How Crisis On Infinite Earths Has Failed Black Lightning So Far

The Crisis On Infinite Earths crossover event has missed a major opportunity to bring new viewers to Black Lightning.

Cress Williams as Black Lightning in Crisis On Infinite Earths Part Three

This article contains spoilers through “Part Three” of Crisis On Infinite Earths.

If you’ve been watching Crisis on Infinite Earths, and are caught up with the most recent episode, you’ve met Jefferson Pierce. If you do not watch Black Lightning, it may have been for the first time…

Black Lightning has always been an entity completely separate from the Arrowverse. In 2018, showrunner Salim Akil told EW on the prospect of a crossover: “We’re not in the Arrowverse. We’re not in the Supergirl universe. We’re in the Black Lightning universe. If there’s ever a crossover, Supergirl will come to Freeland, or Green Arrow will come to Freeland.” I remember thinking at the time that this kind of crossover is the only way I would want to see Black Lightning incorporated into the shared universe, too. I didn’t want Jefferson to pop up in a moment of need, pull a stunt, and then be sent off on his merry way, which… is exactly what we got in Crisis.

In “Crisis On Infinite Earths Part Three,” Pariah brought Jefferson to Earth-1 to help the Flash stop the anti-matter cannon that is destroying countless Earths. He’s asked to contain the cannon’s energy, moments after he is told his Earth — and his entire family — have been destroyed. He has no time to think, let alone mourn, before he commences with the heroics.

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Black Lightning‘s “Earth Crisis” episode is not a part of the five episodes that make up the Crisis on Infinite Earths event, but it directly precedes “Part Three.” Following the crossover requires watching Supergirl, Batwoman, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow, but Black Lightning is not obligatory. The writers behind the crossover didn’t think Jefferson’s perspective warranted your attention, despite the fact that the Crisis is affecting his reality. Those who watch the show saw the anti-matter wave hit Freeland and watched the characters we love and root for disappear. Like Jefferson Pierce, there was little narrative space given for Black Lightning viewers to process that information.

In the context of The Flash episode of Crisis, those characters are just… people Black Lightning lost. They are nameless and faceless, and of no concern to Barry, Cisco, or anyone else. In the same episode, we’re introduced to Ryan Choi, one of the Paragons destined to save humanity. In the few minutes we have with him, we learn he has a wife, Amanda, and six-month-old daughter, Simone. We see their faces, albeit in photos, and understand what he stands to lose. But this is not about him. This is about every other hero having a chance to be centered in this particular narrative while Jefferson is treated as a prop, as a tool to be used by the other protagonist superheroes to save the day. In this way, Jefferson’s superheroics are ascribed to other, more central characters—in this case, not just one, but two Flashes.

“But Jefferson Pierce has a show!” you may say. And this is true; I watch it. But there is a large chunk of the Arrowverse audience that does not. The Flash is the most-watched show in the Arrowverse, with usually just over one million viewers tuning in for Season 6 episodes. Black Lightning is the least-watched show in the Arrowverse, with usually somewhere between 600,000 and 700,000 viewers tuning in for a Season 3 episode (its Season 3 viewing numbers are not that far behind Arrow Season 8’s).

Why might this be? First because, it is not connected to that universe in any tangible way — which the Arrowverse Powers That Be may be trying to rectify, but have yet to. Second, Black Lightning is a Very Black Show. It has a majority Black cast, it speaks to Black issues, and caters to a Black audience. Speaking plainly, the show isn’t for everyone, and some audiences ignore things that aren’t catered to them. That’s not to say white people don’t watch it, but not everyone who watches The Flash or Arrow—which, as a show with a white superhero at its center is seen as a superhero show for everyone who likes superheroes—will have given Black Lightning—a show seen as a niche superhero show because it doesn’t center white characters—a chance.

And that’s what these crossovers are about: convincing fans of one CW superhero show to give another CW superhero show a chance. Arrow introduced us to The Flash. The Flash pulled Supergirl into the connected universe, even though it was a self-contained entity. The Flash and Arrow both birthed Legends of Tomorrow, and it was a crossover that led the heroes to Gotham, where they met Batwoman. The writers made a point of bridging these shows together. They wrote episodes around characters from these different shows, these different Earths, interacting. Excluding Black Lightning may have been a logistical choice, but it was still a choice.

I’ll be fair and acknowledge that Black Lightning is filmed in Atlanta, while the rest of the Arrowverse shows are filmed in Vancouver. It was probably easier to bring Cress Williams to the rest of the cast than vice versa. That said, they were able to assemble actors from several shows airing on different networks and platforms as well as include people in the crossover who haven’t been associated with the DC in years, like Ashley Scott (Huntress in Birds of Prey). They had time to seed this story in episodes from last season. It was doable.

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There are numerous ways for any of the Arrowverse characters to make their way to Freeland. They can travel between universes at the push of a button, which we’ve seen them do numerous times. There was no shortage of ways to have Arrowverse characters interact with Black Lightning, both during Crisis and before the crossover story kicked into high gear. If the Arrowverse truly wanted to include Black Lightning in the crossover, they could have found a creative way to do it; they just didn’t think it was important enough.

Crisis‘ exclusion of Black Lightning the show and relative lack of narrative space granted to Black Lightning the character is problematic. People who don’t already watch Black Lightning and are familiar with the character have no investment in Jefferson. He was just… a random person who can do things with electricity who showed up to help the heroes we actually care about doing what they needed to do. He could’ve been replaced with one of Cisco’s doohickeys and the story would be unaffected. If you can swap a character for an inanimate object, you have done that character a disservice.

At the end of the last episode, we saw everyone but the seven Paragons fade away. The Arrowverse isn’t about to permanently kill off their main protagonists, so I don’t doubt that Jefferson, a couple of Clark Kents, and the rest of the heroes will be back. But how they do that will determine if including Black Lightning in the crossover was a good idea. I’ll be satisfied with Jefferson’s inclusion if they show the same level of care for him and his family as they do Oliver, Barry, and Kara.

There’s nothing to be done now about the fact that Black Lightning wasn’t explicitly included in Crisis on Infinite Earths. It was a missed opportunity to introduce (or reintroduce) fans of the other Arrowverse shows to a world and characters that they may not have sought out, or given a chance otherwise. But there are two episodes left in the crossover event, and while there’s little chance any other heroes will be visiting Freeland, there’s still hope that Jefferson and his family will have their moment, and Black Lightning will be embraced as part of the larger Arrowverse.