Black Lighting arrives as a much-needed superhero

Here's another interesting story I sent ti papers from the TV Critics Association sessions.

By Mike Hughes

PASADENA, Cal. -- In
the old days, comic-book heroes had simple TV lives.

They were quite
super, kind of spider-y and bat-like and hulky. They beat up bad

And now? We're in an
era when even Archie Andrews has depth. This is clearly the time for
“Black Lightning” and black hero, Jefferson Pierce.

“Jefferson is
already a community-based superhero,” said producer Salim Akil.
“He's already a (school) principal; he's already a father. It gave
me the opportunity to talk about things that are personal to me.”

Back in 1977, the
character debuted in a comic-book world that was mostly white. “I
did love superheroes,” recalled Cress Williams, who plays him now.
“Unfortunately, I was 'po,' so I didn't buy a lot of comics,
because that's a lot of money. So I relied on television.”

There, Black
Lighting appeared occasionally, voiced by Bumber Robinson, Blair
Underwood, Khary Payton and LeVar Burton. Now it's his time. “I
think it's beautiful that we have 'Luke Cage,' that we have us and we
have 'Black Panther,'” Williams said.

The other two are
Marvel Comics characters; this year, “Cage” has its second
Netflix season and “Panther” reaches movie theaters. Meanwhile,
“Black Lightning” is from DC Comics, which fills half the CW
network schedule; it's from the married duo of Salim and Mary Brock

He started in drama
(“Soul Food”), she started in comedy (“Moesha,”
“Girlfriends”), but they've combined for both the comedy “The
Game” and the drama “Being Mary Jane.”

A key was finding
the right star. Williams, 47, has ranged from “Nash Bridges” to
“Hart of Dixie,” in a long career, “When you walk down the
halls of Warner Brothers, there are pictures of their shows,” Akil
said. “Evey time I would (see) Cress, he would be on a poster with
all these white people.”

Now he's the star,
with two more heroes coming. The first two episodes – with Pierce
reluctantly returning to crimefighting – hint at the powers his
daughters don't realize they have.

One (played by
Disney Channel star China Anne McClain) is still a teen looking for
fun. The other is an intense teacher and activist; she'll become
Thunder, TV's first black lesbian superhero.

Tougher to cast was
the albino villain who emerges in the second episode.“I was
surprised to see how similar my life is to Tobias Whale ... being a
black man with albinism,” Marvin Jones III said.

Jones grew up in
South Central Los Angeles and turned to rap when he was 18. “It
allowed me to really be myself, with a platform,” he said.

In 2003, the group
SAS (Strong Arm Steady) emerged, gradually sifting to three people –
Krondon (Jones' stage name), Mitchy Slick and Phil Da Agony. It's
done well, but Jones tried to get into acting. He landed exactly one
role – a guest shot on “Harry's Law,” six-plus years ago.

Then came a role
that may be his exact opposite. Tobias is fiercely evil; in person,
Jones seems gentle and friendly. “Everyone has a villain inside,”
he said. “It allows me to exorcise that.”

Besides, he's used
to contrasting images, as an albino who's proud of his African
heritage. “It goes back to what Dr. (Martin Luther) King said about
not being judged by the color of your skin.”

-- “Black
Lightning,” 9 p.m. Tuesdays, CW; the opener airs Jan. 16, then
reruns at 8 p.m. Jan. 19