A Backdoor Pilot of Sorts Reveals that the CW’s Painkiller is Not What I Expected
Is it still a backdoor pilot if the show has already been announced? Asking for a network.
Either way, “Painkiller,” released on April 12, 2021, showed us a preview of what the new show, starring the amazing Jordan Calloway, might look like.
And it wasn’t at all what I was expecting.
Who is Painkiller?
Painkiller, real name Khalil Payne (in typical comic book pun fashion), showed up in the second episode of Black Lightning. He proceeded to date Jennifer, become crippled, get cybernetic implants so he could walk again, die, get resurrected as a living weapon, get forced to kill his mother.
In other words, Khalil was a dynamic supporting character with an interesting story.
And he’s been brainwashed. In fact, it’s now clear that Khalil and Painkiller have become a system (I’m not going to vouch for any accuracy. Comic book multiple personalities are a specific trope), and are in conflict with each other.
When the spin off was announced, I will say I had a specific expectation. I was expecting Painkiller wandering around as some kind of one man A-Team, kind of the CW’s Wolverine.
That…is so not what we are getting.
One of the cool things about the superhero comic is that it can overlap with other genres. A good Green Lantern or Captain Marvel story is also space opera. Marvel’s Avengers books routinely become historical fiction…and far future science fiction. Sometimes at the same time.
But one crossover that is seldom touched on, yet should be, is superheroes and cyberpunk. It’s honestly a natural coming together.
And Painkiller is apparently going to be cyberpunk.
The backdoor pilot is set in Akashic Valley, a kind of cyberpunk Las Vegas, where Anissa and her new wife Grace decide to go on their honeymoon.
Of course, that doesn’t go well. Grace is kidnapped, and Painkiller nearly kills Anissa. Khalil manages to regain control, and then Anissa…well…Anissa basically tells him he owes her and he goes after Grace (Anissa follows once she feels better).
Khalil owns a bar in Akashic Valley, which hides a high tech lab where his friend Philk is helping him with his Painkiller problem. In fact, there’s a small team — Khalil, Phillk, and an ex medic with healer powers named Cousin Donald.
We already see virtual concierges, people being “cryptojacked” to use their brain power as a computer.
Oh, and lots of martial arts. I think I see where the Arrow fight choreographers went.
Painkiller, Cyberpunk, and Race
Here’s the other thing.
This episode came right up against a long-standing issue.
The horrible racism in most cyberpunk.
The cyberpunk aesthetic is stories told in a pseudo-Japanese setting…centering white people. And often with Asians in not just subordinate but outright submissive roles.
Here we have a cybperpunk show with a Black lead, a second Black regular character (Cousin Donald) and a Chinese regular character (Phillk). It’s not set in NeoTokyo, it’s set in NeoLasVegas. Which is cooler than real Las Vegas. (Incidentally, the phrase Akashic refers to the primary substance from which all things are formed, but I am sure they were thinking of the Akashic Records, which in theosophy, are the record of every soul and its journey. We already have cryptojacked brains. I have a feeling this name is not an accident).
Oh, and a big bad, of course, who is behind the cryptojacked brains. (If you say that’s a weird term, it’s the one they used).
The show has yet to be formally picked up, but given the reaction to this episode I’m hopeful. Lots of good reviews. If it is, then it’s likely to be fall 2021 when we see Khalil and his friends (or are they his family?) hit our screens.