Despite being part of the Arrowverse, Black Lightning and its main pairing don’t get the same fan attention as the other shows.
In 2018, Black Lightning became the first Black-led television series in the CW network’s stable of DC Comics based superhero shows. The collection of shows is affectionately dubbed as the Arrowverse by fans, as the universe was created after the success of Arrow. Black Lightning stars Jefferson Pierce, a high school principal who is forced back into action as the superhero Black Lightning to protect his daughters, Anissa and Jennifer. The two girls eventually discover that they have superpowers of their own and team up with their father, their scientist mother Lynn, and their “uncle,” family friend and tech genius Gambi to protect the citizens of their city, Freeland, from threats inside and outside the city.
The show premiered to critical acclaim and comparatively good ratings for the CW. Black Lightning has never shied away from dealing with issues affecting real Black Americans through a superhero lens. The show features strong performances from its cast, electrifying fights, and plots that provide commentary on the real world. In addition to breaking ground as the first Black-led Arrowverse show, Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Anissa, is the first black lesbian superhero on television. After three critically acclaimed seasons, the CW announced in November that the show’s current fourth season would be its last.
While Black Lightning is a superhero show that loosely connects to the rest of the Arrowverse, the fandom for the series is disproportionately much smaller compared to the other shows. A look at AO3, or Archive of Our Own, shows that there are currently only about 240 works for Black Lightning, which pales in comparison to the thousands for every other show in the Arrowverse, other than the most recent addition Batwoman and the yet to premiere Superman & Lois.
In addition, the show’s main pairing, Anissa and Grace, or Thundergrace, has far fewer fanworks compared to other femslash pairings in the Arrowverse, including the non-canon pairing of Kara and Lena (Supercorp) on Supergirl and Ava and Sara (Avalance) on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. As the show’s final season begins, a look into the CW’s decisions regarding the show and fandom trends reveal many factors that led to Black Lightning not receiving the fandom love it deserved.
The most glaring issue is the CW’s delay in connecting Black Lightning to the rest of the universe. Despite the show being on the same network, and the Arrowverse’s love of crossover events, the character of Black Lightning was not introduced to Green Arrow, Flash, Supergirl, and the rest of the heroes of the Arrowverse until the most recent Crisis on Infinite Earths. The crossover event combined the various earths of the DC Universe until only one remained. The decision to keep Black Lightning separate was initially a decision made by the showrunners in order to establish the world of Freeland and its characters. However, the isolation became more pronounced after the show’s first season.
While an argument could be made that Black Lightning took place on a different earth prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths than most of the other shows, The Flash was still able to crossover with Supergirl before it moved to the CW despite Supergirl’s world also being canonically on another earth prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths. While Black Lightning has been overall successful at telling a contained story with its own cast of characters, it is possible that allowing Black Lightning, Thunder, Lightning, and the rest of the cast to take part in the crossovers and build friendships and relationships with the rest of the universe would have helped boost the show’s popularity and fandom among viewers.
In terms of Thundergrace, there has been some criticism about how the relationship was developed compared to the show’s heterosexual pairings. While Anissa and Grace have had amazing chemistry and cute moments since their first meeting in the show’s debut season, some of their relationship development has happened off-screen. One particular instance of this is when Anissa and Grace reunite after some time apart in an early season three episode, and the subsequent episode reveals that Grace now knows about Anissa’s superhero identity without showing this conversation on screen.
Having some of these turning points in the relationship not shown on screen has been frustrating to LGBTQ+ fans who have called out the double standards in representation between Thundergrace and the relationships between Jefferson and Lynn and Jennifer and Khalil. In addition, not upgrading Chantal Thuy (Grace) to series regular status until the show’s final season is particularly egregious when Jordan Calloway (Khalil) was promoted to series regular after the first season. While the show focuses on the entire Pierce family, it could have done better with the focus on Anissa as a character and her relationship with Grace.
Despite the networks’ handling of the show and the show’s own shortcomings, no analysis of the show’s fandom can be complete without acknowledging that Black Lightning is the only show in the Arrowverse populated with a nearly all-black cast while Thundergrace is one of the only femslash pairings that doesn’t involve a white woman (prior to Batwoman’s recasting). While these facts are far from the only factors in the show’s lack of fandom, there is much to be said about the trends of race in fandom. The Arrowverse isn’t the only fandom with this problem, but it’s one of the fandoms where this issue is clearly visible.
The fact that Black Lightning or Thundergrace doesn’t get a lot of fandom love compared to Supercorp and Avalance is indicative of fandom trends that overall tend to prioritize white characters over characters of color. Despite the show’s shortcomings when it comes to Thundergrace, the relationship still has a lot of great canon moments and the penultimate episode of the third season had them get engaged and nearly married.
Despite this, much of fandom doesn’t show up for them like they do the others. This was blatantly seen at recent ClexaCon conventions when actresses Nafessa Williams and Chantal Thuy attended the event. Eyewitness reports indicated that their lines and panel were much smaller compared to other actresses, including Arrowverse actress Caity Lotz. While Nafessa and Chantal have been supportive of Thundergrace and the LGBTQ+ community over the years, it is unfortunate that they aren’t embraced like other actresses in the Arrowverse.
While many people in fandom avoid writing characters of color because they’re hesitant of writing them incorrectly, there have been many resources created over the past few years to help any writer be able to write characters of color and avoid harmful tropes. Thundergrace, Supercorp, and Avalance are all great pairings featuring beautiful, badass women with a lot of chemistry. Supercorp is a non-canon ship with lots of potential and sometimes blatant queerbaiting, Avalance is a canon ship with lots of great moments, and Thundergrace deserves its place in femslash fandom among them as well.
Despite a potential spinoff in the works with Jennifer’s love interest Khalil, aka Painkiller, there are currently no known plans to feature any of the Pierce family in other Arrowverse shows. As the series comes to an end, network decisions and lack of fandom support compared to other Arrowverse shows doomed the show to being the as of now shortest running series in the Arrowverse despite the potential for more seasons.
Every marginalized fan can agree that representation matters. While not always perfect, the Arrowverse has some form of representation on each of its shows and receives much critical and fan praise for doing so. While much is written about LGBTQ+ representation, representation of characters of color matters just as much. Black Lightning and Thundergrace are important representation for many marginalized people and they deserved the support and fandom love that the rest of the Arrowverse has received.
Author: Jessica Wolff
Jessica Wolff is a graduate of Drexel University with a BS in Film/Video. She has a passion for entertainment and representation in entertainment. She currently resides outside of Washington, DC.
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