After 56 episodes on the CW network, the Black Lightning series reaches its series finale this week. And although we may yet see these characters again in the spinoff series for Painkiller (who was the focal point of the first Black Lightning breakdown), it’s important to note the end of the Pierce Family saga at the heart of the show. This was a story about intergenerational superheroics, and thus, for as much as the series was about Jefferson Pierce, aka Black Lightning, his two daughters — Anissa and Jennifer — and their respective heroic journeys were just as important.
But while younger daughter Jennifer embodied her father’s electrical abilities as Lightning, the eldest daughter Anissa — aka Thunder — embodied her father’s skills as a hand-to-hand combatant. And as such, she deserves a breakdown — one that examines the style, strategy, and techniques of her approach to fighting:
Thunder: The Educated Brawler
Anissa Pierce is the more headstrong and confrontational of the two Pierce daughters. Trained by her father, Anissa developed a style of fighting that was technical, but emphasized physicality. A large part of why was that her chief sparring partner/teacher was her father, who is a very large and physically imposing man. This style was only magnified by the onset of her superhuman abilities, which gifted her with superhuman strength, durability, and punching power, turning her into a freight train who can physically overwhelm gang members, small armies of soldiers, and metahumans alike. Whether it was allowing an opponent to land, blocking strikes, or landing them, everything was done aggressively and with maximum physicality/power. However, due to the nature of her powers, Anissa often fell into the trap of taking one to give one, as her powers allowed her to win most exchanges. This scene from the first season — when Anissa took on Tobias Whale’s right hand the assassin Syonide — illustrates this to a T.
Syonide wields two extendable metal batons, and Anissa, being aware of her superhuman durability while Syonide is not, gives her opponent a free shot, a slashing strike across the face which doesn’t faze her at all. In any circumstance, be it life or death or a sporting event, it’s never wise to give your opponent a clear full power shot to begin an exchange, but when you take your opponent’s best shot easily, you send a message: they can’t hurt you, and that you are fully capable of overwhelming them.
Syonide uses a back fist high with the baton. Anissa blocks high with the right hand, then shoots low with a straight right to the body, which Syonide parries with the batons (as her hands would shatter from the force of Anissa’s strikes and the density of her body), hoping to get Anissa out of position and wide open for a counter shot of her choosing.
Anissa realizes Syonide is trying to set her up for counters, knowing that she is physically outclassed, so she throws short shots, instead of being thrown off-balance and walking face-first into a clean baton shot. Anissa also notices that Syonide is standing tall in the pocket with both hands down to complete the parry, so she shifts her weight, loading her hips to fire off a short (but telegraphed) left hook.
Syonide — head up, eyes up — makes the read and changes levels, rolling under Anissa’s left hand and affording herself a full powered slashing attack at Anissa legs. This is smart fighting, attacking her opponent’s base in the hopes of finding her achilles heel. She then deftly rolls back over, seamlessly coming over the top with a double baton downward strike. However, this strike is met with an aggressive Age-Uke that breaks both batons in half.
In this exchange we got a glimpse of the aggression, physicality, and bad intentions of Anissa’s brawling style, as she not only walked face-first into a power shot, she also sought to take her opponent’s head off with raw aggression, physicality, and power, instead of using her powers in a myriad of ways that would have made this fight much shorter and much easier (more on that later). She was so intent on doing damage that she eschewed technical defense and awareness, not because it was the right thing to do, but because she could. The education in her brawling was demonstrated, in that she was throwing with technique and with purpose, and she was making all the reads and while using the appropriate techniques (based on her abilities). But she was not fighting in a smart or an efficient manner, which got her into trouble later in the exchange when Syonide noticed the tell that activated her power and exploited it:
Anissa, whose powers are activated when she holds her breath, exhales; this changes her from a virtually invulnerable juggernaut back into a physically strong, athletic, but ultimately human fighter. Syonide exploits her briefly compromised opponent with a straight right to the body, folding Anissa in half.
Syonide follows that up with a side kick to the face, stunning Anissa again and getting Anissa standing tall, as she is on her heels from the strike and has now lost all momentum.
Syonide then finishes the exchange with a jump spinning roundhouse, dropping Anissa and leaving her at the mercy of the deadly assassin.
This showed the best and worst of the educated brawler — the physicality, aggression, and pressure intimidates opponents, as it makes the fight not just a battle of physical ability but mental toughness. Can you handle an opponent who is willing (and able) to take as much abuse as is necessary to do a tenth of the damage in return? Most can’t, and that allows a fighter to take the initiative and build on it. On the downside, any and every fight is made more difficult than necessary, which gives opponents opportunities to win fights when they should have none. (Think of this as a comic book version of Tony Ferguson, Ronda Rousey, or early stage Justin Gaethje). In playing with her opponent, being determined to break her, Anissa exposed herself and her weakness by choosing to engage in a firefight instead of being deliberate, efficient and accurate. Luckily for her, she finally decided to do that:
Anissa’s fighting style actually reflected who and how she was as a character — very intelligent with a big picture view; but someone who often chose the most direct and obvious solution to problems, when a little more tact or restraint may have suited her better in regards to minimizing damage and maximizing her own gifts.
Although we don’t know where her story goes next, four seasons of Black Lightning showed the progression of Anissa Pierce’s character and her evolution as both a fighter and a person. This breakdown was just a small peek into the all-around fighting skill of the superhero known as Thunder, and hopefully it piques interest in a series rewatch, with an eye towards watching the way her fights evolve over the course of the show.
The Black Lightning series finale airs on May 24, 2021 on the CW network.