Black Lightning’s Origin Stories Are Rooted In Powerful Black History

Black Lightning is unique amongst all of the CW’s superhero series in that it began at a point in its titular hero’s life long after he’d become a crime-fighting vigilante. Jefferson Pierce is a grown man who we’ve only seen rediscovering his Black Lightning identity after a much-needed hiatus.

Image: CW

This week’s episode “And Then the Devil Brought the Plague: The Book of Green Light” isn’t a full-on origin story detailing how Jefferson first came into his powers, but it does introduce elements of his past that shed a new light on the Freeland’s history and the nature of his daughter’s powers.

We’re at the point in Black Lightning‘s 13-episode season where things are (understandably) beginning to mellow out a bit before gearing back up when the show gets closer to its finale. Given how many subplots and threads Black Lightning‘s already introduced, “The Book of Green Light” is a welcome change of pace, but at the same time, it still manages to introduce an important new depth to Black Lightning‘s mythos.

Though his powers didn’t come from a freak accident that left him and people around him with activated metagenes such as Barry Allen’s, Jefferson Pierce is, in his own way, a lightning rod for metahuman activity that’s popping up across Freeland with increasing regularity. While it’s made mention of other superheroes in the past, up until now, Black Lightning‘s made Jefferson out to be something of a novelty for Freeland – potentially the city’s first and only metahuman vigilante. “The Book of Green Light” introduces the idea that Jefferson’s powers, the city of Freeland, the shadowy organisation behind the 100 gang, Tobias Whale, and Lady Eve may all actually be interconnected in ways that none of them fully grasp yet.

Realising that Green Light has the potential to bring ruin to the city by instantly turning anyone who uses the drug into a super-strong and aggressive lunatic, Black Lightning and Gambi set out to trace it back to its source.

It was inevitable that Jefferson would attempt to take down the drug running organisation head on at some point, but unsurprising that his first outing only led to a storage container full of Green Light ingredients and the name of Tobias Whale’s associate Joey Toledo. The information brings Black Lightning and Whale even closer together, building up tension for the inevitable reunion and clash they’re bound to have before the season’s through.

But rather than using this temporary slow down in the plot to let Black Lightning and Whale circle one another and flesh out the relationship between them, “The Book of Green Light” instead delves into their respective histories, introducing more information that complicates both their characters. We learn that Whale is the survivor of what can be assumed is a childhood filled with abuse from his father Eldridge (T.C. Carson) who hated Tobias because of his albinism. I say assumed because it isn’t exactly clear just how old Tobias is – the episode also reveals that the crime lord no longer ages due to a serum in his bloodstream and, in a flashback to a moment where Tobias witnesses his father beating his kid sister Tori (Rayne Caldwell, but played as an adult by Edwina Findley Dickerson), he himself appears to be a full-grown man. In addition to giving Tobias something of a metahuman ability of his own, this particular bit of character development makes his villainy less black and white and easier to see as the outgrowth of childhood trauma.

While Whale’s reminiscing about his difficult past, Anissa’s grappling with her own family’s history and the past that her father’s been trying to keep away from his children. Anissa’s at the point in her own superhero origin story where she has kind of a grip on her powers and knows that she’s destined to use them for good. At the same time, though, she’s understandably curious about just what she is, and her online research pulls her even closer to a truth lands with a heavy impact: At one point in the near past, children from Freeland were experimented on and imbued with super-abilities.

Black Lightning purposefully name-drops the Tuskegee experiments and the Flint Water Crisis in relationship to Anissa’s research as other examples of black pain that have gone largely ignored by the public. Though what Anissa learns doesn’t deter her from digging deeper into the mysteries around her, the real-world parallels that “The Book of Green Light” establishes are just impactful enough to give you pause and remind you that this is the sort of social commentary Black Lightning excels at.

“The Book of Green Light” comes just short of diving headfirst into the Pierce’s family history, beyond the fact that Jefferson’s father, a noted journalist, was likely killed for his investigation into the organisation that experimented on Freeland’s children – an investigation Anissa has now picked up. With eight episodes left to go, it’s more than likely that Black Lightning won’t rush to fit all of its puzzle pieces together and reveal just where this season’s going to end up. But even in the moments where it’s taking a breather to pull itself together and pack on even more plot, Black Lightning‘s still operating on a completely different level compared to the other cape shows on right now.

Assorted Musings:

  • Thank goodness Black Lightning has learned how to fly. That whole business of just walking around in costume like a pedestrian was a mess. Also, his flying looks like something right out of Legends of Tomorrow.
  • It’s safe to say that Green Light essentially turns you into one of the rage monsters from 28 Days Later, which once again begs the question – WHY WOULD ANYONE USE THAT DRUG?
  • Black Lightning’s “use a taser” line to the police? Brilliant. To that point, the little dig that Toledo’s associate makes at Black Lightning – calling him an “electrified lawn jockey” – was the kind of inspired dig you’d expect to come out of a black writers’ room.
  • With “the Black Signal”, this might be the first time Black Lightning‘s ever aped Batman.
  • Anissa’s costume montage is perfect, and the nod to Thunder’s classic costume from the Outsiders was a lovely touch.