We are living squarely in the age of superhero culture. Costumed heroes and superpowers have taken over movies and TV. How you feel about that obviously depends on whether or not you enjoy comic book adventures being adapted to the big and small screens.

One problem with the prevalence of superhero stories, however, is that many of them seem the same. Almost always, these movies and TV series begin with an origin story. We have to see how the hero came to be. He’s a normal guy drawn into extraordinary circumstances, often through accident or tragedy. He realizes the supernatural gifts he now possesses. And when a villainous threat emerges, the hero steps up to accept the responsibility that his skills have placed upon him.

Fortunately, the creators behind The CW’s latest addition to the superhero landscape are entirely aware of this. And that makes Black Lightning feel fresh alongside shows like Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow.

Jefferson Pierce (played by Cress Williams) isn’t a millionaire who built himself a suit and can bankroll an arsenal of gadgets and weapons to take on the criminal underworld. He wasn’t the victim of unfortunate circumstances or experiments that gave him supernatural abilities. What sets Pierce apart from other costumed vigilantes and super-powered adventurers is that he isn’t a loner. He’s a family man who cares more about keeping his family together than kicking the asses of bad guys.

Furthermore, when the show introduces us to Pierce, he’s not a superhero anymore. No, he’s not someone who still has yet to become a hero. He’s left that life behind. Pierce retired his Black Lightning persona nine years earlier, prompted by a wife who could no longer take him returning home injured and kids wondering why their father was wounded and bleeding in the bathroom.

Instead, Pierce is trying to save his community from civilian life as the principal of his high school. His adventures are in fundraising and keeping his students on the straight-and-narrow, providing an environment in which they can succeed. That’s not easy with a gang and criminal organization called The 100 (not to be confused with another CW show) killing young men on the streets and threatening the safety of the community.

The emergence of The 100 and the racial bias it’s caused with local police has also made it difficult for black men in the city of Freeland, where the series takes place. Showrunner Salim Akil, who wrote and directed Black Lightning‘s pilot episode, brings that point home in an early scene during which Pierce is racially profiled by two police officers looking to arrest someone for a liquor store robbery. (Akil based the scene on his own experiences with being pulled over because he’s black.)

Again, this isn’t what you typically see in superhero fare. In other stories, vigilantes and police might be at odds because the hero is taking the law into his own hands. Or maybe the police are corrupt, paid off or blackmailed by the villainous forces that requires a superhero to emerge.

Black Lightning might lean more toward the latter while providing some real-world resonance in the Black Lives Matter cultural climate. While the authorities aren’t necessarily compromised, their racial views have made them part of the problem. Pierce is fighting two fronts in his efforts to keep Freeland safe. So someone who can work outside the law and provide an alternative for justice becomes necessary.

We know Pierce will be pulled back into the superhero life. Otherwise, there would be no point in this series. But it’s a different take on the “every time I try to get out, they pull me back in” superhero angle, which we’ve seen in The Dark Knight Rises and Netflix’s The Defenders (notably with Daredevil’s storyline).

Sure, Pierce’s safety and well-being is threatened by him suiting up to take on criminals again. But the stakes are different for him. If he doesn’t fight back, his young daughters could fall prey to the criminal element. If he does, he risks destroying his relationship with the ex-wife with whom he’s trying to reconcile. And who knows if fighting crime at night will make it difficult for him to do his day job and set a good example for the students under his care.

Thanks to Akil creating fully developed characters (who still have stories to tell) and placing them in a distinct setting, Black Lightning feels different from other superhero TV shows and movies. Besides being an older hero with a family, Black Lightning is also notable for portraying a black superhero. The CW has taken steps with Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl to diversify the colors and genders among its superhero offerings. But with no offense meant to Luke Cage (and Black Panther to come), it feels long overdue to have a black character leading a series like this.

Williams is up to the task, utterly charismatic in a lead role and depicting a hero whose story (past and future) you want to follow. He’s so compelling that it’s almost anti-climactic when he puts on his (upgraded) costume again. We just want to see him kick ass and save his daughters. It doesn’t matter that he can shoot lighting out of his hands — although that, along with his Black Lightning suit, look really cool.

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is a writer, editor, and podcaster. You can find his work at Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He's written for Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation.