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Publisher DC Comics
Place of origin Earth

In DC Comics' DC Universe, a metahuman is a superhuman. The term is roughly synonymous with both mutant and mutate in the Marvel Universe and posthuman in the Wildstorm and Ultimate Marvel Universes. The term as a referent to superheroes began in 1986 by author George R. R. Martin, first in the Superworld role playing system, and then later in his Wild Cards series of novels.[1]

DC Comics: Origins & Definition[edit]

Main article: Invasion! (DC Comics)

The term metahuman was first used by a fictitious race of extraterrestrials known as the Dominators, when they appeared in DC Comics' Invasion! miniseries. The Dominators use this term to refer to any human native of the planet Earth with "fictional superhuman abilities". The prefix "meta-" simply means "beyond", denoting persons and abilities beyond human limits. Metahuman may also relate to an individual who has exceeded what is known as "The Current Potential" meaning ones ability to move matter with mind. (See Telekinesis).


Main article: Xenobrood

Before the White Martians arrived on Earth, Lord Vimana the Vimanian overlord from the Xenobrood mini-series claimed credit for the creation of the human race both normal and metahuman, due to their introduction of superpowered alien genetic matter into human germline dna.[2] The Vimanians in the series forced their super powered worker drones to mate with humanity's ancestors Australopithecus afarensis (3 million years ago), and later Homo erectus (1.5 million years ago) in order to create a race of super powered slaves.[3]

The Metagene[edit]

See also: X-gene (comics)

The Invasion! mini-series provided a concept for why humans in the DC Universe would survive catastrophic events and develop "super powers." One of the Dominators discovered that select members of the human race had a "biological variant" he called the meta-gene (also spelled "metagene"). This gene often lay dormant until an instant of extraordinary physical and emotional stress activates it. A "spontaneous chromosomal combustion" then takes place, as the metagene takes the source of the biostress--be it chemical, radioactive or whatever--and turns the potential catastrophe into a catalyst for "genetic change," resulting in metahuman abilities. It should also be noted that DC does not use the "metagene concept" as a solid editorial rule, and few writers explicitly reference the metagene when explaining a character's origin.

DC also has characters born with superhuman abilities, suggesting the metagene can activate spontaneously and without any prior appearance in the ancestry. One well-known example involves Dinah Laurel Lance, the second Black Canary. Although her mother (Dinah Drake Lance, the original Black Canary) was a superhero, neither she nor her husband Larry Lance were born with any known metagenes. However, Dinah Laurel was born with a metagene, the famed ultrasonic scream known as the Canary Cry.

The prefix meta-, in this context, simply means "beyond"—as in metastable, which is beyond regular stability and ready to collapse at the slightest disruption, or metamorphosis, which is the state of going beyond a single shape. In the DC comic mini-series Invasion!, the Dominators point out that the Meta-gene is contained inside every cell of the human body.

In the DC Comics universe, metahuman criminals are incarcerated in special metahuman prisons, like the one built on Alcatraz Island, which is outfitted not only with provisions to hold criminals whose powers are science and technology-based, but even mystical dampeners to hold villains (including Homo magi) whose powers are magic based. Prisoners in this facility are tagged with nanobyte tracers injected into their bloodstream that allow them to be located wherever they are.[4]

It is possible for individuals skilled in science and biology to manipulate, dampen or modify the activities of the metagene: while the Dominators were able to devise a Gene Bomb able to accelerate the metagene activity to the point of cellular and physical instabilities, during the Final Crisis, an anti-metagene virus was spread as a last-ditch weapon in the invaded Checkmate quarters. This metavirus has the opposite effects of the Gene Bomb, curbing and shutting down the metagene and stripping the metahumans of their powers for an unspecified amount of time.[5]

White Martians[edit]

Main article: White Martian

According to the storyline in JLA vol. 1 #4 by Grant Morrison,[6] the storylines in Martian Manhunter #25-27 by John Ostrander,[7] and Son of Vulcan #5 by Scott Beatty,[8] the genetic potential for a future metagene was discovered in ancient Homo sapiens DNA (500,000 - 250,000 years ago) by the White Martian race. The White Martians performed experiments on these primitive humans, changing how the metahuman phenotype was expressed by the metagene.

Due to their experimentations, they actually altered the destiny of the human race. Whereas, before, evolution would have eventually made mankind into a race of superhumans similar to the Daxamites and Kryptonians, now only a select few humans would be able to develop metahuman powers. As punishment for this, the group of renegades known as the Hyperclan was exiled to the Still Zone, a version of the Phantom Zone.[9][10]


The White Martians also created a metavirus, a metagene that could be passed from host to host via touch. This metavirus was responsible for the empowerment of the very first Son of Vulcan. And from that time onwards the Sons of Vulcan passed the metavirus down in an unbroken line, sworn to hunt and kill White Martians.


The terms "meta" and "metahuman" does not only refer to humans born with biological variants. Superman and Martian Manhunter (aliens) as well as Wonder Woman (a near-goddess) and Aquaman (an Atlantean) are referred to in many instances as "metahumans." It can refer to anyone with extranormal powers, no matter the origins and including those not born with such power. According to Countdown to Infinite Crisis, there are roughly 1.3 million metahumans on Earth, 99.5% of which are considered "nuisance-level" (such as kids who can bend spoons with their mind and the old lady "who keeps hitting at Powerball"). The other 0.5% are what Checkmate and the OMACs consider alpha, beta and gamma level threats. For example, Superman and Wonder Woman were categorized as alpha level, while Metamorpho was considered a beta level and Ratcatcher was considered a gamma level.


The 52 mini-series introduced a toxic mutagen called the Exo-gene (also referred to as the Exogene). It is a toxic gene therapy treatment created by Lexcorp for the Everyman Project which creates metahuman abilities in compatible non-metahumans. First appears in 52 #4, first announcement of the Everyman Project in 52 #8. The project was controversial, creating a lot of unstable heroes and gave Luthor an "off switch" for their powers, creating countless mid-flight deaths.

Homo magi[edit]

Main article: Homo magi

DC also suggests that some humans have inherent ability to utilize magic, and these humans are part of a branch or offshoot of humanity referred to as the Homo magi, who have interbred with normal humans. As with aliens and mutants with superhuman powers, Homo magi are also often classed together as Metas by the general public of the DCU.


Wild Cards[edit]

"Metahuman" was used for the first time in 1986 by George R. R. Martin in an altered version of the Superworld role playing system, and later in the Wild Cards anthology series as the formal scientific term referring to both superhuman powers and those that possess them, as seen in the appendices to Volume I (the general public of the Wild Cards universe commonly refer to such individuals as Aces).[1]


Marvel Comics[edit]

The word "metahuman" is most often attributed to DC Comics Universe, while Marvel superpowered beings are commonly referred to as mutants or mutates. However, both DC and Marvel have made use of the terms "metahuman" and "mutant" within their own universes. The first use of the term 'metahuman' in the Marvel universe was in the New Mutants Annual #3, written by Chris Claremont, released in 1987. In it, a Russian security officer describes the protagonists as "metahuman terrorists".[citation needed]

In Marvel Comics, metahuman can sometimes be used to refer to an attribute of a character that possesses a high degree of superhuman durability. A character possessing metahuman level invulnerability can withstand virtually all puncture wounds, temperature extremes of hot and cold, and corrosives without sustaining damage. The various tissues of their bodies; skin, bone, muscle, etc., are essentially as hard as a diamond. As a result, they are practically invulnerable to injury by conventional attacks or weaponry (e.g. Luke Cage or The Thing). This classification system is not commonly used within the comics themselves, being mainly limited to supplemental materials.[citation needed]

Ultimate Marvel[edit]

In Ultimate Fantastic Four #24, Reed Richards calls the Ultimate version of Namor "possibly the most powerful metahuman on Earth".


In Amalgam Comics' JLX series, beings called Metamutants (a cross of Metahumans and Mutants) are introduced, presumably carrying the Metamutant Gene (a cross of the Meta-gene and the Mutant Gene), presumably also known as the X-gene. They stand as Amalgam's version of Marvel's Mutants, and, most likely, face the same trials and prejudices.


City of Heroes[edit]

In the MMORPG City of Heroes, the Illuminati-like Malta Group refers to super-beings as metahuman. When spotting a player, its paramilitary operatives will often report an "MHI" or Meta-Human Incursion to their squad.

Fallout 3[edit]

In the game Fallout 3, Fawkes refuses to call himself and his fellow Super Mutants as such, preferring the term 'Metahuman'.

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance[edit]

During the opening cutscene of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Nick Fury calls upon all 'Metahumans' to help protect the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier from the Masters of Evil.


In the Infamous game series, people who contain what is called the 'conduit gene' are called 'Conduits'. 'Conduits' have the potential to gain superpowers either through absorbing ray-sphere energy or by other means.

Role playing games[edit]


GURPS International Super Teams, the 1991 worldbook for the "house campaign" for the GURPS Supers rules, uses "metahuman" as the formal scientific/academic term employed within the setting for a human with super-powers.


Metahuman is also used in the Shadowrun universe for fantasy creatures like elves and dwarves, and the like. These metahumans are described as being subspecies of Homo sapiens who began emerging following the return of magic in 2011 and generally have been the targets of racism throughout their existence. In game terms, metahuman characters generally have abilities beyond those of normal humans, such as increased strength or agility, improved vision, etc.


Static Shock[edit]

In animated versions of the DC universe, the term metahuman is sometimes used, most commonly this is true for the animated series Static Shock (a series which intersects and interacts with the main animated DC Universe, including the Batman and Superman shows of the nineties, as well as the JLU). Static Shock is a show in which all superpowered characters are granted powers by a large chemical explosion later nicknamed "the Big-Bang", are dubbed "Meta-Humans" or "Bang-Babies"--and are a sub-group of Metahumans. A few strange facts and differences are presented by this version of the term:

  • Despite being used regularly in the DC Comics universe, the term metahuman was not commonly used at the time Milestone Comics' first 4 books (Static being the fourth) were published (if at all).
  • Metahumans/Bang-Babies in Static Shock have no latent metagene, but rather a mutated genome due to a common chemical accident. These mutations often reflect previous attributes (many such attributes paradoxically personality related)
  • "Metahuman" is first presented in the show by Virgil Hawkins the main character of the show Static Shock as an alternative to the word "Mutant" because it sounded "degrading."
  • Bang Baby/Metahumans can be cured by chemical antidote, a fact separating them from other Superbeings in the Animated DC Universe.
  • The expression is rarely used in the show's sibling shows despite sharing the same continuity.
  • It is suggested that bang baby/metahumans' powers are subject to change due to the unstable nature of their origin.

Birds of Prey[edit]

On the television series Birds of Prey, metahumans included heroines Huntress and Dinah Lance. New Gotham also had a thriving metahuman underground, mostly made up of metahumans who were trying to live their own lives, although a self-hating metahuman, Claude Morton (Joe Flanigan), tried to convince the police that all metahumans were evil.


On the television series Smallville, metahumans can be naturally occurring, but the majority of them on the show are the result of exposure to kryptonite, which in the Smallville universe can have the effect of turning people into super-powered "meteor freaks", often with psychotic side effects. Non-kryptonite metahumans include the Smallville versions of Aquaman and the Flash

Young Justice[edit]

On the animated series Young Justice, the alien antagonists known as the Kroloteans have frequently used the term and have even researched into the discovery of a "metagene" by abducting and testing on random humans. The alien Reach conduct similar experiments and kidnap a cadre of teen runaways to test for the metagene, leading several of these individuals to develop superpowers. In the episode "Runaways," a STAR Labs scientist surmises that the gene is "opportunistic" in as much as it causes its user to develop powers seemingly based on their personal experiences or surroundings.

Hulk and the agents of S.M.A.S.H.[edit]

On the animated series Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., Doc Samson tells Scaar that he specializes in consoling 'Metahumans'.

The Flash[edit]

On the television series The Flash, Dr. Harrison Wells, Dr. Caitlin Snow, and Francisco "Cisco" Ramon created a particle accelerator. When it went critical and exploded, all of those hit by the blast wave became superpowered and known as metahumans. The nature of a metahuman's abilities appears to be a result of an external element they were near or exposed to when hit by the particle accelerator blast.


Metahuman Press[edit]

The super-powered fiction site Metahuman Press uses the term metahuman to refer to all characters with extra-normal powers. The origins of metahuman abilities vary from story to story, but often involve the activation of a metagene either by accidental occurrence or by regular mutation. Such individuals are frequently referred to simply as "metas".

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Wild Cards - Origins". Retrieved 2010-10-17. 
  2. ^ Xenobrood #6 (April 1995)
  3. ^ Xenobrood #3-4 (January–February 1995)
  4. ^ As seen in Outsiders #12 (July 2004)
  5. ^ Final Crisis: Resist Oneshot (2008)
  6. ^ JLA vol 1 #4 (April 1997)
  7. ^ Martian Manhunter vol 2 #25-27 (December 2000-February 2001)
  8. ^ Son of Vulcan vol 2 #5 (December 2005)
  9. ^ [1][dead link]
  10. ^ "The Unofficial History of the DC Universe". Retrieved 2010-10-17. 

External links[edit]