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In the 2018 show Black Lightning, the titular superhero fights street gangs and others that regularly use guns. In the first episode, he narrowly avoids gunfire on several occasions, and survives a bullet thanks to his suit being bullet-proof. In the third episode, a villain takes aim at Black Lightning and misses. At first I thought the villain was targeting his head, since that's the only unarmored part of his body.

Given that Black Lightning is regularly facing enemies with guns, why doesn't he wear a bulletproof helmet made of the same material as his bulletproof suit?

  • In the comics his super force-field extends from his belt around his entire body – Valorum Mar 10 '18 at 8:53
  • While Black Lightning in the TV show can block bullets with electricity, it’s an activated power rather than a reactive power. In other words, he still needs a bulletproof suit to block bullets that he doesn’t know are coming (as with the bullets in the pilot), raising the question of why he doesn’t have a bulletproof helmet. – Thunderforge Mar 10 '18 at 15:29
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The primary function of the suit is to regulate Black Lightning's power

Jefferson Pierce has the ability to draw in electrical energy from his surroundings and release it through his hands. Although he can do this without using special equipment ("The Resurrection", 1x01; "Black Jesus", 1x04), the process is dangerous for him. As Black Lightning, his suit protects him from the harmful effects of his own power:

"That suit of yours is what keeps you from blowing out your nervous system when you use your power."

— Peter Gambi, "Three Sevens: The Book of Thunder", 1x06

The suit also gives Jefferson better control over his natural abilities, such as by increasing the accuracy of his blasts ("The Book of Burial", 1x03) and by allowing him to use his hands as thrusters for flight ("And Then the Devil Brought the Plague: The Book of Green Light", 1x05).

In its primary function, the suit does not require a helmet.

Black Lightning is a symbol to the people

"Do you remember why you became Black Lightning? You wanted to give the people hope."

— Peter Gambi, season recap for "Three Sevens: The Book of Thunder", 1x06

As a black hero, Black Lightning inspires black people to live just lives while reminding them that they have a powerful person supporting them. To do this, he needs for people to see that he is black.

The suit covers most of Jefferson's body, except for his head and some of his fingers. To conceal his civillian identity, he already wears a mask and uses his power to blur his face and voice; if he also wore a helmet, he would lose his identity as an unambiguously black hero.

Helmets symbolize repression

Heroes sometimes chose not to use abilities that have unwelcome associations. For example, Batman has forsaken guns — even though they would add to his arsenal of crime-fighting tools — because of his childhood experience.

Helmets are practical, but they have an image problem: members of the riot squad wear them.1 Given Black Lightning's interest in social justice, he might not be comfortable — or believe that he could be an effective symbol — having the same look.


1 Google Images shows press photos of encounters between riot police (wearing helmets with full-face shields) and black protesters. I have not shown these photos here because of potential copyright issues, but they are easy to find.

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  • "if he also wore a helmet, he would lose his identity as an unambiguously black hero." I didn't even think about this. After all, people generally don't know that Guardian over on Supergirl is black, since his helmet covers his face and you can only tell if he's looking you in the eyes. – Thunderforge Mar 11 '18 at 19:56
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While @Gaultheria gives a nice in universe answer from an out of universe perspective the director, Salim Akil, didn't want to give him a helmet or mask so that you could read his emotions and see his eyes in the scenes.

Why not give Jefferson a helmet to protect him from additional damage and also to keep his loved ones from recognizing him?

It’s an interesting line every time I read one of the scripts. I have a crew crew of writers, but I touch every script. And there was a scene recently in a script where Thunder and Black Lightning had on their suits, but they were in the house, and I was like, “Nah.” It varies from story to story and script to script, but I try to have rules I stick to — even if they’re still being set because the show is new.There’s a moment in the first episode where he’s literally right in front of his daughter, and he has the thing over the eyes, and we’re going to change his voice, but there’s not a lot more we can do, and you kind of have to just buy into it a little bit. I had a lot of iterations of his costume, and at one point I had covered his face and his eyes, but what was more important to me was the emotion, and you need to see that. You need to see his eyes when his daughters have a gun pointed at them.

Variety, ‘Black Lightning’ Boss on Telling a Tale of ‘African-American Paranoia’

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  • Great find! It doesn’t fully answer my question (especially since it seems to be about the eye shutters he sometimes uses, rather than a helmet), but it definitely explains the intentions behind the director. – Thunderforge May 11 '18 at 12:45

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