Why ’Black Lightning’ Is Better Off Not Joining the ‘Arrow’-verse

     March 21, 2018

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Even though it’s not even completely through its first season, Black Lightning has become a powerful and unique addition to the roster of DC Comics-based shows on The CW network. Part of what has made Black Lightning so special is its unique perspective wrapped in a (mostly) grounded reality. While yes, there are metahumans and the like, Freeland and Garfield High feel like places that anyone could find in the real world.

Being a DC Comics-based project on The CW, though, fans immediately wondered if Black Lightning could (or should) cross over with the “Arrowverse” group of shows that includes The Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, and, thanks to a bit of dimensional travel from time to time, Supergirl. References have been made to “other heroes” within the series, and the names Supergirl and Vixen have been dropped, though most likely spoken of as fictional characters. In any event, should they all come together to make for one massive five-show crossover this November?

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Image via The CW

With respect to the successful Arrowverse, the answer to that question should be “no.”

Black Lightning works, despite its fantastical elements, because it is so grounded. While some characters like Lady Eve might have seemed a bit over the top, characters like Jefferson Pierce, his wife Lynn, and daughters Jennifer and Anissa feel real. If the Arrowverse had any direct comparison, it might be to the early episodes of Arrow, back when no one could have ever expected the happenings that we’d see in later seasons, for better or for worse.

Arrow began as a grounded series where there had to be a very good reason for someone to be a metahuman, which made Barry (The Flash) Allen’s introduction in Season 2 all the more unique, but exciting. But now, that shared universe has led to craziness like the gender of John Diggle’s baby changing just because Barry decided to interrupt the time stream. There’s also the matter of other Earths, which, while it’s great to see Katie Cassidy on Arrow again, kind of kills the reality and impact of losing Laurel in the first place if there’s always an otherworldly doppelganger ready and willing to take over. There’s also the fact that these shows take place in a world where Barry can speed in and save the day before a villain even lays down a punch (whether or not he does is another matter).

When Supergirl began its run on CBS, it also wasn’t directly connected to the Arrowverse. It was an advantage to not have to worry about characters or happenings from other shows, because they didn’t exist in this realm. No one could argue that Character X from the Arrowverse is better than Kara, because in National City, Kara is the best. When Supergirl finally did feature a Flash guest appearance, it was a very big deal. Now, it feels like Kara can come to Earth-One with the push of a button (or a Vibe).

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Image via The CW

I like the notion that Black Lightning is the greatest hero in Freeland, at least until his daughters steal his, well, you know, thunder. We don’t have to worry or wonder what the Green Arrow thinks of him, or why the Flash can’t rid Freeland of crime, because they’re in a different place. Besides, from the Outsiders comic book Grace Choi had in the series’ third episode, it seems the DC universe — and thus, references to Supergirl or Vixen — are being played here as fictional characters.

I also like the notion that someone can watch Black Lightning on its own, and not feel like they’re missing a part of another story. If Black Lightning wants to introduce other DC characters to its own world, that’s great. But opening it up more… well… I’m just going to share some words that the man who developed the show for television, Salim Akil, said to me at the Television Critics Association press tour in January:

“I asked myself ‘if there was a Superman, why has Superman never tried to clean up Watts or Chicago? Why do superheroes never seem to answer the call of regular people?’ There’s so much violence in the world, just on a very grounded and base level of every day folk. In real America, opioid addiction is running rampant. Where are the superheroes? And so to me, it was important to put the superhero in a place where we all recognized, and fighting folks that we recognize, so that we could talk about it but also, we didn’t want violence to be arbitrary and distant. I wanted it to be close and in your face, so that when Lawanda dies, you feel it. Like ‘oh, shit!’ It’s real.”

If the Flash can speed in and save the day, that diminishes what Black Lightning is supposed to be about.

Black Lightning is an awesome show. As I’ve mentioned, it’s a powerful addition to The CW’s lineup and the writing, producing, acting, and directing are all top-notch. It feels like a high-tier show, and it deserves to be “the best of the best” rather than “one of many.” The Arrowverse has been a wonderful thing for The CW, don’t get me wrong, but I am glad Black Lightning gets to have a unique voices and direction, unencumbered by the distraction of connectivity. 

Black Lightning airs Tuesdays at 9PM ET/PT on The CW.

Television