There was a time when a TV show featuring a superhero felt like a unique enough commodity to draw in viewers, but that era has come and gone. Series inspired by comic book characters are a dime a dozen these days (particularly on The CW), so it behooves newcomers to try something new with the tried and true formula. That's what Black Lightning intends to do when it debuts next year, and the folks behind the series will apparently set it apart from the Arrow-verse shows by making it about a seasoned hero dealing with real world issues. Black Lightning producer Salim Akil explained:
Well, one, he's older. [Laughs] He's got aches and pains, he's not as useful, and that is something that is unique. Two, there are not many superheroes going into Chicago, going into Watts, going into the areas and dealing with the issues that Black Lightning is going to deal with, and I think that's unique. His villains are people that viewers hear about and read about every day. I think that's unique. The third thing is he's black. [Laughs] We don't have a lot of black superheroes. I'm happy about it, because there's a resurgence of it, but it's still not totally representative of our culture, so amongst all the different so-called black superheroes, Jefferson stands alone and unique in the fact of who he is as a person. Again, he's a father, he's older, he's wiser.
To date, virtually every DC hero that we have seen on The CW has gone through an extensive origin story to become a proper comic book badass. Black Lightning will sidestep that idea by giving us a version of Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) who already knows how to work the streets as a hero -- the arc revolves more around his journey back into that world, as well as the physical and emotional toll that journey takes on him. From there, the show will give us a more grounded and gritty (fancy gadgets aside) tale that deals more heavily in inner city issues that superhero shows don't often address. It's less The Flash, and more The Wire in the way that it will handle concepts like race, sexuality, police brutality, and street-level crime.
Building off of Salim Akil's comments to EW, it's also worth mentioning that Black Lightning won't find itself bogged down by any current DC Comics continuity when it debuts next year. Unlike shows like The Flash or Legends of Tomorrow, Jefferson Pierce's adventures do not take place in the world established by Stephen Amell's Oliver Queen and Arrow. Black Lightning exists within its own reality (for now, at least) and that means the show has considerably more freedom to establish a tone and style that we haven't seen from DC TV shows before. All things considered, it's looking pretty damn good.