Thunder, Black Lightning, and Lightning.
Thunder, Black Lightning, and Lightning.
Image: The CW

Even before the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Black Lightning’s third season was quickly transforming the city of Freeland into ground zero for a conflict with the nation of Markovia. The city’s growing population of empowered metahumans and the researchers studying their evolution made it Markovia’s prime target, and as they gradually began to establish a presence on Black Lightning’s turf, the hero rose to the challenge of fending them off.

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On many occasions, Black Lightning’s (Cress Williams) individual efforts were nowhere near enough to fully stop the Markovian forces, thanks in part to the continued interference of the American Security Agency (A.S.A.)—the shady American organization responsible for genetically engineering Freeland’s metahumans. Were it not for Lightning (China Anne McClain) and Thunder (Nafessa Williams), who’ve spent the bulk of this season operating independently from their father in order to focus on different aspects of the chaos in Freeland, it’s likely that the city would have fully fallen apart due to conflicts on other fronts.

Lightning’s work with the A.S.A. has given her new insight as to just how far the organization’s willing to go in order to ensure that its own research is protected no matter how many innocent lives are endangered in the process. Thunder, on the other hand, has been learning what it really means to be a hero who’s working for the people they’ve sworn to protect, which is something markedly different than acting as a vigilante who presumes to know what’s best for civilians.

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After spending a significant chunk of the season dealing with their respective Freeland crises, the core Black Lightning team’s more recently been on the same page and begun being honest with one another about their extracurricular activities. But as Black Lightning, Thunder, and Lightning have come together in their fight to save Freeland’s still endangered metahuman kids—with Jefferson’s wife Lynn Stewart (Christine Adams)—they’ve realized that they need a bit more outside muscle on their side if they want to keep their city safe.

Way back in the third episode of Black Lightning’s first season, when Anissa Pierce first met Grace Choi (Chantal Thuy), one of the first things Anissa noticed about her soon-to-be girlfriend was the copy of DC’s Outsiders that was stuffed into her back pocket. In the comics, the Outsiders were originally a covert superhero team formed by Batman in order to carry out missions that the Justice League could not due to political complications. Over the years and across various media, the Outsiders’ roster has shifted radically and included characters like Catwoman, the Martian Manhunter, and, most notably, Black Lightning.

Though the CW’s Black Lightning is still rather new to the whole business of working with other superheroes, the show’s third season has been carefully putting a group of reimagined Outsiders into his orbit specifically in order to give him a reason bring them all together as a team. While certain classic Outsiders, like Grace (who in the comics is an empowered half-Amazon), have been a part of Black Lightning’s story from the beginning, others, like the technopathic meta Baron (Christopher Ammanuel), are relative newcomers who owe their lives to Black Lightning and his allies.

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Grace, Anissa, Baron, Gambi, and Brandon.
Grace, Anissa, Baron, Gambi, and Brandon.
Image: The CW

After escaping his A.S.A. pod and crossing paths with Thunder and Gambi (James Remar), Baron’s able to rest for the first time in ages and live among people who see his gift as just another part of him and not an opportunity to turn him into a weapon. Baron’s ability to communicate with machines makes him an invaluable asset in Gambi’s work gathering sensitive information that’s key to fighting the A.S.A., and Gambi’s experience working with metas make him the ideal mentor so he can learn more about his abilities. In time, Baron mentions that some in the A.S.A. referred to him as “Technocrat,” establishing that he’s a slightly reworked version of the classic tech-based Outsider by the same name who wears a power suit to compensate for his lack of proper superpowers.

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Though Baron isn’t much of a field combatant, his powers just so happen to make him one of the few people capable of interfacing with Khalil Payne (Jordan Calloway) who, after being further experimented on by the A.S.A., becomes even more of a killing machine than he was previously. While Lightning and Thunder are able to physically fight Khalil whenever he’s conscious and trying to kill them, Baron’s technopathy allows him to essentially venture into Khalil’s cybernetically enhanced mind, where his Painkiller programming keeps most of his human personality locked away.

Dangerous a presence as Khalil/Painkiller has been in Black Lightning’s more recent episodes, Jennifer’s still harbored intense feelings for him, making it difficult for her to agree with her father and sister about eliminating him when they had a chance. When Baron reasons that together, he and Jennifer can use their respective powers to travel inside of Khalil’s head to barricade Painkiller behind a kind of firewall, neither of them is initially sure that the plan will work, but miraculously, it does. To a point. While under Painkiller’s thrall, Khalil was driven to commit all sorts of murderous atrocities that he wanted no hand in and even though Jennifer’s insistent that he understands that reality, he struggles to deal with overwhelming guilt over what he’s done.

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Khalil’s recovery from the A.S.A.’s programming is complicated by the fact that while he was out of commission, Jennifer believed him to be dead and she had already begun to process of moving on with her life. Because metahumans have been popping up with increasing frequency on the show, it wasn’t all that big a deal with Jennifer first met Brandon (Jahking Guillory), a Garfield High transfer who was hiding his metahuman ability to control earth. At the time, Jennifer was still getting accustomed to her new life as a masked vigilante and, in addition to being open to the possibility for a new romance, she was also in need of a friend with whom she could share her feelings about being a meta.

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But as Black Lightning’s progressed, it’s seemed increasingly like Brandon wasn’t just another random green light kid to pop up given his history with Dr. Helga Jace, the geneticist the Markovian forces have been fighting so hard to capture in order to advance their metahuman development plan. Brandon’s terrakinesis and his vengeful grudge against the Markovians opened up the possibility of his being Black Lightning’s answer to Geo-Force, another member of the Outsiders who ends up, together with his teammates, killing Jace in the comics. Brandon’s yet to properly take a code name for himself, but the show’s had the teenager playing around with the prefix “geo” and the word “force,” making it clear that sooner than later, he’s likely to end up in a super-suit all of his own.

When Brandon and Baron make it clear they intend to assist the Black Lightning team in their mission to rescue Lynn from the Markovians who’ve kidnapped her, Black Lightning’s initially hesitant to accept help. Mostly because they’re teenagers who, in another life, he would have bumped into regularly in his job as a high school principal. But with more and more Markovians invading Freeland, Jefferson isn’t really in much of a position to turn allies down, and with some assistance from the A.S.A. itself, he’s able to begin putting together a team of his own.

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Along with Lighting, Thunder, Technocrat, Grace, and (proto) Geo-Force, Black Lightning recruits kinetic energy-absorber Erica Moran (Gabriella Garcia) and Sgt. Gardner Grayle (Boone Platt), believing that their special skills might prove useful on their extraction mission, and it should come as no surprise that both characters have roots in DC’s Outsiders comics as well. Though he’s reluctant to join them, Khalil ultimately agrees to come along as well when this team of would-be Outsiders sets out for Markovia because, aside from Grayle and Black Lightning himself, no one else on the team has much in the way of combat training.

It isn’t until this week’s episode—“The Book of Markovia: Chapter Four: Grab the Strap”—that Black Lightning and his team of Outsiders all finally come together as a unit and make a go of playing super squad, and truth be told, they’re not half bad. Even though it makes no sense, the heroes are able to storm the Markovian base where Lynn’s being held and effectively deal with all of the armed soldiers unlucky enough to bump into them. In the end, every member of the team is able to accomplish their specific goal and make it back to their Freeland-bound jet save for Black Lightning, who appears to be bested by Wayne Brady’s Gravedigger, a Markovian-aligned meta with the powers of mental suggestion, super speed, and enhance reflexes. But jst as it seems as if Gravedigger might have a shot at forcing Lynn to stay on the base, Jefferson more or less drops out of nowhere battered, but still ready to defend his wife, and he dispatches Gravedigger by blasting him through the heart with a bolt of lightning.

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With just one episode left this season, it’s not clear how or if all of the show’s heroes are going to rally together and emerge victorious when everything’s said and done, but it’s almost certain that going forward, this group of metahumans is going to become a rather major presence in the Arrowverse.

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Update: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly identified Dr. Helga Jace as Dr. “Chase,” and misstated Black Lightning fate in the episode. We regret the error.


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io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.

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