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Would Black Lightning Be Better Off Outside the Arrowverse?

As the show closes its third season, it's struggling with the after-effects of Crisis on Infinite Earths.
  • Cress Williams stars in Black Lightning. (The CW).
    Cress Williams stars in Black Lightning. (The CW).

    Although Black Lightning was first introduced in 2018 as another spinoff in The CW's Arrowverse, the show's first two seasons had no ties at all to the rest of the series in the franchise. Only this year, with the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, did the character meet the other DC Comics superheroes and formally join their ranks, even scoring a seat in their new coalition to fight similar crises in the future. Unfortunately, adding Black Lightning to the crossover was clearly a hasty decision that the writers of his own show have struggled to reconcile into the storylines they planned.

    In the multiverse that this franchise formerly operated out of, Black Lightning resided on his own Earth where he and his family were the only superheroes capable of protecting their city of Freeland and all the meta-humans in it from the competing forces of the A.S.A. and the nation of Markovia. Even if Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) had been aware of the multiverse, visiting other heroes such as Arrow, The Flash, or Supergirl would have required crossing universes to parallel dimensions, a feat normally beyond his abilities to accomplish. And since none of them knew about him, they'd have no reason to stop by his Earth either. Effectively, the Pierces stood alone. However, that changed in a major way with Crisis, which collapsed the multiverse and consolidated all the franchise's heroes onto a single Earth. New this season, Black Lightning's Freeland is in the same world with The Flash's Central City, Batwoman's Gotham, and Supergirl's National City.

    Theoretically, this should make future crossovers both more convenient and more frequent. The whole point of forming a Super Friends team was to allow each of the heroes to call on the others for help when needed. As was clear in the final episode of Crisis, Black Lightning very much had a seat at that table, complete with his logo embossed on the chair.

    Of all the shows in the franchise, Black Lightning could really have used the help of another hero, especially this season. As formidable as his powers may be against average street punks, Jefferson has found himself outmatched fighting off the Markovian army. Introduced a couple episodes ago, new villain Gravedigger (Wayne Brady) can not only match Jefferson's power, he can absorb the collective powers of every meta-human in Freeland. If ever there was a time for Jefferson to ask for a little assistance from his friends, this is it.

    For that matter, even without a call from Jefferson, how could The Flash or Supergirl fail to notice that a foreign army has invaded the United States and, requested or not, race right over there to help the resistance? Kara Danvers is a reporter when she's not wearing her cape. It's literally her job to pay attention to the news, and war on domestic soil would be a pretty huge headline-making event. Both Supergirl and her cousin Superman are virtually indestructible aliens with nearly unlimited powers. Neither should have too much trouble making quick work of Gravedigger.

    Realistically, the reason none of that has happened is that Black Lightning wasn't originally planned to join the Arrowverse this season. That mandate came late and the character was shoehorned into Crisis on Infinite Earths with little advance notice to the production team. He didn't even get his own episode in the crossover, just cameos in episodes for The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. Since Crisis ended, Jefferson has told a few people about his adventures in the multiverse, but not much else has come of it. In most respects, the show has simply moved on without Crisis affecting its existing invasion storyline, even though that invasion no longer makes much logical sense in the new post-Crisis world. The series' writers haven't done much of anything to address that issue.

    Perhaps even more problematic are the optics of what it would look like had Jefferson called Supergirl, The Flash, or Batwoman for backup. As the only black superhero in the franchise, it would reflect poorly on him (and all the writers and producers making these shows) if his white friends had to come bail him out and save the day. What kind of message would that send?

    The shame of all this is that Black Lightning is arguably the best of the Arrowverse shows right now. It has some of the most interesting characters and, aside from the issues detailed in this article, some of the strongest writing. (It definitely has the best soundtrack.) Foisting it into the Arrowverse without a clear plan for how to adapt its storylines has done the series a disservice. As the producers prepare for a fourth season, they'll need to give these matters some serious thought.

    Black Lightning's season finale airs tonight at 8:00 PM ET on The CW

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    Josh Zyber has written about TV, movies, and home theater for the past two decades. Most recently, he spent more than nine years managing a daily blog at High-Def Digest.

    TOPICS: Black Lightning, The CW, Arrow, Batwoman, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Cress Williams, Wayne Brady, DC Comics