In the CW's DC comics universe, there's a new superhero in town: Jefferson Pierce, a.k.a. Black Lightning. The latest show based on a DC character, Black Lightning is set for a mid-season premiere during the 2017/2018 season, and will introduce Pierce (Cress Williams) as a retired superhero with electricity-based powers, now working as the principal of a local high school. The trailer reveals that he also has two daughters, and that as the notorious 100 gang continue to terrorize his neighborhood, he makes the tough decision to strap on the suit and become a hero once again.
Despite being on the CW, Black Lightning will not be joining the Arrowverse right off the bat, although the possibility has not been ruled out for the future. The decision to keep the show separate hasn't been addressed directly by the showrunners, but probably has something to do with the fact that it wasn't originally intended for the CW. Instead, the show was pitched to Fox (the home of Gotham), and only picked up by the CW when Fox turned it down.
A Different Tone
The differences are immediately obvious, as Black Lightning has a much darker and more realistic tone than most of the Arrowverse shows, and doesn't follow the now-standard Arrowverse formula. For starters, Black Lightning isn't an origin story. While the audience will undoubtedly still be treated to a look at Jefferson's backstory during the first season, the show starts with him as a retired hero drawn back into that life, not as a younger man first learning about his powers. His age is another striking difference - Jefferson will easily be the oldest superhero starring in his own show for the channel, and is closer in age to the parents of the other heroes on the network. The final major difference is that the powers themselves are not the focus, and that Black Lightning won't be facing off against a powered villain. Instead, he'll be dealing with Tobias Whale, a gangster who is the leader of the 100 gang. The result is a show that is grittier, more mature, and more character driven than the other Arrowverse shows.
An Older Target Audience?
From these differences, it seems that Black Lightning may be reaching out to a more mature audience than that of the existing Arrowverse. Having an older superhero (and parent) as the focus definitely appeals to older viewers, while his daughters still provide a relatable hero for the kind of teenage demographic that shows like The Flash zero in on. In addition to the age difference and the more down-to-earth feel, keeping the show separate may have also been a conscious decision made to appeal to a slightly older crowd who don't want to feel pressured to keep up with multiple interconnected series all at once.
This is not to say that Black Lightning won't be appealing to younger viewers as well, of course. The daughters and Jefferson's high school students will strike a good balance between younger and older characters. However, this reverses the set-up of shows like The Flash and Supergirl, where older characters are secondary mentors to the younger heroes. It's a solid way to expand the appeal of the CW's DC universe to a broader audience.
Black Lightning, Gotham & The Defenders
If all this is starting to sound a little familiar (darker, grittier tone, retired heroes, appealing to an older audience), that might be because it's not the first time that we've seen this in the world of comic book TV shows. The Marvel/Netflix universe does something very similar, with a much darker (and gorier) set of shows than the Arrowverse, and a mix of hero origin stories and retired/reluctant super-powered types. Luke Cage, in particular, also has an older superhero who is drawn into using his powers because of gang/street criminal activity tearing his neighborhood apart. The two are far from identical shows, of course, but the similarities suggest that the CW is looking to make a show that is a little less Flash and a little more Defenders.
There's also Gotham, over on Fox. Again, this is a show with a bit of a grittier tone, and a focus on a slightly older 'hero' who is desperately attempting to clean up his city's streets. In this police-focused look at the Batman mythology, it's Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) who is the star of the show, rather than Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz). Gotham does deal with superpowers in its villains, but it's another mature, character-driven show that does a lot to explore the motivations of the bad guys, not just take them down. This is also something that will happen with Black Lightning and Tobias Whale, and it may well be that the show was created to match the tone of Gotham, rather than the Arrowverse, given that it was originally pitched at Fox.
Fitting In With The Arrowverse
So what does all this mean for the larger Arrowverse? It's possible that Black Lightning will just continue to exist entirely separately, much the same way that iZombie, another comic book-inspired series, does on the CW. However, it is also possible that the series will eventually become part of the Arrowverse, either within the original universe, or on an alternate Earth, Supergirl-style. A third option could be that the CW is building toward a Crisis On Infinite Earths storyline, which would bring all of the comic book shows (minus iZombie, perhaps) into a single, consistent universe. It's not clear what the long-term plans are for the show, though, and given that the pilot hasn't even technically been filmed yet, these are all issues for a much later date.
However, if Black Lightning does join the Arrowverse at a later date, it could be the perfect way to expand the demographic for that world, and appeal to more mature viewers as well. It's fantastic to see that the network isn't going to simply keep pumping out more of the same kind of show, and that they are playing around with mimicking the formula that has worked so well for Marvel/Netflix as well. We'll have to wait until the mid-season premiere to see if this really works for the DC TV world, but for right now, it seems like Black Lightning is on track to lend some much-needed balance to that world.