Written by Chris Walker (@cwlkr20)
The CW’s Black Lightning has premiered promisingly, thanks to a novel approach to bringing a black superhero to television. Based on the DC Comics hero and his family life, Lightning has struck a particular cord for its balance between the source material and ability to incorporate real world issues without “preaching.” Focused on stopping the gang violence and corruption in his hometown of Freeland, high school principal Jefferson Pierce returns to his old electrifying persona to make sure that his students can make it to school the next day. It’s considered “woke as fuck,” especially with the main characters featuring multiple black highly educated individuals and TV’s first black lesbian superhero. In accord, it has elicited memories of a particular early 2000s TV show — Static Shock.
Who don’t know Static from Dakota? In the early 90s, DC’s Milestone Comics imprint and a group of writers & artists featuring Dwayne McDuffie, introduced a young, black superhero with electric powers as a contemporary alternative to Spider-Man. Virgil Hawkins (civilian name) dealt with the issues of a normal black teen in the inner city — avoiding drugs and getting beat up, all while trying to save lives and keep his identity a secret. He wasn’t a hit like Spider-Man, getting canceled in 1997. However, in 2000, the Kids’ WB! programming block from the WB (the CW predecessor) debuted Static Shock, reviving interest in the character.
The Static from television differed from the Static in the comics, but he was still an intelligent and witty black teen trying to do right by his city and family. Virgil still got his powers because of a chemical explosion during a gang fight, which is important — the show never shied away from any issue, just like in the comics. When dealing with topics like racism, grief, or bullying, it made them relatable to children while remaining intelligent. It showed kids that there are good ways to handle things, but also that the wrong ways had real consequences — not always getting shocked by Static or kidnapped by a shadow warping villain.
It was also self-aware. One of the best episodes featured Static teaming up with African superhero Anansi while on vacation in Ghana. The episode had two black superheroes working together on a common goal, but also came with a strong reflective point. When all is said and done, Static thanks Anansi for the experience of working with him, explaining that he drew inspiration from working with him.
Most heroes that Virgil dealt with were white guys like Batman and Superman. In step with that, the launching points of the comic & the show was Static as a hero of color, in an original story that felt more honest than what was expected by a children’s cartoon. He’s young, but knew that there was definitely a need for more heroes who looked like him. Static recognizes his presence was changing the world around him in many fronts other than saving people physically.
Alas, Static Shock only lasted 4 seasons. The character has had bouts of relevance in the comics, with an uneven New 52 series that left as soon as it arrived. Static has made appearances in shows like Justice League Unlimited and Young Justice, but he hasn’t made it back to a standalone television series. There was a rumor of a movie with Jaden Smith but no real confirmation.
However, that’s where Black Lightning comes in. There has been genuine interest for the series to introduce Mr. Hawkins. Maybe he can be weaved in like how Arrow uses Arsenal. It would be pretty great to have two characters of a similar power make-up team up. Even then, maybe Static could be due for a live action comeback. It’s 2018 — DC is coming with a standalone streaming service, and we are currently in an atmosphere on the big and small screen where black characters are being more positively received. Look at the recent success of the Black Panther film, the anticipation for season two of Luke Cage, and Black Lightning’s strong start. All I’m saying is there’s a window right now, why not go for it and give the people what they want? Superhero Static Shock (woo woo).