'Black Lightning' shows strength in vulnerability

Black Lightning is not stumbling upon the conversation of identity politics in America and it doesn’t take place in the world of the willfully blind. Jefferson Pierce is a man wholly concerned with taking care of his family, students and community. But in the face of adversity, he’s forced to use the special gift he’s been given. Some of that sounds ordinary, but Black Lightning separates itself from the rest of CW’s lineup by refusing to offer a full escape from reality. Jefferson Pierce is one of the most powerful heroes in the DC Universe, but there’s no even playing field in Freeland. He’s still Black.

The series dodges the reluctant hero trope in the very first episode: as a respected principal of Garfield High, Jefferson Pierce is already a hero. He’s aware of his impact on the community. The internal struggle stems from him having convinced himself he doesn’t need his powers to help the people he cares about, though he realizes after a nine-year hiatus Black Lightning is his purpose. Even if suiting up prevents him from reconciling with his ex-wife, Lynn, it means a better future for his daughters and students.

“Justice, like lightning, should ever appear to some men hope, to other men fear.”

Jefferson and Lynn’s relationship isn’t anything like we’ve seen on TV. They are divorced, yet do not loathe each other’s company. In fact, it's quite the contrary. In a perfect world, these two would be together. But Black Lightning doesn’t inhabit a perfect world and uses this dynamic to display appropriate relationship boundaries. In a world where more people are divorced than married, presenting a vision of a successful co-parenting situation is vital for a series that will attract a young audience.  We also see how Jefferson and Lynn’s tumultuous yet healthy relationship affects their daughters, who both highly value themselves when it comes to interpersonal relationships on all levels, proving divorced parents can provide a stable foundation for their children.

That being said, the series does not shy away from showing the imperfections of its characters. One could see Lynn’s view of Black Lightning as selfish. Why would she not want her husband to help the world as much as he can? The youngest daughter, Jennifer, struggles with witnessing The 100 gang’s violence first-hand and turns to alcohol and marijuana to cope. Anissa is hesitant to fully commit to a long-term relationship with her girlfriend as she’s too busy with work, school and activism. And while Jefferson understands the role gangs play for survival in Freeland, he strives to find a way for gangs, the community, and police to live in harmony. When diplomacy doesn't work fast enough, he answers with violence.

Black Lighting ’s treatment of death shows a high level of emotional intelligence. In the first two episodes, many people die. But unlike most superhero shows, there are real, serious consequences. There’s no high fives or “Go Team.” These deaths are tragedies and aren’t marketed otherwise, even though they people killed are technically villains. While the series has a clear-cut antagonist in Tobias Whale, there’s an unspoken understanding that these characters do not want to be villains. They are just trying to survive in an unjust world, paralleling Jefferson Pierce’s own story.

Black Lightning’s vulnerability is what makes him the strongest hero DC Comics has brought to television. Writers Mara Brock and Salim Akil defy stereotypes of black masculinity and femininity, constructing characters who feel so grounded you could run into them at the grocery store. Beyond the first two episodes this review is based on, there’s room to explore how the worlds of the police, gangs and community collides within the characters of Inspector Henderson and Tobias Whale. These dynamic characters make Black Lightning one of the most the most truthful, culturally dense shows on network television.


'Doomsday Clock' is the birth of DC’s existential awakening

Doomsday Clock connects the Watchmen universe to the DC universe. At least that’s the selling point of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s sequel story. Batman meets Rorschach, Lex Luthor meets Ozymandias, Superman meets Doctor Manhattan… that's all in the first issue. It was only a matter of time before the two worlds merged together to create the core of Doomsday Clock, but that moment came and went in the first pages of Doomsday Clock #2, leaving fans with a whole lot more than we expected. There’s a crisis in Gotham, but this time it’s an existential one.

This review contains spoilers. 

Doomsday Clock #2 is both a beginning and an ending to a story that unravels the characters in the DC Universe as we know it. Aside from the Watchmen and newDoomsday Clock characters introduced in the first issue arriving in Gotham City, #2raises HUGE questions about the very science behind the DC Universe’s map of characters.

The biggest plot mystery lies beyond the last page of the issue and in the truthfulness of what is dubbed, ‘The Superman Theory,’ detailed in The Bulletin and Daily Planetarticles filling the last three pages. It presents more of a thematic issue coupled with Ozymandias and Rorascah’s individual mission. Doomsday Clock takes place a year later than DC’s present continuity, making this world where all heroes are believed to be villains and constructs of the government a tease for the future. What’s to come backtracks from the foundation of hope in which the universe was predicated. Everything we know about metahumans--starting with Metamorpho and Man-Bat--could be an act of deception.

Doomsday Clock #2 calls forth an old Invasion story arc, recently explored in last year’s TV crossover event between The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow.Basically, The Dominators invade Earth to learn more about the metagene so they can develop it for themselves. It’s an arms race. Who can become the most powerful? And that’s what’s happening in Doomsday Clock right now. Russia appears to be controlling America’s media narrative behind the scenes (as we saw in the most recent Presidential election). Lex Luthor and Wayne Enterprises compete for the best technology as we learn the American government may be responsible for the majority of the metahuman population, which is much higher in the United States than anywhere else. Coincidence? I have a feeling Geoff Johns doesn’t believe in coincidences… definitely not when Doctor Manhattan is involved.

The latest issue also sees the events that started Watchmen come full circle. The Comedian is back, and he shoots Lex Luthor with a bullet meant for Ozymandias.Watchmen began with an end and Doomsday Clock is doing the same, setting up a future we haven't really gotten to yet. Because of this, this issue deserves a few reads, not necessarily to find more clues about the Superman Theory, but because Johns and Frank have crafted tiny clues within each character’s study.

One such example is the real meaning behind the presence of Marionette and the Mime. Why does Marionette represent a piece of Doctor Manhattan’s humanity? Can the Mime really make his imagination reality? After only a brief introduction, these new characters are let loose in the DC Universe. Wherever each of them ends up first should be a clue about their purpose and place in the story and what will be history when the DC Universe continuity catches up once Doomsday Clock is complete.

The Comedian’s return is the most surprising plot twist so far. Simply making this Comedian the DC Comics version doesn’t seem like Johns’ line of thinking. It’s got to be more complicated, perhaps even more complicated than Doctor Manhattan bringing him back to life. What’s more, how did The Comedian know Ozymandias was at LexCorp? Are he and Lex working together? Why is the new Rorschach so willing to go along with Ozymandias’ plan?

What’s most intriguing about Doomsday Clock isn’t anticipating the twists and turns, it’s a philosophical questions that trickle down to each individual character. Who controls the narrative? The government? The people? The media? Don’t be fooled, these invisible hands are the real antagonists.

At this point, the only person we can name who could have the most direct impact is Doctor Manhattan. Why did we finally learn that the elements radiating off his skin make him blue? Does he have the power to activate the latent metahuman gene, and if so, is he pursuing the idea that if everyone's super, no one is? He may have recognized that his greatest weakness is being all powerful, therefore he’s creating these metas as a safeguard against his own. The very idea of an all-powerful man can skew the world into an arms race and a competition for survival that has led humans to regress back into the very savages we were back when we were hunting our own food.

Who has propelled the Superman Theory into truth is the surface-level question Johns is using to disguise this existential deep-dive into the DC Universe and its origins, but it’s likely we’ll find our answers as we get to know who this new Rorschach is and why Ozymandias is taking part in yet another dubious mission to save the world with Doctor Manhattan. With the guidance of John’s inclusion of DC characters--small, large, and from varying nooks and crannies of the DC  history--hopefully all these perspectives will eventually give us a clearer picture of the story this crossover is dying to tell.

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Marvel’s Runaways Is The Most Delightfully Offbeat Show On Hulu Since Misfits

Whether you are a fan of the Runaways comics or not, you’ll be hooked on Hulu’s latest original venture by the end of the first episode. We meet this group of five young, soon-to-be heroes at high school, but the series couldn’t feel less like your typical teen drama. Over the course of its first four episodes, Josh Schwartz (The O.C.) and Stephanie Savage (Gossip Girl) build a sophisticated world that impressively manages to make a dozen individual storylines feel like one.

The first episode can be hard to follow without any knowledge of source material, but within the confusion and slow pace there’s a certain satisfaction. It’s okay to not know what’s happening or who’s who. The irresistible personalities, friend-group drama and refined performances from the young cast are enough to lure you right into the second episode (the first three arrive on Hulu Nov. 21).

We are first introduced to Alex Wilder and his parents, for no reason other than Alex is the one who brings the childhood friends back together: Gert Yorkes, (her younger adopted sister Molly Hernandez), Nico Minoru, Karolina Dean and Chase Stein. We quickly learn these kids aren't the whole story. The antagonists are their parents.

Things get interesting with the introduction of the villainous group called ‘Pride.’ At first, Alex’s parents appear to be at the helm -- Geoffrey and Catherine Wilder host the Pride meetings in a secret chamber in their house. There, they are joined by the Yorkes, the Deans, the Steins, and the Minorus. If you are a fan of the comics, you’ll notice there is a couple missing from that list -- The Hayes. That is one of the series’ many intriguing mysteries that I will not get into because spoilers.

READ MORE: Marvel’s Runaways Premieres At NYCC, And The Fans Love It

There are teen cliches in The Runaways, but they serve as a source of larger ironic plot device. For example, Karolina (stereotyped as a goody-two-shoes religious girl) is almost sexually assaulted by three popular boys at school. Chase, the jock, saves her and ends up quitting the team when the coach fails to penalize his classmates. All the other characters seem to inhabit a stereotype as well -- the nerd, the goth, the social justice warrior. But, so far, the story arcs seem to defy the stereotypes themselves.

The Runaways doesn’t rely on powers and showy effects -- it relies on overall story development -- which is probably the only way the writers could successfully present viewers with so many main characters so early on. It’s clear they took the complex stories right from the comics and simplified them for an audience unfamiliar with the source material by working backward. Within each of the first four episodes, we get one more puzzle piece that leads us into a deeper and more impactful mystery. Mind you, these kids haven’t used or have just discovered their powers by the end of the fourth episode, and we only see the dinosaur in action once, all signs the first season (just 10 episodes long) is going to finish strong.

Score: 9