Okay, TECHNICALLY the “One Steve Limit”, as defined bt ATV Tropes, applies to similarly NAMED characters, but for the purposes of this article, I’m stretching it to cover race. Because the CW’s DC Universe, AKA the DCCWU, seems to have a One Black Lead Limit going and it bothers me.
See, last week the CW announced, pretty much out of nowhere, what show would be joining Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl come autumn in their Superhero block, and we were all expecting it to be Vixen, finally graduating from CW Seed’s 5 minute per episode animated shorts to a full fledged series. Instead, the CW is content to have their Vixen-On-Live-Action-TV quota filled by Maisie Richardson on Legends playing the grandmother of Seed’s Vixen, because the new show we’re getting is this one;
That’s actor Cress Williams, (Nash Bridges, Prison Break, Hart of Dixie), as Black Lightning, a 70’s DC superhero that began as a straight-up blaxploitation character just as Marvel’s Luke Cage did, but who was over time given actual character and history and is now a fully fleshed out character despite his still cringeworthy code name.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m more than happy to see a superhero show with a minority lead. My issue here is that I don’t see why Vixen had to be sacrificed to give us one. I don’t see why we can’t have both. Granted, the CW hasn’t officially ruled out a proper Vixen series in the future, but personally this move makes no sense to me. The greater non comic reading audience may not have ever heard of Vixen outside of the CW shows, but if the reasoning behind this is that Black Lightning is a more recognizable name to that portion of the audience, they’re making a mistake. The audience has already been introduced to Megalyn Echikunwoke’s Mari McCabe on Arrow, even if they’ve never seen the Seed cartoon. They’ve seen Mari prominently mentioned on LoT as part of Amiya’s story arc, (that she MUST return to 1944 so Mari can eventually be born). The CW audience knows who Mari is. They’re familiar with her. I can pretty much guarantee you that audience either has no idea who Black Lightning is, or only know him from Sinbad’s turn playing him on SNL’s Superman’s Funeral sketch back in the 90’s.
The decision to give a character thus far never seen in the DCCWU, one with whom the non comic book reading chunk of the audience, (which, let’s face it, will always utterly dwarf those of us who do read comics), is likely either completely unfamiliar or who only knows from a schlocky comedy sketch or MAYBE from watching Superfriends if they’re old enough, is on it’s face kind of stupid. It would make far more sense to use the character the audience already knows. The audience, even the larger non-comic-reading chunk, is already a fan of the CW universe. Mari has a built-in audience to follow her to her own show. While she may have only appeared once on live-action tv, she still gets mentioned a fair amount and is treated as a significant character in universe. She has the connection and history to draw the audience to yet another hour of superhero tv on the CW. The risk of suddenly deciding to pass Mari over and go for Black Lightning instead could backfire. 4 hours a week of superhero TV is already a lot. A 5th CW show COULD cause audience burn-out and end up negatively affecting the other shows. Having the 5th show star someone the audience already knows could avoid that burnout. So if the CW is going to pass over Mari, they need to do Black Lightning right.
First of all, they need to avoid all traces of THIS shit;
For any of you reading this that are as unfamiliar with Black Lightning as I expect the bulk of the CW audience to be, that is the original appearance of one Jefferson Pierce, whose entire backstory was that he was a former Olympic athlete who got electricity powers. That was literally it. He didn’t have any real character beyond that. He was a typical jive bro blaxploitation character full-stop, whom DC to this day claims is their flagship first black superhero. I say claims because DC is desperate to forget their actual first black superhero and they want the universe to forget as well. If you feel like having an instant migraine from the utter insulting stupidity of the hero they want to erase? Go google DC+The Black Bomber. The very concept of him is so mind-bogglingly insulting I refuse to even repeat it here because it hurts my brain.
Anyway, over time, Jefferson, who could have easily been forgotten when the blaxploitation craze died out, was slowly over time fleshed out and given an actual backstory beyond “athletic black dude with powers”. He has two daughters, one of whom grew up to be a superhero herself. He teaches underprivileged inner city children. He was once the Secretary of Education. He’s a passionate activist for everyone having access to a good education and a strong anti-drug crusader. So the CW at least has a good base to work with to get the character over enough to carry his own show with an audience that is largely unfamiliar with him. Plus he’s a puzzle piece in the CW’s odd obsession with trying to re-unite the cast of Prison Break, which could draw more eyes to the show from fans of that show, as he joins Dominic “Rory Williams/Heatwave” Purcell and Wentworth “Leonard Snart/Captain Cold” Miller in Starling and Central Cities. So the CW does have options to draw an audience and keep it if they do the character right, but why take the risk if they already have a character the audience knows and likes? They could give Mari her own show and introduce Jefferson IN it, and build him an audience there leading to his own show next year.
See the thing about Mari is she’s likely to have an even more built-in audience because the average age of the DCCWU’s audience means that audience was likely watching Justice League Unlimited a decade or so ago. Which means they already know Mari anyway;
Mari had a pretty prominent role on JLU, being one of a sadly small handful of second tier heroes with recurring roles and dialogue beyond the big seven. She was a fan favourite as she was portrayed as a snarky free-spirited badass. She was a strong female character that wasn’t one-dimensional. She was part of a love triangle with fan favourites John “Green Lantern” Stewart and Shayera “Hawkgirl” Hol, and was so without garnering fan hate for it. She was part of the famously popular Girl Fight episode where she actually held her own against bloody Wonder Woman until a mind control device could be destroyed to stop the lady hero infighting. She was a prominent and important secondary character the fans loved. Those fans have grown up to become DCCWU fans. And it’s those fans that made Vixen’s CW Seed cartoon so popular.
After two seasons Seed Vixen is the most viewed Seed show. So Mari clearly has enough of a fanbase to carry a show. She’s a strong female character with layers and a complex backstory, and the audience already knows who she is, while Black Lightning will most likely appear on Arrow and/or Flash once to introduce him and then get his pilot in October. And there’s a lot riding on that pilot. But that 5th show would be a lot less risky if they went with Mari.
Of course now there’s another wrinkle in the mix, as another animated CW Seed show is set to debut soon that could potentially lead to a Mari solo series getting passed over yet again…
I’m Penny Sautereau, and I’m a little teapot. Not sure you want to pour me out when I get steamed though, that could get ugly. Later Pulsey peoples!
Tags: Arrow, Black Lightning, Constantine, CW Seed, DC, DCCWU, Flash (DC Comics / Barry Allen), Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, the cw, Vixen