Tor.com content by

Brandon O'Brien

Black Lightning Returns with a Focus on Consequences

A new episode—in fact, an entire new season—of Black Lightning means confronting a lot of tension; tension that goes beyond the fictional setting of Freeland, bleeding into the realities of our current moment. Facing that tension, especially as a Black audience, is an experience fraught with complex emotions: there is, of course, joy in the heroism and hope on display, but the show being so painfully adept at casting a stern eye upon the troubles of the African-American experience, especially as it relates to crime and policing, can surely be jarring sometimes. I want to say that experience is in itself radical: the series standing in as a speculative fiction watchman over the turbulence of living while black in America, providing an opportunity to channel some anger and power through a critical, empathetic outlet—but that empathy doesn’t rob the anger or desire for justice of any of its intensity or immediacy

The season two premiere, “The Book of Consequences, Chapter One: Rise of the Green Light Babies,” is no exception.

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Luke Cage’s Queer Characters Are a Good Starting Point — But We Deserve More

For a connected universe that confidently approaches its violence and criminality bluntly and with little embellishment, the Netflix fraction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is surprisingly big on symbolism and poetics. Luke Cage, a show that wavered in its first season between being so much better and suddenly so much worse than its Netflix peers, has actually become a much more interesting show in its second season.

[Spoilers for Season 2 of Luke Cage follow.]

[Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the new season are the character relationships that centre around love]

Timeless, Sense8, and Firefly: The Case Against Two-Hour Wrap-Ups

It is with great sorrow and frustration that I say another potentially promising TV show bites the dust. Mere hours before drafting this essay in bed while flipping through TV news, I learned that NBC has cancelled the sci-fi adventure series Timeless. Again. It’s almost as if, for a show about going back in time to repair and safeguard history, this show just couldn’t change its own fate, no matter how vocal and obsessed the fan base (among whom I count myself as a member).

The death knell hasn’t totally rung out just yet—there are talks of one final salvo in order to bring closure to the entire story. Especially considering the big, dramatic cliffhanger of the season two finale—the death of one major character, and the appearance of the badass future versions of two others—as well as all of the season’s still-unanswered mysteries, a lot of people are hoping for more of the story to emerge.

[But as a fan, I’m hoping AGAINST the two-hour wrap-up “solution”]

It’s Time to Talk About Marvel’s Gamora Problem

I find myself, for the most part, in the minority of people who didn’t quite enjoy Avengers: Infinity War.

To be clear, this is not me saying that that the movie is bad, or unenjoyable in a general sense. The action was engaging for the most part, and there are some character progressions that I think elicited real dramatic effort from the film. I like how it sets up Tony Stark’s pained, traumatic franchise-long journey from selfish, egotistical brat to responsible, self-sacrificing, if conflicted leader, which I hope they go all in on in upcoming installments. Thor, being my absolute favourite character from the franchise in general, has one really committed throughline, from losing everything that ever mattered to him in two back-to-back genocides to literally taking a beam of white-hot suffering through his body just to regain trust in his own heroic potential. Individual moments, like when Captain America, Black Widow, and Falcon have their first fight with Thanos’ Black Order goons in Scotland, are delightful to look at, visually. And some of the more unlikely on-screen team-ups, like Tony with Doctor Strange, or Thor with Rocket, actually make room for really interesting dialogue.

But ultimately, there’s one aspect of the film that I simply can’t get past. We need to talk about what happens to Gamora.

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Black Lightning: The Family That Fights Together, Stays Together

In the very first moments of the premiere of Black Lightning, a bleeding Jefferson Pierce lies face-up in a bathtub, open wounds gushing all over him, as he gazes into his wife Lynn’s eyes and promises that he will leave the superhero game for good.

Obviously, if you’re watching a show called Black Lightning, it’s because you assume that he will never keep this promise. Part of us may even cruelly want to see how long Jefferson can keep toeing the line between his own sense of duty and the concerns of his family. How does one keep the streets clean and keep their family’s minds at ease at the same time? Many a superhero show would have their protagonist hide from that pressure for as long as they possibly could.

This show takes a different path—not only does Lynn already know the score, but Jefferson’s daughters Anissa and Jennifer learn about his superhero moonlighting quite early compared to other shows of its kind, and they also learn that they’re all irrevocably connected to the troubled history of their hometown itself. As it stands, they have very little choice about whether they will be forced to respond to that history—the only questions are how, and how much will be asked of them.

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Black Lightning Is A Superpowered Example of How Systems Dominate the Bodies of Black Americans

The CW’s latest DC Comics series, Black Lightning, has been doing a lot of things really well from the very beginning. With only eight episodes aired to date, it has shown itself to be a very considered character study focused on the additional effort required and the heightened stakes of being a black person with any influence in an urban community. In the process, it has also become not only another media touchstone for black superhero representation but black lesbian superhero representation. It’s also a lot of fun to watch Jefferson Pierce (played by Cress Williams), his daughters Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain), and his ex-wife Lynn (Christine Adams) being smart, critical, hilarious, and badass in as many scenes as possible.

Moreover, the show is doing an interesting job not being preachy about a reality that tends to take up a bafflingly large amount of real estate in the visual/dramatic imagination of black lives. Even if you love the character, love superhero fiction in general, or just want a fun drama to watch on a Tuesday night, there’s no denying that film and television has already spent a lot of time (for some, perhaps even too much time) retelling the stories of black people in urban American communities struggling in the middle ground between the rock that is hostile law enforcement and the hard place that is gang warfare. It’s familiar territory—regardless, especially in the revealing light of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, if Black Lightning wanted to be preachy, it’d be hard to argue that the sermon would be terribly unwelcome or ill-timed.

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Building Bridges: Black Panther and the Difference Between Rage and Revolution

Black Panther is a film that centers on two clashing ideologies—maybe even two ways of achieving the same end goals. One of those perspectives is represented by Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, and a lot of digital ink has been spent on how his radical politics clashes with T’Challa’s desire for the isolation and defense of his homeland of Wakanda. Killmonger’s ideological opposite, however, is not the titular character himself, but Nakia: the spy, the War Dog, the revolutionary.

It is important to get this part out of the way: #NakiaWasRight.

Nakia is almost always right.

[In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers.]

“Who are you?”: Black Panther and the Politics of Belonging

The very first moments of Black Panther are the moments wherein two children—cousins, separated by geography, culture, and time—experience the same tragedy at different stages in their lives and in radically distinct circumstances. They both lose their fathers. One, a young man, gets to lay claim to the leadership of an entire nation in response—to have access to political, economic, and physical power the likes of which few have ever known.

The other, a child left fatherless and dispossessed of his birthright, gets to keep only his rage.

Ryan Coogler is responsible for a masterpiece in Black Panther in part because he is really good at making movies that encompass many things at once—sleek anticolonial afropunk, intense diasporic dialogue, high-octane action movie, cool-as-ice spy movie—in a franchise that has gotten very good at being sharply composed single things called “Superhero flicks.” This is not to say other Marvel movies are bad. With few, if any, exceptions, all of them are—pun not intended—marvelous films.

Black Panther, however, is a revolution. Not merely in the sense that “it is revolutionary to see blackness this way,” though it is. But also in the sense that this movie is a revolutionary dialogue.

[“Sword and Soul is our name. Steamfunk is our name. Afrofuturism is our name. Afropunk is our name.”]

“Fun” Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum — Why Context Always Matters

I want to open with certain unavoidable caveats, just in case anyone leaps first to any assumptions about what’s being said here. No one is saying you can’t have fun.

Let’s make that damned clear.

No one is saying you can’t have fun. In fact, we’re saying you must have fun. Have fun! That’s an order, Ensign!

But fun is… a thornier thing, all the time, beyond just whether or not you are having it.

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Dialect in SFF: What Does the Future Sound Like?

You know what I will always remember? “Schway”.

You remember “schway”, right? That hip futuristic slang from Batman Beyond? Schway, adjective, ‘fashionable, popular, cool, or good’.

Can anyone tell you where ‘schway’ comes from? As in, what its etymology is in that universe, how it grew in popularity there, what about the word stands out as interesting to that world’s young people?

Because I can’t lie to you—‘schway’ almost made me hate Batman Beyond.

[Slang, dialect, and the possible futures of SFF]

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