Let’s hope you weren’t tiring of superheroes on television, because there is no end in sight for the trend. There’s a superhero show of every flavor for every audience, from the new NBC comedy Powerless to the upcoming cerebral drama on FX, Legion. ABC has Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Fox has Gotham and, of course, The CW has their massive DC Comics slate — better known to most as the Arrowverse.
So-called because it all began with 2012’s Arrow, the Arrowverse now includes The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl and boasts a wide variety of superheroes — from entirely human, street-level vigilantes to meta-humans and aliens. The Arrowverse is an expansive and interconnected world, with characters easily — and more importantly, believably — moving freely between its shows. Even Supergirl — which began on CBS before moving to The CW this year and is set on another Earth — exists within the same multiverse as the other Arrowverse shows, allowing Supergirl to occasionally cross dimensions from her Earth to theirs and interact with Green Arrow, The Flash, and the other heroes of Earth-1.
The shows of the Arrowverse are each overseen by producer Greg Berlanti, and when it was announced Berlanti was shopping around a new DC superhero show — Black Lightning, developed by Mara Brock Akil and her husband/partner Salim Akil (The Game, Being Mary Jane) — many assumed it would land on The CW. Then the pilot was picked up by FOX, where it wasn’t likely to be connected to any of Berlanti’s Arrowverse shows.
However, with filming beginning possibly as early as this March, Black Lightning has suddenly left FOX and now is joining Berlanti’s other superhero shows on The CW. It remains unconfirmed whether or not the pilot will be a part of the Arrowverse, but the move has obviously made that all the more likely. And while it may not have been Berlanti’s intention for Black Lightning to join the Arrowverse, similarly to Supergirl, doing so is sure to help the series find an audience, as well as its place within the ever-growing superhero television landscape.
The Spinoff Formula
As already mentioned, The CW’s slate of shows inspired by DC Comics characters all began with Arrow. Both The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow were spinoffs, with at least some of their characters first appearing on Arrow before starring in their own series. Supergirl is the one that breaks that mold, but even they were quick to jump at the opportunity to bring in The Flash‘s Barry Allen for a special crossover episode — a move considered by many as a tease for Supergirl‘s eventual inclusion in the Arrowverse.
There are benefits for a show in joining an already established narrative universe, like a built-in, eager audience and a familiar setting in which to place an unfamiliar character. Capitalizing on these can make it easier for a new show to find success, as The Flash did by first introducing Barry Allen on Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow did by filling its main cast with characters already well-established within the Arrowverse. Again, Supergirl bucks the trend here, but it’s arguable that the show might have had a stronger first season had it been a part of The CW’s Arrowverse all along. There’s also the opportunity for characters to appear on each other’s shows, giving this fictional universe an added dose of realism — not to mention allowing for superhero team-ups, a hallmark of the comic book genre.
In the case of Black Lightning, there’s little doubt that either introducing its main character first on one of the already existing Arrowverse shows or including an established Arrowverse character in its premiere would boost interest in the series. Not only that, but were the series to begin as an Arrowverse series instead of needing to switch later, like Supergirl did, it could avoid the hassle that comes along with that transition, like a cast shakeup or set changes that hurt continuity. There’s also the fate of other superhero shows to consider, like Constantine, which could have perhaps been saved, had it had the support of the Arrowverse behind it.
Black Lightning is Something New
Besides the safety net the Arrowverse provides, Black Lightning would also bring something new to The CW line-up — an undisputed black lead. The Arrowverse is diverse, but Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl all feature white lead actors — though there are obviously characters of color throughout the cast and many in large supporting roles. Legends of Tomorrow is an ensemble with large roles for superheroes of color, Firestorm, Hawkgirl and Vixen — but they also share much of that screentime with The Atom, Rip Hunter, White Canary and the other half of Firestorm, Martin Stein. With Black Lightning there’s no question who’s the lead – it’s Black Lightning AKA Jefferson Pierce.
In addition to being a black man, Jefferson Pierce is an experienced superhero, having by the time of this series abandoned his alter-ego. Black Lightning’s powers are the ability to generate and magnify electrical energy, and whether they be meta-powers or something technologically generated (it’s been both in the comics), they are new and familiar, being similar to Livewire’s abilities and (to a lesser extent) The Flash. Jefferson is older, more world-weary, and unlike Barry or Kara he’s lived with his superpowers for years and understands the responsibilities and the risks. The Arrowverse certainly has characters who occasionally fill that older, seasoned veteran or mentor role — whether it be Joe West or even John Diggle — but none of them are veteran superheroes, none of them have that unique understanding of the pressure that rests on Green Arrow or The Flash’s shoulders.
Also setting Jefferson Pierce apart from the rest of the Arrowverse’s superheroes is his role as a father, with his daughter expected to play a significant role in the series. In the comics, Jefferson has two daughters and both later become superheroes themselves. Speculating about whether Black Lightning would follow a similar course is a bit premature — though Jefferson’s daughter is described as “hellbent on justice ” in the pilot’s brief synopsis — but having its lead juggle raising a child and returning to the superhero lifestyle is something unique.
Within Black Lightning’s comic book stories there’s also a strong sense of social justice, which fits well with the Green Arrow’s mission, and in fact the two characters have collaborated before in the comics. Jefferson has also served as Secretary of Education under President Lex Luthor, and before that was a high school principal in a crime-ridden neighborhood. The CW series may follow along that thinking and keep Jefferson involved with education, possibly even as a teacher since its brief synopsis also mentions his concern over a “star student being recruited by a local gang.” Teacher by day, superhero by night? That’s definitely new, and it gives Jefferson the chance to do good in his neighborhood outside of being a superhero.
Too Many Superheroes?
While introducing Black Lightning as part of the Arrowverse would give the series a firmer footing and bring a new energy to their line-up, it’s also worth noting that things have become awfully crowded on The CW. The network was running with four Arrowverse shows a week earlier in the season, one a night Monday through Thursday, but now Legends of Tomorrow has moved to a later slot on Tuesday evenings to free up time for Riverdale. What happens once Black Lightning premieres and it’s (hopefully) a hit? Which CW show, Arrowverse or not, is bumped to make room? The better option might be to air Black Lightning in the off-season when Arrow, Flash, Supergirl, and Legends are on hiatus.
Yet airing Black Lightning in the off-season wouldn’t necessarily guarantee it that rabid Arrowverse audience. In that case, Black Lightning might be better off disassociating itself from the relatively PG Arrowverse altogether and instead go with an edgier, more mature tone. Not being bound by the “rules” of the Arrowverse or its other characters, Black Lightning could have the liberty to be its own thing, cater to a broader audience. There also wouldn’t be any need to explain away why Black Lightning has never been mentioned in the Arrowverse or why it’s only now — not after any of the many earlier emergencies — that he chose to return.
Clearly, there are both pros and cons to Black Lightning becoming the fifth — or sixth if we were to include CW Seed’s Vixen — Arrowverse show. Since the series was first being shopped to FOX, it’s entirely possible it was never Berlanti’s intention for Black Lightning to join the Arrowverse. The series is Mara and Salim Akil’s project more than it is Berlanti’s anyway, and they may have developed it without even considering a connection to a wider universe of superheroes. Until production is further along, there isn’t much we will know about Black Lightning, but we can certainly see how a move to The CW could be just as easily followed by the series joining the Arrowverse — and that might just be all for the better.
Stay tuned to Screen Rant for more as we follow Black Lightning‘s development.