A new series is coming to the already crowded CW expanded DC Universe, one that has been previously discarded by Fox and that’s been spoken about for more than a year: Black Lightning, about one of the major African-American superheroes from DC comics. We already have a promotional pic of the protagonist himself, portrayed by Cress Williams. In the show, Jefferson Pierce will be a retired superhero who tries to raise his two daughters in a bad neighborhood, but who’s forced to come back to action when one of them joins a street gang. The only other thing we know is that he’ll be a charismatic teacher, a man still in love with his ex-wife…and nothing more, actually. We’ll just have to wait and see, but in the meanwhile, let’s take a look at the original guy.
Jefferson Pierce was born in Metropolis, the son of grocery store worker (or investigative journalist, depending on the version) Alvin Pierce and of his wife Leona. He grew up along with his sister Connie in the so-called Suicide Slum, the lowest and poorest neighborhood in the city, overrun by criminals, drug dealers and robbers. When he was still a kid, Alvin was killed by a robber, and Leona did her best to raise her children alone; luckily enough, the Pierces were soon helped by Peter Gambi, an Italian tailor who paid some of their debts and became a new father figure for young Jeff. Gambi was also the first one who realised that Jeff was a metahuman with the ability to generate and manipulate electricity, and the one who taught him to hide his gift, mainly to protect him from The 100, the criminal gang that was running the Suicide Slum and that would have surely tried to exploit his powers. Growing up, Jeff Pierce gave himself to sports, becoming and extremely skilled athlete: the Suicide Slum was called like this since the only way anybody could ever get out of there was by killing themselves, but Jeff wanted to demonstrate to the world that it was actually possible to make a life out of that living hell, and sports became his way out. He even participated to the Olympics, and his successes earned him a scholarship that allowed him to leave the Slum to go to college; he participated to the Olympics a second time four years later, and he even won the Decathlon. His successes weren’t limited to sports, as he also got a degree in English Literature, and he later moved to New Carthage to become a teacher. In these years, he met Lynn Stewart, he girl he fell in love with and who became his wife. Lynn was the only one apart from Gambi who knew about Jeff’s powers, so when the two had a daughter, Anissa, the both knew that there was the possibility she had inherited her father’s metagene…something that actually happened. However, the Pierces managed to convince the girl, when she grew up, to pursue studies instead of crime-fighting, something made easier by the peaceful environment of New Carthage. Then, Leona Pierce died, and Jeff had to come back to Metropolis.
As soon as he arrived in the Suicide Slum for his mother’s funeral, Jeff realised that nothing had changed in his old neighborhood, and this time he felt compelled to do something about it: using a grant given to him by Wayne Education Trust because of the many successes he had had in urban education reform in the past, Jeff came back to his old school, Garfield High School, hoping to give at least a new perspective to the difficult kids there. This decision put him at odds with Lynn, and the two eventually got divorced, albeit they still cared for each other. He immediately made quite an impression by kicking out of the school the drug dealers sent by The 100…but this caused an unwanted retaliation, as the criminals killed one of Jeff’s students, Earl Clifford, and left his body in front of the school. Distraught, angry and powerless, Jeff told everything about it to the closest thing to a father he had, Peter Gambi…who offered him a solution: to fight The 100 and the other criminals under a different identity, so that his students wouldn’t have been targeted in retaliation. The moment Jeff had left Metropolis, Peter had tailored him a costume for the moment he would have returned, forseeing his destiny: Jeff Pierce would have fought criminality as a teacher, helping his students to become law-abiding and honest citizens, while as the superhero Black Lightning he would have protected them by the already existing crooks with a more direct approach. The one between Black Lightning and The 100 became a real urban war, and the hero was finally able to let his powers go for the first time in years; The 100 unleashed many exceptional agents against the new protector of the Slum, from Merlyn to the Cyclotronic Man, but Black Lightning defeated them all, eventually arriving to the gang’s boss, Tobias Whale. In the gunfight that followed, Peter Gambi sacrificed his own life to shield Jeff, and in that occasion he confessed he was the man who had killed his father, and that he tried to amend for what he had done all his life. While investigating on a case of abducted students, Black Lightning joined forces with Superman, Batman, Black Canary and Green Arrow, and the latter offered him a place in the Justice League of America when the case was close: maybe, it was finally time for Black Lightning to step out among the world’s greatest heroes.
Jefferson Pierce is a dedicated and determined man, one who had everything from his life and who wants to give something back to the world in exchange; an idealist teacher, he firmly believes that he can change the world one heart and one mind at a time by teaching his students to be men and women they will be proud of. As Black Lightning, he’s an extremely powerful metahuman (albeit in some version of his story he initially uses a special belt for simulating electric powers, and later absorbes its capabilities through constant exposure), who can absorb and generate electricity using his own body as a living battery: he can use the energy he wields to generate powerful lightning bolts, to fly, to create energy shields, to move objects via static electricity, to absorb energy from electronic devices and even power plants and storms to augment his power, and even heal himself and others. With a power becoming stronger as he learns to control it, Black Lightning fights a desperate urban war on two fronts, educating the young generations (his daughters included) to avoid them a future in street gangs while beating the crap out of criminals who want them to become recruits for their operations, both battles being extremely delicate and difficult to carry on.