static (Virgil Hawkins). I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how a live-action series can reestablish Jefferson Pierce’s star status within the DC Universe.
Black Lightning could bring a fresh voice to the predictable mix of Arrowverse shows
Whereas the cinematic DC Extended Universe continues to be an oppressively depressing place, the Arrowverse suffers from perhaps the opposite problem. At times, some of the superhero shows get far too campy. Without a doubt, the Arrowverse shows have figured out how to do humor well. Still, the awkward humor can get overdone, and it’s especially noticeable on Supergirl and The Flash.
That’s not to say that Black Lightning should have a darker tone than those of its counterparts. Oliver Queen has already maxed out the Arrowverse’s capacity for brooding heroes. Instead, perhaps Black Lightning can infuse some of the grittiness of Netflix’s Marvel series into the buoyant tones that the Arrowverse is known for. It’s certainly difficult to achieve that balance, but that’s what Black Lightning should do. We already have bright and flashy Central City and National City, as well as the darker Star City. It’s time for a fresh setting and a fresh tone.
Because Black Lightning doesn’t have well-established villains, the show can delve into new territory
Because his mythos isn’t that well known, Jefferson Pierce is the perfect choice for DC’s next TV star. His rogues gallery, if it can be called that, is organized crime itself. Based in Metropolis’s Suicide Slum, Black Lightning has taken on a host of criminals, most notably Tobias Whale. Still, what makes Black Lightning unique is that he lacks a clear-cut set of villains.
Out of the Arrowverse’s three solo shows, only The Flash has an extensive rogues gallery. Arrow has drawn liberally from villains otherwise associated with Batman. And Supergirl has utilized the same strategy by frequently including classic Superman villains. While that’s not a bad thing, Black Lightning’s lack of a rogues gallery provides his show with a certain measure of freedom. The series can develop a unique host of characters or even create new villains for Jefferson Pierce to face.
Now that Black Lightning is a full-fledged series, it will need to put considerable effort into setting itself apart from the Arrowverse. That’s no easy task, especially since Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl have already covered so much ground. Still, Berlanti and his co-producers will find a way to make it work. As long as they make something worth watching, Black Lightning will be a success.
A version of this article was originally published on February 7, 2017.