Gang activity brings a vigilante superhero out of retirement in The CW’s ‘Black Lightning’

Striking with a vengeance

Cress Williams stars in “Black Lightning,” premiering Tuesday, Jan. 16, on The CW.

A superhero-turned-high school principal gets pulled back into crime-fighting when the local gang encroaches on his life in the newest entry from the DC Comics universe to join The CW lineup this week.

In “Black Lightning,” premiering Tuesday, Jan. 16, Cress Williams (“Hart of Dixie,” “Code Black”) stars as the title character, an armor-suited, masked vigilante gifted with the superhuman power to harness and control electricity, which he used for years to keep his hometown safe from bad guys.

But when that began to affect his marriage to college sweetheart Lynn (Christine Adams, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) and their efforts to raise daughters Anissa (Nafessa Williams, “Twin Peaks”) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain, “House of Payne”), he abandoned crime fighting and settled into his existence as Jefferson Pierce, principal at Freeland High School, where he could also make a difference in his community, albeit in another way.

That changes nine years later when the local gang the 100 invades his school and comes after Jennifer, forcing the now-divorced Jefferson – with an assist from surrogate father Gambi (James Remar, “Dexter”) – to make a fateful decision for the sake of his family and Freeland.

“He’s kind of had this unwritten rule, unwritten deal with (the gang),” Cress Williams explains, “which is I will stay out of your business if you keep your business away from my school. And that kind of unwritten truce has existed until we pick up our story, where it gets broken.”

Cress Williams stars in “Black Lightning,” premiering Tuesday, Jan. 16, on The CW.

“He’s done now nine years of Jefferson Pierce by himself,” he continues, “which the school and his daughters and the students in school have improved and they have thrived but the outside world around the school has kind of deteriorated even more. And so we have to learn that through the course of the series, I think, that what is really needed is a combination of both. What is needed is Jefferson operating at his best but also Black Lightning at his best.”

And Black Lightning at his best is someone not to be messed with. Outfitted in a mask and bullet-proof armored suit, he can shoot bolts of electricity from his hands at gun-toting villains and even pick them up, hold them in mid-air and toss them like toys. For the role, Williams donned a suit made up of plastic plates that he says looks impressive but doesn’t vent body heat nor flex well with movement, which can make fight scenes challenging.

“The chest piece and the arm greaves are plastic but they’re actually hard plastic so they don’t bend much at all,” Williams reports. “And that’s been the challenge up until now. Actually I’m very excited. … They’ve been working on a suit that’s the same but those hard plastic pieces, they’ve been working on making them softer and I get to try it and test it out right when we come back (from Christmas hiatus) so I’m excited about that to make things a lot easier.”

“But I’ve got to admit the suit does look really, really cool on camera,” he continues, “so whatever happens I hope it continues to look really cool. But yeah, I hope it is streamlined.”

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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