Salim Akil's Black Lightning, which comes to The CW in January, is not going to look or feel like the rest of the network's DC superhero lineup -- in part becuase Akil wants to tell a different kind of story than other comic book shows are setting out to tell.
During a recent visit to the set of Black Lightning in Atlanta, Warner Bros. brought reporters to meet with the showrunner, who said the hardest thing about making this superhero show is remembering to make it a superhero show.
"I'm not really doing a show about a superhero," Akil said. "I'm doing a show about a man who has a family and is trying to affect his community. Someone asked me, what's the most difficult aspect of doing the show, and it really is me coming to terms with that he has powers, because I could write a whole script without him ever using his powers, which nobody wants me to do."
To that end, Akil made a decision that while there are characters with powers on Black Lightning, most of the violence is not the kind of over-the-top wirework that defines the action set pieces on shows like The Flash and Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, but gunplay -- and those shots will result in some shocking and sad consequences, and some onscreen blood so that it doesn't look "pretty."
"I know and understand the result of extreme violence in my own life, in my friends' lives, and so I know what violence really is," said Akil. "I've held people who have been shot. I know what a gunshot looks like; I know what violence looks like. So if you ask me what violence is, I'd say it never leads anywhere. But at the same time, violence leads to freedom. Nobody ever fought for freedom without some degree of violence."
Guns will be a major theme in the series, by the sound of it: Akil said he wanted to explore the consequences of gun violence in urban areas, not just in some Very Special Episode about police-involved violence but more generally how violence impacts the community. As a school principal, sucha n exploration almost by necessity puts Black Lightning's civilian identity, Jefferson Pierce, front and center.
Black Lightning premieres on January 16 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW, following the midseason premiere of The Flash.